My Naïveté

I’m starting to think I’m extremely naïve. There’s something I believe that seems like it ought to be the most obvious fact on the planet. “Two plus two equals four” or “the sky is blue” kind of obvious – the sort of thing everyone ought to know.

But it turns out not everyone does know it. And the many people that do know it have long ago made peace with it – it’s just not the issue to them that it is to me. I bring it up online or in group discussions, thinking I’m somehow shining some light in the world. In reality, I’m starting to think I’m embarrassing myself, playing the role of the “master of the obvious.” So, with that in mind, here goes.

It seems to me that something that ought be understood by all religious people, something that ought to be as plain as the nose on one’s face, is that religious beliefs aren’t facts. They’re called “beliefs” for a reason. We don’t really know that the Bible is the word of God – we believe it is. We don’t have a scrap of proof or evidence to back us up. We believe God is out there, we don’t know God is out there.

Yes, people have spiritual, supernatural, or other-wordly experiences that seem to confirm the truth of these sorts of things. But these experiences, when taken from across the religious spectrum, are so diverse, so numerous, and so contradictory as to make them almost useless in determining truth. Not that individual experiences are worthless, but that using them to compile an idea of what truth is strikes me as pointless. For example, I’ve had some remarkable experiences in paying tithing. I’ve experienced things that I label as blessings, and I assign those blessings as having come from the Mormon concept of God. Those experiences are very real to me and I hope people will respect them. But that tells me that I have to respect the experiences of others. If someone else experiences blessings and traces those blessings to Vishnu, how on earth can I tell them they are wrong and that their blessings really come from my concept of what God is.

I remain entirely amazed at what people will do in the name of their religious beliefs, given that there is no way of proving they are somehow “right.” Beyond one’s own religious tradition, how does one choose Christ over Buddha, for example? Perhaps one tradition will ring truer with one’s personal experiences, but it isn’t like someone can demonstrate that Christ is the true way, while Buddha isn’t.

This “fact” seems so obvious to me, and so very important. If understood by all, it means the guys won’t fly the plane into the buildings. In short, it means (at least as I see it) that people don’t need to mistreat other people over religion, because they realize we’re talking about ideas and beliefs, not truth. Because when someone thinks they have the truth, they can justify anything – everything from religious violence to just being plain mean. Lonnie Persifall (an anti-Mormon preacher in Salt Lake) can call Mormon women “whores of babylon” while professing to love them, because he has “the truth.”

But few others seem interested in this “obvious idea”. When brought up among true believers, I’m usually seen as weird or even influenced by Satan (this logic is exactly the kind Satan would use to fight the truth, they reason). When brought up among the more intellectually minded (for lack of a better term), I seem to be regarded like the little kid who just figured out something obvious. They’ve dealt with this issue, and have decided to live their lives following their own faith. And yet I continue to contend that this kind of understanding essential to a peaceful, tolerant religious community.

For what it’s worth, I’m not trying to make belief a morally relativistic place where truth is everywhere yet nowhere. I believe in exercising faith – acting on one’s belief. That’s why I go to Church, obey the commandments as best I can, etc. Belief isn’t worth a lot unless it has action to back it up.

Am I being naïve in feeling this way? Am I watering down religion to nothing (and making it boring along the way)?

Comments

  1. “If someone believes very strongly — or even that it’s “true” or a “fact” — that people are more important than beliefs, you wouldn’t worry about that person banning gay marriage or beheading infidels.”

    I don’t see how that follows. After all one could feel strongly about people and not beliefs and yet feel that some people and their beliefs are a threat to people. I’m sure that many people who do controversial things do them because they think it’ll help others. I’m sure others do it for more abstract reasons of belief. Is the socialist arguing for more control by workers doing it due to belief or a concern with people? Is the libertarian working against state control any different?

    All you’ve established is that saying people are important depends upon beliefs since we act based upon our beliefs regarding people.

  2. “Perhaps the point is that we should be skeptical of our own beliefs…after all, we might be wrong.”

    This is exactly my point, Ed (and your comments were excellent). I appreciate Eric’s thoughts, but they almost come across as “Anything anyone believes goes, since we can’t prove anyone is right or wrong.” I’m sure he’s probably not really saying that, but that’s how it comes across to me.

