Monday, January 7, 2008

The Early Roots of Doubt

Sunday, January 06, 2008

My name is Brent Fisher. I live in Highland Utah. I am a Mormon since my birth, 12 May, 1972. After so many years have passed, I realize now that I must write according to my conscience, both intellectual and spiritual. I suppose the reason that I have not written about this before may stem from my own procrastination. But I think in the interest of my own intellectual honesty, I believe that I am not actually that lazy of a person, but my procrastination has stemmed from a deeply held fear of the truth. This need to procrastinate complexity has formed many bad habits in my life, including excessive TV watching and other wastes of time aimed at taking my mind of off discovering truth.

I think most of us fear some sort of truth. There are many truths that instead of setting a man free, may remove the simplicity from that man’s life, leaving room for an intellectual complexity that could affect most aspects of life including the most important ones. The truths that I speak of are far more inconvenient than the inconvenient truth spoken of by Al Gore. While his truth is inconvenient in that it would cause most of us to bicycle in to work, or car pool, or ride the bus, or telecommute, I speak of life’s complexities.

These complexities are difficult to describe, perhaps, to those who haven’t experienced them. To these fortunate souls, I smile in love and often wish I were them. The spiritual and intellectual complexities that I am speaking about would seem to challenge and shake most of the everyday life. These complexities would change how all of your current relationships with other loved ones would be formed. Family members, who once loved you and cherished you, would now grimace and feel displaced hatred or confusion towards you. Or worse, they may feel misplaced pity.

These complexities may strain extended family relationships in much the same way that you might accidentally strain a muscle in a sporting event, but this muscle may never heal. If each muscle represents one of the aspects of your everyday life like a relationship, or going to work and the sporting event represents life. You may have once enjoyed this sporting event immensely, but now that all your muscles are strained, the sporting event is now painful. The metaphor may not be exactly right, but sometimes it feels like it.

Now imagine, those pains would not occur if you would simply ignore the cause of that pain. Would you do it? For so long, that is exactly what I did. I have endeavored to ignore those stirrings of intellectual incongruity to allow me to continue to enjoy the sport of life.
I am not entirely sure what has caused my intellect to convince my smarter self to quit ignoring those stirrings and investigate. I think part of it must have come from my own stubbornness. Perhaps it was this or something more virtuous such as the proverbial search for truth. I rather doubt it is the latter, since I generally consider myself a bit on the lazy side, but I am a rather stubborn, yet patient man. Whatever it was, I finally started paying attention about three years ago. The seeds of this complexity were planted, however, long before that.

I don’t want to delve too much into the Mormon culture because there is plenty of material out there that talks about both the Doctrine and the culture of Mormonism. I want to just kind of sum it up. I was born into a Mormon family, complete with my Mom and Dad and eight kids. Growing up, I believed in Mormonism because it felt good and my parents were very strong and faithful in taking me to church every Sunday. We all participated faithfully. There are a lot of good things about Mormonism. Following the teachings taught in Mormonism produce a pretty good society I think. I went to church, including Sunday school, Priesthood and graduated from Seminary. When the time came for me to serve an LDS mission, I served in the Barranquilla Colombia mission in 1991-1992, after I graduated from High School. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Although I had heard of the anti-Mormon literature produced and distributed at the Mormon Miracle Manti Pageant, I was able to intellectually ignore them for most of my teenage life. None of these complexities entered into my life until one day while walking back to my flat in Barranquilla Colombia.

One evening, while heading back to my flat after another hard working day of missionary work, a young man in his twenties began to walk with my companion and me. This young man didn’t talk to us, but waited to be talked to. He knew that even poor grade missionaries wouldn’t pass up a chance to open their mouth to a contact that they didn’t have to knock on a door for.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about my discussion with this fellow. I just want to say that we soon found out that this fellow was a returned missionary who had attended Rick’s College in Idaho. He had since left the church. When we asked him why, he told us that he had discovered that the Book of Mormon had been changed quite a bit since its first release and that to change the book changed some of the doctrine in it as well. This paradox, or conflict of it being a book given by revelation from God, but then requiring revisions to maintain consistency with Mormon doctrine was one of the main reasons that this man left the church and returned to his home in Barranquilla.

After this brief meeting with this man, my companion and I were both mostly speechless for about an hour. We both were shaken. I was fearful to speak a single word of my thoughts to my companion. My companion was much bolder, however. I’m glad he was. After some time spent in deep self thought, he spoke to me. “Did that shake you up like it shook me up?” I answered affirmatively. “Let’s call the Mission President.”

