Paradigms Lost and Found

Ben called my attention to this discussion. David Bokovoy, who is working on a PhD in Hebrew Bible at Brandeis and is the CES director in Boston, sets out this argument:

If you come up against something (doctrinal, historical, etc.) that you can’t reconcile with some other (doctrinal, historical) aspect of the Church, do not come to the conclusion that the Church isn’t true. Come to the conclusion that you have misinterpreted something. In a later comment, he uses the example of several people who had to stop reading Rough Stone Rolling because it was causing a problem for them. His argument: what they really need to do is to reassess the assumptions they have made about who/what Joseph Smith was and move on from there.

The advantages of this approach should be obvious, so I won’t belabor them. I like the way that it suggests that challenges to the faith can be used to bring us closer to the truth (such as: a better understanding of what it means to be a prophet) instead of farther.

I’m wondering how it would work in real life, however. Anyone care to field test it, right here in the comments box, for me?

49 comments for “Paradigms Lost and Found

  1. David Clark
    November 9, 2007 at 1:14 am

    Paradigm shifts are fine and dandy to keep people in the church. However, to be consistent you have to realize that it is just as handy to keep people out of the LDS church, since people outside the church can “paradigm shift” just as well as Mormons can. Too much emphasis on paradigm shifting may negatively impact LDS ability to honestly proselytize. That scares me.

  2. queuno
    November 9, 2007 at 1:18 am

    It presupposes that the Church is true, though. The approach works best if you’re working from that basic assumption. If you don’t already have a testimony, it requires an additional leap of faith to say, “OK, you don’t believe us yet, and you’ve stumbled across something that doesn’t make sense, and yet we still want you to keep believing us while you figure it out.”

    Recently, I had a potential employer (and this was a serious negotiation) try to adopt this basic approach, and it was kind of insulting. My stance was, “Why can’t you just be honest with me?” If I had already accepted the offer, though, I would have been more inclined to try to work it out…

  3. MLU
    November 9, 2007 at 4:07 am

    This seems fundamental to learning and growth. When we learn something that seems to be true and that apparently contradicts something else we found to be true, they can often be reconciled only by moving grasping a more complex reality.

    I think the Lord would be quite disappointed in us if our questioning minds didn’t bring us to questions about things we have long been taught. How else could we progress?

    My wife and I kept a philodendron on the coffee table when our kids were small. It was a plant we were sacrificing to their learning. A point always came at which they began tugging and tearing at the leaves, and we began slapping their little hands and saying, “No!”

    At first, they learned only that plants were not to be touched. But of course, we would have been quite disappointed if they had taken that knowledge and stopped there. We called it a philodendron rule: one that was meant to be temporary–a schoolmaster, so to speak, to bring them within reach of a higher law.

    We knew they wouldn’t stop at learning that plants were off limits. They would see that we ourselves did all sorts of touching of plants. For a while that must have seemed contradictory and confusing. They might have had, for a time, misreadings of what it all meant. Maybe in their young minds they thought we were hypocrites or deceivers, though I doubt that since they had that lovely trait of childlike humility.

    They all kept observing and asking their questions and thinking, and they all learned that the real point was not that they could not touch plants, but that plants needed to be cared for–watered, pruned, repotted–in particular ways. The proper relationship with plants was far more complex than not touching them, though that was a place to start.

    My normal (acquired) reaction to coming across powerful presentations of realities that appear to be both true and contradictory to other things I deeply believe is to get quite excited. It’s going to be an adventure. I’m on the verge of learning something important. It’s the main thing that keeps me reading.

    Focusing on things that don’t fit is also the basis of my teaching. I spend quite a lot of time trying to bring to the surface things that students believe that contradict other things that they believe–the anomalies and incoherences in their own thought, not by way of trying to undermine anything but by way of trying to get them to complicate their thinking. Trying to stay coherent while adding more information, not all of which fits what we already “know,” is the basis of growth, I think.

  4. mmiles
    November 9, 2007 at 4:53 am

    I think David Bokovoy is exactly right; at least that has been my personal experience in my own life. I also have experiences with friends reading Rough Stone Rolling who quit for the same reasons mentioned, or read it and hated it because of a portrayal of Joseph Smith that did not fit with the non-reality in their own minds. I have been in many a lesson where someone will hear a scripture and because it doesn’t fit with their own assumptions about the Savior, quickly dismiss it as a mistranslation (Matthew 15: 26-27 comes to mind).
    We can take a step further and talk about God. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances whose logic says that there can’t possibly be a God because of all the suffering in the world, or all the terrible crimes allowed to be committed against innocent people. The thing lacking is a paradigm shift. People’s paradigms require that their own assumptions about who God is and what God does and does not do are correct.
    When we rely solely on our own paradigms to interpret scripture, church history, and the very nature of God-our faith is kind of stuck in a stagnant position, if it is faith at all. Is it faith at all to believe, for instance, in the Book of Mormon only if DNA backs it up? That would be an evidence-based paradigm, not faith based.
    However, I am convinced that faith is evidence based. We all will have some esoteric experiences be they feelings or thoughts that give us answers that natural empirical evidence may or may not. It is up to each of us to accept each of those points of evidence and with integrity accept them for what they are and not reason them away. Truly, all miracles can be reasoned away—if by simply to say, “I imagined it.”
    We have to have to cement the assumptions from the evidence that we have experienced and make them our anchor points. If our anchor points are that the Joseph Smith was a prophet, God lives, Jesus Christ is His son and the church is true—then that faith allows us to easily shift paradigms and expand our understanding of who Joseph Smith was, what the nature of God is, why Jesus Christ referred to a woman as a dog and in what way the church is true.
    If my paradigm arrogantly consists of my own ideas of what a prophet is, what God’s relationship to mankind should be, what Jesus would or would not say and what God’s church would be, then it really isn’t faith at all, but simply me finding a place that fits all my own great ideas. Naturally, something that doesn’t agree with all I hope for comes up—at which point I freely discard truth because I can’t possibly be wrong! Of course no one realizes the sheer arrogance of this in practice. It really down to our being child like in teachable in this way—not assuming the things around are as they appear.

