Unexamined Life and Faith

July 17, 2004 | 28 comments
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Kaimi refers us to a well-written and interesting piece by Chris Walton. In that piece Chris refers to one of his favorite Unitarian sayings, “An unexamined faith is not worth having.” That is an obvious re-writing of Socrates’s claim, “An unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a). Few sayings are as well-known as the latter one; it can be found in any book of quotations and in the beginning sentence of many graduation addresses.

In context it is obvious what Socrates means. He explains it: “To talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to human beings.” Literally Socrates says that an unexamined life [bios, a way of living, rather than zōē, biological life] is not life for a human being. Most of the meanings of anexetazō (“unexamined”) have to do with questioning something or someone, and the context makes clear that is what Socrates means: human life requires that we consciously question the way we live.

In spite of the popularity of the quotation, however, I am skeptical. If we take the word “examined” as Socrates intends it, I think he is wrong, which implies that I think Chris is also wrong if he is using the word in the same way.

Let me start, however, by explaining the senses in which I think Socrates (and so, I assume, also Chris) is right. The ability to ask questions is at the heart of what it means to be human, and I think that the ability to find oneself in question is especially important. The 20th-century French-Lithuanian philosopher, Emmanuel Lévinas, argued that human being is defined and made possible by the fact that others bring us into question (“interrupt us” in his terms), and I am persuaded by him. Among the most dangerous and inhuman people in the world are many who are cocksure, for whom their world is the world. King Benjamin insists that we come to know our own nothingness, worthlessness, ignorance, powerlessness, and unworthiness if we wish to receive salvation (Mosiah 4:5-11), an insistence that exquisitely questions me, interrupts the way I live ordinarily. Christ did nothing if he did not bring into question those whom he taught, whether Pharisees or disciples. So there must be some sense in which it is right that human life requires examination.

However, even though I see the wisdom of Socrates’s claim and I find myself agreeing with a certain way of understanding it, I think it and its Unitarian paraphrase—at least in the way I suspect most of us understand that paraphrase; I make no claims about what Chris thinks—is mistaken. It makes what I sometimes call, imitating Nietzsche, “the professor’s mistake”: We believe that we are primarily mental beings and, thus, that our mental powers define us. Believing that, we believe that those who engage in mental activity are superior to those who don’t. The farmer who plows his field probably doesn’t live the examined life. The professor who argues with his colleagues and questions things probably does. We forget that we are not only minds, but stomachs.

That forgetful view is common. As a branch president in the MTC, I saw it in missionaries who feared that they didn’t have testimonies because, unlike many of their companions, they had never questioned whether they did. We see it in the strange “appreciation” that many people have of philosophy: they assume that because someone studies philosophy (or law or . . .), she or he must be at least smarter than they are and perhaps even wiser. We see it in the common assumption that those who think about life and faith, at least reflecting on them and, we hope, asking tough questions about them, live better lives or have better faith than those who do not.

The problem with that view is that there are too many counterexamples. My favorite one is my paternal grandmother. She was a simple woman with little education. I am sure she didn’t go to high school, but I don’t know how much formal education she had. She read her Bible and believed what it said. She didn’t read much else—perhaps Reader’s Digest. She sang of Jesus and heaven, and she meant what she sang. She didn’t worry about how to explain the things she sang about. During the spring and summer, she made sure that the cemetery at her church was kept up. At that same church she took part in the women’s group, had the itinerant preacher to dinner occasionally, and taught children in Sunday School. She praised her Dunkard neighbors, even marveled at them, though she didn’t understand them. She was dirt-poor and Rockefeller generous. I find it impossible to believe that her life wasn’t worth living or that her faith wasn’t worth having or that either would have been made a whit better had she reflected on them consciously. Though I love philosophy, I don’t think it is necessary for the good life or for real faith. Perhaps it is necessary for my life and my faith, but that may be something that I ought not to brag about. In fact, I think my life and faith would be much improved if there were more about them like her naive life and faith.

So, I’m willing to say that the unexamined life is not worth living or the unexamined faith is not worth having only if the examination of each is something that happens in our encounters with others rather than in the interiority of reflection. To the degree that reflection is part of the examination of faith and life, it is that as an encounter with something beyond myself—ultimately a person and the Person—rather than a turn into myself in introspection. It is a question someone asks, my friend’s difficulty that I cannot explain away, someone’s need that I cannot meet. Accurate consciousness of self is not the Christian ideal.

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28 Responses to Unexamined Life and Faith

  1. Philocrites on July 17, 2004 at 11:45 am

    The danger of an aphorism, of course, is that it says one thing succinctly but leaves out a world of other important things. Jim is describing a position that I do not hold and contrasting it with a position that I find astonishing as a expression of Christian faith.

    First, it seems that Jim ignored the larger point I made in my essay and concentrates on an aphorism pulled out of any meaningful context. The point of my essay was that the religious ethics I try to live focuses on relationships rather than on rules and prohibitions. I would certainly agree with Emmanuel Lévinas’s argument that, as Jim puts it, “human being is defined and made possible by the fact that others bring us into question (‘interrupt us’ in his terms).” I’d urge people to read my recent sermon, “Moral Imagination,” to see how I understand what happens when others “bring us into question” and why an examined faith is one that tries to hold itself open to the moral challenge that other people present.

    A relational ethics focuses on my obligations to and interdependence with other human beings. Such an ethics can be strictly rule-based — “Obey your father” — or it can be relational — “Honor your father and mother.” But what else does the biblical mandate to care for the stranger mean if it does not mean looking beyond the obligations to one’s own kin, obligations that one learns almost instinctively? Loving one’s friends is easy; loving one’s enemy is hard. Pride is easy; humility and repentence are hard. This is the moral dimension of the observation that although an unexamined faith is certainly human, it is not admirable. An unexamined faith is content to regard the stranger as a barbarian. But I think Jim would agree with me that Christian faith (and, frankly, pretty much every other major faith tradition) calls people to a level of moral engagement beyond what comes naturally.

    But Jim’s hostility to the intellectual dimension of faith disturbs me. (Sure, let’s be morally reflective, he seems to be saying, insofar as we examine our behaviors with regard to other people, but let’s not be intellectually reflective about how the moral challenges we encounter might require the adjustment of our ideas.) An unexamined faith is morally arrogant, unpenitent, overly confident; it takes its mandate as given, its assurance in God’s will without ever asking if God might wish to challenge our assumptions. The biblical name for an unexamined faith is pride — perhaps even idolatry. The biblical name for an examined faith is repentance.

    Maybe Jim is overreacting to the aphorism I quoted because he knows that Unitarians, who idolize the Enlightenment, have sometimes treated an abstracted Reason as their god. Fair enough. But this is certainly not what James Luther Adams — whose aphorism I quoted — or I mean. Adams took aim especially at three vices that distort human life: tyranny, arbitrariness, and oppression. These are moral and political vices with strongly intellectual dimensions: Understanding how they operate is as necessary as working to overcome them. Living an unexamined life, Adams taught, is actively dangerous because it makes one vulnerable to people who will manipulate us.