Our conversation helped to ease our fears and thoughts. Our Mission President spoke of the Holy Ghost and the feelings we had that confirmed that the Book of Mormon was true. I justified my belief at that point again, and continued my mission faithfully until its fulfillment. I rarely revisited that experience again during my mission except to immediately dismiss it without further thought. To do so proved practical, convenient and necessary. Any more thoughts about it and I would have had to get to the bottom of it, and the bottom may have led to somewhere that didn’t fit with being on a mission for the Mormons.

I was plenty able to dismiss this first conflict. Then, after I returned home from my mission, I began dating a girl named Tara. Tara and I decided to take a class on the Pearl of Great Price. I didn’t know too much about it, and I hadn’t studied it much. Neither had she. So we began our classes at the Logan Institute of Religion at Utah State University. In that class, we learned that the Pearl of Great Price was papyrus translated by Joseph Smith. The papyrus came from a sort of travelling museum. Members of the church brought the papyrus to Joseph to see what he thought. He declared it as writings from Abrahams own hand. Then our instructor told us more about the history of this papyrus. How it was first believed to be burned in the Chicago fire, but then later turned up at the Metropolitan Museum and ultimately made its way back to the church. It has since been translated using the Rosetta stone and the true translation of the remaining Papyrus discovered. I have learned that this is highly controversial even within the church, and that scholars within the church don’t actually agree on what went on there. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it here because there has been so many books written about it both within and without of the church, that to reproduce it all here would be ridiculous. I will state, however, our instructor’s view. Our instructor taught that when Joseph Smith proclaimed to translate the Papyrus, he used the term ‘translate’ to mean receive a revelation. I.e. Joseph used the papyrus as a sort of spiritual catalyst to receive the Book of Abraham as revelation. At the time, this sat well with me, but ultimately, did not. I took this class sometime in 1994, I believe. I procrastinated resolving it with myself until after I married, had kids and moved back to live in Utah three years ago.

One day, while I worked for Dynix in Provo, I thought upon that experience once more. My thoughts wouldn’t allow me to procrastinate resolution on the matter any longer. I had to decide for myself if I could agree with that man’s intellectual and spiritual reconciliation on the translation vs. revelation matter as it concerns the Book of Abraham. I tried to convince myself that the explanation made sense and that I could continue with my life. If I could agree with the view, then I could maintain simplicity in my life. But I couldn’t do it. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that I agreed.

In my mind, either the man translated the Book of Abraham as he said he did, or he should have stated to the world that while he did not translate it, he did receive it as revelation.
I did not agree with it. I knew that I did not agree with it. I felt strongly that I should trust myself and my intellect. If I was wrong, at least I was wrong by myself, not wrong because of so many people before me. I knew that if I were to act on this, I would begin to be singled out, to feel alone. Despite this fear of separating myself from this church, from this social organization that I have known my whole life, I knew that I had to do it. I can’t say that I had hours of continuous deep reflection on the matter. I didn’t. In fact, I did everything in my power to ignore the conflict in my mind. I watched a lot of TV.

Next Intellectual Honesty

3 comments:

Suspicious Minds said...

Ignorance is bliss. Why oh why didn't I take the blue pill!

Brent said...

The blue pill would have been so much better. Thanks for reading.

Blank Field said...

My two Missionary Time Bombs:

1. Helping to run a small Branch in Cuautla, Morelos, Mexico. David O. MacKay had opened Cuautla to the gospel in 1929. By 1966 some customs had flourished, like annoiting and blessing the sick after Fast Sunday meetings. What a shock that was to me, a newly minted Senior Companion! But the real shock came when a down-from-the-mountains Indian family brought in their newest baby, who was a Downes Syndrome baby, asking us to 'heal' the baby. What a mental tussle!! Later, after failing to 'cure' the baby, it was easy to forgive myself for not having sufficient faith. And then the question lanced into my mind, could Pres. MacKay have 'healed' the baby?

2. Now comfortably settled into the role of a seasoned Senior Companion, we get invited back on a tracting contact. But when we arrive, there's their evangelical minister. Fine, I say to myself. This will give my Junior a chance to practice excercise his Spanish and his trained Bible. When the time is right, I'll dramatically bear my testimony and we'll then exit, stage right. But just about when I'm thinking it's about time to stage the final scene, the minister stands up and speaks in a very grave tone, "Young men, I want you to know that I know that God lives and that His Son, Jesus Christ, came to the earth to pay for our sins and to make the way easy for us to return to live with the Father. etc., etc., etc.

What could we do? You can't have two final acts! No one had prepared us for a 'dueling Testimony' situation.

And the questioning just naturally followed: was my Testimony worth more then his? I would have to admit that he was sincere, but wrong, which is what he would have said about me!

No way was I ever going to be able to prove which of all the Truths was true! And if 999,999,999,999,999 etc. truths were not true, why couldn't all of them be untrue?

Thanks (or sorry) for letting me vent!