  5. Kyle R.
    November 9, 2007 at 7:55 am

    #3 When we learn something that seems to be true and that apparently contradicts something else we found to be true, they can often be reconciled only by moving grasping a more complex reality

    MLU, I think you hit the nail right on the head. This kind of dialectic movement of thought is often what ‘higher understanding’ perhaps consists of.

    I have a slightly different slant on the issue you raise Julie because I started from the other end, stumbling onto the Church with a presupposition that ‘of course’ it wasn’t true and finding Joseph Smith a fascinating character precisely because of what I saw as a jaw-droppingly impressive scale and sophistication of charlatanism. Essentially, it was the cheek and verve of the ‘fraud’ that I admired.

    However, the more I studied his teachings and life the more this began to evolve into a faith in his genuine calling as a prophet. Attending LDS meetings somehow turned from an act of abstract curiousity into a weekly event that introduced a wholly unexpected and beautiful spiritual renewal in my life.

    Since Joseph Smith was never tinged with a mythological aura for me to begin with, his all-too-human-ness poses no problems to my faith. I not only quite like his being so human, for me it actually adds profound dimensions to his prophetic calling, makes his revelation much, much more ‘real’, earthy and meaningful for me.

    Yet for members raised from childhood in the Church I can see that Joseph Smith often acquires the lustre of a mythological being. His image, his story repeated reverently in many hymns (Oh how lovely was the morning….what a stunningly beautiful hymn by the way), his name intoned in testimony bearing….all of this starts to endow him with an incandescent luminosity that of course becomes difficult to square – emotionally as much as doctrinally – with a man who was very mortal, very human, and who was up to his neck in human life and experiences.

    You say, what they really need to do is to reassess the assumptions they have made about who/what Joseph Smith was and move on from there.

    I agree. It seems to me the journey from a ‘mythologised’ Joseph to a ‘human’ Joseph shouldn’t pose a threat to faith if the two are accepted, as MLU suggests, as the ‘complex reality’ of human-beings-as-Gods-in-embryo, the reality of God’s work in all its profound and sometimes hair-raising complexity, and not looked at as mutually exclusive versions of reality.

    If Joseph Smith had sat feeling and acting quite saintly all his life, absolutely certain of everything and not deigning to participate and sometimes get muddied in the rough-and-tumble of real human life he would never have had the spiritual depth to receive the revelation that he did.

  6. Ben
    November 9, 2007 at 9:00 am

    A minor correction from the originator of the error (namely, me.) It appears David isn’t the director, but full-time faculty. Mea culpa.,8498,775-1-36-60384,00.html

  7. David Clark
    November 9, 2007 at 9:37 am

    It presupposes that the Church is true, though. Actually, the original meaning of paradigm shift had nothing to do with truth or falsity. Kuhn used the term to describe how groups of scientists change their worldviews. For Kuhn it was a combination of crisis, scientific social practices, and the now famous paradigm shift. His whole point was to describe how a scientific revolution takes place _without_ resorting to truth or falsity claims, because to Kuhn it was obvious that this was _not_ the main reason scientists change their minds and undergo paradigm shift. Kuhn’s work, while seminal, is only one of many competing approaches to the philosophy of science,.

    This is another reason it is a useful but very dangerous concept for Mormons to use. LDS theology and evangelical practices lay heavy emphasis on truth claims (i.e. this is _the_ true church), but the concept of paradigm shift is a way of not dealing with truth claims, at least not as a source of changing your mind.

  8. Randy B.
    November 9, 2007 at 9:42 am

    I’m not entirely sure I know what you mean by “field test,” but I think this example from Todd Compton is pretty compelling:

    “According to one of his biographers, Joseph Smith was about six feet tall. Let’s say that a church member — who sincerely wants to build people’s faith — decides he will portray Joseph Smith as 6 foot 7 inches in a historical movie. This is incorrect, but the 6 foot 7 idea catches on, becomes current in the church. To some people, Joseph Smith as 6 foot 7 becomes a cherished part of their testimony. However, a historian — who let’s say is also a church member — comes across Joseph Smith’s burial record, that gives his height correctly as about 6 foot. The historian publishes an article showing Joseph Smith’s true height. The media picks up the story and the movie writer, believing he has a mission as a defender of the faith, denounces the historian as malevolently diminishing people’s faith in Joseph Smith.

    Now who is right and who is wrong in that situation? Who is honest and who is dishonest? Who is authentically diminishing faith: the writer of historical movies (who, motivated by sincere loyalty to the church and its missionary effort, orients church members’ faith on an untrue datum that will not hold up) or the historian who carefully reflects a document showing a true fact? Certainly, Joseph Smith seemingly has less stature based on the true facts, but only in reference to the inflated view of his height that was incorrect. The seeming experience of diminishment is the result of an incorrect inflation.”

