Elder Hales on Secularism Part two of two

This is the second part of a two part post about Elder Hales talk on secularism:  I am going to talk a little bit about the end of Elder Hales talk which I think has a lot of potential but can be improved by a better understanding of what ultimately can be effective.

Elder Hales is better at the end of his talk when he simply invites people listening to : “Cultivate a diligent desire to know that God lives. This desire leads us to ponder on the things of heaven—to let the evidence of God all around us touch our hearts. With softened hearts we are prepared to heed the Savior’s call to “search the scriptures” and to humbly learn from them.”

Ultimately, cultivating this desire to know that God lives is the task of Latter Day Saints and all believers. We must present a belief structure that is interesting, enticing and ultimately something that others wish to be true.

When I was an atheist I believed that my atheism had three pillars. The first was the notion that we can understand the universe without a belief in deity—This pillar still holds as I think that we ultimately have come to the point where arguments from design and natural forces are equally persuadable and that we have to make the choice based on other factors. The second was that the nature of evil in the world made it more likely that a loving god did not exist ( Theodicy). The third was that belief in God actually caused more ill than god in the world and so I would rather that God did not exist.

It is not the first pillar that we should be attacking. The problem with Christianity is that it has been too concerned with trying to prove itself on the basis of evidence for creation. Karen Armstrong illustrates this point beautifully in her book “The Case for God.” Instead, what led me to believe again and what I think ultimately is most effective in getting people to seek God with humble hearts is to show them that faith in God can and does make people ultimately better, and that this world is consistent with a loving a merciful deity. Ultimately, the examples of scripture show that what is most vital in the search for God is a true desire to know that he is and that he lives. Arguments from design can at best lead to agnosticism and more and more often lead to atheism altogether. The more we understand about the natural world the less effective such tactics are and the more God becomes a God of the gaps.

“Gaining this knowledge is ultimately the quest of all God’s children on the earth. If you cannot remember believing in God or if you have ceased to believe or if you believe but without real conviction, I invite you to seek a testimony of God now. Do not be afraid of ridicule. The strength and peace that come from knowing God and having the comforting companionship of His Spirit will make your efforts eternally worthwhile.”

I think that this is a promising bit on enticement to prayer sincerely. Yet, Elder Hales does not seem to understand that the chief problem of those that do not believe is not that they are afraid of ridicule. Indeed, living in America means that one is more likely to be ridiculed for a lack of faith than faith. Instead, it is an inability to see how such language can be anything other than subjective. I think that there is a real need to emphasize why we believe that such prayer works.

Ultimately, a loving deity would want to communicate with his children in a way that cuts across language barriers and knowledge barriers alike. One should not require a theology degree or a PHD in astrophysics in order to be able to commune with deity. Prayer is thus a simple language that we can all cultivate regardless of our language of birth or our standing. For me, prayer is a great equalizer of all men before God. That is why I seek spiritual insight and tend to believe what I receive with all of my heart and soul. It is precisely the way that a deity that is no respecter of persons would communicate with us.

Elder Hales talk is ultimately a bit misguided. He does not seem to understand what leads people to lose faith or how to reach out to people in language that is inviting rather than shunning or antagonistic. I hope that our general authorities or the rising generation in the church learn to become better equipped in ways to more effectively reach out to those in doubt.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Elder Hales on Secularism Part two of two

  1. Great set of posts here…unfortunately, I don’t know how the church and Elder Hales can do anything to address some of these claims.

    Even the things that you have written the church could do, I don’t think would be totally effective.

    For example:

    I think that this is a promising bit on enticement to prayer sincerely. Yet, Elder Hales does not seem to understand that the chief problem of those that do not believe is not that they are afraid of ridicule. Indeed, living in America means that one is more likely to be ridiculed for a lack of faith than faith. Instead, it is an inability to see how such language can be anything other than subjective. I think that there is a real need to emphasize why we believe that such prayer works.

    Ultimately, a loving deity would want to communicate with his children in a way that cuts across language barriers and knowledge barriers alike. One should not require a theology degree or a PHD in astrophysics in order to be able to commune with deity. Prayer is thus a simple language that we can all cultivate regardless of our language of birth or our standing. For me, prayer is a great equalizer of all men before God. That is why I seek spiritual insight and tend to believe what I receive with all of my heart and soul. It is precisely the way that a deity that is no respecter of persons would communicate with us.

    I think a problem is that one believes because one is inclined to feel that the object of the belief is the most convincing. So, it doesn’t matter if religion, spirituality, and prayer are subjective…I still think they are. Humans can take more value in the subjective than the objective sometimes.

    Rather, because it is subjective, one size does not fit all. We can’t set a general rule that applies to all…rather, the subjective experiences will differ by person.

    Emphasizing why you believe prayer works doesn’t make prayer work for others. You might believe it works for you, and you might have compelling personal experiences to believe such, but this doesn’t reach outside of you for anyone else. So, while you have great thoughts for what prayer entails in the second paragraph I quoted, I would just say this doesn’t represent reality. Prayer is *not* a simple language we all can cultivate. You are correct in that the dividing lines of prayer are not along birth or language…but rather, it seems that certain kinds of people are more prone to answers from prayers than others…it depends more on the subjective experience and framework of the individual in question than on any objective efficacy of prayer itself.

    Does that make any sense?

  2. I guess I do truly believe in the universality of prayer as a form of spiritual language. I think its something that we all have the potential to learn and cultivate just as we have tools to help us acquire language (Ala Chomsky’s language acquisition device). I don’t doubt that this faculty varies from person to person, but I do think that in general this faculty is better developed in people that were raised in religious households and that developed spiritual connections to events and I do think that this faculty can be cultivated at any age.

    I would not be considering serving a two year full time mission if I did not believe that there was something universal in my faith that everyone could find given the right circumstances.

    At the same time, I don’t think that people that are religious should take develop a big ego because they have had these experiences and others may not have. I think the most important thing in life is to be an active seeker for truth and knowledge, because that is the source through which truth is revealed to us. I’ve noticed that a lot of people, religious and non-religious alike, get to the point where they think they have found all of the answers they need, and then they begin to stagnate and no longer progress. That is one of the unique insights of Joseph Smith that I think as a church we sometimes forget. Knowledge is ever progressive and insatiable. We have an eternity to learn and grow and become perfected. There are also probably very good reasons why certain people have not found certain answers at this point in their lives. I have no doubts that some people can do more good for human beings as atheists or as Catholics rather than as LDS, for instance. I have faith that all people that seek passionately for God and truth will be rewarded for that desire.

  3. As someone who grew up in a religious household and has lived in a community of many people who have grown up in religious households, I guess my experience will just have to disagree.

    My experience leads me to believe this faculty is not developed by any conscious, reliable, repeatable course of actions. One cannot say, “If you do x, y, and z over time, you will develop prayer.” (Although the scriptures and general authorities do try to establish just this kind of regimen.) Rather, what I’ve seen is that faith and the ability to interpret certain experiences as being “spiritual” is a kind of inclination that some people have and some people don’t. And one can move from one to the other in certain instances, but these instances aren’t predictable, repeatable, and usually they also aren’t consciously chosen.

    Because of this, I can’t give too much credit to the idea of prayer as universal.

    I think your thoughts are refreshing. Unfortunately, even though I think Mormonism has plenty to offer relating to those thoughts, I don’t think they are the majority view of many members of the church.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s