One of the fun aspects of physics is wave-particle duality: Light behaves as both a wave and a particle. For that matter, protons and electrons also exhibit such behavior. Now, my own understanding of this complicated topic is far from complete. But as I understand it, the phenomenon operates more or less as follows. At times, and when interacted with in certain ways, light behaves as a wave. At other times, and when interacted with in other ways, it is a particle. This despite the fact that this duality is a seeming paradox. It seems impossible for light to be both a wave and a particle. And yet, it is both.
I’ve written before about cognitive dissonance. There is a struggle that some church members – including myself – feel when trying to reconcile spiritual experiences and manifestations of God on the one hand, with church problems and discrepancies on the other hand. We Mormons have nothing on physicists in this department, though — after all, these are people who think that light is both a wave and a particle. And as far as anyone can tell, they’re right! Today at lunch, a colleague mentioned wave-particle duality, and I suddenly wondered:
What if the church is both a wave and a particle? What if it is both true and not-true, the two states existing together, differentiated only by how we choose to interact with it?
This is, after all, exactly the way that light behaves. By subjecting it to certain tests — interacting with it in certain ways — one can prove that light is a wave. By subjecting it to other tests — interacting with it in other ways — one can prove that light is a particle. The answer to the question is fluid, not static. It will depend on the tests to which light is subjected; it will depend on the nature of our interaction with that light. (And isn’t God like light?)
Similarly, perhaps the church is both true and not-true. If we interact with it in certain ways — if we approach it with an attitude of acceptance and faith — then it is true. If we interact with it in other ways — if we cynically test its premises and criticize its failings — then it is not-true. Both conditions real. Both conditions provable. A seeming paradox, but reality nonetheless.
And if this is the case, then both church critics and church apologists are misguided in their claims. They are like competing physicists, shouting “Wave, wave!” and “Particle, particle!” at each other. They are both right, and they are both wrong — the one conclusion does not rule out the other. The church is both, just as light is a both a wave and a particle. Either result can be true; the one that we see will depend on our own choices of how to interact with the Light.