    You can read the rest of Todd’s essay here —

  9. Matt Evans
    November 9, 2007 at 10:48 am

    I haven’t read the original discussion, but as it’s presented here, the idea is something everyone does already — it’s a function of cognitive dissonance. To the degree people are emotionally attached to their knowledge (church is true, going to war with Iraq was right, America is the great satan, Jews are evil, capitalism is good), they shift paradigms and interpret new facts in ways to preserve their knowledge. Arguing with someone about an issue they’re emotionally attached to usually _entrenches_ their views because they experience the confrontation as a personal attack, causing them to emotionally commit to the knowledge even more. The effect is to make your facts bounce off them like rubber. If not for cognitive dissonance, there would be no holocaust deniers. (It’s the cognitive dissonance that makes them impervious to “alleged” facts about its reality).

    Cognitive dissonance is usually viewed as being undesirable because it blinds people to new information. I would be very reluctant to *promote* it as an interpretive method, unless there is more to Bokovoy’s claim than showing that Mormons can learn something from holocaust deniers.

  10. Patricia Karamesines
    November 9, 2007 at 11:36 am

    A while back, Dave B. wrote a post about how historians assemble narratives and then yoke their narratives to some grand, overarching narrative.

    Historians are not the only ones who do this. Everyday folk also assemble narratives — the stories of their lives — and hook them up to some larger, overarching context to make meaning of events. In the case of the church, Mormons yoke the stories of their lives to the Grand Narrative of Joseph Smith’s restoration of the gospel to the earth and the ultimate truth of man’s purpose here and in the eternities, making something of their lifes’ stories in the light thereof.

    Lots of times, I’ve experienced events that don’t fit well with the meaning I’ve extracted from Mormonism’s Grand Narrative to construct the story of my life, and, confusing my narratization of the Grand Narrative with the Grand Narrative itself, I’ve hit brick walls of paradoxical belief and disbelief. This has happened so many times I can’t remember them all. I wouldn’t call the problem one of misinterpretation, though that’s okay. I’d call it “outgrowing one’s personal narrative.” It seems to me this is a natural process, though some people don’t take it well. If you do take it well, you simply strive to reconstruct the story of your life in such a way that it harmonizes with the overarching narrative once more.

    The scriptures tell us that we learn line upon line and precept upon precept, which suggests we are free to construct on-going narratives throughout our lives as the need arises.

    Of course, there are people who take elements of the overarching narrative out of context to support beliefs and behaviors actually inharmonious with the overarching narrative and then they assert they’re one and the same. What’s-his-name that snatched Elizabeth Smart is such a person.

    At one time, I was going to write a post about this called “Why Belief Fails.” Some beliefs, like some of those informing one’s personal narratives, ought to fail in the normal course of taking greater and greater responsibility for one’s thinking and doing because the belief simply doesn’t hold up in the greater light of the Grand Narrative and asserting it against all evidence to the contrary creates stress and illness of various sorts. It was a line, and now another line has come along, or another precept, and you work it into the story to reconcile the conflict till the next conflict comes along, building life up toward the next good thing. In the meantime, you grow, you progress, you mature. If enough people do this, then the whole culture progresses.

    I take it that for historians, the Grand Narrative changes from time to time as the evidence in smaller narratives mounts. This doesn’t seem to pose a problem for experienced historians.

    The Grand Narrative of Mormonism has experienced and will no doubt experience a few of its own shifts here and there, such as the recent one with the changing of the wording in the Book of Mormon. For me, this is not a problem. I’m too busy having fun with my own personal narrative, trying to get across to the next version of the story, to worry about it. “I know I’m wrong; the point is, to become less wrong.”

  11. David Clark
    November 9, 2007 at 11:39 am

    If not for cognitive dissonance, there would be no holocaust deniers. Yeah, except for the historical phenomenon of insidious anti-semetism that started in ancient times and continues to this day. Sorry, cognitive dissonance has nothing to do with holocaust denial. It’s called hatred, pure and simple.

  12. November 9, 2007 at 11:45 am

    If you come up against something (doctrinal, historical, etc.) that you can’t reconcile with some other (doctrinal, historical) aspect of the Church, do not come to the conclusion that the Church isn’t true. Come to the conclusion that you have misinterpreted something.

    Sorting “facts” from “assumptions” is always a good idea. The answer is always to prefer “facts” over “assumptions.”

    Choosing between conflicting statements of “fact” is a more interesting challenge.

    That said, when engaging with others respecting one’s own facts and the others’ assumptions, I think Matt Evans’ point in (9) is well worth remembering. Humans are funny critters.

  13. Matt Evans
    November 9, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    David, the hatred explains their emotional attachment to holocaust denial. Cognitive dissonance explains their reaction to contradictory evidence about the holocaust.

    The problem for the model being advocated here is that it’s also advocated by astrologers, flat-earthers, and all other cultists and moonbats. They teach their people to respond to contradictory evidence in the same way: if you encounter something that challenges astrology, (1) stop reading, and (2) create a more sophisticated model that reconciles the evidence with astrology.

    Now if God has told someone Mormonism is true, then they would rightly interpret contradictory evidence in that light. God trumps Brittanica editors and Wikipedia contributors every time. But I don’t think anyone should stop reading or construct more sophisticated models of Mormonism because *we* tell them. Someone who God has told Mormonism is true doesn’t need us around telling them contradictory evidence is either false or misunderstood.

