The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 1, “Thinking”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

What follows is not a description or a prediction, but an invitation.

In the future, Mormon thinking will be fearless. It will be fearless in the truth. And the only way to hold a truth fearlessly is, as John says, to hold it with perfect love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Only love is fearless. And only the fearless see the truth. If we fail to love, fear will cloud our eyes and skew our judgment.

In order for thinking itself to be fearless, that thinking must be conducted as an act of love. And in order to be conducted as an act of love, we must do as Jesus says: we must love our enemies.

 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? (Matthew 5:43-46)

Even sinners love those who love them. Even sinners love those who repeat what they want to hear and confirm what they already know. But such love is thoughtless.

Those who love the truth and are fearless in it will be marked by their confidence that every truth can be thought again—indeed, must be thought again—from the position of the enemy. Their confidence in this extension of the truth will be rooted in God’s promise that the truth must rise on the evil and the good. It must rain down on the just and unjust.

All truths, in order to be truths, must be thinkable from the position of the enemy. All truths, in order to be truths, must be thinkable as an act of love for the enemy.

It is, of course, possible to hold truths in a way that fails to be truthful. It is always possible to bear a truth untruthfully, to wield the truth as a weapon against my enemy or as a shield to justify my stupor.

And it is, of course, always possible to assume that every truth held by my enemy must in fact be held in just this way: in bad faith, blinkered, untruthfully. But this is a scam. It’s a diversion.

The very work of seeing truth as truth, of bearing truths truthfully, depends on our willingness to take up the perpetually necessary project of thinking through the truth again—always once more—from the position of the enemy.

Every truth must be thought through again because truths are bigger than we can manage. They cannot be confined to our own limited perspective. Though truths may fill us and transfigure us, they always do so only from somewhere else and on the way to somewhere new.

A truth that is small enough to be thinkable only from my position and only in opposition to my enemy is no truth at all.

To say that a truth must be thinkable from the position of the enemy is not to say that truths are relative to one’s perspective. Rather, it is to insist that they are not. It is to say that truths must be capable of traversing and transfiguring every perspective that greets them.

Truths, borne truthfully, compel us to acknowledge (1) their capacity to transfigure every position, and (2) the reality that they are, as yet, only partial in their extension.

What truths we have, we have only in part—much more is promised. And those truths already entrusted to us have barely begun to fill our hearts and minds, let alone the world.

To think a truth again, this time from the enemy’s position, is to engage in the hard work of discovering what happens when we no longer treat the truth as proprietary—as owned by us, proper to us, and relative to our own perspectiveand instead pursue its extension beyond our borders to see what happens when the truth also transfigures the position occupied by the enemy.

To think a truth again is to investigate both how it can transform the enemy’s position and what it looks like once I’ve let it loose in the world.

Granted, my enemy’s perspective is too small and too narrow to hold the truth. But, occupied by a truth, that position can be transfigured. This is the promise of truth: transfiguration.

Though, on this score, the same thing may be just as truthfully said of my own position: love’s extension of the truth is imperative because I must also grant that my own perspective is too small and too narrow to hold the truth.

Whatever tenuous relation I have to the truth can only be preserved if that truth is shared.

In summary, then, the point is straightforward. Thinking that is not fearless is thoughtless. And thinking can only be fearless when it is conducted as an act of love. And thinking can only be conducted as an act of love when it traverses the position occupied by the enemy, transfiguring in the process myself, the truth, and the enemy.

In future posts, I want to explore two examples of fearless thinking conducted as an act of love for the enemy. First, a thinking that transfigures the secular. And second, a thinking that transfigures the subjective.

Comments

  1. “This is the promise of truth: transfiguration.”

    I believe this for the most part. My only worry, and perhaps I am not reading you correctly, is that a person might believe that if they think and love and relay truth hard enough that their enemies or loved ones will then be transformed. It is a labor of love indeed, but transformation may never come at all in this life, and there will be many who love the world and self-deception more than they love the light. The love unfeigned must not cease, but expecting – in a way that may be a hidden form of demanding – transformation crosses the bounds of agency and becomes unloving and self-serving. Therefore I believe in order to love it is vital to recognize agency and to therefore not presuppose an outcome when relaying truth in even the best of all possible ways, and continue the labor regardless of what the outcome may be. I believe this is true love, and what the Savior displayed as truths were rejected by many and did not immediately transform all.

  2. Jason K. says:

    “A truth that is small enough to be thinkable only from my position and only in opposition to my enemy is no truth at all.”

    This truth resonates with my position in ways that make me very happy to have you here at BCC.

  3. N. W. Clerk says:

    The quoted scripture says love is fearless. It does not say that only love is fearless.

  4. Adam, I want to understand the problem. What’s the current articulated fear? Who’s fearful, and what are we/they fearing?

  5. Are you positing that thinking, in order to be true & fearless, must include both the heart and the mind in alignment/unity? – the intellect and the soul together? I’m getting slightly hung up on the word “thinking”.

  6. A truth that is small enough to be thinkable only from my position and only in opposition to my enemy is no truth at all.
    To say that a truth must be thinkable from the position of the enemy is not to say that truths are relative to one’s perspective. Rather, it is to insist that they are not. It is to say that truths must be capable of traversing and transfiguring every perspective that greets them.

