False dichotomies and Easter: a quick post, sorta

Quick, use up one of your twenty pageviews and read this article by David Brooks. Then go read this response by Andrew Sullivan.

We all back? Good. Brooks is right that most of the folks in Africa (and elsewhere) who join religious movements join because of the creeds promoted, not in spite of them. Sullivan, on the other hand, is correct that we apply our human reason to any particular set of creeds, using that act to determine if they are appropriate for our belief (There is a reason folks go church shopping). So, while I believe that they are both right, I also believe that they are both wrong. They are setting up a false choice between rational and miraculous belief. As a Mormon, I get to believe in both types. We believe that God tells us the truth via our hearts and our minds. So, while both Brooks and Sullivan appear to believe that casual dismissal of Mormonism is de rigueur, Mormonism actually resolves the false dilemma their two approaches create.

Why on Easter? Because we, as Mormons, actually believe that Christ did something rationally impossible. He rose from the dead on the third day, ascended to His Father, and created the means for our return. That doesn’t make us unique (plenty of Christians believe the same), but it does mean that our faith derives from some miraculous moment (in our own experience and in historical experience). At the same time, we derive further meaning from that moment (and many like it) to determine how to live on earth. The derivation of law from experience is the very heart of rationalism. There is no contradiction, really, between the two, or rather, they exist in apparent contradiction, but aren’t, really. We have a Moebius strip of a religion, folks. That’s what gives it power and that is what allows it to appeal to the rational, the irrational, the conservative, the liberal, the fundamentalist, and the revisionist. Christ’s message is to all people; He died & He is Risen.



  1. Amen.

  2. A second Amen!

  3. Scott B. says:

    Amen! Happy Easter, Crawdaddy.

  4. As much as I wish I could use this in the talk I am giving in Sacrament Meeting this morning, it doesn’t really fit in with my theme. I definitely offer yet another amen to this, particularly the point that Mormons embrace both the rational and the miraculous!

    Happy Easter!

  5. Duane Reade says:

    Nice as this sounds, it also looks, to the non-Mormon, like a rationalization, verbal tap-dancing.
    So: religion and rationality/world experience cotradict each other (which they DO. People don’t rise up into the sky).
    Prestp: Chango: Voila!
    NOW they don’t. Just two sides of the same coin.

  6. Duane,
    That’s why I’m religious and they aren’t. Although didn’t some famous atheist argue that the test of human thinking is the ability to hold two contradictory notions at the same time?

  7. Duane Reade says:

    Ah, yes, contradictory notions. But this quote doesn’t imply that ANY two contradictory notions are hunky-dory.
    Here’s an example:
    Notion 1: God is love
    Notion 2: It is OK to fly an airplane into a building and kill 3000 people in the name of God, even though that may not *seem* loving.
    Another great teacher of Myth (Joseph Campbell) noted that the mature mind takes these myths metaphorically/spiritually, NOT literally.

  8. Duane Reade says:

    Regarding miracles and the Holy, I refer you to the song “Holy Now” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfLI1l_Pda4.
    Bottom line point: from the perspective of a higher consciousness, *everything’s* a miracle, and Holy.
    Saying “this is a miracle and this isn’t” can’t be done. Read a child’s face as she is discovering birds in the forest.

  9. Happy Easter. This rather usefully recapitulates early Mormon thinking on this topic.

  10. I don’t think I can completely agree that we exist with a beautiful conglomeration, a best of both worlds. As I see it the rationality of religion is a limited intellectual endeavor. We are promoted too think rationally as long as said rationality exists within the bounds of orthodox theology. We can gather and discuss the particulars of startrek canon and technology. Here. Purely fictitious world has enough consistency to breed a rationality that cannot exist without the frames of fiction. The questions that reliably come up in church discussions, the ones appreciated and discussed anyway, all seem to acquire a consistent coloration. Anything falling to far from thus tree gets a dismissal as the class ‘gets back on topic’

    There are two different truths rational and spiritual. The spiritual always takes precedent. For in fact we preach that it, conveniently, cannot be reached thru rational thought. Therefore rational thought about spiritual matters must first accept the Spiritual Truth as the endpoint of our rational efforts.