  14. Kevin Christensen
    November 9, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    In practice, as Ian Barbour observes, paradigms resist falsification because “a network of theories and observations is always tested together. Any particular hypothesis can be maintained by rejecting or adjusting other auxiliary hypotheses.” (Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study of Science and Religion, page 99)

    The simple claim that “Asiatic DNA ancestry among Indigenous peoples falsifies the Book of Mormon as history” turned out to conceal a whole network of questionable assumptions. The simple assumption that the 1832 account of the first vision neither permits nor mentions two divine beings has long colored readings of that account. Matt Brown’s recent FAIR essay on that topic makes different assumptions, and turns out to be highly persuasive to me. The simple assumption that the NY Hill from which Joseph Smith obtained the plates is the same one mentioned in the Book of Mormon clashes rather violently with the actual description of the hill and disposition of the plates in the Book of Mormon text. The assumption that “Surely a prophet would know!!!!” contradicts explicit statements in D&C 1 and many Biblical precidents as well. The assumption that neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon has anything about the Divine Feminine, or that the religion of ancient Israel was always monotheistic long controlled lines of inquiry and research in those areas. The assumption that the Book of Mormon contained nothing about the temple long prevented LDS scholars from noticing that it is brimming over with temple teaching. McMurrin’s famous assumption that “You don’t get books from angels and translate them by inspiration” had a great deal to do with the poverty of his contribution to Book of Mormon scholarship, just as the richness of Nibley’s contribution has a great deal to do with his contrary assumption. The list could be lengthened indefinitely.

    The need to reconsider the assumptions underlying our paradigms when facing new information and observations fits with Jesus’s advice that “New wine should be put in new bottles.”

    There is no way to separate paradigm and evidence. The paradigm establishes the rules for deciding what methods to use, what counts as evidence, what you notice and what you value. The issue in comparing rival paradigms is always “Which paradigm is better?” And “better” is a value-based decision, not a rule-based one. Hence, paradigm choice cannot be forced, and paradigm choice always involves an element of faith. Even if that faith is in Enlightenment skepticism. Many years ago, I noticed that the values that Kuhn identified as operating to resolve paradigm debates are the same ones that Alma 32 identifies as operating to resolve questions of faith. (I’ve discussed this in varying levels of detail in Dialogue, Sunstone, JBMS, the FARMS Review, and most recently, a Sunstone presentation on “Paradigm Debate in Mormon Studies: A Brief Guide for the Perplexed” a couple of years ago.)

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  15. David Clark
    November 9, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    I had some time to read a bunch of the thread. In my opinion the most insightful post comes from cksalmon on page 4. He says among other things, Absolutely non-negotiable foundational claims–irrespective of evidence against them–is indicative of paradigm maintenance. There is no possibility at all, per this worldview, that one might actually be wrong in one’s foundational belief structure. That possibility is written off, a priori.

    I think he is spot on. What this whole discussion about is not about paradigm shift, it’s about paradigm maintenance. We like to call it paradigm shift because it is Kuhnian and sounds academically respectable, but that’s not what is going on here.

    If you read the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where this whole thing gets started, the example par excellance of paradigm shift is the shift from Newtonian Mechanics to Modern Physics (Relativity and Quantum Mechanics). Newtonian mechanics assumed some things which are beyond obvious to common everyday experience (linear uniform time, euclidean space, deterministic causality etc.) yet all were overthrown in the early 20th century. What if the physicists had simply said, “Sure, lots of things are negotiable, but not linear uniform time, euclidean space, and deterministic causality and stuck to that?” Quite simply you would never have gotten modern physics. It would have been paradigm maintenance pure and simple. At rock bottom this seems to be what Mormons want to do, declare some truths as so true that nothing could ever prove them wrong, and then declare everything else negotiable for whatever reasons they have. While I am not opposed to doing this, let’s call a spade a spade, it is not shifting paradigms, it’s maintaining them.

  16. November 9, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Best thing to do is to get folks to listen to Truman G. Madson tapes on Joseph Smith before reading Rough Stone Reading. They are still hagiography but very well done anecdotes from the Prophet’s life. What it does do though is really hit home the “a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such” lesson. Let them stew on that for a while. Then when it has sunk in they are reading for RSR.

  17. November 9, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    David, I think you are right, even though I have some troubles with Kuhn. (Of course so did Kuhn himself – read some of his latter reflections on Structure – he fully admits the problem with the term “paradigm.”) Overall though there are some notions we hold on to stronger than others. Which is fine. We have to do this. (So, for example, no scientist is going to totally throw causality or regular logic out the window )

    The problem is that many Mormons don’t think about what aspects of their beliefs are perhaps more “key” than others. So they are all thrown into a single bin. Which is very unfortunate.

  18. Jacob M
    November 9, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    In answer to the Julie’s question in the post, I experienced it while reading RSR. It had to do with the details of Joseph’s plural marriage, specifically taking other men’s wives as his own. It’s not exactly something that I was brought up with. I still don’t have a complete answer for it, even though I am still convinced that Joseph was the Lord’s prophet. I guess my faith is deeper now than before I read the book, specifically because my faith was challenged, and I was obliged to change my perception of the truth.