    An unexamined faith — a noncritical, unreflexive living out of the cultural life that is given to me by my family, my tribe, my particular culture — is undeniably a way of living a fully human life. But I would argue that it is not a Christian way of life. I find it astonishing that Jim would say, “Accurate consciousness of self is not the Christian ideal.” Maybe not “accurate” in terms of precision — for how could we ever know ourselves completely? — but how can one be penitent, and therefore moral, without being at least conscious of the primary fact of one’s own vulnerability to sin? For me, the awareness that I am not perfect — that my ideas are partial, that my awareness of my obligations to and interdependence with others is severely limited — does not simply lead me to be morally self-critical. It also challenges me to question my own assumptions and to consider the possibility that other people — and their ideas, their lives, their politics, and their faiths — may have something to teach me.

    For me, at least, this kind of self-examination has required introspection as well as moral engagement. I have no idea how Jim imagines that one can be morally engaged without also, from time to time, engaging in serious thought. We do not need to be philosophers — I’m certainly not one — but everyone needs some critical thinking.

  2. john fowles on July 17, 2004 at 1:21 pm

    Jim: I very much liked your post and find it valuable in how we think about straight-forward faith.

    Like Chris, however, I was a little uncomfortable with your last sentence: Accurate consciousness of self is not the Christian ideal. My own discomfort with this sentence might differ from Chris’s though.

    I think that this sentence goes too far because it assumes that one, like your grandmother, doesn’t have an “accurate consciousness of self” just because she didn’t throw around words like ontology and epistemology, and because she didn’t second guess or question everything written in the Bible. That is where perhaps your own philosophical background is getting in the way. Isn’t it possible that she had a far more accurate consciousness of self than the philosophers? Her consciousness of self was uncluttered with the (arguably artificial and contrived) philosophical constructs that we use to “examine” our life in the Socratic sense. In essence, perhaps those who are really to be envied are those who “examine” life with their hands and deeds and who have thus come to an understanding of an “examined life” that Levinas, Nietzsche, Kant, or Locke for that matter could ever attain with their “imaginations” (2 Cor. 10:5).

    I really like the wording of this scripture and I think that it applies here. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. One common German translation of “imaginations” as used here is Gedankengebäude, which is to say building or construction of thought. In a sense, such philosophical constructs actually cloud our accurate consciousness of self, contributing to the human condition of seeing through a glass darkly, as Paul puts it elsewhere. A lucid world view, perhaps, comes from the type of examination of life that comes naturally through provident living of the kind that Christ expects of us when he admonishes us to be perfect, even as he is. Thus, faith spills over into works in a very natural and blatantly unphilosophical way; indeed, Adams’s “examined faith” amounts to someone having acted on their faith (perhaps for some critically, for others introspectively, and still others, like your grandmother, simply through her actions) in a way that confirms it for them personally and strengthens the individual’s relationship with God. In Jesus’s own words, If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself (John 7:17).

    One other side of this is that it seems likely to me that even though she perhaps never criticized or critically examined her faith in the hyper-intellectualized sense, your grandmother very likely did indeed have a faith worth having because it was examined. I suggest that the vicissitudes of life caused her to examine her faith on a continual basis as she prayed through difficulties and performed her Christian works in spite of adversity.

    Please don’t take any of this as a slight against philosophy or philosophers. Rather, it is an affirmation of the capability of non-philosophers–even illiterate people–to espouse a faith worth having because it is examined, philosophical modes of examination and epistemology aside. Ironically, even Kant, one of the philosophers I could accuse most of having an unexamined life in this very physical (and thus admittedly un-Socratic) sense, seems to have recognized this to some extent in the Conflict of the Faculties, writing that “The only thing that matters in religion is deeds.” An examined faith expresses itself in appropriate deeds; rather a richness of such works reveals a faith examined and enduring.

  3. RevThom on July 17, 2004 at 4:41 pm

    As a Unitarian Universalist minister discovering this web-site through Philocrites, I hope you will prove welcoming to the stranger in your midst. Equally, I hope not to abuse your hospitality.

    I am struck by the image that Jim puts forward of his grandmother, the example he uses of a “unexamined faith” worth having. I want to suggest, without insulting Jim’s grandmother, that this example is problematic.

    I find the example of Jim’s grandmother to be sentimental and patronizing. He seems to be describing the stereotypical Victorian image of female virtue: a life of natural piety and saintly, self-sacrificing service, pure and undefiled by the corrupting worldliness of the masculine realm with all the temptations of the public, political realm and education. We see sentimentalized ideas like these also played out in the conception of the “noble savage.”

    The saintly woman and the noble savage are respectively sexist and racist conceptions, describing a world of inequality and power imbalance. Let’s look at your grandmother again. Instead of sentimentalizing her experience, let us explore that experience. What were her opportunities for education? For agency? Did she choose her life? What were the opportunities available to her?

    It is problematic to me for anybody who has access to power (or education) to glorify those whose life did not include those options.

    Now, here I am walking a fine line. For I don’t mean to create a hierarchy where those with education and the intellectual capacity to philosophize are more self-realized (or for that matter, more human) than those who are not educated. I do not automatically accept the common liberal doctrine of salvation through education. I understand that it was very intelligent people who built atomic weapons, just as it was very intelligent people who innovated life-saving medical procedures. Being smart does not equal being right or moral. Being smart does not equal being wise.

    I think that one of the things that Chris correctly hints at in his writings about moral imagination is this: we live in a complex and multifaceted world and pluralism (the capacity to engage with a diverse world in a respectful and mutual way) is one of the goals of liberal religion.

    The fact of the world demands our capacity to transcend the familiar and engage with what is foreign. And this engagement is reflexive. Engagement with other changes self.

    The turn towards the intellectual (intellectual examination) is one way to approach this necessary engagement with the diversity within the world. Are there other methods of transcendence? Probably. Possibly. Maybe.

    But liberal religion sees as its saints and heroes those who transcended the limitations of their inherited culture and tradition (and faith.) Susan B. Anthony comes to mind. So does Martin Luther King. So does Jesus.

    Morally speaking, those who conform to their inherited culture and proscibed roles, seem just as moral as the circumstances they happened to land in. They could be the saintly loving grandmother, the dutiful nazi following the teachings of Hitler, the member of the white citizens council trying to preserve the status quo of Jim Crow, or the normal suburbanite keeping up with the Joneses.

    I ask, without an examined faith, how is it possible to transcend inherited culture, that is engage with a wider set of views and options?

