Thursday, October 10, 2013

Doubt everything you think you know about doubts and faith and junk.

Here we are again in the aftermath of another General Conference. Pinterest is exploding with sparkly quotes ripped innocently out of context and redesigned as meaningless fluff. Ex-Mormons and Mormon critics are pouring over conference talks like bloodhounds, scanning for any whiff of injustice or offense. Anything they find is then blown up in 96-point font in all-caps and splattered over the blogosphere. All the while, the core messages of the conference talks fade into relative obscurity. It seems we have little appetite for anything more than sappiness or scandal. There are some things that need to stop happening.

President Uchtdorf gave a brilliant talk at the end of the first session. Unfortunately, the message of his talk has been eclipsed by a single line: "doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith." Ironically, eager pinners and Mormon critics have both latched onto this same line. For faithful aesthetes, this line is just about as perfect as you can get. It's short, punchy and uses simple-but-genius wordplay. For critics, this line undermines everything that President Utchdorf said previously; it's the part that if you just ignore, the rest of the talk is really great.

In true postmodern fashion, just about everyone that is talking about this talk rips out some of the key words and either applies their own definitions or throws out definitions entirely. You. Can't. Do. That.

At least, not if you want to learn anything new.

The phrase "doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith" is meaningful in the context of the entire talk. If you rip it out of context, you lose everything that President Uchtdorf did to define 'doubt' and 'faith.' Without that context, the words are just meaningless aesthetic, or vessels to be filled with your own meaning. This is a real setback for gospel learning, but it applies to education anywhere. If you don't allow other people to challenge your understanding of a concept, then you will only translate their ideas into what you already know. Obviously, that is a problem if you want to be instructed from a prophet.

So here's a contextualized reading, in brief.

President Uchtdorf spends much of his talk connecting faith to action. Consider these words:
"Believing in God is commendable, but most people want to do more than listen to inspirational sermons or dream of their mansions above. They want to put their faith into practice. They want to roll up their sleeves and become engaged in this great cause."
"We see assignments not as burdens but as opportunities to fulfill covenants we gladly make to serve God and His children."
"Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result. "
When President Uchtdorf speaks of faith in his talk, he is usually talking about faith as action. He knows and testifies that this kind of faith brings blessings - "we will all become better as a result." In other words, To have faith in Christ is to do as Christ would do, and when we do as Christ would do, we are all blessed. Have you heard of that primary song that goes, "Reverence is more than just quietly sitting--it's thinking of heaven above?" Well I would say, "faith is just more than just blindly believing--it's emulating Christlike love."

So when President Uchtdorf tells us to "doubt our doubts before [we] doubt our faith," I think he's referring to faith as action. In other words, don't doubt that trying to be like Christ will bring about miracles and love. There's a good chance you already know that Christlike love brings pure joy. Don't doubt it. Everyone knows that when we share our talents, gifts, and energies, "we all become better as a result." Put your faith in that. Do it.

So now I want to try to blow your mind a little bit. I already told you that you need to be open to new definitions if you want to learn anything new. Consider it this way:

"Faith requires self-doubt."

I don't know why I put that in quotes. I just made it up. Maybe I'm just anticipating that it will be ripped out of context. Before that happens, however, let me clarify what I mean. (and please note that my line would make no sense out of context.)

Faithful learning requires being childlike. It requires the student to recognize that he/she doesn't know everything about a topic. Have you seen that crazy kung-fu movie The Forbidden Kingdom? There's a part when Jackie Chan pours tea into his student's cup that is already full of tea. Tea spills everywhere and makes a big mess. The metaphor is simple: if you know everything, you can't learn sweet moves from Jackie Chan.

So please, stop taking things out of context, and come listen to a prophet's voice. For real though.