  19. Bob
    November 9, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    “What they really need to do is to reassess the assumptions they have made about who/what Joseph Smith was and move on from there. ASSUMPTIONS ?
    These are not believes the members ‘think up’. They are things they are taught their whole life by the Church. Is the Church open to you making your shift in their teachings? Not for most of it’s history! I would hate to have a question, and have Dave Clark tell me: ” If you read the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where this whole thing gets started, the example par excellence of paradigm shift is the shift from Newtonian Mechanics to Modern Physics (Relativity and Quantum Mechanics).

  20. MLU
    November 9, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    I do think Mormonism is in the midst of what you could call a paradigm shift, but I don’t think this in any way supersedes the really foundational beliefs, which have to do with love, faith and repentance.

    Another aspect of our reality that I don’t think is changing is that belief and action on belief often precede understanding, which I think is the sense of “proof” that Paul has in mind when he encourages us to prove all things. I believe that being “true” to marital vows for a few decades, for example, can teach some things that would be hard to learn other ways.

    For me, this contributes to my sense that truth is in important ways something we create–moving into the not-yet-created with faith, which I understand as a principle of power needed to make worlds. There are regularities “out there” which we need to respect and work with, and which teach us plenty if we submit to them, but the kingdom of heaven is a story we make true by desiring it, believing that reality can be so, and then acting on its behalf.

    But I don’t think any one else needs to agree with that view. I do think they need to find some way of understanding love, faith and repentance. (I rather think that the debunking habit, which constitutes the main thrust of modernity, is often a way of being quite stupid and judging things of great worth by a standard of less worth–being stuck in a narrow and limiting paradigm, if you will).

  21. comet
    November 10, 2007 at 5:59 am

    “If you come up against something (doctrinal, historical, etc.) that you can’t reconcile with some other (doctrinal, historical) aspect of the Church, do not come to the conclusion that the Church isn’t true. Come to the conclusion that you have misinterpreted something.”

    Hmm. OK, practical advice against jumping to conclusions. But what kind of thing is the church such that it cannot be touched by adverse evidence of one kind or another? And why is it that it’s the individual that gets it wrong and never the institution, or are we just talking about institutional boundary maintenance c.f. #15?

  22. Ray
    November 10, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    #21 – Huh?

    Most of the more difficult questions arise when the institution appears to have gotten it wrong – when “we never preached and believed in prophetic infallibility” has to get pulled out of the closet again and splashed in bold-face type everywhere.

  23. Bob
    November 10, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    #22: ‘ …Come to the conclusion that you have misinterpreted something. (Julie’s post)
    Is it your statement that: ” …the institution appears to have gotten it wrong”? So which party is to make a “Paradigm shift”

  24. Tartan
    November 10, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    Excellent comments all.
    I think a the easiest and yet most compelling answer to the problems presented by contradictory evidence is the fact that the Spirit told you it was true in an undeniable way at a previous point, and with faith, will tell you again at some point. One super-compelling aspect of Mormon doctrine is the fact that we are promised that someday all truth will be brought together in one whole. It is then that science, faith and reason will finally mix, or that an eternal type of truth which we now don’t comprehend will take precedence over all of them.

    Ultimately, I agree with the sentiment expressed by mmiles and others: we should not create God in our image, but try to figure out 1)Does God exist? and then 2)What is his character?
    If we are willing to enter those frightening chambers–willing to accept what ever we find–I believe that ultimately we will be pleased with what we find, but will steel ourselves to accept whatever aspects of God and his plan don’t measure up with the attitudes of “me” or “society”. I have always felt that leaving the Church over questions about polygamy, blacks or gays was just as foolish as leaving it over questions as to how Moroni made it through the ceiling and hovered over Joseph Smith with apparently no physical support. And that goes for both those who think later revelations on matters such as priesthood and polygamy were wrong as well as those who think that practices of the past were wrong.

  25. Brad Kramer
    November 10, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    I think some of the parables suggest that paradigm-shifting is intrinsic to revelation. The parable of the Good Samaritan, while manifestly rich and layered in meaning, is certainly not a morality tale–that is, Jesus is not telling us to be good Samaritans. Of course it’s good to be nice; but the parable itself has imbued the word Samaritan with so many positive, altruistic, mythic overtones that it has concealed from modern Christian readers how utterly shocking it likely was to its original hearers. No, it was not shocking to hear that it was good to be nice. Neither was the parable concerned with loving enemies (a Jew aiding a Samaritan who fell among the thieves would have made a much more effective object lesson in this case). This parable was a way of shattering the paradigms of its Jewish hearers, holding up their view of the world with all its assumptions and smashing it before their eyes. Think of the worst stereotyped epithet imaginable. Now, imagine a Teacher speaking as one having authority telling you a plausible narrative in an easily conceivable setting that forces you, linguistically and conceptually to speak the unspeakable, think the unthinkable–to string together two words that simply do not belong together: “good” and “[insert epithet of choice].” If we want to understand how the Savior’s words invaded and overthrew the paradigmatic universes of His disciples, we might imagine Him coming and telling a group of Wasatch Front Mormons the parable of the Good Temple Square Megaphone Preacher, or the Good Homosexual, the Good Radical Muslim, the Good Lesbian Feminist, the Good Militant Athiest. What if Jesus told a group of US soldiers the parable of the Good Insurgent?

