State of Mankind

A New Way Of Thinking

Critical Thinker, Or Just A Critic?

When I get that craving for a really great burger, I know just where to go.  It may seem sacreligious or profane in some way that it isn’t some ma and pop shop or dive restaurant made in a 100 year old house, but I prefer to go to Carl’s Jr. and get the jalapeno burger (yes, they still make it even though it’s not on the menu anymore).  I will try anyone’s burger, but I have always ended up right back at Carl’s.  I guess this feels like a confession because I’m not giving some sort of grand revelation or telling you of some unknown or expensive option.  Nothing feels cheaper than an unpaid endorsement of an established fast food chain that just about anyone could go to.

This being the case, and my tastes being as they are, I have very little need of food critics.  Whenever I watch a show or read an article on restaurants or food, it seems that the critics are concerned with every detail except the bottom line–Does it simply taste good?  Perhaps I am too un-fancy, or don’t properly appreciate the “dive” atmosphere of a newly remodeled building that had “put hole in sheetrock here” on the blueprints to make it look neglected.  Nor do I conceive how this makes the food taste better or worse.  I guess I’m just a bottom line type person.

This brings me to the thesis of the day:  I believe the difference between a critical thinker and a critic is found in the relevency of their argument.  Being a critical burger eater, I am willing to give up on Carl’s, if I find a better tasting option.  I’m not willing to write it off because there is a playground of sorts attached to the establishment.  The critical thinker, in my mind, is a truth seeker.  It is someone who focuses on those things that will truly affect their lives and tries hard to view them from every possible angle to understand truth the best that can be done, and then tries to make positive and meaningful changes to his or her life based on this understanding.  The critic, on the other hand, seems to get carried away with details, often negative ones, and commonly misses the chance to truly enjoy truths and understanding that have been given.  How many professional food critics prefer, or even give a chance to Carls?

Shifting gears from restaurants, I find it is very “in-vogue” these days to be a critic of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, especially for many members of the church.  This writing is my response to their criticisms as well as the reason that I find it highly unnecessary to join their ranks.  To accomplish this, I will take as a basic presupposition that the reader accepts the Book of Mormon as true.  In order to best communicate my ideas, I will use much of the framework given by William James in his address The Will To Believe (published in the New World, June, 1896).  Keep in mind that being over 100 years old, his examples may be somewhat dated, but the basic logic is very applicable.

James lays a basic foundation of why we seek knowledge of any sort:

Let us give the name of hypothesis to anything  that may be proposed to our belief; and just as the electricians speak of live and dead wires, let us speak of any hypothesis as either live or dead.  A live hypothesis is one which appeals as a real possibility to him to whom it is proposed.  If I ask you to believe in the Mahdi, the notion makes no electric connection with your nature,–it refuses to scintillate with any credibility at all.  As an hypothesis it is completely dead.  To an Arab, however (even if he be not one of the Madhi’s followers), the hypothesis is among the mind’s possibilities:  it is alive.  This shows that deadness and liveness in an hypothesis are not intrinsic properties, but relations to the individual thinker.  They are measured by his willingness to act.  The maximum of liveness in hypothesis means willingness to act irrevocably.  Practically, that means belief, but there is some believing tendancy wherever there is willingness to act at all.

To become knowledge, it is more important for a truth to appeal to the seeker, than to actually be true.  A truth that no one wants to seek will not become knowledge, it is dead.  This may be a sad reflection on human kind, but his observation is absolutely correct.  Something that may or may not be true, but inspires great amounts of seeking and thought, may well become accepted as truth, where it is actually only a very live hypothesis.  We see this commonly in scientific theories that are accepted as fact.  Perhaps I find his essay “live” only because he is the only academic I have read who refers to electricians (us electricians aren’t used to any attention from thinkers).

James goes on to explain the choices we make between hypotheses:

Next, let us call the decision between two hypotheses an option.  Options may be of several kinds.  They may be:

1. living or dead;

2. forced or avoidable;

3. momentous or trivial;

and for our purpose we may call an option a genuine option when it is of the forced, living, and momentous kind.

1. A living option is one in which both hypotheses are live ones.  If I say to you:  “Be thou a theosophist or be a Mohammedan,” it is probably a dead option, because for you neither hypothesis is likely to be alive.  But if I say:  “Be an agnostic or be Christian,” it is otherwise:  trained as you are, each hypothesis makes some appeal, however small, to your belief.

