I'd like to bear my nuancimony…

I started thinking about writing this post last testimony meeting. I do still bear my testimony, and several people usually comment on it, though I think only my wife hears what I am really saying. But I wanted the chance to write out what I really believe, to express my nuanced testimony.

Several factors motivated this post. As I stated, I rarely get the chance to lay out what I sincerely believe, and have never done so in writing. I appreciate the opportunity to get this out in the open because usually I am so quiet about it in the community (and am right in doing so I believe). Beliefs are refined as they are discussed and questioned, and this site seems an ideal forum to do so. I also want to explore the “big tent” idea and perhaps begin a discussion of how broad our beliefs and practices can be while we remain a member of the LDS community. All that said, I admit that I am more comfortable expressing these sensitive thoughts behind a pseudonym.

My Anchors and the Church

I take a very practical approach to religion. I believe that how we live trumps what we think. I am sympathetic to both the reasons for and benefits from being religious. I am happy in the LDS community because I believe in spiritual reality, and I see the good in the Church (as well as its faults), and that is sufficient for me. All belief systems have elements of truth, and I do feel that the LDS church is one of the best I have come across. I have called it “the most directly divinely guided human institution on the earth.” I am open to all of religious experience falling into a category such as quantum physics, but our perceptions create our reality. I believe our expectations determine our interactions with spiritual reality, but I really do believe in revelation, miracles, etc.

Salvation

I find it useful to have a model of “salvation” that both includes and transcends the church. I believe that the most important principles in life are: Love. Freedom. Consciousness. Growth. Peace. Joy. The more you experience these, the more you are saved, and the more you lack these, the more you are damned. We can of course experience all of these without believing in God. I think that religion in general and the LDS church in particular has the potential to increase these attributes, though it sometimes does not. I believe the ordinances of the gospel are transformative, though I don’t know how much that change comes from expectations and how much comes from some sort of independent reality. How much does it matter?

God

I consider myself an agnostic theist. I sincerely believe in God, but do not know how to define God. I do not think that creation happened by chance, and I marvel at the uniqueness of consciousness and humanity. I have some minimalist definitions of God—perhaps God is simply whatever made us different as humans. Even the principles of salvation I describe above could be called God. I believe we are in “God’s image” because we have agency, consciousness, and love. My working belief is that God is a conscious being who is personally interested in us. I hope that is true. At the same time, I am aware that all conceptions of God are human constructions, so I doubt he has a body like ours, for example. It is important to mention that in practice, I view and treat God as my Heavenly Father. This belief has tremendous appeal and benefits, and I pray to him this way, even though I can nuance my beliefs when necessary.

Afterlife

My beliefs have developed through an attempt to make Mormon doctrine as coherent as possible. I worked out standard Mormon thought on apotheiosis into a belief in reincarnation, where we are perfected to the state of godhood through a series of multiple incarnations (this view is only hinted at officially, but presupposes most points of Mormon doctrine as literally true). I have distanced myself even from this belief somewhat, though I find it very appealing. My core belief is that our consciousness persists after we die.

Sin and Relative Morality

This topic is perhaps the most dangerous of intellectualism since the ante is so high; standard morality serves a vital purpose. I do not find ultimately helpful the loaded terms “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong” (though they can be temporarily helpful, such as when speaking to children). I prefer to think of choices in terms of benefits and costs. We should not discount the wisdom of previous generations. At the same time, the definition of “sin” also encompasses the prejudices of the past. My thoughts on sin could be described as humanist—do no unnecessary harm to yourself or others, and seek to improve the existence of as many as possible. I believe that if every action is motivated by love we cannot sin, though we can still make errors of judgment and hurt others through ignorance. We should not do things we regret, though regret is mostly a cultural construct. It is “sinful” in my opinion to seek to avoid consequences. When we make choices we should consciously embrace the full consequences of that choice. I judge actions mostly independent of the LDS framework, though there are some decisions I still make only because of my community. For example, drinking wine would be too complicated, so I abstain even though I think there is nothing wrong with it.