  11. Duane Reade says:

    NK says “Therefore rational thought about spiritual matters must first accept the Spiritual Truth as the endpoint of our rational efforts.”
    What is an EXAMPLE of a spiritual truth?
    That God lives near a planet called Kolob?
    Or, that spiritual journeys entail struggle and crises of faith?

    All the dogmas of the Christians or Muslims or Jains are irrelevent if not destructive of the *real* spiritual truths.

    Even today’s Big Question: did Jesus (if he actually existed) actually rise up into the sky after he died? (literally).

    If you would like to see a model of combining rationality and spirituality, study the Buddhist tradition, where there are no dogmas. If you see the Buddha or Joseph Smith on the road, kill him.

  12. Duane Reade says:

    My Dogma ate my Karma.

  13. Duane Reade says:

    NK “begs the question” (in the tradional sense of making the question meaningless, “beggaring” it) when NK writes
    “Therefore rational thought about spiritual matters must first accept the Spiritual Truth as the endpoint of our rational efforts.”

    What if My Spiritual Truth is different than yours? What is MY spiritual truth says it is God-blessed to fly airplanes into buildings, and that my rationality is just there to figure out how to do it?

  14. I prefer Easter Bunnies over Easter Trolls.

  15. Duane,
    I think that the manner in which we construct our worldview is determined by a number of things, but that one of the most significant is preference. People choose to view the world in a certain way because it is appealing to them, not necessarily because it does a better job of explaining why things are the way they are. I think this applies to both rational and irrational approaches to worldview, but, of course, your mileage may vary. Certainly, neither the secular nor the sectarian has a monopoly on saints or sinners, so I don’t think figuring out which is superior is a matter of counting up champions. We find the explanation that best appeals. It’s all rather chicken and egg-y, naturally.

    I also think that you are altering the fundamental teachings of Buddhism slightly. But I may think the 4 noble truths and the eightfold path are more dogmatic than you do.

    Not Karl,
    I don’t agree, but I’m open to being wrong. Spiritual confirmation has, for me, only very occasionally been anything but vague. I’ve often found myself having to determine what the meaning of that spiritual experience I just had is. It seems to me that if we establish some endpoint x as the place to which all revelation drives, then we (meaning Mormons) are no different from any sort of creedal religion. I tend to think manner in which revelation and interpretation interact is terribly complicated, so pre-determining the outcomes seems less helpful.

  16. Agreed. Happy Easter, everyone.

  17. Latter-day Guy says:

    We have a Moebius strip of a religion, folks.

    Great line! Stay tuned next week for “Why my faith is a Klein bottle.”

  18. Duane Reade says:

    Chris: sorry you consider me a troll. I honestly see spiritual matters differently than some here and have expressed myself respectfully. Is disagreement a form of trolling? That would be sad.

  19. Duane Reade says:

    John C: i think i broadly agree with most of what you say, especially the part where you say you have to figure out what a particular story or experience means *for you*. No one can disagree that that is what it means for you, unless you are lying, and you are clearly not.
    I also heartily agree when you write “if we establish some endpoint x as the place to which all revelation drives, then we (meaning Mormons) are no different from any sort of creedal religion.”
    Especially when that endpoing tis that Jesus/Buddha/the Catholic Church/Islam is the only path to follow in order to live a good life (leaving aside the consequences of whatever Heaven/afterlife there may be).

  20. Duane Reade says:

    regarding Buddhism as dogma: to take 2 examples of the noble truths
    1. Life is Suffering. Seems more an observation than a dogma. One is of course free to disagree, to deny that life entails any suginificant suffering.
    2. One *should* practice loving-kindness towards one’s fellows – is more a value judgment than a dogma.

    And these are both observations/guidelines for living in *this* world, not for the dogmatic belief requirements “God” will require in order to let you into the Celestial Kingdom.

  21. Mommie Dearest says:

    John C., I enjoyed reading the two links very much, especially the Sullivan piece. (at the Daily Beast even!) One of the things I enjoyed most about the Sullivan piece was the visual aids he used.

