Belief as Cop Out

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Kishkumen
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Belief as Cop Out

Post by Kishkumen »

I have always admired philosophers and mystics because they are willing to do the hard work of pursuing the difficult questions. Most of us are unwilling to do so, although we remain happy to opine on issues that we have invested comparatively little or invested poorly in pursuing. Over time, I have particularly come to hate the words "belief" and "believe." My sense of the connotation of these words is that they are extremely weak and fuzzily subjective. "I believe" is a way of saying "I have an opinion on this subject, but I don't care enough to do the hard work of figuring this stuff out."

Now, words in themselves are neutral, but their use over time evolves, and how we individually react to words depends very much on where we are in our own personal journeys. So, I will speak for myself. Others are likely to react differently to these words (belief, believe) and that is OK with me. They certainly don't require my permission. My point of view on this reflects my experience as a former LDS person, and as someone living in the corporatist-consumer culture of today. Belief, to me, sounds like the intellectual equivalent of a consumer preference. It sounds like the declaration of a team player or tribe member.

While I might care why you prefer this brand over that one--and this is not to my credit--I don't know why I should care what you "believe." The word is used too much, and it isn't clear to me what force it should have or indeed does have in any given situation. Our language is too muddled at this point, and "belief" as such has little value to me anymore.

I do respect experience, including personal experience. If someone says they had a personal experience that leads them to a particular view or course of action, then I appreciate them telling me so. It does take more effort, and this is perhaps one reason why we are more likely to hear or read, "I believe," but I can respect and I do expect that people, motivated by their experiences, will choose one course of action as opposed to another.

I respect speculation. We can speculate on things and even follow those reasonable speculations down a particular path, not knowing for certain whether we are correct or how things will turn out. As limited and finite creatures with humble faculties of mind and sense, we can't apprehend it all and we can't know for a certainty everything we would ideally want to know and be certain about. We will have to do our best, so let's just accept that.

There was once a time when I thought saying "I know" in a testimony was a really terrible thing. How can people "know"? How do they "know the Church is true"? What does that even mean? What I think it means now is that people have cumulative positive experiences that they credit to the LDS Church. At the time, however, I thought it would be much more honest of me to say "I believe." Some of you may be able to resonate with that stage of wrestling with your spiritual lives. Now, I can't say that I have much patience for either expression.

My position now is that we do not and are not going to know a lot of things for certain, and so we would be better off honestly acknowledging that fact. When someone says, "I know . . . ," my skepticism is immediately engaged. When they say, "I believe . . . ," I am very tempted to respond with the question, "Who cares?" Tell me about your thoughts and your experience, but please do not tell me about your knowledge and belief regarding the big questions of reality and existence.

At the same time, one has to take into account the social value and function of these statements, and that is where I think the truth of them may reside. People assert knowledge and belief so that they can enjoy the community of those who share their knowledge and belief. Knowledge and belief in the big questions are evidence of a willingness to invest in something that is deemed important but is, at the same time and in many ways, an imponderable or insoluble issue. Where will this community go? Is the community good? Will it protect me and nourish me?

We can't "know," but if we are unwilling to signal our commitment to invest in the community by making these declarations, then we are not good prospects for belonging in the community. This is one reason why the more adamant, vocal, and fanatical members tend to find themselves at the core of a community. If assertions of these kinds are necessary to belong truly, then tripling down on them, or, more precisely, becoming a virtuoso in making such assertions, makes you a real pillar of the community.