Jesus

Before I started graduate school I was scared of the topic of the “historical Jesus.” I now have tremendous respect for that “historical” Jesus. I am comfortable with the idea that he had a special relationship with God. The most important title for Jesus is “Atoning Son.” I think the idea of Atonement is beautiful, especially if we ascribe to the fact that we are all connected—so one part of the whole would be sacrificing itself for the benefit of all. I have to admit that my belief in Jesus as Savior is not as firm as my belief in the existence of God, however.

Revelation and Scripture

Our perception of reality is clearly more complicated than simple data received through our senses. Just as most commucation happens on a non-verbal level, people are sensitive in different degrees to metaphysical reality. I do believe in revelation, and that this revelation combines genuine insights and our expectations, all filtered through our worldview. I therefore believe that scripture is inspired to different degrees (though also including some very silly content), and that it requires inspiration to unravel truth from tradition. As far as the Book of Mormon is concerned, the most important datum is that it is inspired of God; the rest is details. At this point I do believe that this account has some historical basis, though the majority of what we now have as the Book of Mormon was written for a 19th century audience, as one would expect.  I do recognize the problem of reducing a claim until it is unable to be proved or disproved: “Well really the historical kernel behind the Book of Mormon is that Nephi and his kids and brother with a bad attitude one year spent summer vacation in Central America.”

Prophets

I believe that most people who claim to be prophets enjoy a special connection to the divine, both in and out of the Jewish/Christian/Mormon tradition. I have great respect for Joseph Smith, who put together much admirable theology while laying the foundations for the church. I think that the leaders of the LDS church are loving and sincere, and sometimes receive insight greater than their own while remaining limited by their culture and expectations, as are we all.

How much it matters

Those are some basics of my beliefs; I welcome any comments and questions. All that said, I would like again to emphasize that I am happy in the Church. I have personalized my thoughts and actions to a large degree, but I value my membership in this community. I like to think that my continued activity will be beneficial.  I am not invested in others believing as I do; simple faith is real in important ways, perhaps the most important. My hope persists that the tent is large, with room for all those who want to build up the “kingdom”, however simple or nuanced their faith statements may be.

A Recent “Anti-Mormon” Essay: Trying to Understand Gee’s Response, Part I
An Appeal to the BYU Board of Trustees: Please Trust Your Faculty
On Doubt and Trust
Doubt is Not Always a Choice
  • David Clark

    I do still bear my testimony, and several people usually comment on it, though I think only my wife hears what I am really saying.

    Riddle me this: Would you be comfortable saying your nuancimony in a way that makes it clear to your co-religionists what you really are saying? If not, then what’s the point of saying it in the first place? If you are comfortable, then just say it and see how far it takes you in the church. If you are not comfortable, well, why do you want to be around a bunch of people who make you so uncomfortable?

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    Interested in hearing response to ^DC.

  • Enoch

    Since two of you backed one question I will answer now rather than waiting.
    My answer: For the same reason that I do not tell my wife every single thing that crosses my mind. I might be comfortable with sharing my thoughts, but my audience would not. I care about them, value faith on whatever level, and do not think that everyone needs to think the way I do. So I speak very carefully, sharing what will be helpful for a particular group. I think this is basic effective teaching method. And again, love trumps details. I do not mean by the teaching analogy that my way is better—simple faith and more nuanced faith both have advantages and disadvantages. So the short of it is that my sharing of my feelings is governed by the principles of relationships. Does that make sense?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    Makes sense to me. Amen.

    “And again, love trumps details.”

    Beautiful, thanks.

  • http://www.linescratchers.com/ Syphax

    I’m glad I’m not the only person who has toyed with a progressive reincarnation theory…

  • David Clark

    Makes sense to me. Amen.

    “And again, love trumps details.”

    Beautiful, thanks.

    It’s a nice platitude, unfortunately details do matter. Take marriage, adultery (the details) often overcomes love and ends in divorce.