    Contradictions–big, routine contradictions, a dab or two of confusion, implausible truth, dogma inconveniently rearing its head–what a familiar forest of trees it all is. The only thing that keeps me somewhat functional as a believer is that thread of pure gold running through it all which is the love of the Lord, which I can sometimes feel, sometimes recognize, and attempt to emulate, and which fuels my searching journey.

    I’m happy to have found the gold thread today.

  22. Duane Reade says:

    Bless you, Mommie.

  23. Duane Reade says:

    I was interested in John C’s term “Creedal Religion.” Mormonism certainly is one, ain’t it? An example of a Non-creedal system is this UU statement:

    “The common ground which unites Unitarian Universalists is a set of principles that outlines NOT WHAT what we are to believe BUT HOW we are to act in the world. Ideally, our actions are guided by respect, reason, love and inquiry.”

    That’s how i feel. I don’t care about what someone believes about the next world. I care how they act in this one.

  24. All is religion, thus all is dogma. Even equipped with all the “facts”, people establish dogmas in their relationship to everything in existence. There isn’t a single person on earth that doesn’t worship a “god”, attend a sacred space, memorize a sacred text, wear the related garb, and pay the necessary tithes. Time, energy, money: all paid into some hierarchy of power. Even atheism, anarchy and punk lifestyle are explicitly religious in these ways. You can not escape it, even if you extricate yourself from all vestiges of fundamentalist religion.

    The Denver Nuggets are a creedal religion. Crispy Creme is a creedal religion. Tom Waits is a creedal religion. Stanley Kubrick is a creedal religion. And yes, the Unitarian Universalists are also a creedal religion. It’s all people gathering up into congregations in buildings or on the internet to receive instructions. Sanctification is the fundamental act of the human being because all human beings are the offspring of deity.

    What has all of our technological advancement led up to? Smart phones? They are seer counterfeit stones. Even at the height of our advancement, we’re still just copying God. The same guy who sent the first text messages in history to a GPS device possessed by Lehi 2600 years ago.

  25. Duane Reade says:

    Marvelously fuzzy thinking, Obolus. You *seem* almost to be saying “everything is everything.” Lovely. But where does it get us in our understanding? And words cease to have much meaning.

    Religion, for example. Most people interpret the word to entail a belief in *supernatural* powers. If we do, then clearly there are people who are not religious.

    Everyone has belief systems, of course. I believe that “the sun will come up” tomorrow morning. But that is qualitatively different from the belief that a Rain God named Rumar makes it rain. There is evidence for the first belief. And it can be evaluated rationally. The second belief is NOT rational. Are we therefore to accept it as equally valid? It is a religious belief after all.

    Overall, your post obscures the search for meaning rather than furthering it.

  26. Duane Reade says:

    btw, regarding the Denver Nuggets and basketball: Michael Jordan clearly had supernatural powers. And now he can even hold the priesthood.

  27. Thomas Parkin says:


    Thanks brother. Laugh.

    I think, though, that what you are talking about is not religion, however, but merely marketing. The things you mention are only brands. The danger lies where are coming to that as well. What is your brand identity? Mormon! One would not want to besmirch the brand identity! If you wear a frowny face, do not let it stay! Quickly turn it upside down and show your brand awareness!

    On the other hand, I was walking down 3rd in Seattle about midnight, a few weeks back. Up ahead, coming towards me, was an addled crack woman, all hurking and jerking, her face covered with scars. I sometimes can’t help myself, I put on my dour look. As she walked by me she said, looks like you dropped your smile. :)

  28. Thomas Parkin says:

    Correction: if you chance to meet a frown.

  29. “Religion, for example. Most people interpret the word to entail a belief in *supernatural* powers. If we do, then clearly there are people who are not religious.”

    Yet these same people will use sacrosanct/hyperbole language to laud their favorite products on Amazon. It is simply not honest to assume that branding or starting a band is anything other than religion making. You put idols and/or a product in front of a group of people, and the hope is to gather folowers. The patrons then proselyte the product to others, just like you did with the quote from the Unitarian Universalists. So congratulations, you are a missionary. Politics, capitalism and gnosis all work upon this basic religious principle.

