MAD TV used to have a running gag called “Lowered Expectations,” which was the name of a dating service for the, shall we say, less than desirable. They showed clips of dating profiles from various outlandish people. It was a funny bit. I like that title, and think that therein lies the key to happiness in the Church.
I have a friend who a couple of years ago experienced a crisis of faith. He is of a scientific bent of mind, and his issues all revolved around science. I asked him what his issues were, and although I cannot now recall the complete list I remember that the first couple of items were evolution and a global flood. When he finished his issues, I felt a flush of anticipatory excitement, as I realized that I agreed with all of his newfound positions. So I thought, “This is going to be easy.” But I was quickly disabused of that notion. He had had a self perception as a thoroughly orthodox, conservative Saint. I told him “No big deal, you’re just a liberal Mormon like me.” But he didn’t want to be a liberal Mormon. I thought maybe the passage of time would ease his feelings, but after a year or so I asked him if he had come to terms with his newfound views, and he gave me a one word answer: “No.” He still goes to church for the sake of the family, but he’s an empty shell of his former self.
So that caused me to wonder. On a list of scientific issues, we had identical opinions. Yet I perceived myself as a faithful, believing, active member, and he perceived himself as some class of a heretic. What was the difference?
It’s all a matter of background expectations.
I’m involved in apologetics. I spend a lot of time trying to help members who freak out over some new thing they’ve learned about the Church. And the bane of apologists is what I call fundamentalist (small f) assumptions, by which I mean assumptions of prophetic infallibility and scriptural inerrancy. Even though the Church does not formally or officially accept those notions, as we all know they are informally held by many, many members. And while they may sound good in principle when expressed over a pulpit, they leave people who accept them in a bad position whenever they learn that such assumptions aren’t sustainable. And while some members go their entire lives and never have such a problem, anyone who is intellectually curious will eventually find out for herself that those assumptions aren’t true. And if she has held to those assumptions, breaking them is a serious problem.
I was raised without those particular assumptions, for which I largely credit my father. To name one example, I recall when I was a teenager we had a couple who were both pursuing master’s degrees in English team teach us for SS. I liked them; they were young and interesting. And in one class they made a big deal out of claiming that the BoM was grammatically perfect, and that that was some sort of evidence for its divine origin. I mentioned this to my father (who was a professor of education at the same university), and he just laughed and said that was ridiculous. I remember feeling mildly scandalized at his cavalier attitude towards my teachers at the time. But in retrospect, I can see that he gave me a great gift; the gift of a certain amount of healthy scepticism over wacko faith claims.
Sometimes your starting point is as important as the finish line for determining how you are going to react to difficult, newfound knowledge. We seem to have the idea that putting the Church high, high up on a pedestal is a good thing. In my experience, we would be better off if we could “lower expectations.”