  • Enoch

    David, I feel that your comment missed the point of what I was trying to say. We are talking specifically about disclosure–the content of my testimony, for example. If someone does not confess his or her infidelity, it is most likely out of selfishness and fear, not love. A good question to ask when you are withholding/shaping the truth you share is “Am I doing this for my listener, or for myself?” Further, adultery is absolutely not “the details” of marriage; it is a violation of marriage. The details of marriage are all the little things, taking care of the kids, making dinner, etc., including what you share when. Again, you can ask yourself whether your actions are governed by love. I feel the “platitude” is true when it comes to disclosure. The overarching truth that we love our listeners should shape the details of what, how, and when we share.

  • David Clark

    Enoch,

    You have set yourself as nanny to your audience. You are comfortable with sharing your thoughts, it’s just that your audience would be inconvenienced by hearing them. Of course this smacks of elitism, which you later try and wiggle out of by by saying their simpler faith is just as good as yours. Unfortunately this doesn’t escape charges of elitism, it just amplifies them. You are comfortable with their declarations of faith, so why do you presume they would be uncomfortable with yours? Have they told you they are uncomfortable with your declarations of faith? Probably not, you haven’t shared your faith with them.

    If we are going to sling around platitudes like “love trumps the details,” here’s another one: “Honesty is the best policy.” You could respond that honesty must be measured, hence you don’t share your true thoughts with your fellow Mormons. So that leads to further questions: Do you think as adults they want you to condescend to them? Do you think they appreciate your less than full disclosure? If you are going to frame all of this as relationship, what kind of relationship do you really have with people with whom you must withhold your true thoughts?

    In any case, this is a fascinating case of mental role reversal. You don’t share your feelings because you know it will land you in hot water, end of story. This of course shows that in a very real sense you are not the superior in the relationship, some of your fellow Mormons are, as they are the ones who will sit in judgment over you. But, by taking this route, you are able to set yourself up as superior to them, i.e. you must be careful sharing your nuancimony with them as their faith is simple, fragile, and tender.

  • Enoch

    David,

    Round and round we go I suppose. I admit to elitism in many cases, but I really do believe what I wrote, that there are advantages and costs to BOTH paths–mine and the path of simpler faith. I do believe that the ideal is to have a faith that is both solid enough to motivate you to make good choices and informed enough to handle new information. That is an ideal, but we need to deal with things, and people, as they are. I openly admit I think that the informed path is better, but it also has a very high cost, that all do not want to take. Do I offer others that path? Yes. I am a college professor of religion. But we need to choose the right situation. As a rule, I keep fuller disclosure to one-on-one conversations, or small groups where I know the information will be desired/appreciated. I also am honest and precise when I bear my testimony in public.

    I am open about this when the situation is appropriate. When people in the church tell me they want to know more about religion, I ask them which path they want: The FARMSy “oh wow that historical tidbit is fascinating” or the harder, academic, “oh the primary sources don’t say what I thought they did.” One person in particular straight up answered he wanted the simpler path. I know for a fact that people appreciate the way I bear my testimony; they have told me. And if I ask a specialist a question, I *want* them to explain in terms I understand, or as you would perhaps put it, condescend to me.

    We *always* edit ourselves, and to claim differently is naive. We don’t need to tell our employer or a friend every thought we have. Even my wife tells me it make her “tired” to consider all the details. I once thought that I wanted to marry someone who could read through all my journals, including ones about past relationships (including an ex-wife). I much later understood that my wife *could* perform that exercise, but that there would be a cost, a very high one. I do not need to put her through that pain. This is my hobby, to think things through this way. It does not need to be everyone’s. I posted it here because I have seen evidence of like-minded individuals. Do I censor myself because I am concerned about my membership? Of course. I think I am right in doing so.