    Michael Jordan is absolutely a religion, and the worship continues. His empire shears billions from the public, and videos of his “miraculous acts” continue to draw a following of zealots who would dog pile anyone who claimed that any other player was greater. You joke about his having a priesthood, but in truth he wields & exercises great worldly power that works the same way upon his employees and acolytes as any priesthood from a fundamentalist religion. The only difference is that it is not called a “religion”. But the effect is the same: patrons who give their time, money, and talents to the support of an idol. This is precisely why “gangsters” have entourages. Every element of hip hop culture is based on the religious construct. And wannabe gangsters like Lebron James are no different.

    Be clear on my point, friend. I am not saying that “everything is everything”. I am saying that everything is religion. That is not a confusion of words. That is a clarification to help you see what it is you are actually doing. What you have done your entire life, and what you will continue to do for all of your remaining days.

    On the front of every Mormon temple are the words “Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord.” These words are a summation of what every human being does when they discover their “favorite things” that resonate with the most holy part of their being. They are a lens that reveal every thing, every act, every endeavor in existence for what they really are.

    The sun was one of the earliest gods. Scientists and atheists still turn to its rhythm religiously as a philosophic meme. The effect is the same.

  30. Thomas Parkin, you are braver than I am. 3rd Ave seems safe because of all of the gentrification, but I wouldn’t spend too much time downtown at midnight.

    Then again, it may depend on which direction you were walking.

  31. Thomas Parkin says:

    I actually work on 3rd Ave two night shifts a week. I’ve been walking downtown for years … except for down near the Yessler area, and there at 3rd and Bell (formerly crack park, now a dog park but nearly as nasty), I feel safe. Not as safe as I used to feel when I was meaner.

  32. John C,
    Anyone open to being wrong is my friend, I try to be this way myself. But at the same time I am terrible prideful and being wrong (or admitting it anyway) stings just a little.

    I don’t mean to say that we specifically and pointedly choose our endpoints when we begin to think about our revelations, but that as our religion grows older it gets entrenched and adopts more similarities to creedal religions and that discussions and questions that fall outside the correlated and approved topics merely get you classified as rebellious, or in danger of losing the faith. Or worst case that we begin to fail to hear revelation that does not agree with our current states of truth.

    I think that we are a spiritual truth based religion and that reason can at best merely confirm what we already know and at worst destroy our soul and salvation. A lot of people I know refuse to venture out into that shark infested reef that is reason, for there is everything to lose and nothing to gain.

    Perhaps I am just reacting to the sunday school lesson we had on being like little children where we completely ignore the allegorical point the author was trying to make and just make a random list of qualities that are found in children that we hold as virtues, while simultaneously ignoring all the negative qualities about children. Anyone approaching this lesson in this way can never learn that they are wrong, and therefore can never be improved by it. All that it can do is to tell you if you conform with the rest of the group. And I think this is basically my point, we spent all class reasoning about children in a way that could do nothing except end up telling us the truths we already held are the right ones.

    I really do wish everything I knew was true, but because I am limited, mortal, and more often then not, a little stupid, so I must make allowance for the fact that I might be wrong, completely wrong, or maybe just not completely right.

  33. What Obolus is saying resonates a bit. I’m not saying it can’t be picked a part and disagreed with, as it is easy to do so. But, especially in light of the revealed purpose of this life, I think what he is saying is definitely part of the perspective we need to have in this life as Later-day Saints. At least it’s one I apply to myself anyway.

    That is, if I believe I came to life with a purpose that serves the eternities, what I am doing is indeed my religion. All things are spiritual unto the Lord, and I should make it my goal to make it the same for myself. I think you can fault his perspective if you consider religion limited to Sunday service and other church-type activities. But what he seems to be arguing is that for a disciple of Christ who has consecrated his life to the Lord and his church, all things you are doing are (should be) done with the perspective of the eternities. This perspective renders most of what we do meaningless and even detracting from our (supposed) eternal aspirations.

