Apr 7, 2008

When Knowledge Becomes A Burden

Sometimes I really do think that ignorance is bliss. When it comes to the Church, maybe the old saying "what you don't know can't hurt you" really is true. To some of us, it seems that the more knowledge we acquire about the history or doctrines of the Church, the heavier a burden it becomes.

I've had the opportunity to attend church in several different countries and languages. In some countries, members have the bare minimum of Church materials in their native language. They may only have selections of the Book of Mormon and a few official lesson manuals. When it comes to supplementary reading, it can be pretty scarce. I mean how many Mormon-related books in a language besides English can you think of? I remember thinking to myself after reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman that anyone who can't read English would be missing out on a fantastic book. And that goes for all the other books out there that we enjoy and take for granted as English-speakers. A lot of people are missing out on some valuable insight simply because these resources are not available to them. Talk about an advantage for us!

But sometimes I think that it's a disadvantage. I know that sounds strange, because knowledge is the only thing we can take with us from this life and the more we gain, the better, right? So how could knowledge ever be a bad thing??? I feel very conflicted within myself because of my insatiable desire to find out as much as I can, combined with a longing to go back to that childlike innocence I had years ago when everything in the Church made perfect sense to me. I know the Lord says that His "yoke is easy," but sometimes I feel a lot like the donkey in the picture.

Could it be that there's a good reason for the apparent lack of addressing controversial issues within the Church? We often hear of "precept upon precept." Maybe most of us really can't handle the truth if it were given to us now? (That's actually a pretty scary thought because it makes me think that the Lord is just holding back on something that would make me go off the deep-end if I knew the whole story.) And in the end, how does it affect the validity of the Gospel?


Sanford said...

Faithful D says

I remember thinking to myself after reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman that anyone who can't read English would be missing out on a fantastic book.

At my work there is a man who during lunch often reads the Book of Mormon or this year’s priesthood manual, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. He is a returned missionary and has a very strong testimony. He has not been in the country very long and English is his second language. When I chat with him about the gospel it’s clear that most of my Church issues are not even on his radar screen. I think he is somewhat puzzled but mostly amused by my views on Mormonism (those I am able to communicate anyway).

He seems interested in Joseph Smith and I have thought of recommending Rough Stone Rolling to him but I don’t think it has been translated into his language. And I have also wondered what would be the benefit of him reading it. Sure, he’ll get new information about Joseph Smith but to what end. I doubt it would strengthen his commitment to the gospel. It might inform his commitment but at what cost? I value historical understanding over uniformed belief, but I don’t know that I am better off as a result. By the way, the donkey picture says it all. It’s very funny and fitting. So how did you come to find yourself hanging from a harness in the air?

The Faithful Dissident said...

I agree with you, Sanford. Reading Rough Stone Rolling is not likely to strengthen a lot of people's commitment to the Gospel. And yet, for me personally, the insight it gave only strengthened my belief in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith was a fascinating person who will always be an enigma to me. I still believe in the Restoration, The First Vision, The Book of Mormon, and I suppose that means that I believe that he was a prophet of God. I guess I just can't say it with the same 100% confidence that other members testify of during each Fast Sunday. I can say that I BELIEVE in it, but I can't say that I KNOW that it's all true. I've heard/read all the reasons his critics give as "proof" that he was a fraud, but I don't think he was. I admit that I have my doubts about some of the things he did, namely polygamy, especially after reading about it in more detail. I am open to the possibility that he made some big mistakes and went too far with polygamy. I don't want to call him a "fallen prophet," but I now have a lot more sympathy for those who could believe that, particularly those who were living in his time and witnessing polygamy first-hand. Whether he was deluded or not, I don't think he was a "bad" man and I honestly think that he did what he felt he was told to do, according to the dictates of his own conscience.

I can relate to the donkey because I sometimes feel that I've lost my spiritual grounding. It's like the more I find out, the greater a burden it becomes. Maybe it will take some divine intervention to get my spiritual feet back on the ground. By myself, I think I'm just as helpless as this donkey. :)

Mormon Heretic said...

Faithful Dissident, I read on another blog that learning about church history can be like Lehi's vision where some passed through the mists of darkness. However, if we stick to the iron rod, we'll taste the precious fruit.

Yes, some will not make it through the mists, but for those who do, it will be worth it.

As I read the Old Testament, I am amazed at some of the things that prophets did, yet we still believe they are prophets. For example, Noah got drunk, and fathered a child with his daughter. Can you think of a worse thing? Yet we still believe he was a prophet. If you read the Old Testament, you will be amazed at some of the horrible things in there.

They key for me is to take the good things "Love your enemies", and reject the bad things (incest is bad.) It shows that God still uses flawed people to spread his word.

Anonymous said...

What if the caption on the donkey's cart were "integrity" instead of "knowledge"? What if you were just a lot more honest than all the others who give their testimonies not because they "know" what you don't but because they're simply afraid of not being like everyone else?

The Faithful Dissident said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure whether it would be right to say that I have more integrity than all those people who say that they KNOW the Church is true. How can I KNOW that they DON'T know? Maybe they're all deluded, or maybe they all know something I don't. I'm quite open to the possibility of the latter and, in fact, I hope that someday I'll be able to say it as well, and with confidence. I'm just not there yet.