    Ah, “honesty is the best policy.” I used to be a “truth warrior” and said whatever came into my mind. I hurt people because of that “best policy”. It took me a long time to realize there are multiple, sometimes competing types of truth. For example, 1) I have random thoughts in my head. 2) I am a (sometimes) responsible adult. 3) I love the person I am talking to. *All* of these things are true. From which do I draw my “honesty”? As I said in my last post, there is a hierarchy of truths. When I share my testimony I am taking multiple factors into consideration, including my desire to remain an active member of the church and what I feel will be appreciated by my audience.

  • http://openskyvisions.blogspot.com/ Steven B

    Thank you for posting this. Glad I am not alone with a faith that is a bit unconventional.

  • Christopher

    Thanks for the post, Enoch. Much of it resonates with me, even if the details of my personal beliefs don’t match up with yours exactly. I’m glad you’ve worked out a space in which you’re comfortable with your beliefs and Mormonism.

  • Carl Youngblood

    I too enjoyed this post and feel like David’s expectations are unreasonable and unnecessarily contentious. Seems like he wants Enoch to discard his own awareness of things because it places him in a position of superiority to those who have not learned these things. This is nonsense. Of course Enoch values the things he has learned. How can he do otherwise? I don’t think this requires him to be an elitist.

    Enoch, thanks for sharing these thoughts. Glad to hear that others are facing similar challenges and have found solutions that work for them. This helps me a lot.

  • Sanford

    Thanks for sharing this. As someone who has attended church nearly every week for 48 years with about a 10th of the faith or belief or whatever you have, it is nice to hear someone explain why they believe as opposed to simply declaring that they believe. I get it that many of my fellow congregants in fast and testimony meeting have simple but real testimonies, but I admire and appreciate those who can present their beliefs as more than just truth declarations.

  • Enoch

    Steven, Christopher, Carl, and Sanford,

    I deeply appreciated your comments; your sentiments validate my decision to write this personal post. This is exactly the effect I was hoping to have. Sanford, I admire your decision to attend church “faithfully” with minimal faith. I respect many paths, but yours takes a unique courage, perseverance, and love for family and/or community.

    Carl, I like the way you expressed your thoughts. I agree with you that we *should* celebrate the healthy, enlightened beliefs and behavior that we have. I am pretty much a vegan and didn’t circumcise my sons. I feel more “elitest” about these decisions since they are more unproblematically beneficial than my approach to faith. I don’t exercise as much as I should, so someone who does can feel good about that. I do think the faith issue is more complicated however. As I said in my post, an informed faith is ideal. But how informed must one be? Do we all need to have degrees in Religion, Philosophy, and Theology? I would guess most of the readership of this site can attest to the challenge of maintaining a vital faith while also studying religion academically. The *function* of religion has little to do with this knowledge, except for the risk that our faith is vulnerable when founded on false assumptions. So yes knowledge is good, but if it destroys functional faith, is it worth it? I think this is a topic worth careful consideration and discussion. My short answer is no, which is why I value faith simple as well as more nuanced.

  • David Clark

    I too enjoyed this post and feel like David’s expectations are unreasonable and unnecessarily contentious

    Carl, how is asking for honesty unreasonable and where was I contentious?

  • Enoch

    David,

    I want to respond to your first question. I have tried to make clear that honesty is complex because we are always dealing with competing truths, i.e. “I have negative thoughts about my boss” and “I want to keep my job” are both “true”. So about which truth are we honest? I posted before about the fact that not all truths are of the same value. My love for others is more important than the random thoughts I have in my head. The ability to weigh our feelings and thoughts in this way is a sign of maturity. We could run around naked because that is “how we really are”; I feel you are suggesting we do the same thing intellectually. But “I want to be socially acceptable” (to a degree at least) is also true, and this applies to both clothing and conversation. Clear?

  • oudenos

    This is a great post. My own tack through the academic/religious waters is not unlike yours, Enoch.