    Jesus likens the speaking and hearing of this parable to the Kingdom, to God’s Sovereignty on earth. If we really seek truth and value revelation as a source of it, we must be prepared to be told things that we can’t even imagine, things that fundamentally challenge all our assumptions about who the good guys and bad guys are, about the way the world works. By speaking this parable with authority, Jesus actually gave His hearers the experience of the Kingdom, of God making His divine presence felt in the world, of something utterly not of this world.

    To avoid information that challenges assumptions and preconceived ideas, especially those designed to justify and even sanctify our own privileged position in this world, means more than just distorting truth in the manner of a garden-variety ideologue. It is to cast out the baby with the bathwater by shutting one’s ears to the searing, shocking, overturning power of the very voice of God.

  26. Bob
    November 10, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    #25:I have no problem with making a “Paradigm shift”, or dropping my old assumptions. I just don’t know that’s what the Church teaches. I think it’s message is follow your leaders, hold to the rod, ” avoid information that challenges…”. Again, what are these ‘assumptions, how did they get into my head, and how does reading RSR cause me problems?

  27. Brad Kramer
    November 10, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    If the Iron Rod is the Status Quo then you’re right–that is what the Gospel teaches. If, on the other hand, the Iron Rod is the Word of God, and if God has the right to say whatever He wishes, to provide earth-shattering revelations to those with the courage to seek them, to speak parables of Good Samaritans, to focus your attention on something so precious that you overturn every life plan you had up to that point, and sell everything you have to obtain it, to tell you what had never crossed your mind before (“none of them”), then any organization, institution (or institute), structure, force, power, or belief that discourages the uptake of p-shifting information or preaches rigid adherence to any status quo is ultimately drawing men away from God, even if it pays lip service to Him (or to the importance of revelation).

    This is not a rail against the Church itself or its leaders. It is directed at a Mormon culture (for lack of a better term) that seeks to reduce the entirety of the Gospel to the principle of Continuing Revelation while simultaneously reducing the possibilities of revelation to divine confirmations of following leaders and (pre)serving the status quo. To the degree that these cultural forces and the institutions of the Church interpenetrate, I am profoundly saddened by what we are collectively missing. But I also believe that God can abide our weaknesses and fulfill His purposes in spite of them.

  28. Bob
    November 10, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    #27: I agree. I think the ” Paradigm shift” should be toward openness, and I sense it is.

  29. MLU
    November 10, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    What I see in the church is a culture full of insights into living in a complex reality, in which people are inhabiting all sorts of levels of understanding. What is taught in public to all the world, including ten year olds, is necessarily simple and basic. More rarefied insights come, but they are often personal, in the sense that one should not be open and public with them.

    It is directed at a Mormon culture (for lack of a better term) that seeks to reduce the entirety of the Gospel to the principle of Continuing Revelation while simultaneously reducing the possibilities of revelation to divine confirmations of following leaders and (pre)serving the status quo. To the degree that these cultural forces and the institutions of the Church interpenetrate, I am profoundly saddened by what we are collectively missing.

    Church members who do not believe this will sweetly allow you to believe it. Do you long to have people come sit at your feet, to be enlightened?

  30. C
    November 10, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    Very great comments, all. Brad Kramer: very insightful comments. Other scriptural examples of paradigm shift as linked with revelation include Samuel\’s teaching (exhortation) to Saul that \”To obey is better than sacrifice,\” Abraham\’s unthinkable revelation to sacrifice Isaac, Nephi\’s command from the Spirit to kill Laban; even Alma\’s teaching to the poor downtrodden Zoramite multitudes in Alma 32 that worship need not be done only on a certain day in a certain place. Some of these paradigm shifts are due to apostasy; others seem like course corrections (or earth-shattering revelations, of the more intense variety) along the way.

    For someone to accept the Gospel requires (in nearly all cases) significant paradigm shifts. Members of the Church continue to need them (General Authorities, over the recent years, have pointed out many significant doctrinal points we don\’t get, which require a paradigm shift). One could consider the necessity of being continually nourished by the word of God, praying, serving, holding Family Home Evenings, and other things all require some sort of paradigm shift to truly be faithful. In this way, one could consider repentance some sort of paradigm shift (doesn\’t it denote a change of mind or fresh view of God)?

    \”We see through a glass darkly; but then, face to face,\” in the words of Paul. And so of necessity we must shift our paradigm to be more consistent with the divine perspective, which by nature we cannot fully comprehend nor possess in this life. For His ways are not our ways, etc.

    As I see it, the righteous, faithful Saint is continually following course corrections as the Lord directs. Some are small; others are orders of magnitude greater in significance and impact (i.e. Abraham, Joseph Smith). But to suppose that no paradigm shift is required is essentially accepting damnation (the stoppage of eternal progress). Even at the end of President MacKay\’s life, he had a bit of a \”paradigm shift\” as recounted by Elder Packer regarding comprehension of the nature of the Temple ordinances.

  31. Brad Kramer
    November 10, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    What is reduced in the blogosphere to pithy quotes is necessarily simple and basic. Of course I see LDS culture as a complex reality, in which the more rarefied insights of revelation are necessarily personal. Any suggestion on my part that my hyperbolically negative characterization of the conservative aspects the culture (which, I assume you’ll admit, are very present) applied universally and monolithically to all LDS, ruling out any and all difference and nuance, was equally hyperbolic and totally unjustifiable. My presence in the ‘naccle should suffice to demonstrate that I do not myself imbibe such sweeping generalities. Nonetheless, I am saddened by any social institutions that seek, consciously or not, to stifle the voice of God, whether inside or outside Mormonism. Saddened most, to be sure, by those that stifle my own ability to hear (my errant beliefs, my narcissistic desire to have people seek enlightenment at my feet so that I can put them in their place, my untutored willingness to be open and public with insights better kept to myself, etc).