    What does it mean to say that a truth must be capable of transfiguring a perspective? What is meant by truth here? Consider say a complicated mathematical perspective that an anti-rationalist disagrees with. In what way can that truth transfigure an enemy’s perspective?

    I suspect that either you are equivocating through different senses of truth (the truths as understood versus the truth-activity that makes it possible to think the truths) or that something else is going on.

  7. Carey Foushee says:

    I read this as being applicable to any problem rather than a response to a specific one.

  8. “Every truth must be thought through again because truths are bigger than we can manage. They cannot be confined to our own limited perspective. Though truths may fill us and transfigure us, they always do so only from somewhere else and on the way to somewhere new.”

    Excellent. Looking foreword to the next installment.

  9. Clark’s example made me think that I need some range of particularity to fully grasp what your meaning. Will we see some in the upcoming posts?

  10. I see that sometimes in our fear of being tainted in our orthodoxy we forget that many of the great theologians in Christian tradition were unafraid to pick up pagan thinkers, mine their insights for truth, and then blend these with their faith, and as John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, suggests, bring those insights into a higher love.

  11. Martin James says:

    It is interesting to see this from an atheistic perspective. What does it mean to love someone who believes a fable? Is it to agree with them or disagree with them?

    How does one truthfully say that there is no truth?

  12. “Thinking that is not fearless is thoughtless. And thinking can only be fearless when it is conducted as an act of love. And thinking can only be conducted as an act of love when it traverses the position occupied by the enemy, transfiguring in the process myself, the truth, and the enemy.”

    I believe love is the byproduct of fearlessness, not its cause, and that humility is what causes fearlessness. Humility (acknowledging one could be wrong) leads to fearlessness (if I may be wrong anyway, I may as well be curious about what is right) leads to thoughtfulness (curiosity and inquiry go hand in hand) leads to love (when I approach truth in this way, I recognize that I don’t own it, and if none of us owns being right, we can empathize with others who are likewise just doing the best they can). At least that’s how I see it.

  13. jeffhofmann says:

    Why do you have so many enemies? In this context is anyone who maintains a position different from yours labeled as an enemy? Or does it mean something else?

  14. As with many of your more esoteric pieces, I won’t pretend to understand this perfectly. I mean, I might get what you are saying, but I might also be mistaken. However, the bits that I think I am grokking correctly about being charitable, humble, and perfectly impartial in our deployment of truth claims are extremely powerful.

    Especially as we reflect on general conference — when it is sometimes tempting to love some speakers because we think they like us best and to hate others because we feel like they are despitefully using us — I welcome the message that fearless Mormon thought should be characterized first and foremost by its transfigurative love.

  15. Like Angela C, I’m wondering how humility fits in here, especially regarding those sentences she quoted. I guess traversing the position of the enemy involves humility because a proud person wouldn’t consider the enemy’s position worth traversing because they’d be so assured of the truth in their own position. I think an elaboration of what “fearless” means would be useful.

  16. Years ago, as I searched for a universal truth, I found only one; It is wrong to teach hatred of others. I think my truth passes your test.

    Also, I second Angela C’s comment about humility leading to fearlessness-thoughtfulness-love and the recognition that none of us owns being right.

  17. Thanks, Adam. I remember when it dawned on me for the first time that I don’t need to be afraid of the truth and that if I’m committed to seeking the actual truth, I will likely end up there with anyone else in the same pursuit even as we arrive there from wildly different paths. It’s the kind of realization that needs, as you say, to be thought through and refined again and again.

    My question is similar to jeffhofmann’s: I’m guessing that you picked the word “enemy” deliberately. How come? Simply to take the idea to its more extreme application or some other reason?

  18. The enemy language seems to come from the passage in Matthew 5 that is used to frame the post. And I believe he is thinking expansively about how we might liken the idea of ‘loving our enemies’ unto ourselves.

  19. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    N. W. Clerk’s observation that the “quoted scripture … does not say that ONLY love is fearless” got me to thinking about what else might be fearless. Buddhism suggests that fear comes from desire and attachment — so perhaps to “perfect love” we can add “relinquishment of desire”?

  20. Scott Roskelley says:

    Again, I don’t feel like Miller is bringing to the table the diversity of disciplines to really engage on these thinking issues. Read the works by terrence deacon, pinker’s language instinct, and a few new papers by andrew ng on unsupervised learning methods, deep belief networks, and why Demis Hassabis work is so revolutionary. The real ideas which have emerged from Mormonism relate to fortunate falling, eternal social networks and progressive divine ascension evolutionary intelligence. The current temple learning videography needs to be entirely scraped and reworked to embrace these themes. We don’t learn how a divine family council thinks, plans, creates, and resolves conflicts and dissension through temple worship today, unfortunately. Also work with more Jonathan Haidt emotional elevation ideas as well as Csikszentmihalyi flow.

  21. Adam, a great LDS philosopher I know personally (& I absolutely know he would not want to be named) once said, “Truth and love always go together – always.” Is this what your OP is essentially saying also?