    I would love to hear more about this: “we are perfected to the state of godhood through a series of multiple incarnations.” I have been quietly thinking about something like this for several years though I have named the idea otherwise. My thoughts have been informed from readings of Plato’s Timaeus mingled with scripturish stuff. Your sources? Do you extend this attainment “to the state of godhood through a series of multiple incarnations” to Jesus? If so I have also thought about this a bit and would like to hear your ideas. So come now, heretic, wax Pythagorean and Platonic and do elaborate.

  • Enoch

    Oudenos,

    Yes, it is a very fun topic. The very short version: If our goal is godhood, this life is both too insufficient and unequal to accomplish that. My views absolutely extend to Jesus–would you want a God who had not also been a Savior? The only answer is multiple incarnations and there is much to back this up–the temple statement about the nature of this world, the King Follett discourse that says God was also a Christ, the doctrine that Christ is also the Father, the idea that Adam is Christ’s “firstborn”; we are spiritually begotten, etc. My favorite parts of this idea: That we have a God who understands everything because he has BEEN everything, and the equality of men and women. I will email you the document I wrote up on this, since I don’t want to get on too much of a tangent on this post. Perhaps I will post my “Eternal Progression” thoughts another time.

  • oudenos

    Awesome, Enoch. You and I think alike on this topic and, like you, I have somewhat distanced myself from the idea though I still find it compelling and usable when I go through bouts of interest or anxiety over reconciling Mormon theological trends to my own sentiments. Thanks!

  • David Clark

    Enoch,

    It’s particularly revealing (pun intended) that you compare telling people that you think the BofM makes most sense in a 19th century context and that you don’t have that strong of a belief that Jesus is the son of God to running around naked. I’m not much for Freud, but your comment works so well with Freud’s theories that I think it’s a real hoot. Keep it coming.

  • Axl

    David,

    I am probably somewhere in the middle between you and Enoch, but I think after reading your posts, probably closer to Enoch. Are you really saying absolute truth is the only way to live…that we should just walk around blurting everything we think in our heads? I can’t imagine anything besides near-anarchy occurring in each circle of my life if I did that.

    Let’s take, for example, my relationship with my mother. I believe earlier in her life she was motivated by evil (although I think she’s mostly recovered from that motivation these days). I define “evil” as someone who does what they think is best for themselves, regardless of the consequences to others. What they think is best for themselves MAY benefit others, but in not considering it, it makes it an evil act. Please let me provide an example (one of many):

    When I was in middle school, I played football for one year. My dad, who divorced my mom when she cheated on him shortly after I was born (O.K. so I mention two evil acts of hers), came down with his dad (my paternal grandfather) to watch me play. My mom didn’t like them being involved in my life, so she went around telling everyone in school and around our small town that they were planning on kidnapping me. I had people crowding me, hovering over me all the time, etc. I became claustrophobic and paranoid, and I think the worst of it all, I was scared of my father after that. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I started learning how decent of a man my father was, and that he was a great example for me to follow (although I’m still claustrophobic and paranoid).

    Her story was a complete falsehood, and I don’t believe for a second that my mother actually believed the lie she told. First of all, she had a reputation for being vindictive, as well as saying and doing just about anything to make herself look good. Also, my dad is one of the best people I have ever met. I have never witnessed him doing anything dishonest or even slightly illegal (he won’t even speed the standard five over).

    The real kicker in all of this has nothing to do with my dad. I (and many others who knew him) believe my grandfather was one of the kindest, gentlest souls on the planet. My grandfather was one of the most Godly people I’ve ever known, and lived every moment I ever witnessed proving it through his actions. He was nothing but peace and love in full Christian form. There was no way in Hell that my grandfather would have had a part in something like a kidnapping…even my mom’s mother (my maternal grandmother) thought he hung the moon, knew him as the same Godly man his actions showed.

    If I told my mom everything I thought about her in the past, who would it help anyone…anyone at all? It may get things off my chest, but it certainly would do nothing but damage my relationship with my mom, and by extension every member of my large family on her side. I feel it’s much better to know her for who she was, and be able to appreciate that she’s no longer like that…that she’s seemingly an honest, church-going Christian who is active in the community and is helping others even though she has to sacrifice to do so.

