So speaking of arguments, you know where I wish it was more acceptable to express disagreement? Church settings like Sunday School, institute classes, and Come Follow Me groups. Of course, there's no rule as such within my faith tradition against vocal disagreement, but there is a general attitude of let's all get along and not cause any "contention" that could drive away the Spirit. Sometimes this means that one person says something that everyone else in the room knows is insane bullcrap, but they all just kind of smile and nod and try to move on as quickly as possible. I was in an Elders' Quorum class once where a guy asserted that homosexuality used to be good because it prevented overpopulation, but now we don't have to worry about overpopulation because we can go to other planets, so now homosexuality is bad. The teacher just kind of smiled and nodded and tried to move on as quickly as possible. You have to pick your battles. I didn't like that guy until he gave me a candy bar and then I felt guilty for not liking him.
I experienced this myself when I filled in to teach a Sunday School lesson and a lady who was there for some reason despite being too old for a YSA ward made some comment, I don't remember precisely what, about the need to turn to God instead of the internet for knowledge. I personally get a little exasperated at people belittling "the internet" as if the source medium itself somehow invalidates the accumulated knowledge of humankind found therein. Yeah, it also enables the proliferation of lots of stupid made-up crap, but if you have a few brain cells and some common sense, you can usually tell what's what and find the internet a mind-blowingly useful tool for gathering information. So trying to constructively build off this lady's comment, I agreed and noted that the Holy Ghost can help us find sources and discern which are reliable. No, she insisted, we need to rely only on God, not manmade sources. The slightly manic look in her eyes advised me that pushing the issue would be futile. For the record, though, I think what she said was idiotic. I see little or no reason why God should tell you anything via direct personal revelation that you could find out yourself with a Google search.
Before the you-know-what canceled everything, I participated in and sometimes led a Come Follow Me group in the stake that I'm not even a part of anymore. And I enjoyed it but there are a few times I wish I could have critiqued what was being said. I could have, I suppose, but it would have ruined the illusory atmosphere of everyone agreeing with everything anyone in the group said because we're all part of the same church and that means we believe the same things. So I'm going to go on record with my disagreements here instead.
1. We were talking once about how death is just a step in the Plan of Salvation and not something to be sad about because we'll all be resurrected someday. The people in our group over sixty talked about how they weren't sad at all when their parents died at ripe old ages after living full lives. Everyone seemed to regard those examples as representative and sufficient proof of the point at hand. My parents (and grandparents for that matter) are still alive, so instead I thought of, but didn't mention, a friend of mine whose twenty-something brother was crushed to death in a workplace accident a couple years ago, leaving behind two very young children who probably won't even remember him. Everyone in this friend's ward tried to tell her it was okay because she'll be with him again someday. She found this so insensitive that she stopped going to church.
It's okay for death to be sad. Some deaths, in fact probably an overwhelming majority when the circumstances of most of the world's population is considered, are untimely, unpleasant and unfair. And knowing that you'll be with someone again at some unspecified future date doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't miss them here and now. Remember when Lazarus died in the Bible and, quote, "Jesus wept", close quote? Even though Jesus knew full well that Lazarus was going to be resurrected someday? And even though in this instance Jesus brought him back to life maybe five minutes later at most? He validated Lazarus' sister's mourning by mourning with her. He acknowledged that no matter who you are or what you know, death is meant to be sad.
2. The guy leading the discussion mentioned an incident here in Utah a few years ago where a teenage girl was shot in the head and left in a ditch by two teenage boys. She survived and made a remarkable recovery from her severe injuries. Most people regard this as an inspiring story. But this guy said that in court, when the boys asked for forgiveness, both the girl and her father were like "I hate you and I hope you're never happy again." How awful, the guy said, that now these boys have to live with that for the rest of their lives. What I said was nothing. What I wanted to say was "Are you -----ing me?"
Yes, we're supposed to forgive everyone, but that doesn't mean everyone deserves to be forgiven. If she had forgiven them, it would have made an inspiring and faith-promoting story precisely because they were scum and didn't deserve it. But because she didn't, I'm supposed to feel sorry for them? I'm supposed to feel bad that they have to live with the guilt of being attempted murderers? Maybe they could have avoided that by, I don't know, not shooting someone in the head? In fairness, I don't think they should have to live with that for long either because I think they should have been fed to wolves. But that's beside the point. Anyway, I know he didn't relate this story to be judgmental, but still I think it's out of line to bring up someone else's failure or refusal to forgive something that any normal person would find really really hard to forgive. It's not my concern or my problem. God will deal with everyone involved as He sees fit.
3. Any time someone says something like "I love science, but..." I brace for them to follow up with something stupid that makes a liar out of them. In this case, though, I was pleasantly surprised at first. The girl talking made a legitimate point about the built-in limits of scientific knowledge and the dangers of scientism (though she didn't use that term). And she made a legitimate point about the uncertainty principle limiting how much we can know about the universe whether in principle or practice. But then she went full-on god of the gaps. She said her faith is strengthened by how much we don't know, and scientists still can't explain dark matter so that proves God exists. She lamented that scientists refuse to let God be part of science or taught in schools even though they can't prove He doesn't exist. I'm paraphrasing from memory but that was basically it. I mentally decided that I would never try to date her.
One of the senior missionaries chimed in, "So we didn't evolve from pond scum?"
Everyone else: *chuckle at those silly scientists who are so dumb they think we evolved from pond scum*
Okay, first of all, we know a lot more than we used to and we're going to know a lot more in the future than we do now, exponentially more in fact, so basing her testimony even in part on what we don't know at this current moment in time is stupid. Maybe scientists will figure out dark matter and maybe they won't, but how awkward will she feel if they do? Does she assume dark matter is by its very nature inexplicable in terms of the physical world? Does she think it's just magic?
Henry Drummond explained why this way of thinking is stupid more eloquently than I could, so I'll just let him take it from here: "There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps - gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in the gaps? What view of Nature or of Truth is theirs whose interest in Science is not in what it can explain but in what it cannot, whose quest is ignorance not knowledge, whose daily dread is that the cloud may lift, and who, as darkness melts from this field or from that, begin to tremble for the place of His abode? What needs altering in such finely jealous souls is at once their view of Nature and of God. Nature is God's writing, and can only tell the truth; God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."
On top of that, she contradicted her own legitimate points. As she pointed out, science has limits and can't explain purely spiritual things or the meaning of life. Why, then, does she think it should incorporate God directly into its theories? To plug the gaps, right, but you can't have it both ways. As she pointed out, they can't prove He doesn't exist, and that's precisely why they avoid the question altogether. Science deals with things that can be falsified. It tests them over and over again until they're proven wrong. If the theory of evolution by natural selection is not true, that can be demonstrated (though of course, no matter how much creationists try to pretend, it has not been). If God's existence is not true, that cannot be demonstrated. If scientists searched every molecule of the observable universe (which they can't) and failed to find Him, they still couldn't be sure He wasn't hiding in another galaxy too distant to reach, or another plane of existence untouchable by our human senses and instruments altogether. Keeping God out of the laboratories and schools isn't an attack on religion, it's just the way legitimate science has to be done. If He didn't want that to be the case He wouldn't have gone the whole "faith" route.
Of course, my overall experience in this Come Follow Me group has been quite positive and I hope for it to resume in the near future, but that's not nearly as interesting to blog about.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.