    In a strange way, I suppose I’m arguing for some kind of religious humanism – that people ought to be more important than ideas or beliefs. So, on the gay marriage issue, our beliefs can condemn it all they want, but it doesn’t mean we should go about legally trying to force people to believe the same way we do, which is what we’re effectively doing by trying to pass an amendment. Obviously, beheading someone is making your religious beliefs more important than people.

    One example that jumps to mind is the issue of proper Sabbath worship. There was a bit of controversy in Utah when the all-Mormon city council of Farmington voted to close the city pool on Sunday. This seems like such a silly thing to me – why would we force other people to obey the Sabbath? Isn’t honoring the Sabbath a personal thing? It’s for us and our families and our spiritual development – so why make a rule that says other people can’t do something on Sunday that you don’t like. What about the (albeit small) Jewish, Muslim, or Seventh Day Adventist communities in the area? I suspect most Mormons would flip out if they were in a predominantly Jewish area and the all-Jewish city council voted to close all businesses on Saturday. Religion should be something to help us develop our own personal spirituality and make us better people. So, if rejecting gay marriage in your own life is part of that, great. But why force or pressure others into doing the same thing?

    I don’t pretend to think this is always an easy, straightforward notion. There are times when it’s hard to know how to balance possible social ills against the rights of people to do as they please. (Gambling, prostitution, drug use, etc. are things that might, on the surface, seem like personal issues that shouldn’t be interferred with, but they’ve also been shown to be socially harmful.)

  3. “So, what makes one person’s belief ok and another’s nonsense?”

    Along these lines, something I’ve been wondering about lately is how we incorporate our beliefs into our actions in the public sphere. It’s hard, because it comes down to the fact that, in my subjective perception, I believe that X policy (for example, that the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause doctrine is horrible, or that abortion is wrong, or that we need to expand our social welfare system or whatever) is important, and I believe it because of my subjective religious beliefs.

    But as soon as I say that, the at least two counterarguments come my way: (1) I don’t believe that, and (2) What right do you have to make religious belief the foundation of your public policy?

    And I think both are wrongheaded–I don’t think that my public persona should exclude my private beliefs, and I don’t think I have to state them in an exclusionary way, like I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong. But how do I do that without coming across as an impositional bigot? How can I base my communications on my belief while interacting and listening to people who don’t share every (or any) facet of my belief?

  4. “The real problem is what people believe, whether they call it a fact or just a belief that they are willing to act upon.”

    So, what makes one person’s belief ok and another’s nonsense? Why do we condemn the beheading of kidnapped hostages in Iraq, but not the Church’s stance on homosexuality? How can you demonstrate to me that your posiiton on these issues is correct – and if you can’t, why do you have that position? I’m not saying you shouldn’t have that position, I’m just asking for your perspective.

    You brought up the story of Nephi slaying Laban, which is a really interesting point. It’s part of my concern that believing we have the truth makes us justify wrong behavior. Since we believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God, we therefore are forced to take the position that Nephi slaying Laban was the right thing to do. Yet few would be willing to say that militants murdering hostages is the right thing to do – even though they believe they’ve been commanded to do it.

  5. “We don’t have a scrap of proof or evidence to back us up. We believe God is out there, we don’t know God is out there.

    Yes, people have spiritual, supernatural, or other-wordly experiences that seem to confirm the truth of these sorts of things. But these experiences, when taken from across the religious spectrum, are so diverse, so numerous, and so contradictory as to make them almost useless in determining truth.”

    A couple of points. First the above *assumes* what is called evidential epistemology. (The idea that knowledge can only be justified via explicit evidence) Yet this seems very problematic. Consider if someone asks you who your mother is. You respond. You know the answer yet your knowing is dependent upon memory. You have no evidence for your answer at the time you give it. Yet to say you don’t know who your mother is seems ludicrous. So evidentialism seems very difficult to accept. If we throw that out then your criticism of our use of knowledge seems to fall apart.

    The second point cofuses a class of events with subclasses. i.e. because the class of claimed spiritual events is so diverse and contradictory there is no sub-class of spiritual events that can justify and is consistent. I disagree with that and don’t think that Catholic religious experiences logically says anything about LDS religious experiences.

  6. “We don’t have a scrap of proof or evidence to back us up. We believe God is out there, we don’t know God is out there.”

    I have to respond to this differently. You’re using “proof” and “evidence” interchangeably, and they’re not. We have a good deal of evoidence for the existence of God, and a certain amount of evidence regarding His nature, but no conclusive proof. Of course, we have no actual evidence AGAINST His existence, and there are some possibilities regarding His nature for which we have no evidence.