My error is to have such an aversion to these declarations that I flee them and the communities that make these demands. The secret is that they all do. We cannot escape community demands that we toe the party line and join others in asserting things one cannot know for a fact. To say we know, and perhaps to believe it truly, or at least make the right gestures and statements, is the required commitment.
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Meadowchik
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by Meadowchik »

I agree that all communities require some level of belief-agreement. It's analogous to being polite in public. It is a basic communication of "I agree to the common set of rules and expectations." So understanding its role can help prevent its misuse, I think.
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Kishkumen
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by Kishkumen »

Meadowchik wrote:
Sun Apr 04, 2021 3:09 pm
I agree that all communities require some level of belief-agreement. It's analogous to being polite in public. It is a basic communication of "I agree to the common set of rules and expectations." So understanding its role can help prevent its misuse, I think.
Excellent point, MC.
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by Gadianton »

There was once a time when I thought saying "I know" in a testimony was a really terrible thing. How can people "know"?...We can't "know," but if we are unwilling to signal our commitment to invest in the community by making these declarations
That was pretty much how I recall a FARMS essay I read back in the day put it. Even though we don't really know, it shows our investment.

I do wonder how today's Mopologists bear testimony, since they believe science and empiricism are so bankrupt that we're walking the earth blind. They pretend that they don't think we can know anything in order to justify belief in anything.
I do respect experience, including personal experience. If someone says they had a personal experience that leads them to a particular view or course of action, then I appreciate them telling me so.
I'm not entirely sympathetic to personal experience. For one, consider the missionary training materials. Missionaries are required to manufacture personal experience to back up things that they present as true. For another, people are way too centered on their own experiences. There's a big world out there. For instance, my right-wing friend is full of personal experiences that justify his political racism. He has several stories where he's gone out of his way to help a black person and he got burned, and it was probably due to racism on the black person's part, and I think his stories are essentially true. He then crows about how he was brought up to treat everyone the same. And it really is true, that he's very generous to people of all color. He's especially kind to a certain group of black kids on the neighborhood when encountered within the HOA community spaces. But politically, he's 113% Trump, and the sum of his experiences tell him that whites are generally taught to see people equally, and blacks are generally taught to take advantage of whites.
While I might care why you prefer this brand over that one--and this is not to my credit--I don't know why I should care what you "believe." The word is used too much, and it isn't clear to me what force it should have or indeed does have in any given situation.
Yeah, this one one slippery fish. The Bible is riddled with the word 'believe' and that's where it gets its primary cultural currency; as you brought up the cultural aspect. But wow, what do people actually mean by it? Because I'm not sure that they actually mean what the Bible says it means. "Believe" is often synonymous with belief in a set of Christian propositions. For instance, a person who worships the devil might 'believe' in the devil but isn't a 'believer'. And belief isn't the antithesis to proof, as my right-wing friend, for instance, thinks the Bible is scientifically proven, while thinking science institutionally is inept, an exercise in liberal group-think.

"belief" can be a qualifier, interestingly. I'll sometimes say "I believe" when it comes to matters I accept but that I don't have the time, willpower, or ability, or there isn't enough info available to back with an unqualified statement of fact. For instance, I believe in global warming, but I haven't really put the time into understanding it with any depth. As a qualifier this way, I wouldn't go out of my way to preach it because I don't know enough about it. So this kind of qualification might not annoy you. No, you shouldn't care what I believe about global warming when I use "believe" to modify my acceptance of consensus, but I would never act as if you should. For the record, I don't believe RTM Nelson was ever on a plane with an engine fire.

A more interesting qualification I've seen, is with friends and family using "we believe" or "i believe" to take the edge off what they are saying to me. Yes, the Church is true" and the Book of Mormon is ancient without any room for doubt or error, and anybody who isn't brewing over with sin, or isn't stupid, or isn't angry and stubborn has to agree. Denying the Church as true as a member or former member, is like denying the sun in the noon day. However, if the friend or relative cares about me and is at a loss for how to communicate, I've noticed a tendency to step down their certainly level, by qualifying with "believe" or, "i can only tell you how I feel and what I've experienced" in order not to immediately invalidate what I think and experience, even though anything I say is automatically invalid. They're trying to be nice about it though, if that makes sense.
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by Philo Sofee »

Kishkumen
My position now is that we do not and are not going to know a lot of things for certain, and so we would be better off honestly acknowledging that fact. When someone says, "I know . . . ," my skepticism is immediately engaged. When they say, "I believe . . . ," I am very tempted to respond with the question, "Who cares?" Tell me about your thoughts and your experience, but please do not tell me about your knowledge and belief regarding the big questions of reality and existence.
I believe this is an interesting point..... :lol:

This is quite an interesting article that I am going to have to think on.