    While I appreciate full, blunt honesty almost always, I don’t think there’s many people who can handle it and maintain their emotions. (In other words, it will usually hurt the people I love…and I love them too much to do that.)

  • David Clark

    Enoch,

    To be a bit more serious, you also suggested that disclosure in the work place vis-a-vis one’s boss is also an apropos analogy here. I agree. In my job I tell the truth, painful or not. And, I’m fairly certain that sharing uncomfortable truths with my boss has saved my job on more than one occasion. Granted, this doesn’t me I call him a dick whenever I feel like it, but this isn’t what I am asking of your with respect to your fellow Mormons. In any case it has saved my job because people make decisions based on the information they have. And, providing my boss with uncomfortable truths has allowed the company to make better decisions, and bad decisions could mean the end of the company and hence my job. So, yes, honesty, even uncomfortable honesty, is the best policy. And since honesty saves my job, doesn’t the saving of souls require the same type of honesty? Probably not, jobs are certainly more important than souls (extra heavy sarcasm content in previous sentence).

    Let’s take another example, when I decided I no longer believe the truth claims of the LDS church I had two options 1) hide it from my wife to spare her feelings as a sign of “love” or 2) tell her the truth out of love and respect. I choice option #2. After the yelling and disagreements we have come to a mutual understanding and our marriage is stronger. I would argue that if I chose #1, I would not be showing love and would be unilaterally ending the relationship, because a relationship is based on love AND trust, and that trust comes from honesty.

    What your lack of disclosure vis-a-vis your fellow religionists shows is that your relationship with them is not really a relationship, it’s an acquaintance of convenience, lacking substance and solidity. And there, I am in agreement with you. I discovered relatively quickly that my fellow Mormons really didn’t give two craps what I had to say or what I thought. So, if you were to say you didn’t disclose because your fellow religionists didn’t give a crap I would give you a hearty “Amen!” And, I don’t think this is unique to Mormons, I would bet most churches are populated with persons who don’t care what their co-religionists think, hence those churches are also homes to shallow acquaintances. Now this in and of itself is not a problem, shallow acquaintances are a fact of life. But your defense of your nuancimony relies on treating these shallow acquaintances as relationships where you withhold truth based on love. As I see it, your withholding truth only proves that you don’t have a relationship with them because you don’t care enough about them to tell the truth. Either that or you don’t think what you have to say is important, but if that’s the case why all the rigamarole about bearing your nuancimony if it’s unimportant?

  • David Clark

    While I appreciate full, blunt honesty almost always, I don’t think there’s many people who can handle it and maintain their emotions. (In other words, it will usually hurt the people I love…and I love them too much to do that.)

    You pose a false dichotomy in my opinion. It’s possible to be sensitive to other’s feelings and disclose honestly. Being honest does not mean being a dick.

  • Enoch

    David,

    First, I really appreciated the “more serious” tone of your last comment. I felt the increased engagement. You bring up several good points. I agree with you that it is best to be as honest as possible in all cases. Difficult truths, if they are important (in a job, marriage, etc) should be shared, lovingly and carefully. I am glad that you have “come out the other side” as it were with honesty in your marriage. It is the only way to go, really. In intimate relationships we should not have to hide who we really are. I was very touched that my wife proofread this post; I am glad she really knows me.

    Please remember that the main point of my post is how I disclose in the context of a *testimony meeting*. I am much more open with my friends, some members of my family, in situations that call for more specifics. Like this post for example. But I still hold to my main point that disclosure should be *others centered*. My sister for example has a pretty good idea of where I stand and what I think, but we don’t talk about the nitty gritty specifics. Does that mean I am holding her at a distance? Perhaps. We are close in many ways, and I nurture those ways. Is one reason that I am vague in my testimony from the pulpit because I don’t have a substantial relationship with the congregation? Undoubtedly. The way I do share is productive and opens the door to further discussion. But getting up on fast Sunday and sharing what I wrote here would likely benefit very few, and it would cause problems. Why should I take that path? To test the strength of the relationship we both agree is societal?