    So the preponderence of evidence would indicate that God exists, and that He is probably not (for one example) a great cosmic Chihuahua, demanding daily sacrifices of Alpo and piddling divinely on the carpet of existence.

    Faith is much like the white line on the edge of the highway. Having seen during the daytime that it follows the edge of the road, you can be certain on a foggy night that it won’t lead you into the ditch. By the same token, faith is a matter of deciding with reason what the available evidence indicates, and holding to it unless it’s proven false. Since it seems unlikely that the existence of God will be proven false (He’s not going to appear to us and announce his non-existence), faith without proof is hardly blind.

  7. > So, what makes one person’s belief
    > ok and another’s nonsense? Why do
    > we condemn the beheading of
    > kidnapped hostages in Iraq, but not
    > the Church’s stance on
    > homosexuality?

    Why do I condemn the beheading of hostages in Iraq? Because according to my beliefs, those killings were murder, and murder is wrong. Why do some people cheer those killings? because according to their beliefs, the killings were justified.

    Why do I support the Church’s stance in homosexuality? Because I believe it to be the result of revelation from God to his prophets. Who do some people condemn the Church’s stand? They do not believe that.

    Can I prove I’m right and the others are wrong? Can I prove that Allah did not order the beheading of infidels who serve the Great Satan, America? Can I prove God has commanded against homosexual behavior? No.

    Since I cannot prove my beliefs, does that mean I should fail to act on them?

    Since I cannot prove that God opposes same-sex marriage, does that mean I should not oppose it? After all, my belief may be wrong.

    But proponents of same-sex marriage are in the same boat: they cannot prove that same-sex marriage is not against God’s laws. Does that mean they should stop supporting it? After all, their belief may be wrong.

    When it comes right down to it, people will do what they believe is right, whether they “know” it is right or just believe. (In fact, they may do things they don’t “know” are right in order to demonstrate their faith.)

  8. Clark, please don’t misinterpret my words. I don’t believe I made any reference to public or private reproducibility. On the contrary, most scientific developments since Newton are of such complexity (and danger!) that they are not publicly reproducible; the underlying theories and data are, however, made public and may be examined.

    That’s hardly an extreme position to take on the issue of knowledge. I’m not saying that Mormons shouldn’t use the word ‘know’, or that the phrase “I know” shouldn’t be used outside of scientific discourse — just that we should acknowledge that spades that are spades, and when we speak of spiritual truths and spiritual knowledge, they are of a different character and essence than empirical data and fact.

    Again, that’s got nothing to do with a public/private distinction, and it’s not really skepticism, either — just an acknowledgment of different uses of the word ‘know’.

  9. First, I think we have to be careful distinguishing between empirical evidence and public empirical evidence. I think there is a difference. For instance what I was looking at a few minutes ago is empirical data. It isn’t public empirical data. I personally think many spiritual experiences – though private – are empirical.

    I’d add that I don’t think these are different uses of the term know any more than saying it is true it is sunny out and it is true that 2 + 2 = 4 are different uses of the word true. I think that scientific knowledge is justified differently than say my justification that I recall my mother’s name. But the word and meaning of know is the same in both cases.

    That’s an important point. I think it is easy to confuse justification and knowledge. Knowledge merely requires that belief be justified. It need not have the exact same process of justification.

    I recognize this is a semantic issue – but then the original topic was as well. (i.e. the word knowledge as used by regular people)

  10. D. Fletcher says:

    I believe that this paradox is built-in to the Church because of Joseph Smith’s approach to faith. His approach was scientific, whether it holds up today, or not.

    Joseph didn’t ask anyone to believe in him as a prophet simply by his own testimony. He produced an ACTUAL artifact, the Book of Mormon, said to be translated history. The artifact proved his appointment as the spokesman of God.

    The paradox is apparent when one is asked to seek a testimony by praying about an ACTUAL book. Why not simply find evidence of its truthfulness? This is the scientific method, and yet the method has been completely thwarted by the Book for two hundred years (no actual evidence exists for its truthfulness). Which is a conundrum it and of itself.

    We don’t believe in things unseen. We believe in things seen by SOMEONE. Physical, real things. Just because we haven’t seen them (or been authorized to see them) doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

    Sorry for the caps, I don’t know how to emphasize otherwise.