Perhaps you mean belief in some kind of religious aspect of life is what you mean when you say you feel like I don't care what you believe? In a religious battle of knowledge between different sects, it would appear to me to be rather important to know if those on your side would believe they can overcome obstacles of differing interpretations. And thus when the time comes to explore and analyze the options, some are going to support your point of view because they believe that is what it means. They don't know, but they believe it could mean what they think it means based on their own research. I would think that belief would be quite important based on the facts they are familiar with. The problem would appear to me to be if they said they know this is the meaning. No one knows that. One can believe it, but knowing it is a different animal. I have in mind the Jewish approach to the Hebrew scriptures here, since they are very well aware that there is not a single correct or true meaning to the scriptures, hence the reason they must be interpreted, but no interpretations be discarded! A fascinating way to look at it.
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Gadianton
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by Gadianton »

Philo wrote: it would appear to me to be rather important to know if those on your side would believe they can overcome obstacles of differing interpretations. And thus when the time comes to explore and analyze the options, some are going to support your point of view because they believe that is what it means
.

A masterful comment Philo. You have DCP nailed. I've never seen somebody so central to a cause who can say so little about what the cause actually believes. The Brethren are in this same boat. There is nobody in Mormonism who appear to know less about what Mormonism teaches than the leaders themselves.
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by honorentheos »

Kishkumen wrote:
Sun Apr 04, 2021 1:58 pm
I have always admired philosophers and mystics because they are willing to do the hard work of pursuing the difficult questions.

Now, words in themselves are neutral, but their use over time evolves, and how we individually react to words depends very much on where we are in our own personal journeys. So, I will speak for myself. Others are likely to react differently to these words (belief, believe) and that is OK with me. They certainly don't require my permission. My point of view on this reflects my experience as a former LDS person, and as someone living in the corporatist-consumer culture of today. Belief, to me, sounds like the intellectual equivalent of a consumer preference. It sounds like the declaration of a team player or tribe member.

While I might care why you prefer this brand over that one--and this is not to my credit--I don't know why I should care what you "believe." The word is used too much, and it isn't clear to me what force it should have or indeed does have in any given situation. Our language is too muddled at this point, and "belief" as such has little value to me anymore.

I do respect experience, including personal experience. If someone says they had a personal experience that leads them to a particular view or course of action, then I appreciate them telling me so. It does take more effort, and this is perhaps one reason why we are more likely to hear or read, "I believe," but I can respect and I do expect that people, motivated by their experiences, will choose one course of action as opposed to another.

I respect speculation. We can speculate on things and even follow those reasonable speculations down a particular path, not knowing for certain whether we are correct or how things will turn out. As limited and finite creatures with humble faculties of mind and sense, we can't apprehend it all and we can't know for a certainty everything we would ideally want to know and be certain about. We will have to do our best, so let's just accept that.

There was once a time when I thought saying "I know" in a testimony was a really terrible thing. How can people "know"? How do they "know the Church is true"? What does that even mean? What I think it means now is that people have cumulative positive experiences that they credit to the LDS Church. At the time, however, I thought it would be much more honest of me to say "I believe." Some of you may be able to resonate with that stage of wrestling with your spiritual lives. Now, I can't say that I have much patience for either expression.

My position now is that we do not and are not going to know a lot of things for certain, and so we would be better off honestly acknowledging that fact. When someone says, "I know . . . ," my skepticism is immediately engaged. When they say, "I believe . . . ," I am very tempted to respond with the question, "Who cares?" Tell me about your thoughts and your experience, but please do not tell me about your knowledge and belief regarding the big questions of reality and existence.