  4. john fowles on July 17, 2004 at 6:32 pm

    RevThom:

    My point to Jim speaks also to your point from a different side. It is true that blind obedience such as that of a nazi following Hitler or whatever is dangerous and undesirable. But I was hoping to emphasize that neither Jim nor you should conclude that Jim’s grandmother didn’t have “an examined faith” just because she didn’t swim in religious pluralism or read philosophy that seeks an understanding or consciousness of self. That seems rather judgmental and downright illiberal. How do you know for sure that Jim’s grandmother didn’t examine her faith every day of her life through the trials that she went through in life? I think that it is even more likely that her works show that she did in fact have an examined faith, had come to terms with it, and had chosen of her own agency, despite her circumstances, to do those Christian works. Is it not just as haughty to label her as the “Victorian model of female virtue” and a “noble savage” just because she didn’t examine her own faith through philosophical methodoly or through critically comparing and contrasting it to the pluralism of other faiths out there?

  5. RevThom on July 17, 2004 at 9:26 pm

    To answer John’s inquiry, I too think that we are talking about different things. John seems to be questioning Jim’s assertion that his grandmother’s faith was unexamined. I, on the other hand, took Jim’s claim at face value. I accepted the model that he offered and offered back a critique of it. Please don’t think that I was trying to insult Jim’s grandmother. Rather, I took issue with the way Jim admired her for how “simple” and “naive” (his words) she was.

    [And I agree with John that lack of a masters degree does not make one's faith "unexamined." A literature that I am familiar with - the conversion narratives of early New England Puritans, for example - shows how examined one's faith can be without necessarily having a sophisticated education. Consider the Anne Bradstreet poem where her house burns down. Were we able to observe how Jim's Grandmother made meaning out of her own life's story, the untimely death of a relative, a crisis, etc., we might determine how nuanced her faith was or wasn't.]

    I do not accept though John’s claim that you can tell how “examined” a person’s faith is by their works. A person can do something for many different reasons. For example, a person may be generous for many reasons: because they fear that they will be punished if they aren’t, on account of guilt for an earlier sin that they hope to atone for, because they a desire for future reward, because they desire to be admired by others, or because they truly believe that one should give what they have to help others. Some reasons are clearly better than others. Some reasons point to a more mature and developed faith; other reasons belie an immature and selfish faith. When we talk about faith, we are better off looking at the meaning that a person makes. We can’t observe a work and definitively conclude the meaning, ie. the person who doesn’t steal because they are afraid they will be caught and the person who doesn’t steal because they would not want to be stolen from.

  6. Jim F. on July 18, 2004 at 1:25 am

    Let me start with an apology. I thought I was explicit enough about not imputing ideas or motives to Chris Walton, but it appears that I was not. Chris’s reference to the aphorism prompted what I wrote, but though I used his essay and aphorism as a starting point, I was not really responding to him or criticizing him. That’s why I added “if he is using the word in the same way” to “I think Chris is also wrong” and why I said I was talking about the way that we probably understand both Socrates’s aphorism and its Unitarian paraphrase but added “I make no claims about what Chris thinks” the phrase means. But it appears that I buried those sufficiently that they didn’t do what I wanted them to do. And I intended to criticize Unitarians even less than I intended to criticize Chris. I apologize for not making those intentions more clear.

    With that, let me say something in response to those who have taken time to respond. The length of their responses is encouraging, for they show a genuine interest in the topic. But it is also daunting, for it means that I have to try to find some way to respond to all of them coherently in a post of reasonable length. I’ll try to include the body of my response in my response to Chris. Then I will respond to particulars of RevThom’s and John Fowles’s responses.

    Chris Walton: Of course I agree with Chris that Christian faith and faith in general requires moral engagement beyond what comes naturally. I thought my fourth paragraph made that explicit, but it seems it did not. I also agree that without being questioned we are unlikely ever to go beyond what comes naturally. Again, I thought I dealt with that in my fourth paragraph. My question was about the nature of that questioning/examination, and my thesis was that I see no reason to believe that intellectual examination is the only or best form, though Socrates thought it was, as have many in the West since Socrates.

    Intellectual examination is a possible form. It can be a good form. But so can my honest encounter with the beggar at my door or the sincere believer from another faith tradition—anyone can bring me up short—question me—particularly someone whose experience of the world is quite different than mine. My quarrel is not with believing that the intellect can help us examine our selves, but with believing that the intellect is the most important or primary tool for doing so.

    With that in mind, I should correct a sentence in the original post, though no one has complained about it yet. I said, “The unexamined life is not worth living or the unexamined faith is not worth having only if the examination of each is something that happens in our encounters with others rather than in the interiority of reflection.” That is insufficiently nuanced, especially since I would argue that reflection is itself something that ultimately happens in response to our encounters with others. I should have said, “The unexamined life is not worth living or the unexamined faith is not worth having if the examination of which we speak has its origin in our encounters with others.”

    The sentence that did get some attention was the last one. I added that sentence as an afterthought, after posting a draft and reviewing it. I considered not including it, and then decided to do so. Perhaps I shouldn’t have because it needed more explanation. However, though I think what I say in it is too terse, I continue to think it is right. So let me say something about it: Chris hits the nail on the head when he focuses on the word “accurate” and identifies it with “precision.” My remark about consciousness goes with the earlier remark that we are not only minds, but also stomachs. The point is that the conscious “I” is one element of my existence, an important element but not the defining one. And the “I” cannot know that existence accurately. But that isn’t a problem for Christianity—though I think it is for Socratism—because, as I understand Christianity, accurate and explicit self-knowledge isn’t its goal.

    But mustn’t I know that I am vulnerable to sin? Of course. In pointing to and paraphrasing King Benjamin’s sermon, I thought I made that clear. Must I introspect to know that? Perhaps some, but how much? For people like me, and from what he says, I assume for people like Chris, the answer is, “Quite a bit.” But I am not convinced that everyone must do as I do to know that they are vulnerable to sin.

    Chris asks how it is possible to be morally engaged without also engaging in critical thought from time to time. Since I assume that, as human beings, we engage in critical thought from time to time, the answer is that it isn’t possible. But in my experience there are many morally engaged people who do not spend a lot of time in introspection or critical thought. As a result, their moral engagement comes not from those things, but from their life with others. To use an image from the Bible by way of Lévinas, they are interrupted by the demand of someone who is other than they are, whom they cannot comprehend, who doesn’t fit into their world neatly. Many responses to that interruption is possible, from horror to love of the neighbor. Introspection is only one of those responses and not necessarily the best one. But it is important to note that “not necessarily” does not mean “necessarily not.” There are those, like me, like Chris, presumably like many who find themselves at this site, for whom introspection is necessary. It does not follow that it is necessary for everyone, and I have met a number of people in my life for whom introspection seemed to be something uncommon and seemed to me nevertheless to be admirable as human beings. They lived lives worth living and were not very introspective.