  11. It seems like what this all is reducing to is simply an extreme form of skepticism. Steve is saying that we can’t know anything easily publicly reproducible. (i.e. only public data is knowable) John seems to be taking an even more extreme position when he says we don’t know that Mercury exists.

    The question is, given those extreme positions with regards to knowledge, isn’t the problem not Mormons who use the term “know” but your use of “know.” After all both of you are rejecting many common uses of the word.

  12. JH –

    Other commentators are ably sorting out the epistemological issues raised by your post. What strikes me is your stated hesitancy to speak at Fast & Testimony Meeting because you are uncomfortable saying that you “know” X or Y about the restored gospel. I would suggest that you are shortchanging yourself and other members of your ward for a linguisitc abstraction. While I hope I do not seem to be trying to put words in your mouth, what do you think of bearing a testimony with wording like these:

    (1) Some people think that I think too much, but I am not sure I like saying that I *know* the Gospel is true. However, I want you all to know that I have had spiritual experiences that lead me to strongly *believe* in the restored gospel.

    (2) I haven’t seen an angel, so I can’t say that I *know* the Gospel is tue like some prophets told about in the scriptures. But I do know that many members of the ward and Church render wonderful service to each other and to my family. Christ said that by their fruits ye shall know them, and I do know that the fruits of Christian service have been rendered in this ward and elsewhere in the Church.

    (3) Alma 32 describes testimony as a process. I can’t say that I have gotten to the end of that process so that I can use the word *know.* But I would like to testify that I am on the journey, and that I have tasted the fruit, and it is good, and that I strongly believe in this Gospel, and want you to know it.

    (4) Sometimes I identify with the man who told Jesus, “Master, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” My knowledge of the truth of the restored gospel is not perfect, but I do believe, and am always trying to overcome my unbelief. One thing that helps me overcome my unbelief is when I see the acts of unselfish service rendered all of the time which affirms my belief that this Church is a good place to make Saints (to paraphrase Brigham Young).

    I think that any of these would be welcome (at least in NYC, I know you are dealing with SLC which is a little different) and still honest to your linguisitc scruples about the word *know.* More importantly, I suspect that such a testimony would be very liberating for others who feel inadequate because they have not breached the *know* barrier in their own spiritual journeys.

    Keep the faith

    JWL

  13. Jim, thanks for those thoughts. I think that those are great ways of approaching a testimony, even if we stick to the customary ‘I know’ language, because they encourage internal processes that are ultimately faith-building.

    I’m surprised that no one has brought this up, but to what extent should we be willing to say ‘I know’ as part of acknowledging our membership in the LDS community and our willingness to take part with the Saints in a shared belief? Isn’t ‘I know’ just shorthand for saying “I know what you know too, and by getting up here I want to affirm my belief in our common faith.”

    Or is that a betrayal of personal intellectual integrity?

  14. John H,

    > “Anything anyone believes goes,
    > since we can’t prove anyone is right
    > or wrong.” I’m sure he’s probably
    > not really saying that, but that’s how
    > it comes across to me.

    Well, in one sense I am saying that. Anyone is free to believe whatever they want, and to act upon those beliefs — even if those beliefs call for beheading foreigners. But I claim the same priviledge, and if I believe it’s wrong for someone to behead foreigners, I can act to stop them.

    Essentially that’s a restatement of agency.

    The point I was trying to make — perhaps not succcessfully, is that you were focusing on the wrong thing: it is not the intensity of belief, or the idea that what one believes is a fact, that causes the problems you seem to be worried about. It’s the SUBSTANCE of the beliefs.

    During the course of the discussion in the comments, you seem to acknowledge this point without realizing it:

    > In a strange way, I suppose I’m
    > arguing for some kind of religious
    > humanism – that people ought to be
    > more important than ideas or
    > beliefs. So, on the gay marriage
    > issue, our beliefs can condemn it all
    > they want, but it doesn’t mean we
    > should go about legally trying to
    > force people to believe the same
    > way we do, which is what we’re
    > effectively doing by trying to pass
    > an amendment. Obviously,
    > beheading someone is making your
    > religious beliefs more important than
    > people.

    If someone believes very strongly — or even that it’s “true” or a “fact” — that people are more important than beliefs, you wouldn’t worry about that person banning gay marriage or beheading infidels.

  15. John H,

    You say:

    > I remain entirely amazed at what
    > people will do in the name of their
    > religious beliefs, given that there is
    > no way of proving they are
    > somehow “right.”