At the same time, one has to take into account the social value and function of these statements, and that is where I think the truth of them may reside. People assert knowledge and belief so that they can enjoy the community of those who share their knowledge and belief. Knowledge and belief in the big questions are evidence of a willingness to invest in something that is deemed important but is, at the same time and in many ways, an imponderable or insoluble issue. Where will this community go? Is the community good? Will it protect me and nourish me?

We can't "know," but if we are unwilling to signal our commitment to invest in the community by making these declarations, then we are not good prospects for belonging in the community. This is one reason why the more adamant, vocal, and fanatical members tend to find themselves at the core of a community. If assertions of these kinds are necessary to belong truly, then tripling down on them, or, more precisely, becoming a virtuoso in making such assertions, makes you a real pillar of the community.

My error is to have such an aversion to these declarations that I flee them and the communities that make these demands. The secret is that they all do. We cannot escape community demands that we toe the party line and join others in asserting things one cannot know for a fact. To say we know, and perhaps to believe it truly, or at least make the right gestures and statements, is the required commitment.
I don't think you erred in resisting the compulsion to give in to the community by acknowledging certitude and the mob's preference for it is an illusion. You may always have to stand a bit outside the circle by chosing that truth, but you'll never do so as a pretender.

The best societies aren't ones of conformities, but of acceptance of differences.
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by Res Ipsa »

Thanks for that, Reverend. I can’t say that I hate those words, but I find them mildly irritating. And I’ve never tried to figure out why. You’ve given me something to chew on.
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by Moksha »

I feel happy when religionists say I believe rather than I know. I myself have a lot of beliefs and I think that is true with most people. Belief is a normal state of being.
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Re: Belief as Cop Out

Post by Kishkumen »

Gadianton wrote:
Sun Apr 04, 2021 4:59 pm
I do wonder how today's Mopologists bear testimony, since they believe science and empiricism are so bankrupt that we're walking the earth blind. They pretend that they don't think we can know anything in order to justify belief in anything.
By anything, I am assuming you mean LDS doctrine? So, you are saying that since they don't believe in knowledge, per se, they can possible really mean what they say when they declare their testimony of knowledge. I get what you are saying here, but one thing that I see bedeviling the conversation here is the limitation of the word knowledge to a single sense, as in, "there is only one way to know anything." Obviously, they would separate out scientific knowledge from spiritual knowledge and prioritize the latter, no? Science is fine as far as it goes, but where it conflicts with spiritual knowledge, then the obvious choice is to go with the spiritual.

I am not so opposed to the idea of different kinds of knowledge. What I am opposed to is taking one's personal knowledge of a spiritual kind and imposing the consequences of that knowledge on others. I would also love it if people had some intelligible system of spiritual knowledge. This is something I think Christianity lost in its march to greater freedom of diversity in doctrine and practice. Now, people basically think that anything they make up is as good as anything else, and I don't think that's true. Mormon doctrine has nothing to compete with the sophistication of a Clement of Alexandria or an Origen, let alone the Cappadocian Fathers.

Still, my preference is to say that knowledge is something I seek, not something I possess. Offensive, in my view, is to say I know something when in fact I really don't. That's how I see things. Others obviously feel much more comfortable saying they know the Book of Mormon is true on the basis of a good feeling after they prayed about it. Not only does the word "know" not mean anything fixed in that context (neither does the word "true" come to think of it)--perhaps our dear consul would say that this as much as anything a kind of gesture not a fully formed thought--but there is an aversion to having any kind of discussion about what it might mean, or what the consequences of not feeling one way as opposed to another after praying about it should be.
Gadianton wrote:
Sun Apr 04, 2021 4:59 pm
I'm not entirely sympathetic to personal experience. For one, consider the missionary training materials. Missionaries are required to manufacture personal experience to back up things that they present as true. For another, people are way too centered on their own experiences. There's a big world out there. For instance, my right-wing friend is full of personal experiences that justify his political racism. He has several stories where he's gone out of his way to help a black person and he got burned, and it was probably due to racism on the black person's part, and I think his stories are essentially true. He then crows about how he was brought up to treat everyone the same. And it really is true, that he's very generous to people of all color. He's especially kind to a certain group of black kids on the neighborhood when encountered within the HOA community spaces. But politically, he's 113% Trump, and the sum of his experiences tell him that whites are generally taught to see people equally, and blacks are generally taught to take advantage of whites.
Yes, we cannot guarantee that personal experience is going to lead people where we want them to land. That's true. The LDS Church is very frustrated when people don't have a burning in the bosom after praying about the Book of Mormon, for example. Personal experience is tough to control. That's why other mechanisms seem to be necessary.