2. Next, if I say to you:  “Choose between going out with your umbrella or without it,” I do not offer you a genuine option, for it is not forced.  You can easily avoid it by not going out at all.  Similarly, if I say, “Either love me or hate me,” “Either call my theory true or call it false,” your option is avoidable.  You may remain indifferent to me, neither loving nor hating, and you may decline to offer any judgment as to my theory.  But if I say, “Either accept this truth or go without it,” I put on you a forced option, for there is no standing place outside of the alternative.  Every dilemma based on a complete logical disjunction, with no possibility of not choosing, is an option of the forced kind.

3. Finally, if I were Dr. Nansen and proposed to you to join my North Pole expedition, your option would be momentous; for this would probably be your only similar opportunity, and your choice now would either exclude you from the North Pole sort of immortality altogether or put at least the chance of it into your hands.  He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he tried and failed.  Per contra, the option is trivial when the opportunity is not unique, when the stake is insignificant, or when the decision is reversible if it later prove unwise.  Such trivial options abound in scientific life.  A chemist finds an hypothesis live enough to spend a year in its verification; he believes in it to that extent.  But if his experiments prove inconclusive either way, he is quit for his loss of time, no vital harm being done.

Let’s do a quick example with the Book of Mormon.  The Book of Mormon offers a forced option.  Once a person encounters this book, the choice is to accept it as true or live without its teachings.  Is it a living option?  That depends very much on the person who encounters the book and that person’s desire to know if it is true.  A person with no desire to seek such a truth will find it a dead option.  One who has some amount of desire will find it a live option to the extent of the desire.  The Book of Mormon is definitely a momentous option.  Found true, it is life changing and leads to other momentous options such as embracing the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Now, we’ll move to the meat of our thesis–the critics within the Church and an analysis of what they offer.  I have read many blogs and they tend to criticize Church leaders for everything from not fully implementing the United Order today, to cutting the ribbon for a new mall, to wearing suits at General Conference.  We won’t go into any one of these specifically, but just look at them generally, according to the option analysis that Dr. James gives us.

Are you offering a forced option?  If you phrase it as accept this truth or not, I suppose you could call it that, but does it make any difference in anyone’s life either way?  Suppose your issue is incorrect or biased.  It would be best left alone.  Suppose your criticism is correct.  In this case, you have proven that humans are called to be Church leaders.  We all know this to be the case and it has always been the case.  Infallability is not a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Consider the following:

Matthew 18: 18  The twelve receive the keys of the kingdom.

Matthew 26: 69-75  Peter denies Christ three times.  Did Peter need a critic to remind him of this after sincere repentance?  Would such a critic have been helpful or not as Peter led the church?

3Nephi 23: 9-13 (Christ is speaking)

Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them.  And said unto them: Was it not so?

And his disciples answered him and said:  Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.

And Jesus said unto them:  How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?

And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written.

And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded.

Church leaders have made mistakes, ranging in severity, for many years.  I would guess, ever since Adam took the fruit.  Personally, I would fear the correction of the Lord much more than anything another person might say.  Look at some of the corrections the Lord gave to Joseph Smith:

D&C 3: 5-11 (refers to the lost manuscript of the Book of Mormon)

Behold, you have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them.  And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men.  For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God.   Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words– Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble.  Behold, thou are Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou are not aware thou wilt fall.  But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;  Except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift.

D&C 95: 2-3

Wherefore, ye must needs be chastened and stand rebuked before my face; For ye have sinned against me a very grievous sin, in that ye have not considered the great commandment in all things, that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house;

I guess the point is clear.  There has never been a perfect leader.  When the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ are imperfect, the scriptures show that they stand accountable to the Lord.  He corrects his church in his time, in his way, and doesn’t seem to mince words when doing so.  One more point is the love with which the Lord chastises:

D&C 95: 1

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I live I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you–

Do we tend to show such love in our criticisms?

OK, back to our analysis of the forced option.  Even if the particular concern is correct, it is best left to the Lord, and proves nothing new to anyone.  Thus my conclusion is that the option offered is not only not forced, but best avoided.