    John Fowles: I don’t disagree with much of what you say, but I wonder why you want to call the kind of examination that my grandmother presumably engaged in “conscious”? Given what that term has meant in the history of philosophy, I would resist it. I described a way of being examined in our life with others, and it seems to me that you agree with that. So we agree that one can be examined in ways non-philosophical. Why do you want to pin the term “conscious” on all of those ways? Or am I misunderstanding something?

    RevThom, I’m flattered that you think it worth your time to respond to me. Thank you. I’m sorry, however, that you find my description of my grandmother sentimental and patronizing. Perhaps it was, in spite of my intention. After all, the sentimental and patronizing rarely know that they are. Or perhaps you are wrong, reading things into what I said that aren’t there. For obvious reasons, I prefer the second alternative and I’ll try to show that it is the right one. Notice, for example, the way you infer parts of the image that I did not include: I did not describe my grandmother as self-sacrificing, though you suggest that I do. Neither did I describe her as saintly. Few saints do as little as I attribute to my grandmother. I think you’ve jumped too quickly and landed in the wrong spot.

    I agree that the Victorian image of women, like that of the noble savage, is used as a prop for the Victorian male and contemporary males who would be his heirs. I hope I am not one of them and that I don’t think of my grandmother in Victorian terms, but you give us almost no evidence that I am or do. Rather than analyze my description of my grandmother to show how it embodies the Victorian image, you begin with a common pattern (the Victorian image), remind us that pattern is sexist and racist, and suggest that my description was an instance of the pattern. But, of course, the question is whether it was. If it wasn’t, then the charges of sexism and racism are irrelevant. Frankly, I don’t think I said enough about my grandmother for a careful analyst to decide whether my description was an instance of the Victorian pattern.

    I think you’ve misread because you’ve not understood the point of my example. I wasn’t holding my grandmother up as an example of something we all should be or the kind of person all women would be. I was using her as an example of someone I admired, someone who lived a worthwhile human life though she seldom engaged in introspection. Since you say, “I don’t mean to create a hierarchy where those with education and the intellectual capacity to philosophize are more self-realized (or for that matter, more human) than those who are not educated,” I assume that we agree that there are such people, especially since you add, “Are there other methods of transcendence [of our own culture, tradition, and faith]? Probably.” That was the thesis of my post.

    You conclude with the question of how one with an unexamined faith could transcend an inherited culture. Since I spoke directly to that question in my original post, I’m not sure what to do but repeat myself briefly: “The ability to ask questions is at the heart of what it means to be human, and I think that the ability to find oneself in question is especially important. The 20th-century French-Lithuanian philosopher, Emmanuel Lévinas, argued that human being is defined and made possible by the fact that others bring us into question (“interrupt us” in his terms), and I am persuaded by him. Among the most dangerous and inhuman people in the world are many who are cocksure, for whom their world is the world. . . . So there must be some sense in which it is right that human life requires examination.” In other words, I thought I fairly explicitly argued. that the examination of life and faith is necessary. Of course, I added a qualification—that reflection isn’t the only way to accomplish that examination—but that qualification doesn’t undo our agreement that life and faith must be examined, nor that it occurs perhaps most obviously (but not only) when we encounter those quite different than ourselves.

    The position for which I argued specifically took the stand that those who live in worlds that are not questioned are dangerous and even, in a certain sense, inhuman, so I’m not sure what purpose the references to Anthony, King, the Nazis, and Jim Crow laws served.

  7. Clark Goble on July 18, 2004 at 2:52 am

    An other way of considering the issue that I think Jim is getting at is the following. Have you ever felt something was right, but been unable to put into words *why* it was right? In Socrates view up through the modern era ushered in by Descartes, that doesn’t make sense. You can’t say something is right unless you can *comprehend* it. The mental comprehending is fundamental.

    What I think Jim is saying, if I read him right, is that you don’t have to be able to frame a rational argument for something for it to be right. Most of the things we do and do well, we do well independent of conscious steps and defenses. Even in AI we have neural nets where trying to say why a program behaves successfully is difficult. If we take Socrates seriously, we have to move from “neural nets” to some more straightforward logic. Merely being successful is insufficient. We must understand.

    What this naturally leads to is a kind of skepticism that most people recognize as muddle headed.

    The danger, of course, that some of you pointed out, is that it clearly makes sense that examining ones life is useful. If we examine in terms of relationships, clearly that is a good thing. So we have a tension between the utility of thinking about our desires, actions, and relationships, and that of thinking that thinking is more natural or helpful than doing.

    Put an other way, a person can be a true devout Christian without knowing any theology at all or being able to explain why they live their life the way they do. If I understand Jim correctly, he is arguing that the life of faith is that kind of life. We may seek to examine it and understand it. But the examining and understanding is *secondary* not *primary*.

    (I blogged a bit on this over at my blog)

  8. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 18, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    In many ways RevThom was a perfect foil for the discussion, and I loved Jim’s response.

    The example my brother-in-law’s family always uses is “Grandpa Decker” who upon receiving a testimony of the gospel, sold all he had and came west. Throughout his life he shared freely of his substance, leaving very little of it behind. But he had money, power, authority and expended all of it in service.

    I find his story interesting on many levels. In the first instance, his life was unexamined in that once the Spirit gave him guidance, he did not challenge or contrast it with alternatives, he followed.

    On the other hand, he actively embraced what it meant. Reminds me of someone who was exceedingly kind and self-sacrificing in regard to those he loved. Someone remarked about that and he said “but that is what love is, it means putting others first and thinking of their needs.”

    The story is also interesting in that Decker served in places others would not. His children grew up with a strong sense of who they were and who their father was, but the grandchildren grew up the sons and daughters of poor farmers and some of them grew up with resentment that Decker had expended his time and money and left them nothing, whereas if he had insisted on staying in Salt Lake, they would be part of another dynasty of rich and powerful.

    I think he saved them from that, for which they should have been grateful, but that is another story.

    What we are getting into is the difference between the challenged and literary life vs. the realization of consequences life. To many, any life without their touchstones (or why King and Anthony had to be mentioned, but the other “silver dollar” woman was not)as a basis for challenging everything, that is a life to be demeaned, criticized, and patronized. That is also, perhaps, a life not worth living.

    On the other hand, the unaware life, that is the life that is not worth living. A life where you walk by people crying and do not notice. Where there are those in prison, and you never think to visit. Where there are sick or hungry, but you pass them by oblivious. Where there is Spirit and life and you do not partake. That is the life that is not lived.

    Great discussion going here, even if it got off to a rocky start. I don’t think one could ask for a better contast than some of the posters provided and I enjoyed it.

    Thank you to all.