    But you also say:

    > I believe in exercising faith – acting
    > on one’s belief. That’s why I go to
    > Church, obey the commandments as
    > best I can, etc. Belief isn’t worth a
    > lot unless it has action to back it up.

    If someone backs up their beliefs with action, isn’t that the same as doing something in the name of their religious beliefs?

    The problem is not that people think their religious beliefs are facts and act accordingly. The real problem is what people believe, whether they call it a fact or just a belief that they are willing to act upon.

    We are unlikely to see airplanes hijacked by Amish extremists. We probably won’t see Unitarian Universalists shooting abortion providers.

    If someone’s religious beliefs include the idea that God has commanded the slaying of infidels — or the beheading of a drunken man so that a nation will not dwindle in unbelief — that person can only show his faith in God by carrying ou the command, whether he thinks that his religious beliefs are facts or not.

  16. John H.: I am a bit confused by your distinction between facts and beliefs as it applies to the justification of legal rules. To the extent that what lurks behind your concept of fact is evidentialism of the sort outlined by clark, then it seems to me that any sort of normative concept must be an example of a belief. For example, is the statement “Less human suffering is to be preferred to more human suffering” a fact or a belief? How about “human beings are entitled to respect as rational agents”? It seems to me that without statements like this it is going to be impossible to justify ANY legal regime (or its absence for that matter.) There are sophisticated arguments for excluding religious concerns from public debate (check out Robert Audi or Bruce Ackerman) but to my knowledge they don’t rely on the distinction that you are making.

  17. John,

    Your post seems to me to contain a paradox. Perhaps I am wrong. Please help me understand. You state that there is a strong distinction between beliefs and knowledge. You then state that there is a “fact” that is obvious to you, but don’t clearly state what it is. I am assuming the “fact” is that since you can’t prove your beliefs, you shouldn’t take action that will harm others based on those beliefs. Please correct me if I am wrong. Also, please clarify if your use of quotes around the word “fact” implies that you understand that your fact is actually not a fact, but simply a belief that you hold. You believe that others cannot know religious truth as fact.

    The paradox, based on my assumptions, is that you are asking people to behave a certain way based on what you claim is a fact, when your own reasoning would indicate that your fact is a mere belief and cannot be a provable fact, and therefore not worthy of acting on.

    Alma 32 would seem to indicate that an individual can progress from belief to knowledge. Of course this doesn’t say that one can then transfer this knowledge to others.

  18. Kevin,

    The obvious difference between spiritual truths and the historical/scientific facts you mention is that facts tend to be confirmable via objective, repeatable experimentation and a standardized set of beginning data. There is no corollary for this in the context of religion, Moroni’s promise included.

    I’d agree with your assertion that standards of what constitute proof are subject to change and interpretation, but without the elements of objectivity and repeatibility, saying that the Gospel is ‘true’ just doesn’t mean the same thing.

  19. Latter-day Saints, whether born and raised in the Church, or as converts later in life, the importance of using the word “know” when bearing one’s testimony. This is something that keeps me away from the podium on Fast Sundays, because it strikes me that overuse of the word “know” is very close to bearing false witness. I’m more than happy to state my belief in the gospel as given to us through the Prophet Joseph Smith, but I’m very uncomfortable with saying that I know it to be true. I’ve had certain experiences that confirm my belief in the restored Church, and I’m certainly grateful for the paradigm that the restored gospel gives me in a “you are here on this map” kind of way, but I really hesitate to use the word “know”. Short of receiving a visit by an angel, I’m content to express my testimony in terms of “belief”.

  20. Mark–“…I really hesitate to use the word “know”. Short of receiving a visit by an angel, I’m content to express my testimony in terms of “belief”.”

    How would seeing an angel help you ‘know’ anything? Maybe you were dreaming, or hallucinating… Mental illness, perhaps?

    That’s the problem with those who say there’s no ‘proof’ that God exists, or that the Bible/BOM is the word of God, or anything… There isn’t any set of events or evidence you can think of that would ‘prove’ (i.e. show conclusively enough that it removes ALL other explanations from consideration) that God exists. Even a glorious figure appearing in the sky with a big booming voice proclaiming “I AM GOD”–could be just a mass hallucination again…

    To those who say you can’t ‘know’ that God exists or that the Book of Mormon is true, I would ask–how do you ‘know’ anything?