Not to stop short, we still need to see if the option is momentous. To the best I can tell, this depends largely on what the particular criticism is trying to accomplish.  If nothing major is intended, I believe it would fall in the category of idle gossip, and therefore not be anything close to momentous.  If something major is intended, that could make it momentous.  If the goal is to show that the Church is no longer true, such would definitely be momentous.  However, with this hypothesis, one must show himself to be true and trustworthy or the hypothesis is not worth considering.  This means stating the intentions clearly from the beginning.

3Nephi 12: 37, Matthew 5:37

But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever cometh of more than these is evil.

Truth is communicated clearly.  Its intentions are communicated clearly.  The critical thinker who wishes to state his position against the Church and give his best evidence to support his hypothesis may, perhaps, be able to have a forced option that is momentous.  However, this depends fully upon his own honesty to be forthcoming about his true position.  We will not pursue this any further, as this posting is intended for those who are within the Church.

Finally, we get to the final choice–is the option living or dead?  I realize that Dr. James considered this first and I am doing it last.  This is purposeful for a couple of reasons.  First, I believe that for the critical thinker, whether the option is living or dead often depends on how forced and momentous it is.  We’ll once again use the Book of Mormon as an example.

Think of the forced options that the Book of Mormon presents.  Either it was a 19th century product of a deceiver named Joseph Smith, or an ancient record translated by the power of God, by the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Either it is a fraud, or we have found the Kingdom of God restored to the earth!  This is forced and momentous!  Men have been searching for the truth about God for thousands of years and have been little successful, and here it is, presented as an option for us to consider!  What is more, if we look at the evidence with the objective, scientific mind, both options are equally ridiculous.  On the one hand we must explain how a young man, not educated well enough to write a good letter, fabricates an intricate book of hundreds of pages, full of proofs of ancient origin and facts not known until many years after his death.  To claim he or even the most educated man in the world in the 19th century could have written the Book of Mormon is laughable.  On the flip side, our scientific mind is forced to contemplate visits from angels, God himself, and revelation, which science has long willed to believe against!  This is perhaps the ultimate forced option.  Now, consider how momentous.  Not only is the truth of God potentially in front of us, but this changes everything about life.  There really is a God who wants to communicate with us!  “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”, is truly a false doctrine, to be traded for the life of the saint!

Now, consider these things in the light of whether the Book of Mormon is a living option or not.  Any true critical thinker, I believe, would make this a living option, simply due to what is at stake.  The act of critical thinking is the attempt to get outside of personal biases and consider, in an unbiased way, those things which are important to life.  And how interesting it is that many refuse to make the Book of Mormon a living option for this very reason!  “I am a man of science and don’t consider religious things,” really is saying that one prefers to close his mind and not believe in things, which may well be true, because he doesn’t want to risk losing the faith he has put in a certain view of things.  It is no different than the early religious man denying that the earth is a sphere or revolves around the sun because of the drastic change of view required.  I believe that critical thinking must get past such biases and make the options living or dead based on how forced and momentous they are.  Those who refuse to do so automatically choose to put their faith (and faith it is, hardly knowledge or science) in the hope that the Book of Mormon was a fabrication, for which no lasting hypothesis has ever been made!

The second reason I believe that the Living Option should be the third consideration is that what we choose as a living option shows what we really want to believe.  In a spiritual and scriptural sense, this is more important than my first reason.  If I desire to know of the iniquity in the Church, where is my heart?  We have already shown that those who are within the Church who want to reveal problems or seek iniquity aren’t generally doing it as forced or momentous options, but these are living hypotheses for some reason, and this makes itself the issue.  Consider, again, the words of Dr. James:

Our reason is quite satisfied, in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of every thousand of us, if it can find a few arguments that will do to recite in case our credulity is criticized by some one else.

When we “will to believe” something, our need for evidence is greatly reduced.  This is a psychological truth.  We see it every day in politics.  One party believes the other is the devil incarnate, and vice-versa and there needs be little or no real evidence to fuel such beliefs.  One only needs find a crum of suspicion to accuse his opponent, and believe his accusation correct.  Likewise, one needs only that same crum of evidence to suppose his ally is correct.  Our will distorts political evidence so greatly that real dialogue is almost impossible–believe me, I’ve tried.  So the real problem with seeking iniquity is just that, we will probably find it, at least enough to satisfy our own will to believe.  Let’s consider what the scriptures say about this, and the spiritual implications:

2Nephi 27:31, Isaiah 29: 20-21:

For assuredly as the Lord liveth they shall see that the terrible one is brought to naught, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off; and they that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of naught.