Here is what I have to say about your friend. I can handle the fact that he makes what I view to be objectionable decisions on the basis of his personal experience. There is an honesty to his bad decisions. I would venture to say that he is not thinking through the problems quite far enough. So hopefully he does not really think that he knows what is what here. He clearly doesn't. If he says he believes he knows, when he is not going to the trouble of thinking things through further, then I would fault him for that, too. If, however, he shares his personal experience as he sees it, I can accept that this is his perception of things with equanimity. I may not agree with his interpretations, but at least he is being open and honest about his experience and perception.

I am not saying that I trust what other people do with their personal experiences. I don't. I am saying that I prefer that they share what is their experience over telling me what they believe or claim to know. Belief shields or occludes experience. Knowledge is often an arrogant claim that outstrips one's actual ability to grapple with reality. Drawing conclusions based on inadequate information and then parading it around as something it is not.
Yeah, this one one slippery fish. The Bible is riddled with the word 'believe' and that's where it gets its primary cultural currency; as you brought up the cultural aspect. But wow, what do people actually mean by it? Because I'm not sure that they actually mean what the Bible says it means. "Believe" is often synonymous with belief in a set of Christian propositions. For instance, a person who worships the devil might 'believe' in the devil but isn't a 'believer'. And belief isn't the antithesis to proof, as my right-wing friend, for instance, thinks the Bible is scientifically proven, while thinking science institutionally is inept, an exercise in liberal group-think.
I don't know what we do with people who have such a confused mindset, and yet almost everyone is exactly in this confused place.
"belief" can be a qualifier, interestingly. I'll sometimes say "I believe" when it comes to matters I accept but that I don't have the time, willpower, or ability, or there isn't enough info available to back with an unqualified statement of fact. For instance, I believe in global warming, but I haven't really put the time into understanding it with any depth. As a qualifier this way, I wouldn't go out of my way to preach it because I don't know enough about it. So this kind of qualification might not annoy you. No, you shouldn't care what I believe about global warming when I use "believe" to modify my acceptance of consensus, but I would never act as if you should. For the record, I don't believe RTM Nelson was ever on a plane with an engine fire.
It annoys me because of the overuse of the word. I would prefer other words that describe the same situation. If I have to say, "I believe," and leave it at that, it may be better just to say nothing. When I say these things (that I am writing at present), I am in the process of working through the problem, working through my thoughts and feelings on the issue. In real life I will not rudely interrupt someone and chastise them for using the word believe in that situation.
A more interesting qualification I've seen, is with friends and family using "we believe" or "i believe" to take the edge off what they are saying to me. Yes, the Church is true" and the Book of Mormon is ancient without any room for doubt or error, and anybody who isn't brewing over with sin, or isn't stupid, or isn't angry and stubborn has to agree. Denying the Church as true as a member or former member, is like denying the sun in the noon day. However, if the friend or relative cares about me and is at a loss for how to communicate, I've noticed a tendency to step down their certainly level, by qualifying with "believe" or, "i can only tell you how I feel and what I've experienced" in order not to immediately invalidate what I think and experience, even though anything I say is automatically invalid. They're trying to be nice about it though, if that makes sense.
"My point of view is . . . ." That's what I think I would rather hear. I can talk about someone's point of view. When they say, "I believe," I get the sense that they are holding me at arm's length until I join them, without them having provided me any good reason to induce me to go where they are.

