Friday, January 24, 2014

What I Know to be True

Truth...knowledge....these are such common words in Mormonism.

So many people talk about what they "know to be true."

How often do we really deeply pause to reflect not on the knowledge we have, but rather on the process of knowing. How is it that a thing can be known?

What are the most basic things that I know? Well, I know that I am Josh DeFriez.

But wait, what even is the concept of "Josh DeFriez"? And what is the "I" to which I am assigning this identity? Is it the thoughts in the head of the body typing these words? Are these thoughts called "Josh DeFriez"? Or is it the body itself? Is it the feelings in the body? Or is it a combination of all of them? If it's a combination of all of them, then how do I go about setting the parameter for the combination that creates this mysterious person? My thoughts and feelings are deeply based in historical and social patterns. They most often did not originate inside this head. Then are those forces and patterns also a part of what it is to be "Josh DeFriez"?

But I feel that I have an intuitive understanding of what it is to be "Josh DeFriez." Maybe this mind isn't capable of defining the thing, but it most definitely exists. Kind of like when the sun is just barely going down, and stars start appearing in the sky. If I look directly at them, they disappear. I can only see them from the corner of my eye.

And this is odd. Something appears to be there from the corner of my eye, but not to be there upon closer inspection.

Isn't the self kind of like that? If I'm not thinking about it, I feel intuitively that I am a self. And yet, when I examine the thing, I find that I can't know for certain exactly what it means to be a self.

And the more deeply I examine the processes by which I think and function, the less certain I am about certainty. I don't really know how any of it works. I don't know exactly how thought is formed, or how food is processed into energy, or why I feel the way I do about certain things.

I am a mystery to myself.

Now back to knowledge. If I have any knowledge at all, then it must be stored in the vessel of this thing I call my "self." But if I cannot even know with certainty what sort of a thing this "self" is, then how can I ever know for certain the veracity of its beliefs or what it thinks it knows?

I can't, really.

And yet, I tell myself I know things. And telling myself these things create patterns of action. And these patterns of action can often lead to suffering.

And this is the way I see it when LGBT people continue to live in suffering because they "know the church and its teachings are true." While we are not capable of ultimate knowledge, we are capable of setting parameters within our own minds. These parameters can hurt us.

But within a narrative that tells you abandoning the narrative will lead you to the greatest suffering imaginable, it is difficult to ask deep, important questions. And this is the central problem of narratives based on the assumption of certainty. The nature of reality is uncertain. Maybe this is why the certainty of testimony more often leads to pain than joy--because it's not in line with the nature of life.

To me, religion is less about what I know to be true, and more about the conglomeration of mysteries that enfold my life. What do I know to be true? I don't know even know what truth is, ultimately, let alone how I would know it if I knew what it was. Of course I have general predispositions and methods of judgment, but even my most certain means of judging the nature of reality must be approached with a degree of apprehension.

And the more I acknowledge the unknowability of things and the incredible mystery that surrounds even the smallest action I take, the more deeply connected I feel with life. The more I embrace mystery, the more I feel peace.

Mystery fills me with awe. And, as Rumi says, "awe is the salve that will heal our eyes."


  1. Aw, that's a nice quote at the end (and that's not a pun; the "aw" reflects the feeling I feel when I think of the kind of 可爱 child-like attitude that the quote implies).

    It's funny, I was just having a conversation about this last night with a friend of mine with a background in the sciences. Of course, you talk about it more articulately than I did with my ramblings, but he got immediately what I was saying: all knowledge is relational, but what it is it exactly that we are relating it to? Incorporating it into what? It's a very intriguing thought.

  2. There is a power that is truth. Its source is God, and the closer we align ourselves to the laws that God gives, the more we can detect and be sure of what is true. The more we deny eternal law, the more we reject his commandments in concept or application, the more we become confused. In short, we become blind as to what truth is. He assures us that we can come to understand even the mysteries, not stumble forever, but that is completely dependent on our willingness to abandon the 'natural man' and our idea that we know better.
    " And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life.
    For you shall alive by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.

    For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

    And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.

    And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.

    51 For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.

    And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.

    And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.

    And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received— (D&C 84:43-46, 49-54)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Rhonda :)

      I definitely respect where you're coming from here, but I think we're approaching the issue from extremely different angles. The assumptions we take with us into our sentences differ greatly, and so I think this lends to communicating past each other.

      For example, your first sentence is "there is a power in truth." This sentence is based on an assumed understanding of what truth is and also that truth can be known. These are assumptions that I do not have.

      "Its source is God." I think we would disagree as to the nature of God. Also, I think there's an important discrepancy here. In Mormon theology, God is NOT the source of truth. Rather, he is God because he aligns himself to universal principles of truth which he himself did not create--this is the source of doctrine on eternal progression--"as man is, God once was; as God is, man may become." Joseph Smith taught that God is an exalted man who became exalted by following the way of Truth, which exists independently of Him. In this sense, the Mormon view is that "God is good" not because he is the source of goodness, but rather because he conforms to what it means to be good.

      In your comment, you mention how the more we deny eternal law and reject the commandments, the more blind we are to the truth. I have to clarify that I am not "rejecting" eternal law. I am simply being honest that I do not believe and cannot know that what Mormons claim to be "eternal law" is, in fact, eternal law. If there is an "eternal law," then it seems to me, based on my thought and reading, that it differs greatly from the eternal law taught by the LDS church. So I'm not rejecting eternal law in an objective sense, but I am objecting parts and portions of what Mormons claim to be the objective law.

      Also, I think it's important to be clear in the language we use. When you say "He assures us that..." what you actually mean is that "men who I believe speak for God, or who have spoken to us in the past on behalf of God, have assured us in the name of God that..." There's an important difference there. And because I do not accept their authority, I do not accept that "He assures us that..."

      Finally, I do not accept the D&C as the direct word of God. I accept it as the writings of a man who claimed to be talking for God; these verses, therefore, to me are not indicative of an absolute, but rather of one man's view of the absolute. My own relationship to "truth," whatever that may be, will naturally be different from anyone else's, and different from that of Joseph Smith, who wrote these verses.

    2. George Q. Cannon stated, "If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. . . . No man ought to say, “Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.” He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. . . . He wants His Saints to be perfected in the truth. For this purpose He gives these gifts, and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be a perfect people upon the face of the earth, notwithstanding their many weaknesses, because God has promised to give the gifts that are necessary for their perfection."

      You are partially correct about the results of God conforming to truth. While he is who he is because he is completely in line with pre-existing truth, He also IS the Way to truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You can find truth if you will accept it. Truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they will be. Do you deny that we can learn these things?

      God has established a pattern of revealing himself through prophets. If you do not accept the authority of the prophets and scriptures, it is no wonder you do not accept what God has revealed about himself and the nature of truth.

      In posts and comments you keep referring to love as the greatest commandment and then pervert its meaning to claim this means 'loving' or accepting that people are born into certain circumstances and cannot or need not change. The actual greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, which includes giving your will to him. This is what enables you to learn and come to a knowledge of the truth.

      I testify that imperfect men have been called of God to testify of him and his eternal truths, and that we can know through revelation, both theirs and ours.