Or so Malcolm Gladwell asserts in an overall very average book, Blink, containing this little gem: we tell ourselves lies. He explains that we are too quick to come up with explanations for things we have no explanation for. He then discusses several examples. Both examples that stuck with me came from a sports researcher. The researcher filmed and broke down the body movements of athletes digitally. From his many studies he discovered two facts that contradicted two well known popular explanations for famous sports stars’ success. In one, he discovered that Andre Agassi does not roll his wrist when he hits a forehand. Agassi, in fact, only rolls his wrist after the ball has been hit. Yet if you ask Agassi why his forehand is successful, he confidently explains that it is because he rolls his wrist over the ball when he strikes it.
The second example is that of Ted Williams, who explained that he looked the baseball onto the bat. He meant that he tracked the ball with his eyes until the moment he made contact and he asserted that was what made him such a prolific hitter. However, this sports researcher proved that was impossible. The ball is too close and too fast in the last five feet before it hits the bat for our eyes to track it.
Thus, Gladwell asserts, we are confident in explaining things in the wrong way when we find no sensible explanation. He of course continues to explain why this is. I however, want to discuss how this happens in religion and Mormonism specifically. Steve has recently written an interesting post asking why bad things happen to good people. Of course, this is a question that has resonated, at least, through modern society. And often there simply is no answer. However, that doesn’t keep us from positing very intricate and oft times convincing reasons. Sometimes we do have the explanation. More often, however, I think we are simply fulfilling our very human need to explain, to tell the story, to make sense of the events in our lives, even when we don’t really have the answer–or worse there is no answer.
The desire to answer why and to invent the answer is not unique to Mormons, religionists, or the laity. Science often posits explanations that turn out, in the long run, to be quite fanciful and dead wrong. We are driven for answers, for explanations.
My preferred method to find out as many answers as possible and to avoid the imaginary answer is to adhere to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to turn to science for questions the Gospel does not attempt to answer (is light a wave or a particle, what happens at the speed of light, can you pinpoint the location and velocity of a particle, etc.). This approach has it drawbacks. But I think it avoids some pitfalls of inventing false answers.
However, I realize I still have a lot of explanations for events, explanations that are unsupported and probably wrong. And then there are the events I simply cannot or do not explain. Why did my little nephew die last year? I don’t know. Some have asserted that he was called on a mission, called back home. I personally find that answer very problematic for many reasons. In the end, we simply don’t know. And perhaps that is even more unsettling than a lie.