  9. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 18, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    Well Clark, I posted a fairly long response, but your blog’s cgi bin noted that posting was disabled through some sort of javascript problem, so here is my response to what you blogged (which was excellent) …

    //////////////response/////////////////////

    I’m sorry, but given the type of person and character Polonius was, I’ve often wondered if the author was engaged in satire at that point. :)

    Which leads me to something I discovered very early in life, when I was 17 and the school had all of the incoming freshmen read Walden Pond, is that for most people, works of philosophy and aphorisms are Rorschach Inkblot Tests. To discuss the work with someone else is not to discuss what is written or meant, but to discuss generally inchoate beliefs held by the other person which they express by their understanding of parts of the text.

    I think the phrase “the unexamined life is not worth living” falls into that category, of being an ink blot that is usually discussed in terms of the inchoate, or partially choate beliefs of the person discussing it, rather than what it says.

    The most ironic part about that phrase is that most of the people who use it tend to use it in context, or with mental framing that makes it obvious that they have not challenged the culture and environment they move in, but merely accept its implications and dogmas.

    RevThom over on Times and Seasons was such a classic example, it made me smile, and even better, he made a perfect foil for the discussion, so that no one could begrudge him his stereotypical views, paragons and false gods, and the need to interject them, even when not supported by the premise or relevant to it.

    Moving on, to address an important point you make, about when when we try to “cure ourselves” through a mental introspection. . In such an effort we usually lack all of the necessary parts, knowledge or perspectives to do so. We are seriously hampered by being eternal beings in a finite world, from having a frame of reference bounded by time when the reality of God is outside of time. It is rare for one to gain the spiritual energy necessary to gain proper perspective through introspection rather than by doing the will of God. Ok, it is impossible.

    You do come to a point I agree with. We define ourselves and become ourselves through being ourselves — which means doing rather than talking and seeking. At the great day, when the sheep and the goats are divided, I don’t recall the prophecy being that Christ will keep those who are literate, fun, fit well in spacious buildings and know how to dress and discuss things. He divides on how we help the least of our brethern.

    Judgment is determined by the doing. He who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

  10. Philocrites on July 18, 2004 at 4:27 pm

    This is such an interesting conversation! I appreciate Jim’s clarification that he really was launching off on a separate topic inspired by the aphorism I had quoted. It seems to me that we are emphasizing strongly complementary approaches to religious ethics, admiring a primarily relational rather than a primarily conceptual ethics. But I think it would be illuminating to find where our approaches differ most strongly. We agree that moral self-examination is central to the religious life. But I wonder whether we perceive the role of disciplined intellectual work in the religious life in different ways.

    Jim writes:

    My question was about the nature of that questioning/examination, and my thesis was that I see no reason to believe that intellectual examination is the only or best form, though Socrates thought it was, as have many in the West since Socrates. . . .

    My quarrel is not with believing that the intellect can help us examine our selves, but with believing that the intellect is the most important or primary tool for doing so.

    Since I was raised with Mormonism’s strongly works-focused faith, and found William James’s pragmatism compelling in college, and embraced James Luther Adams’s social-ethics-focused Christian liberalism when I became a Unitarian Universalist, I tend to agree with the first of these two sentences. Adams also liked the biblical aphorism, “By their fruits ye shall know them” — which he sometimes recast as “By their groups ye shall know them.” He was overwhelmingly interested in the social implications of doctrine; he wanted to know what ideas look like in practice. He saw the religious thinker’s role in prophetic terms and thought of theological criticism as reading the signs of the times using all the tools at hand. Theology for him was not the pursuit of conceptual clarity for its own sake; it was the work of a community of people seeking clarity about its purposes and its ultimate resources.

    An authentic religious community, George K. Beach quotes Adams as saying, “‘is the community in which women and men are called to recognize and abandon their ever-recurrent reliance on the unreliable’ and to deliberate and decide ‘what is rightly of concern to persons of free faith.’”

    So, yes, I’d agree that the examined life that is demanded of religious people is focused on clarity of action more than on conceptual clarity. I can grasp the truth — apprehend it — much sooner than I can comprehend it, and faith always comes before comprehension anyway.

    But I wonder how much to make of a claim that intellect is not the primary tool for this work. Intellect as opposed to what? The stomach? Really? I wouldn’t hold up Cartesian skepticism or Kantian categories or Heideggerian metaphysics as necessary tools for self-examination, but what else are we to employ if not our intellects?

    If the problem with intellect is that, as Max Weber wrote, it has been routinized and specialized and made into a profession, then we’re really talking about the role of a trained caste of thinkers. Theologians and ministers and people with M.Div. degrees in my religious tradition, seminary and Institute teachers and BYU professors and Sunstone speakers in yours. Such people can think too highly of their specialization, of course, but their skills can offer invaluable tools to their communities.

    Maybe one way to look at the significance of an “examined faith” is to consider that the faith in question is a community’s faith, not simply the individual’s faith — and that the examination is a social process involving affirmation and criticism from within the community and in interaction with other communities. Intellectuals help in this work in crucial ways, but they are not the only ones in the community who are “thinking the faith,” in Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall’s great phrase.

    I suspect that the Old Testament prophets — like critics of the status quo today — were not gratefully received by the communities they criticized. (Okay, except for Jonah.) I don’t think each of us is called to be Amos — or Levinas, for that matter — but a community that casts out its critical thinkers and “intellectuals” rather than think about the criticism is making a dangerous mistake. If Unitarians and secular liberals tend to venerate intellectuals and experts too much, Mormons — at least where I grew up — ridiculed and disparaged them too much.

  11. Kaimi on July 18, 2004 at 9:16 pm

    I’m sympathetic to Jim’s position. I’ve always been a questioning and examining type myself, someone who likes to think through the issues, analyze counter-arguments, and come to reasonable conclusions. I have a very hard time accepting things on faith alone.

    At the same, I’m aware of how much the scriptures extol the ability to accept truth on faith alone. We see this in Christ’s ministry. He called Peter, and Peter didn’t ask for an explanation or pause for any analysis. Christ said, “follow me,” and Peter did so.

    Similarly, I’m reminded of a story from my mission. We taught a very simple, uneducated man, named Gabriel. He was a very nice man, but we often wondered if our lessons were sinking in. He was illiterate (like many of the coffee farmers in his area). He was exceptionally poor — he didn’t have chairs to offer us to sit, and we sat on rocks. The sole decoration in his one-room wood-plank house was a beer advertisement, and it was hung upside down. We never did say anything about that, we didn’t want to embarrass him.

    He really enjoyed meeting with us. We prayed with him, and read chapters from the Book of Mormon. He had a hard time with it. He couldn’t remember Joseph Smith’s name (though he did remember that we taught about a muchacho who spoke to God). He couldn’t remember our names either — we were the hermanos (brothers). We asked him if he wanted to be baptized, and he said that he did. We hoped that he understood us.

    The district leader came to interview him for baptism. We were nervous. We were wondering if the DL would be upset that we had brought him down to interview someone who had such a hard time understanding the concepts. We weren’t sure if the baptism would even be approved, and we didn’t want Gabriel to be disappointed.