It really blows my mind that Joseph Smith started a church, and I have trouble not attributing it to the mass ignorance of humanity that he did so. First we start with his ignorance, and then we move on to the ignorance of the many people who followed him. And now we have millions of people who are ignorant who have for one reason or another ended up in this organization, paying their money to an edifice constructed on a foundation of gaping ignorance.

And that's not the whole of it, or even the worst thing. It was not just ignorance, but actually antipathy to certain kinds of knowledge. I can go out in my backyard and pour out my heart in prayer and then God will fill my heart with a feeling that makes me change my entire life and the lives of others. Many of the questions I have and ways of interpreting things are actually old hat. If I had read copiously in the right literature, I might actually have a sense of what the status quaestionis is on that thing. But, no, I dare all the doctors and learned persons to contend with the thing I felt when I prayed, and I condemn and mock them when they give me answers I don't like because I haven't made the effort to understand them.

It is difficult for me not to liken the situation to my hobby of buying electronic instruments. There are now almost limitless varieties of electronic instruments. They come in all varieties, prices, and functionalities. Sometimes certain instruments do so much that they inhibit the ability of the owner to grapple with the instrument and actually make music with it. There are too many sounds, too many parameters to change, too many options. So now people start talking about the creativity that comes from limitations. Let's have instruments that can do fewer things so that we can get back to the simple joy of twisting a few knobs and not have 10,000 sounds to file through! Who knows what all of those knobs and jacks do? Let's not even start to talk about menu-diving!

And here is where I think these Christian churches come in. Mormonism is a real middle-brow. niche form of Christianity. It is just quirky enough not to be the same old, same old, but when you get under the surface, there really isn't a lot going on. And yet it has that sweet spot of fiddliness and odd ideas that suck in a certain kind of person, someone who aspires to be deep but has no real idea what deep means, sometimes just for lack of exposure. It is almost like the sci-fi nerd who isn't brilliant or dedicated enough to pursue astrophysics but can tell you the combination to Captain Kirk's safe in season X, episode Y. Who knows why it should be beneficial to "know" that, but, darn it, you can feel special because you are one who does!

When I say Mormonism in the above paragraph, I am of course talking about "Mormonism" as it is today. When people learn what was going on in the 1820s-40s, they fall apart for lack of any point of reference. What was happening at the time seems to have been a kind of DIY utopian project from people who had big aspirations and almost no real understanding of anything. They pulled in all kinds of interesting stuff, shuffled it around as they went along, and got really tangled up when the real-world ramifications of their cockamamie ideas started to unravel their plans.

Where does one go to start to get a handle on something that really didn't have much of a handle to begin with? What if it is a Rube Goldberg machine that doesn't actually do much of anything but merely attract attention as a curiosity? Everyone is standing around the thing, drinking Kool Aid and remarking on how interesting it is, pondering what it is for, coming up with various theories, and yet never recognizing that it was always designed simply to get people to come up and talk about it and drink Kool Aid. To say I believe or know anything in that kind of situation is bonkers. I am back in Plato's cave, but the Kool Aid is sweet and the conversation is diverting.

I am not denying the possibility that a spiritual system can have a point and actually do things, but I have to wonder whether Mormonism as it currently is configured fits the bill. It takes people so far and then leaves them adrift because no one ever took the time to really work anything out. Maybe the incomplete Rube Goldberg machine can be configured so there is a ball that lands somewhere intentionally. Right now I don't even see that there is a ball. There is a raffle to buy tickets to pay guys to build a lovely building to house the machine, and pay people to man the doors and count the money, and yet there is no ball and even if there were it wouldn't go anywhere. The machine never worked. It was essentially a sculpture built by a young, inexperienced artist who liked the way Rube Goldberg machines look. Everyone was so enthused by his charm and big ideas that the club essentially exists as a legacy to his half-baked sales pitch.
Last edited by Kishkumen on Mon Apr 05, 2021 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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