  34. Uhm. Andrew Sullivan posted again on the subject.


    He quoted my e-mail to him (mine’s the second one). And so I blogged from my perspective here:


    I’m not sure I really meant to leap into this national discussion, but here I am. Well, Pres. Uchtdorf told us to go ahead and blog . . . .

  35. Duane Reade says:

    it’s now 5 hours later and my comments still hang in censorship suspension. Do you people care that your dialogue is being censored?

  36. Do you people care that your dialogue is being censored?

    Let’s take a quick poll, folks.

    I vote “No.”

  37. Duane Reade says:

    Scott: have you already donated your brain to medical science?

  38. I vote “No.”

  39. Mark Brown says:

    Seriously Duane. Your comments already take up 40% of this thread. Give it a rest already.

  40. Scott: have you already donated your brain to medical science?

    I’m almost positive that there’s an insult embedded in that somewhere, but for the life of me, I just can’t find it. Maybe we should take another quick poll:

    Q: Should I donate my brain to medical science?

  41. Duane Reade says:

    Scott sez: “I’m almost positive that there’s an insult embedded in that somewhere, but for the life of me, I just can’t find it.”

    DR: Scott, we are not surprised. It is hiding right there on the surface.
    your friend Duane

  42. Duane Reade says:

    Mark: from someone like yourself who has contributed no ideas of substance to this discussion, your crack really hurts.

    From the perspective of a Non/Ex-Mormon, you Mormons are just NOT aware of how your thought and dialogue is (self) censored, due to your/our conditioning. And to give in to censorship of thought is INDEED to be brain-dead (now do you get it. Scott?

  43. Scott, it would fascinating to study your brain.

    Duane, our dialogue isn’t being censored. Your attempt to continue as part of it is. There’s a difference.

  44. Duane Reade says:

    Man Ray sez: “Duane, our dialogue isn’t being censored. Your attempt to continue as part of it is. ”

    And the reason is???? Cuz my opinions don’t conform to the Group Think? Because there is a “polite society” of talk here that filters out alien perspectives? Because I can’t express myself without using four letter words? *Think* about it. Go outside your natural cultural habitat. There’s a big wide world out there.
    love, Duane

  45. I am against donating your brain. I worry that scientists might try to reproduce it. One is enough.

  46. Duane Reade says:

    Ray sez: “Duane, our dialogue isn’t being censored. Your attempt to continue as part of it is. There’s a difference.”

    So, Ray, as long as people say things that you agree with or that make you comfortable, you think we live in a just world? Hmm.

  47. Duane,
    I can haz sarcasm?

  48. Duane Reade says:

    Hey guys, I don’t know this joker is, but I assure you that I am the real Duane Reade, and I apologize for the douchey comments from this faker.

  49. No, *I* am the real Duane Reade, and I offer tremendous value to New Yorkers who need a neighborhood drug store they can trust! Enough of this douchebaggery!

  50. Thomas Parkin says:

    Wigger + (B- in his Logic 101 course) + pebbles in his craw = Duane Reade

  51. Duane Reade says:

    Well, this is Mature!
    In order to combat different opinions, one or two other posters have taken on the moniker of Duane Reade as well.
    We see the dedication to serious discussion and search for the truth by their actions, do we not? (this comment is awaiting moderation).

  52. Duane Reade says:

    Nice try, fake Duane (51). Calling others fake and immature is a sure giveaway.

  53. Duane Reade says:

    Okay, this is just ridiculous. If can someone get an admin or someone to come and boot the fake Duanes out of here? It was enough that I was being censored, but now that at least 2 others are posting with my name, it’s apparent that serious dialogue cannot roll forward until there is judgment rendered.

  54. Neutral Party says:

    A sad case of juvenile hi-jacking in order to avoid serious discussion. There was ONE Duane Reade since post 5. Then these clever boys jumped in to trivialize the discussion. Honorable.

  55. Duane Reade says:

    I fully agree, Neutral Party (54). Well spoken. Can we get back to the discussion now?

  56. Bleak Oyster says:

    I would like to change the subject to shellfish suffering from existential angst. Would that be agreeable to everybody?

  57. Mommie Dearest says:

    #36: No
    #40: only after you die

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