Interesting side-note that this chapter of scripture, in the Bible, re-affirmed as to its importance in the Book of Mormon, and endorsed (with all Isaiah’s writings) by the Savior (3Nephi 23:1), is a prophecy about the “marvellous work and wonder” that the Lord would do in the Last Days.  That is a direct reference to the Book of Mormon and the work of the restored gospel.

“All that watch for iniquity are cut off.”  What does this mean?  I suppose there are many possible meanings, but it seems, at very minimum, to be a warning that if we are looking for iniquity we definitely can’t have his full spirit to be with us.

3Nephi 12:1

And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying:  Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.

The Lord, appearing to the Nephite people called twelve apostles.  He then immediately told the multitude, “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen…”  Let’s first establish that he did this not because these twelve were perfect.  We have already analyzed that Nephi, who was one of them, had failed to record the words of Samuel the Lamanite.  Was there some risk that the twelve would teach something incorrect?  If so, we have already established that the Lord would rebuke them himself, as he did in the Old and New testaments, as well as the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.  In all of these books of scripture, there is never a time that the people were led astray by the Lord’s called servants, but often the case that the people wouldn’t heed the word of the Lord, wanting to fit in with their “Babylonian culture” instead.

1 Samuel 8: 4-7

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,  And said unto him, Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.  But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us.  And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.  And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee:  for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

Note that the people wanted a king to be like all the [other] nations.  It was probably cool or stylish, or the best practice in their minds.

Helaman 13:2-3

And it came to pass that in this year there was one Samuel, a Lamanite, came into the land of Zarahemla, and began to preach unto the people.  And it came to pass that he did preach, many days, repentance unto the people, and they did cast him out, and he was about to return to his own land.

But behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart.

Samuel went on to teach and prophesy many great things.  The reason I bring this example up is to focus on whom he called to repentance.  It wasn’t the prophet or the Church leaders.  Interestingly enough, one of the greatest prophets in scripture was also in the city of Zarahemla trying to get the people to repent.  Nephi, the son of Helaman (the son of Alma the younger, the son of Alma the elder, a descendant of Nephi, the son of Lehi) and father to Nephi (mentioned above who was made one of the twelve apostles), was given virtually all power because of the trust the Lord had in him.

Helaman 16:1

And now, it came to pass that there were many who heard the words of Samuel, the Lamanite, which he spake upon the walls of the city.  And as many as believed on his word went forth and sought for Nephi; and when they had come forth and found him they confessed unto him their sins and denied not, desiring that they might be baptized unto the Lord.

I brought up the genealogy of Nephi for a reason–to show that he was the “establishment” prophet.  The people seemed to just not want to hear anymore from this crazy family that had been subjecting them forever.  Many of our modern scholars suggest that this family was somewhat elitist (due to their schooling in reading and writing, and high positions in government and church), if we look at it from a worldly perspective.  This must have been a great enough stumbling block to the people that the Lord sent a Lamanite to call them to repentance, someone as far from “elitist” or “establishment” as you can possibly find.  Samuel lamented that the people were so wicked that he, “a Lamanite” would have to call them to repent.  However, those who believed Samuel went straight to Nephi to be baptized.  Samuel wasn’t calling the Church to repentance, but those who wouldn’t listen to the called representatives of the Lord for whatever reason.

I have to admit that I can sympathize with Samuel, being an uneducated electrician who hates to wear a suit, standing on our modern city wall (the internet) posting these things in academic form, because the spirit (and you are free to judge if it be the spirit of the Lord for yourself) won’t let me quit.

It’s time to put this all in context.  Why have I written this long and rambling assessment?  The purposes are threefold.  First, because I feel it necessary to prevent spiritual damage to those who may be critics, as well as to their audience.  Second, because I feel great love for all mankind which motivates the first reason, and also the third, which is to offer the Lord’s way to deal with the human weakness within the Church.

What spiritual damage could be prevented?  I fear that, while we have proven that there is no momentous intention in criticism, it is human nature to invent something large.  The hypothesis begins to form that if there is some sort of iniquity in the Church, maybe I don’t need to fully repent in my own life, or at least I can rationalize some of my own iniquities, or perhaps, I can be a little less valiant in my serving the Lord.  In reality, this is a forced and momentous option.  If I choose not to personally receive of any amount of the spirit with which the Lord could bless me, I have chosen a momentous loss.