  32. Bob
    November 10, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    #29: “What I see in the church is a culture full of insights into living in a complex reality”…no, that’s Oprah.
    Do you see the likes of RSR being too open for the public or Church members with it’s rarefied insights”? Or, Joseph Smith (See KFS) as being too public with his ” More rarefied insights”?

  33. MLU
    November 10, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    We may not be in the same paradigm. I’m okay with that.

  34. Ray
    November 10, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    MLU, that is profound – truly profound.

  35. November 12, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Brigham believed the Saints had a long way to go in terms of knowledge, and that we all ought to keep searching for further light and knowledge:

    “Though the veil is partially broken to the Saints, though it becomes thin, as it were, and the twilight appears like the dawning of the day, yet we may travel for many years before the sunshine appears. It does not yet appear to this people; they are merely in the twilight. As one expressed it in ancient times:
    ‘We see through a glass darkly’-through a smoked or dim glass-through which we cannot behold objects clearly with the natural eye” (Journal of Discourses 3:191).

    In a marvelous address to BYU students, Hugh B. Brown said “… while I believe all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure that I understand what he has revealed. The fact that he has promised further revelation is to me a challenge to keep an open mind and to be prepared to follow wherever my search for truth may lead…”

    Finally, the danger of following our own beliefs, ignoring counsel, or projecting our own will onto God is real but comfortable, as Marxist historian and writer Eugene D. Genovese chillingly described:

    “For if God is a socially conscious political being whose views invariably correspond to our own prejudices on every essential point of doctrine, he demands of us no more than our politics require.

    Besides, if God is finite, progressive, and Pure Love, we may as well skip church next Sunday and go to the movies. For if we have nothing to fear from this all-loving, all-forbearing, all-forgiving God, how would our worship of him constitute more than self-congratulation for our own moral standards?

    As an atheist, I like this God. It is good to see him every morning while I am shaving.”

  36. Bob
    November 12, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    #35: Wow! Three ( maybe four), paradigms in one post. Your last guy doesn’t seem much of a atheist. More like he’s looking under every rock for the ‘true God’.

  37. Ray
    November 12, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Bob, I think the point is that God without a judgment that includes the possibility of punishment (or differentiated rewards) might as well not be God at all. Remember, the famous Orson Pratt quote, “O, blush for modern Christianity! – a pious name for atheism!” (The Kingdom of God, Chapter 1 – referring to the idea of a God without body, parts or passions)

  38. Bob
    November 12, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    #37: I am in tune with #35’s 1,2,3 Paragraphs. I don’t know how to square (Julie’s post) ” What they really need to do is to reassess the assumptions they have made about who/what Joseph Smith was and move on from there.”, with “the danger of following our own beliefs,” (BHodges post). How do we ‘reassess’, without using our own thinking, and the forming new beliefs ( a Paradigm shift)? The reason I follow this Blog is to aid me in making Paradigm shifts. How do I make a shift (if needed), by closing my mind or RSR?

  39. Ray
    November 13, 2007 at 12:37 am

    Bob, I think you misunderstood the first quote. I think the intent was to use your mind and RSR to inform and change former, more simplistic assumptions – the kind that need to be taught in primary, but should yield to fuller understanding with time and maturity. Julie will have to answer it for herself, but that’s I took it.

  40. Ray
    November 13, 2007 at 12:39 am

    Sorry, I should have added that closing RSR might have been necessary for those people at that moment, but that the real “need” was the type of reassessment that would have allowed them to continue to read RSR and let go of their previous assumptions.

  41. Bob
    November 13, 2007 at 2:15 am

    #40: Where do I get these new less simplistic assumptions, if the Church wants me to hold onto the old ones, warns me of the danger of following my on beliefs, and I close RSR?

  42. Brad Kramer
    November 13, 2007 at 10:23 am

    To paraphrase Joseph Smith, can faith that needs to shut itself away from certain kinds of truth, that is threatened by measured, intellectually defensible scholarship, really lead men to salvation? If Brigham says our religion embraces all truth (could it possibly be otherwise?!?!) who are we not to take his words at face value? If God really wants us to be like Him, is it really possible that He also wants us to shut our eyes to certain truths and cling blindly to assumptions that keep us in our comfort zone? Comfort zones probably sound awfully nice to people who think that the object of our existence and purpose of salvation is to be restored to the good graces of an otherwise angry God; but knowing what we know as LDS, ‘comfort zone’ just sounds like a bland and ultimately dangerous euphemism for damnation.

  43. annegb
    November 13, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Paradigm shifts might bring people closer to the truth, but they don’t bring people closer to each other. Just try to discuss a personal paradigm shift in Sunday School. I’ve had my face ripped off–mostly by men–when I express what I find to be insight that goes against conventional wisdom. Not the principles and doctrines, just an opinion.

    I experienced a paradigm shift this year when a couple spoke in our ward who are widely regarded as non-traditional, therefore perhaps not as high up on God’s list as the rest of us.

    As I listened to them, I realized they knew the Lord and I further realized that it doesn’t matter half as much how “active” one is, if one is a bishop or the janitor who cleans the church, it’s the direction we are looking.