    Our DL finished the interview and said that he wanted to speak to us. We were a little nervous, and he said, “let me tell you about the interview.” He said it was the most spiritual interview he had ever been in. He asked Gabriel why he wanted to be baptized, and Gabriel told him something like this:

    “I don’t know many things. I can’t read, and I can’t read the book the hermanos gave me. But when the hermanos visit me and read it with me, I feel a very good feeling, like nothing else I’ve ever felt. The brothers have told me that this feeling is God talking to me, and I know that that is right. And so I know that the book is true. And I know that I need to be baptized.”

    The baptism was approved. As for afterwards, I can confirm that Gabriel was an active church member until I left the area; after that, it was harder to keep track of him, but I heard from other elders that he continued to be a very solid member of the branch there.

    I’m envious of people like Gabriel. My own nature is so combative, so demanding, so reason-oriented, that I don’t know if I would ever be able to say that I knew a book was true, without ever having read it myself. I envy his simple testimony.

    When I think of New Testament characters, I think that Gabriel is more like Peter, and I am more like the Pharisees. If Christ came walking by and said “follow me” without a word of further explanation, I wonder if I wouldn’t have stayed on the fishing boat, wondering curiously who that guy was. Is it reasonable for more intellectually-inclined people to have some envy of those who have unexamined faith? I think it is. So maybe there’s hope for me after all.

  12. Julie in Austin on July 18, 2004 at 9:32 pm

    Wonderful story, Kaimi, thanks for sharing.

  13. Jim F. on July 19, 2004 at 1:30 am

    Clark Goble and I agree about so many things, both here and on LDS-Phil, that it is embarrassing, but once again I’m embarrassed that I have nothing to say to him but “I agree.”

    Ethesis: I think that you and I are also in general agreement. However, I think you may be too harsh on we philosophers and littérateurs. It hasn’t been my experience that many of those interested in philosophy, literature, and I will add theology are those you describe. (“To many, any life without their touchstones . . . as a basis for challenging everything, that is a life to be demeaned, criticized, and patronized.”) I have met a few such people, but I doubt that their incidence is any higher among those in what the Germans call the human sciences than it is in any other discipline or vocation. In addition, I have been personally acquainted with several of the most notable philosophers of the twentieth century. To a person I have found them genteel, kind, and open to other persons and their ideas. I suspect that the leading lights in literature, theology, etc. are similar.

    Chris Walton: I think you are right that we may understand the place of disciplined intellectual work in religious life differently. For one thing, I’m not sure what its place is. Clearly I have doubts about it. For example, I am quite convinced that it isn’t necessary that every faithful person engage in it. However, as you rightly point out, the effect of intellectual work ought to be a communal effect rather than an individual one. So I may agree that a faithful community needs intellectual workers, though I would also worry whether I wasn’t just trying to justify my own choice of a vocation and the place I’ve made for myself in the LDS Church. I am not exactly an unbiased judge on how much intellectual workers have to contribute to the community.

    You ask what is to do the work of apprehension if not intellect, and you were—reasonably—mystified by my reference to the stomach I used it as a placeholder for the body. We are living bodies, not minds. Consciousness is part of a living body, a very important part, but it doesn’t define me. There is the problem you mention, the specialization of the intellect in a trained caste of thinkers. But I think that is only a symptom of a deeper problem, the assumption that we are minds. There is a tremendous amount of evidence that I live and act bodily, that the things that we would like to account for by referring to beliefs cannot be understood apart from the body nor can the things we would like to account for by referring merely to mechanical and chemical processes we call the body be understood apart from beliefs. (I’m thinking in particular of the work of Merleau-Ponty, for example The Phenomenology of Perception, and of much recent work in neural psychology.)

    By the way, I don’t disagree that many Mormons ridicule and disparage intellectuals too much, though we also have a number of examples of too much veneration.

    Kaimi, I too enjoyed reading your story. However, I think that RevThom had a point when he worried about these kinds of stories becoming tools for justifying an unjust status quo, so I get nervous that one sincere and meaningful story like yours will turn into a series of “me too” stories, and that if it does it runs the danger that RevThom was concerned about.

  14. john fowles on July 19, 2004 at 3:02 am

    Jim: we are in fundamental agreement on the important points here, much more so than Chris or RevThom are with you on this, I think. Also, some of your words in your subsequent posts ameliorated some of the things I was nit-picking at–but not entirely.

    In the original post, you seemed to be saying that your grandmother (I am just sticking with her as an easy case-study of what we are discussing here) did indeed have a faith worth having, even though it was unexamined. I hope you won’t begrudge me this understanding of what you wrote, even though you subsequently added that “we agree that one can be examined in ways non-philosophical. This of course bridges a gap between our positions, but I think it truly was missing from the original post. The key is the subsequent acknowledgement of “examination,” which I found missing initially and which I pointed out in my comment. Whereas you had written that your grandmother had a faith worth having even though that faith was unexamined, I argued that she had a faith worth having precisely because it was examined, even if it was examined in a non-intellectual–though I didn’t imply that that also meant non-introspective–way.

    Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works (James 2:18). This scripture and others in James and elsewhere concerning the interplay of faith and works influenced my own thoughts on an “examined” faith in my earlier post. In Schillerian-Kantian terms (the idea of the schöne Seele), it is someone who has so fully internalized the moral law that that person’s every action conforms naturally and without inclination to that law. In the framework of our conversation and what works have to do with this examined faith, it is someone who is able to bring their faith to fruition through the works that God expects of his followers. If faith is a complete reliance on Jesus Christ (see Elder Simmons’s talk “But if not. . .” in the March 2004 General Conference), which I believe it is, then an examined faith is one in which the believer has come to this realization and is humble enough to act on it. This is an introspective process in which the individual is constantly contemplating their relationship with Christ as they come closer and closer to an understanding of what it really means to have this complete reliance on Christ. As they gain this understanding, it is inevitable that their faith will bring forth works–it is the only way that faith becomes visible. I admit that this is likely not what Adams meant by an “examined faith,” but I find it much more realistic, considering the miniscule number of people with any idea of philosophical methodology, exposure to critical theory, the Socratic method, or enlightenment philosophy and the large number of people who can lay claim to an examined faith that makes it worth having.

    I wonder why you want to call the kind of examination that my grandmother presumably engaged in “conscious”? I understand your concern with this because of the ambiguity that can result from misusing a term of art. My defense here is that I never characterized the type of examination that she engaged in as “conscious.” Rather, I asserted that she still likely had an “accurate consciousness of self,” even if she did not arrive at it through critical analysis. Her accurate consciousness of self came in a more naive, natural way and not through the sentimentalization that complicates things with artificial terminology and complicated definitions. In this sense, I meant to say that her faith was examined through introspection but not that it was a conscious process; rather, I envisioned a very natural, organic arrival at her examined faith, pure almost precisely because of the lack of structure or stricture.