Moroni 8: 26

And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

Can I have lowliness of heart, or perfect love and the Holy Ghost if I am critical of another, or any organization?  If I think I can, I am fooling only myself.

Galatians, 5: 22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

I would have the reader know that I write all of this in a spirit of love.  Occasionally, through love, we must reprove with sharpness (see D&C 121).  I have tried not to be sharp, but academic.  I have attempted to lay out a principle and allow the conscience of the reader to decide how it may apply to him/her.  My only desire in this is that because of the love I have for others and for all mankind, that I can simply invite all to live closer to the spirit, which spirit will testify of the caring I have.  If you follow what is offered hereafter and it makes your life better and closer to the Lord, does that not testify that I have shared the principle in love?  Because I don’t personally know the critical writers in the blogosphere, this will have to suffice.

My purpose is not to attack anyone or any writing.  It is to invite all to receive the Spirit and it’s guidance to a greater degree in their lives.  This, too, is a forced, and momentous option.  You can choose to gain the spirit in greater abundance or live without it.  The results can be momentous in everyone’s lives.  Living with the Spirit brings us to a state of being able to create Zion.  If we live without it, we will only stumble on, at best, or be left behind when the Lord decides the time is at hand.

My invitation follows what Moroni has shared in Moroni 8: 26 (quoted above).  Follow the counsel of those Prophets and Apostles called by the Lord to receive a remission of sins, and continue to gain in meekness, and lowliness of heart.  There is no place for being critical in this.  If you follow this path, you can receive the Holy Ghost which will fill with hope and perfect love.  When we have hope and perfect love I can’t see how any negative feeling could be held toward another human, though one’s heart may break at the choices mankind tends to make which lead them to be critical, harbor ill feelings and allow these to bring them to greater transgression or just hinder the Spirit they may receive.

And what about when there is inevitably a question or item that seems out-of-place within the Church?  I find that it works best to take such questions directly to the Lord, asking in faith.  We live in a day and a culture (Babylonian culture) where society puts a high value on creating a movement and trying to push for change through political pressure or petition.  Such is not the Lord’s way.  Abraham questioned the Lord’s plan to destroy Sodom, so he went to the Lord.  The Lord didn’t rebuke him or attack him for asking, instead he spoke with Abraham as an equal, taught him, and saved Lot.  On the flip side, when Israel pushed for a King, putting the pressure of their numbers on Samuel, the Lord respected their decision, but explained they had rejected him so they were getting what they asked for.

I have taken many questions to the Lord and have received some answers, which have always enlightened my understanding and increased my love toward all men, including the servants of the Lord.  Sometimes I have learned that my perspective was wrong.  Other times I have learned how my thoughts and the question at hand were not mutually exclusive.  When we ask the Lord in humility, it is done with a true will to believe whatever he may teach.  Only in this way can we really gain the truth.  If I desired a change, or felt through the best spirit I could receive that one was needed within the Church, I would take such an idea up in prayer to the Lord to learn if my perspective was correct (hopefully being humble enough to accept his answer if not), and then for him to bring about that change.  Sounds less than effective in our Democratic mind, but do we really believe in the Lord?  Do we really want his will to be done, or would we rather submit him to ours?

Finally, I would simply ask all to recognize the spirit for the fruits it brings.  When we read or write or speak of others and organizations, it can only bring about the Spirit of truth if it is done in love.  Moroni explains why this is so important:

Ether 12: 33-34

And again, I remember that thou hast said that thou has loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men.  And now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy father.

I know what the Spirit tastes like.  It tastes like faith, hope and love and charity.  This is what teaches, edifies, and brings us closer to our father in heaven.  I invite all to seek this Spirit.  It is the best Spirit.  It is the Holy Ghost, by which we may know the truth of all things.  I’m sorry to those may feel to be critical, even if they may be right, but criticism, especially if coupled with negative feelings are ingredients that must be avoided to have it taste right.  To say it in a restaurant metaphor, rather than swallow these, I’ll just head back to Carl’s.

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  1. Kerry

     /  September 6, 2012

    I think you are making a good argument overall, however, there is room to be critical. I would like to discuss this in private that way you can develop your opinion using the scriptures and we can discuss how the D&C allows critique towards the church government.


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