Over the weekend, I took the lovely Mrs. Cornell to Ricky Gervais’ latest, The Invention of Lying. I have yet to see Mr. Gervais in anything that was less than entertaining, although this came the closest. It’s a very clever conceit – Gervais plays a guy who learns how to lie in a world where dishonesty is impossible – but it goes in fairly unpredictable directions. I suppose that’s good, overall, since most movies are far too predictable, but the general basis of the film is that all religion is based on a hokey story about a man in the sky who controls everything you do. Gervais’ character makes up this lie to comfort his dying mother, but when everyone else overhears him talking about it, he more or less fashions a pop version of the Ten Commandments and writes them on the back of pizza boxes to dupe the gullible masses, who are too stupid to realize that all religion is a transparent lie.
I find that point of view confusing more than anything else.
I have long acknowledged the fact that I will never know what it is like not to be a Latter-day Saint. That is, even if I ended up leaving the church, I would always be a disaffected Latter-day Saint or a former Latter-day Saint. But everything will always be filtered through some fundamental assumptions that have been with me for as long as I’ve had memory.
So with that caveat, I can still say that I lack the faith necessary to be an atheist.
It requires a tremendous amount of confidence in the wisdom of the learned to look at the universe and assume it’s all a bizarre accident. Even the most ardent Darwinists have to acknowledge that the theory of natural selection doesn’t even come to close to explaining how and why life exists, or how it arrived in such perfect ecological balance, or why, for instance, human beings,unlike any other animals, often feel a tension between what they want and what they know is right. (C.S. Lewis cited that as the greatest proof of God’s existence.)
Now I recognize that this doesn’t necessarily prove or even suggest any given theology. One can acknowledge purpose and order and still have no faith in anyone in ancient Palestine dying for their sins. But to flagrantly deny the existential evidence of divinity in the universe strikes me as an act of monumental hubris, as well as an act of supreme faith in an incomplete science and/or in their own personal genius. It also leads to barbarism if left unchecked. (See Stalin/Hitler/Mao.)
Which leads me to POUNDS’ pertient comments on my last post.
As an agnostic, who whole-heartedly supports your decision to embrace the LDS church and its doctrines, I would appreciate your response to the following:
If you accept an all-knowing and infallible God, isn’t it possible that He has designed things so that different people will adopt different views and perceptions of Him? Or even that He prefers it that way?
That was the idea behind the finale of the Battlestar Galactica remake, where we discovered that everything was orchestrated by a God who “didn’t like to be called that.” This idea has many champions, many of whom speak of all of us “climbing up different sides of the mountain.” That is, each of us is reaching for the same thing, and all of us will get their in the end. Or, to quote Bernie Taupin: “We all make the same mistakes/We’re gonna wind up with the Man.”
Here’s my problem with it.
In no other form of human experience does sincerity create truth. That is, one can truly, sincerely believe any number of weird medical fads, but if those beliefs are not in line with how the human body actually works, then they’re useless. Or dangerous. All the doctors who bled out their patients up until the 20th Century had a different view and perception of how the human body worked, one which I assume was quite sincere. And still it was wrong.
Truth exists independent of humanity’s interpretation of it.
So whoever/whatever/whenever God is, He/She/It is. The fact that people are confused on the details doesn’t mean that each interpretation is equally valid, although I would submit that it isn’t a black and white proposition. Some religions have bigger chunks of the truth than others, and if I found a church with more truth than the one I have now, I’d join it. I think the confusion is a product of human fallibility, not divine design.
As to whether God prefers it that way, I think that’s a more interesting question. Certainly He hasn’ty taken the steps He could to settle the issue once and for all, but I think that goes to the heart of the purpose of mortal existence. Latter-day Saints posit that we lived with God before life on this earth, and we were sent here to demonstrate our ability to walk by faith, without God providing all the answers. I think He wants us to find the truth, and the multiplicity of religions demonstrate varying degrees of success in that quest.
Why would an omniscient and omnipresent deity, who is the “Creator of all
things” (Latin: ex nihilo) create or allow alternative faiths or the sense of
doubt held by those who are uncertain about the true nature of existence itself?
We’re entering very deep theological waters here, but I need to respond by saying that Mormons reject the idea of ex nihilo, or “out of nothing” creation.
Joseph Smith was all for the Law of Conservation of Mass before it was cool. He wrote, “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the Light of Truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29. In verse 33, he also says, “The elements are eternal.”)
So from our perspective, God’s creation involves the organizing of eternally existening elements to bring order out of chaos, not pulling something from nothing. This also means that a piece of us, independent of our bodies, has always existed and was not created out of nothing. That is the only part of us that we can truly offer to God, since everything else is His handiwork. As independent agents who are co-eternal; with God, our doubts, our weaknesses, and our misunderstandings are our own responsibilities.
Is it not possible that an all-powerful and all-knowing God WANTED diversity of
views (and faiths) that meet the needs of different people in different ways?
Yes, it is possible. But it seems unlikely to me that God would want people to believe things that are diametrically opposed to each other. The truth can be viewed from many different perspectives, certainly, but I doubt God would want us to say that black and white are the same thing.
It would seem that is just as reasonable and satisfying an explanation as the
specific beliefs on any particular religion are to its adherents.
It’s certainly a more reasonable view than atheism.
And, of course, that is why I am an agnostic who marvels at all the different
(“absolutist”)views which are sincerely held by so many people….. including so
many that I greatly respect.
You’re a good man, sir.
Bottom line: Wait for The Invention of Lying on Video. It’s kind of unwieldy, but it’s also got a pretty funny Pepsi joke in it.