    RevThom: I take your point about works well and agree wholeheartedly. I would only like to take exception to the slippery slope that my observation led you to. That is, I just meant to say that anyone with a truly examined faith will indeed have such works, it is unavoidable. That doesn’t mean there is no doubt or that people who are doing works for the wrong reasons also have an examined faith. But the fact that some are doing works for the wrong reasons shouldn’t detract from those whose works are a valid and true manifestation of their examined faith–even a faith that is not examined in the intellectual sense (and thus which you seem to argue wouldn’t have the power to raise someone above an inherited culture), but rather in the more physical and introspective, though perhaps not critical, sense. That leads into something I wanted to say to Chris.

    Chris wrote: Maybe one way to look at the significance of an “examined faith” is to consider that the faith in question is a community’s faith, not simply the individual’s faith — and that the examination is a social process involving affirmation and criticism from within the community and in interaction with other communities. What concerns me about this suggestion is that it strips religious faith of truth that might be resistant to change resulting from such interaction. In short, it seems to imply too much because it reduces faith–and the way you use it here I take it to mean religion–to a mere dialectical process, changing and transforming itself with time, space, exposure, and interaction. Don’t misunderstand me: I believe that such a process has a legitimate role, and as an member of the Church I have absolutely no problem with a religion dynamic enough to conform to continuing revelation. What I feel uncomfortable with is the absence of immutables that a view focused too much on such a seemingly dialectical definition of an examined, community faith can imply.

    but a community that casts out its critical thinkers and “intellectuals” rather than think about the criticism is making a dangerous mistake. If Unitarians and secular liberals tend to venerate intellectuals and experts too much, Mormons — at least where I grew up — ridiculed and disparaged them too much I sympathize with this view because I don’t want to see intellectuals persecuted. But I want to add that intellectuals and scholars, and others who raise a critical voice, might have a place in other religious communities that they just pragmatically don’t have in the LDS community. That is, I would venture to say that most in the LDS community believe that God is actually calling the shots. Thus, a cadre of intellectuals voicing concerns has less influence simply because of the nature of continuing revelation and the leadership of living prophets.

  15. Jack on July 19, 2004 at 6:01 pm

    I think that the need for introspection may have as much or more to do with one’s disposition than one’s education. Speaking for myself, I have no college degree. I’ve read very little great literature, and yet, I’m constantly trying to figure out what the gospel is all about. My wife, who lives in a state of constant service, never turns inward. And yet, when I seek her council on “what the gospel is all about” she is able to articulate her thoughts on the subject better than myself most of the time. I think, between the two of us, she is the better christian. That being said, I don’t know if I could follow a path that didn’t envolve some introspection, even though it may envolve a longer climb. Just my two cents worth-

  16. Jim F. on July 19, 2004 at 8:51 pm

    Jack: I don’t think that one need have a formal education to be an intellectual, so I agree that the need for introspection has a good deal more to do with disposition than it does with education.

    John Fowles: It may be easier for me to respond if I cut and paste some of your comments with my responses to them. I’ll put your comments in italics, and I’ve reordered them somewhat to keep my topics together.

    In the original post, you seemed to be saying that your grandmother (I am just sticking with her as an easy case-study of what we are discussing here) did indeed have a faith worth having, even though it was unexamined.

    I intended the example to show that my grandmother did have a faith worth having and it was unexamined. The rhetorical thrust of “even though”—’”in spite of the fact that”—bothers me.

    You subsequently added that “we agree that one can be examined in ways non-philosophical. This of course bridges a gap between our positions, but I think it truly was missing from the original post.

    It has become clear to me since writing the original that I didn’t explain the fourth paragraph nearly enough. I assumed that paragraph addressed several of the concerns that Chris Walton raised afterwards, as well as your concerns. It is obvious, however, that if at least two intelligent and careful readers didn’t see what I thought I put there, I should have made it more clear. That becomes more obvious in your next point.

    Whereas you had written that your grandmother had a faith worth having even though that faith was unexamined, I argued that she had a faith worth having precisely because it was examined.

    I was using the word “examined” in two ways: examined consciously and examined in some other way. I was arguing that if the word is used in the first way, then it is not true that the unexamined life is not worth living; but if it is used in the second, then it is true. I agree that the faithful follower of Christ has in every case been examined (which is why I ended the problematic fourth paragraph with “there must be some sense in which it is right that human life requires examination”). I am interested in how to talk about that other way.

    However, though I have been tempted by the Schillerian-Kantian (and Hegelian) view that the highest form of moral action is “someone who has so fully internalized the moral law that that person’s every action conforms naturally and without inclination to that law,” I have escaped the temptation. My understanding of how we inculcate the moral law is much more influenced by Levinas.

    An examined faith is one in which the believer has come to this realization [that faith is a complete reliance on Jesus Christ] and is humble enough to act on it.

    This I agree with, but . . .

    This is an introspective process in which the individual is constantly contemplating their relationship with Christ as they come closer and closer to an understanding of what it really means to have this complete reliance on Christ.

    I don’t think I agree with this. My first argument against your claim is empirical: it seems that there are people who live faithful lives but do not engage in very much introspection. My second is more general: I don’t see any reason to believe that much introspection is necessary for a person to live a life fully dependent on Christ. Experience is necessary: experience in which I fall short, experience in learn to rely on Christ. That experience probably includes some introspection, reflections such as “I have sinned.” But . . .

    I meant to say that her faith was examined through introspection but not that it was a conscious process; rather, I envisioned a very natural, organic arrival at her examined faith, pure almost precisely because of the lack of structure or stricture.

    I’m feeling dense because I don’t think I understand what you mean by “introspection.” I think that is the problem between us. Certainly, at this point we are quibbling about small points. But often I learn the most by making the small points clear. Can you help me understand better what you mean by that term here?

    As they gain this understanding, it is inevitable that their faith will bring forth works–it is the only way that faith becomes visible.

    Here, too, I agree. The faith/works dichotomy is a false dichotomy because there is no faith that doesn’t result in works. It is self-contradictory to say “I trust Christ (i.e., have faith in him), but I do not do what he asks.” (Of course, as you noted in your response to RevThom, it doesn’t follow that works assure us of faith.)

    Let me also add two notes to your response to Chris: I agree about the danger of understanding the examination of faith as a social process. The danger is that revelation will become no more than that which we come to through social interaction. If that were to occur, then I think, in the long run, it would be difficult for the intellectuals not to become the determiners of faith. I also think that John is right to point out that there is less place, pragmatically, in the LDS Church for intellectuals than in most other churches. I don’t mean by that that there is no room for intellectuals. I’ve had little difficulty in the LDS Church and I think I qualify as an intellectual. (But I’m not Pollyanna. I recognize that there are intellectuals who have had trouble.) Instead, I mean that though the LDS Church has intellectuals and though I think we have a role to play, there is much less need for us structurally.

