Monday, November 19, 2007

On Choice and Empowerment

A person can only take so much of the existential angst that one encounters from reading blogs relating to Mormonism. If anything ever showed that Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety was a valid theory, it surely must have been demonstrated by the anxiety that Mormonism brings and its accompanying dizziness. This anxiety is a direct result of the freedom to choose that Mormons believe that they have been given from God. It is a power so great that even God himself cannot interfere with it. Even those who leave the Mormon church itself are forever influenced (tainted?) by this idea of choice and freedom. Dr. Viktor E. Frankl called choice of attitude the last of the human freedoms. Regardless of what others try to do to take away our freedoms and our dignity, we always have the power to choose how to respond to the taking away. Short of killing us, no one can completely take away our freedom to choose. But for all of our power to choose, how are we to know that we made the right choice? That we made the best choice? And this is the desire to know and the uncertainty that leads to angst. Despite the advances of science and technology, we don’t know what the future holds. If there has been any failure of the scientific method, it is that it only allows for predictions of the future and not knowledge of the future.

I have to admit that I am confused at the use of the word ‘empowerment’ that I encounter in my readings, as though someone is withholding the power to choose. If we have the freedom to choose, what does the word ‘empowerment’ mean? What does it signify? I submit that it is a meaningless buzzword. It is a subterfuge, an artifice and a ruse. People use it to give the illusion of benefice. If I say that I am empowered, what I am saying? Someone has to grant the power or authority to me so that I am empowered. If I accept the empowerment, does it not mean that the person or group who granted it to me had the power in the first place? But how does another person or group give me the power to choose if I already have that power?

Friday, November 2, 2007

On Truth and Conspiracy Theories of Ignorance

Recently, I’ve been reading Karl Popper’s “Conjectures and Refutations”. I’ve read a couple of his books before and like the other ones, this one is written clearly and concisely. An interesting point that he raises makes me realize that for all the back and forth that occurs, Mormons and ex-Mormons are cut from the same silk. They may disagree about the truthfulness of the church, but they do fall prey to what Popper describes as the “truth is manifest” doctrine. The idea states that when a person encounters the truth, it is manifestly true, that is to say, any person who encounters the truth, by virtue of their humanity, is able to tell that they have encountered the truth. Popper terms this an optimistic epistemology. And it’s easy to see how it influences both Mormons and ex-Mormons.

Mormons believe that when one hears the gospel, that person recognizes the truth and joins. Ex-Mormons believe that when someone encounters the arguments against the truthfulness of the church, they can’t help but admit that the church is not true. Nothing strange here.

But the strangeness comes out when people don’t respond in the way you would expect them to when faced with the manifest truth. In order to explain this dissonance, people invent conspiracy theories. This idea is especially prevalent among ex-Mormons, who I gather don’t seem to realize that a lot of their ideas are conspiracy theories, with little basis in fact or logic. Take Lyndon Lambert, an excommunicant, who informs us of his particular conspiracy theory on the Book of Mormon. The original quote can be found here.

12. Did you at one time believe in the literal historicity of events and characters in the Bible and Book of Mormon? What are your feelings on those subjects now? Yes, I totally believed. Now I think that people that still believe in the historicity of the book fall into one of three categories:

a. They have not examined the evidence.

b. They are incapable, intellectually, to grasp the conclusivity of the evidence. It is truly overwhelming.

c. They cannot be objective while examining the evidence. Ironically, it is a combination of fear and false pride (and perhaps mind control) that blocks the neural receptors and prevents normal objective evaluation of the data.

Everyone of these categories is a conspiracy theory of ignorance:

1) They haven’t examined the evidence. Because the evidence is manifestly true, anyone who did so, unless they fell into the latter two categories, would be convinced by the ‘conclusivity of the evidence’

2) People believe because they are idiots. Only an idiot could see all the evidence and not know that it is manifestly true;

3) They are falling prey to their emotions and ominous rumblings of mind control. (Plus, Mr. Lamborn's theory of emotions blocking neural receptors preventing objective evaluation is novel. He seems to know an awful lot about neurobiology, even though he's an aeronautical engineer, when the links between emotions and the brain are still the subject of intense debate and study. I wonder which scientific studies he is relying on that allow him to so confidently state why Mormons can't see the manifest truth?)

It doesn’t seem to cross his mind that the truth isn’t as apparent as he thinks it is and that the evidence isn’t quite as cut and dried.

A lot of ex-Mormons talk about the how the church conceals the evidence or forces the members not to view it. Why do they think this? Because a lot of people aren’t leaving the church, at least, not in the numbers the ex-Mormons would expect if the members had access to the same information that they had. So they have to invent a conspiracy theory to explain their (wrong) idea that the falseness of the truth is manifest. The answer: the church is concealing the information from its members or warning them against using the Internet to look for it. Why would the church do this? Obviously, because its truth claims are manifestly false, anyone with access to it would leave the church. The conspiracy theorists take it a step further. They say, "The GAs talk about Internet pornography now, but it’s only a matter of time until they start decrying other things on the Internet." (Regardless of the fact that the church has consistently spoke out against pornography for years and years prior to the advent of the Internet). But this is hardly true. Anyone with a computer has access to any information, no matter how unfriendly to the church, and the church has no way to monitor it. The church can excommunicate the speaker, but they can’t silence her and they can't deafen the hearer.

My point is this: Let's look for the truth and not rely on conspiracy theories to explain cognitive dissonance. It's been said that people could go to heaven if they used only half of the energy they use to go to hell. Maybe if people spent more time trying to understand the truth and less time inventing fanciful conspiracy theories, humankind might actually progress.