    Because even that bishop is failing in some area. Perhaps you guys knew that already, but I didn’t. I did a lot of comparing based on outward appearances of activity. Not so much anymore.

    I haven’t said that in Sunday School, though.

  44. Ray
    November 13, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Bob, I am trying to say that I think we are saying the same thing about what we need to do – and that it is what Julie said in the original post.

    Frankly, I don’t think the Church wants you to hold onto incorrect assumptions, close RSR and blindly follow others’ beliefs. Even as an institution, it has been willing to scrap incorrect assumptions and accept new paradigms. What it warns against is abandoning foundational principles of the Gospel in favor of alternative philosophies, running willy-nilly after the intellectualizations of man and publicly fighting against Priesthood leadership and authority. I know *so* many faithful members who disagree about *so* many things – which is the way it should be, imo, as long as they remain united in the faith and in their commitment to each other, their fellow man and the Church.

    If your own perspectives and beliefs put you at intellectual odds with a portion of the membership at large, welcome to my world (and the worlds of many others). It hasn’t stopped me (and them) from serving visibly in the Church and enjoying the blessings of the Restored Gospel. That’s part of the paradigm shift that happens with many – that there really can be a fulfilling marriage of spiritually connective unity and intellectually divergent individuality. I can read RSR and bless Bro. Bushman for having strengthened my testimony by writing it, while I worship next to someone who views it as blasphemous – and not see that as a problem in the moment. I can believe in various political ideas, while worshiping with others who disagree with many of those ideas – and not be concerned unduly about it. The Church encourages unity of thought about very few things, in reality, and even in those cases it recognizes various levels of understanding and perspective.

    Think about the temple recommend interview questions. Not one of them asks about what we think about the topic – how we construct our own paradigm concerning the question. Rather, all of them simply are basic yes/no questions – essentially, “Do you accept this basic tenet of the Restored Gospel and try to live this basic principle?” The details of how you get there and how you construct your world-view outside of the questions never is addressed. Those things are between you and God.

  45. Ray
    November 13, 2007 at 11:40 am

    annegb, Yeah, it’s one thing to believe something – and even to discuss it in a sympathetic forum like this usually is – and quite another to discuss it in a group setting with limited time and varying personality types and strengths of conviction. It’s also sad that I probably can get away with saying things in my ward that you probably can’t in yours simply because of my calling – that we can say the same thing but get different reactions. Unfortunately, that is a part of “the natural man” that most of us have not mastered completely yet.

    If you can’t express those things yet openly in those groups, hopefully you can in this one.

  46. annegb
    November 13, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Oh, yeah, here I say whatever I think.

    It’s probably my manner, also, though. One time I defended Lot’s wife rather stridently and it just made everybody mad. I couldn’t see how nobody could understand how hard it was for a mom to leave her children even if they were total sinners. I thought God was rather hard on her.

  47. David Clark
    November 13, 2007 at 12:20 pm


    While I in theory agree with your assessment of the situation in #44, I think in practice it is much different than you portray for the vast majority of church attending LDS. The actual social practice of the church contradicts what the theory you espouse says. I know the obvious retort is, “Well change it!” but it is not so obvious. Social practices take on a life of their own and can divorce themselves from texts and doctrines. The real problem is that those involved in the social practices rarely even notice the disconnect. The fact of the matter is that I think in most cases the situation you described where you like RSR and your fellow LDS parishoner thinks it is blasphemous is the norm. Assuming that is the norm, what kind of unity is there when your fellow parishoner thinks you read garbage, and probably will reap a bad reward for doing so? Unity is nice in theory, but I think there has to be something behind the unity, and if your fellow saint thinks you are going to hell (taking it to a logical, but extreme conclusion) what kind of unity exists?

    I am not saying the LDS church is unique in this. This is simply a fact of social life. Tocqueville noticed that while the USA has the most protections for freedom of speech he found that other countries actually had more free speech in practice. While you can say anything you want in the USA, you are marginalized and in a sense lose your ability to speak because no one will listen to you (when was the last time you saw a communist and a libertarian debating on CNN?). Something similar happens in the church. Sure, you can say lots of things, but many people find that what they have to say is simply not appreciated (like annegb was saying) and no one will listen. If no one will listen to you, because you have become marginalized, where is the unity?

    I have no solution to this problem, nor do I claim to know for a fact that it is a problem.

  48. Bob
    November 13, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Where do the last 10 or so posts unite ? Can these Paradigms overlap? I think they can in a hope/faith that truth is good, and worth the effort to find.

  49. Ray
    November 13, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    annegb, I can understand how that caused a storm. *grin* I have defended Laman and Lemuel in classes, but I usually do so in a soft voice and with a huge “when I put myself in their shoes, I can understand how hard it was” disclaimer. Again, my calling helps me avoid automatic scorn, and that’s a sad commentary on how people view authority, quite frankly.

    David, I understand and agree with what you said. All I’m saying is that there can be unity in many things even if there isn’t yet unity in all things. I often bite my tongue in class discussions because I just don’t think the disagreement and debate my view will initiate is worth making the comment. (Sometimes I do interject if I think it is important enough.) In most cases, the areas where we see things differently just aren’t important enough to me to jeopardize where we really are united.

    Bob, There is room for multiple paradigms within the Church, but we are left to work out the balance of individuality and unity on our own. I’ll take that over the alternative any day.

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