    To believe that a prophet of God leads us is to believe that we have little need for intellectual leadership. Though it grated on my nerves when Elder McConkie said it, and though I think the quotation is sometimes misused as a way of exercising unrighteous dominion, in principle I agree with his claim “When the Prophet speaks, the thinking is done” (a paraphrase, but close enough).

  17. Kingsley on July 19, 2004 at 9:28 pm

    “I don’t think that one need have a formal education to be an intellectual, so I agree that the need for introspection has a good deal more to do with disposition than it does with education.”

    So that x trumpeting the glories of introspection is x trumpeting the glories of something x is naturally good at, something x naturally enjoys. Like the dance department at BYU opening every show with a testimony meeting about how dance could save the world and the Church if only everyone would open their hearts and minds to it, etc. We naturally glorify what we’re good at and want to think it’s especially spiritually significant, thus propelling us toward early sainthood. I wonder if Jack’s wife does “turn inward” occasionally, by at least thinking basically about her roles as wife and mother, her standing before God, her need to repent and do better, and so on. Whereas Jack has a disposition to go much deeper into these questions and to ask many others. Prophets advise us to search our hearts in basic ways all the time: probably Jim F.’s grandmother searched her heart that way: Jim F.’s introspection being more intellectually sophisticated, rigorous, expansive because he’s got a penchant for it.

    Jim F.: Are you thinking of Elder McConkie’s letter to Eugene England, where he lets the professor know that “It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent,” or of something else?

  18. Kingsley on July 19, 2004 at 9:32 pm

    I like how Jaques Lusseyran opens his marvelous And There was Light:

    Now, it is no longer a child who is going to tell this story and that is regrettable. It is a man. Worse yet, it is the university professor I have become. I will have to guard myself very carefully from trying to expound and demonstrate—those two illusions. I will have to return to the simplicity of a child …

  19. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 19, 2004 at 10:10 pm

    Jim
    I suspect that the leading lights in literature, theology, etc. are similar.

    I would agree. I was talking about the lupenproletariat sort of quasi-intellectuals that make up the “working class” of many organizations (much like Elder P refers to Bishops as the “working class” of the Church, in a fond way, indicating that they do the real work).

    Leading lights general examine consequences and implications.

    Anyway … I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and the thoughts.

  20. Jim F. on July 20, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    Kingsley: No, I don’t think that’s what I had in mind. I believe the quotation I have in mind came from an address at BYU, but I’m not sure. Indeed, I think that letter to Gene went over the line. I have a difficult time with it.

    As to naivete, some philosophers, such as Paul Ricoeur, speak of the need for a second naivete, a return to naivete. It is difficult to explicate what that means, but I’m sympathetic to that demand.

  21. Keith on July 20, 2004 at 2:53 pm

    See Ensign August 1979 “The Debate Is Over” by N. Eldon Tanner. “When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over.” There may be other similar statements, but this is one that is easily found.

  22. RevThom on July 20, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    I’m still here. Have been following along this discussion with great interest, waiting for a jumping in point to interject something in the conversation, rather than rehashing previous arguments.

    I want to pick up on Kingsley’s quote of Lusseyran and Jim F.’s mention of Paul Ricoeur. While admitting that I lack a full grasp of Ricoeur (I’ve slogged by way through Time and Narrative on several occasions with less than full understanding), his idea of a “second naivete” is one that is often borrowed by those who work and study in the field of “Faith Development.” Here I am thinking of developmental psychologists like Piaget and Kohlberg and the later scholars like James Fowler and Robert Kegan who borrowed their concepts. These latter individuals sought to describe the psychological aspects of faith, and describe a developmental model of faith. These models are often cyclical and as faith develops, we are thought to alternate between periods of introspection and being part of a faithful community, as well as alternating between disillusionment and (re)naivete.

    I wonder what these ideas might add to this discussion about examined and unexamined. I wonder what the LDS community makes out of writers on Faith Development like James Fowler.

  23. Jack on July 20, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    kingsley: Perhaps I don’t understand your response to Jim. (which was his response to me) I was suggesting that my wife, though she doesn’t turn inward (in the sense that she carefully maps-out, in her mind, what faith looks like and then places herself on the map) she seems to have, in most instances, a clearer understanding of what faith is than I do, even though I spend a lot more time thinking about it than she does. (I’m not only speaking of the principle of faith, but also of what one’s religion means to oneself) I agree with Jim that our faith is understood in a “total” sense. I think most faithful members of the church (and of other faiths as well) can, in some small measure, “taste” the sacrifce of Abraham, though they may not be able to articulate their thoughts or feelings about it very well. The same holds true for any principle. How many of us can truely get to the bottom of what love is by intellectual means alone? We can’t. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t know what it is. We know it in our stomachs (as Jim might say) or in our bones (as I would say).

  24. Kingsley on July 20, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    Dostoevsky wrote interestingly about “reason” versus “the heart.” He did not seem to think theology counted for much, and he frankly admitted defeat when it came to answering philosophical arguments for atheism, but his characters are certainly some of the most fiercely introspective in literature. He sounds like President Packer when he speaks of “Christian action lead[ing] to Christian conviction.” Also Dante comes to mind, describing his vision of Christ: “In telling this, I feel my joy increase.” Neither writer denied the importance of the intellect, but each was able to kneel in a presence other than his own, and it is this ability which Lusseyran seems to be describing, and longing for, as he begins his story.

  25. Kingsley on July 20, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    Jack: I was simply saying that perhaps people like your wife and Jim F.’s grandmother are introspective, and healthily so, and that when intellectuals insist they go further for righteousness’ sake it is out of a very human desire to inflate what we are naturally good at with especial spiritual significance.

  26. Hans Hansen on August 3, 2004 at 4:01 am

    That comment “When the Prophet speaks, the thinking is done” has an interesting history. I have heard this quote used for many years in the church to justify not questioning nor considering (pondering, if you will) issues or programs that are presented to the church membership at large. I had wondered about the origin of this quote and found a site that dealt with it on the Internet.
    You can check it out at http://www.fairlds.org/apol/misc/misc07.html

    Briefly, this was part of a Ward Teaching Monthly Message that was sent out in the June 1945 “Improvement Era”. Contrary to popular belief it was not written by a church leader but was allowed to go into print without being censored by the church leadership.

    Indeed, in a letter written by the Prophet, George Albert Smith, in December, 1945 this statement was judged to be not representative of the true position of the church.

    Please read the article, especially the President Geo. Albert Smith letter before you comment. Thanks.

  27. Philocrites on July 17, 2004 at 12:16 pm

    Unitarian-Mormon dialogue.
    My BYU philosophy professor has a quarrel with a James Luther Adams aphorism in my essay, “Do Unitarian Universalists have morals?”, and a dialogue ensues….

  28. katleen mariñas on November 4, 2004 at 1:11 pm

    its nice..kip up da good work..

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