    How do you ‘know’ there’s a planet “Mercury” out there in space?
    How do you ‘know’ that there was such a thing as a “Civil War” in America?
    How do you ‘know’ that after you go to bed tonight, the sun is going to come up again in the morning?

    All these ‘facts’ are really still just ‘beliefs’ because you can hypothesize scenarios (however unlikely) for all of them where they are not true. One can ‘believe’ them because the amount of existing evidence which points in that direction passes a certain threshold where you commit to that fact being ‘probably’ true. But you can never ‘know’ for sure because you can’t create a definition of a ‘proof’–even seeing things with your own eyes–that eliminates all doubt.

    I’ll issue a challenge to any of the Bcc readers:
    If you don’t believe you can ‘know’ the truth of spiritual things, name something that you DO ‘know’ is true, and why that too is not merely ‘belief’…

  21. Nice post, John. I agree with your observations and share your concerns. However, as to your specific question: Yes, I think you would be naive to think that church-attending Mormons could or should engage in introspective discussions about whether their religious convictions are grounded in enough certitude to legitimize their use of “I know” when bearing testimony. People get together on Sunday to have their faith strengthened, not to engage in group self-doubt or self-criticism. One can do that much better at home, alone or via the Internet or by reading various unofficial LDS publications.

    The personal choice of how to phrase one’s own personal convictions is not so simple, but it’s hard to imagine someone saying “It’s true for me!” from the pulpit.

  22. Hellmut Lotz says:

    Of course, people acting on their beliefs have done horrible things. On the other hand, quakers and other abolitionists have been viewed as irresponsible fundamentalists. Beliefs can be an important source to stand up for unpopular but important causes.

    May be, Gandhi has the solution. If our means reflect our ends then it is not fatal if we are wrong. Interestingly, his autobiography’s title is My Experiments with Truth (I think).

  23. So much for my proofreading skills. That first sentence should read ‘Latter-day Saints, whether born and raised in the Church, or as converts later in life, quickly learn the importance of using the word “know” when bearing one’s testimony.’

  24. When I read John’s post I found myself agreeing with it, but I think Eric makes some really valid points. Does John condemn the hostage beheadings? If he does, isn’t he just assuming his beliefs are right and their’s are wrong?

    Perhaps the point is that we should be skeptical of our own beliefs…after all, we might be wrong.

    And we should be especially skeptical when our beliefs would cause us to hurt other people. I can keep the sabbath day holy, pray, etc., without particularly infringing on anyone else.

    Perhaps we should also be skeptical when our beliefs are different than most of the world. It is easier to be comfortable condeming beheading hostages, because many people all over tend to agree that that kind of violence is wrong. Ideas like the golden rule or helping the poor are found in religions all over the place (including Islam), so if we agree with these ideas we might have more confidence that we’re on the right track. Believing in Joseph Smith is much more unusual, and so that belief might demand stronger scrutiny.

  25. Wow, a challenge. I give up, you’re right Kevin, regardless of the labels we put on our claims, it’s all just belief. That’s pretty much the point John was making right up front. That still leaves John’s question of why Mormons insist on saying “I know” and view honest statements like “I believe” as expressions of doubt rather than faith.

    I do agree that seeing an angel or a vision doesn’t solve the problem, whether viewed firsthand or indirectly through another’s report. Those experiences are as diverse as more general “spiritual feelings.”

  26. You’re actually right on with my thinking, Kevin. Steve’s right about testing data and the scientific method. But I’ll happily concede that when it comes to most anything, there’s little that we can “know.”

    I didn’t mean to sound like a 60s hippie stereotype (“what is real, man”) or anything like that. I don’t “know” there is a planet named Mercury out there – I’ve put my trust in those that tell me that is the case, and they in turn have put their trust in their research, etc. It’s really no different in putting your trust in Joseph Smith, or putting your trust in the fact that I’ve had a real spiritual experience, and not just a hallucination.

    So, since I don’t “know” the things you’ve outlined, I’m not going to go around fighting with people over them. I’m not going to threaten someone if they don’t believe the U.S. had a Civil War. I’m not going to lobby for an amendment that says everyone has to believe in the planet Mercury, or else. Granted, these are such widely accepted ideas, that if someone does question whether Mercury’s out there, I might look at them with some raised eyebrows. And I certainly don’t want to live in a bizarre world where everything’s up for debate and we can’t tentatively agree on anything (I say the sky isn’t blue – it’s cleary purple!)

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