    But I disagree strongly with your statement that “I don’t care about them.” I will repeat myself again: it is a fact of life that we adjust what we say to the person and situation. Like speaking a language if you will. And *my* reasons for what I disclose and what I do not have to do with appropriateness and concern for my co-religionists’ faith. I share my beliefs from the pulpit honestly and precisely, but carefully. When I say “I think the Atonement is a beautiful doctrine” and if someone catches what I didn’t say and asks for details, I would share it. I am not misleading them. I stand by my position that learning the particulars of belief and history exacts a cost, especially if people do not have proper preparation. Do I think that the CES manuals should be revised so they are a bit more rigorous? Yes. But again, the purpose of religion is to form community, help make moral decisions, give the comfort of certainty, etc. My question for you is: *What kind of truth* saves souls? It is not truth about the age of Joseph’s first plural wife. Yes historical details can challenge faith when encountered, but then the vulnerability lays in the foundations of faith, not the detail. The truth that saves is the truth that transforms.

    You don’t need to understand how a fridge works for it to keep your food cold. You don’t need to know how a car works to get from place to place and enjoy the ride. I appreciate mechanics who understand my car, and they are needed, but I honestly don’t care how it works. Not interested.

    David, I don’t think that the particulars of my theology or what I study matters to the vast, vast majority of church goers. I see that as a reality, and not even necessarily an unfortunate one. I will close this comment with a quick example I have used before.

    I was reading President Faust’s Ensign article about Peter as the ideal disciple. I was at first disturbed because he was of course using the letters of Peter, which we know Peter almost certainly did not write. But then I asked myself: The alternative of using historically false but widely held beliefs would be what? 1) You could attempt to teach 6 million people enough about biblical scholarship to enable them to understand why it is important, 2) then give them enough theology to explain why it doesn’t need to destroy their faith, 3) then try to put that in the background enough for them to hear your primary message, which had little to do with historical details in the first place.

    I appreciate being pushed; it is productive. Seems like it is taking work for us to get each other, but important points are brought up in the process.

  • g.wesley

    nice to learn more about you enoch. thanks for sharing.

    i wonder what testimony meeting will look like in 50-100 years. any predictions?

  • DavidH

    I agree with David Clark that our testimonies should be authentic. They should reflect accurately our experiences and our feelings.

    I have heard testimonies by people as simple as, “Brothers and sisters, I really like our church’s encouragement of service. I think it is good, and I feel good when I participate.” End of testimony. I felt uplifted and enriched by listening to that person.

    At a different testimony meeting, I heard one like the following, “Brothers and sisters, I am in a half-way house in the ward boundaries, and I want you to know I am 30 days sober today, and I thank God.” End of testimony. And what a short and powerful one.

    It is not a secret in my congregation that my understanding and feelings about my Church and its teachings are positive but heterodox. More than once, I have stated in talks or testimonies that faith and belief do not come naturally to me, and that there are plenty of principles that I still struggle with.

    But when I bear testimony, I feel like my emphasis should be on what I do believe or accept or hope for, rather than what areas I may doubt or question.

    I don’t know Enoch, but I suspect his fellow congregants are well aware that his beliefs are nuanced. And I would speculate that very few of them would be surprised to read the more detailed exposition here of what he believes, or does not believe, or what he is agnostic about.

    And, for what it is worth, I think saying what he said here in full would be perfectly appropriate in a testimony meeting because it comes from both the heart and the mind and is authentic. And editing it to emphasize the positive is perfectly appropriate too.

  • Enoch

    DavidH,

    I like what you said, thank you. I especially agree with your point that “when I bear testimony, I feel like my emphasis should be on what I do believe or accept or hope for, rather than what areas I may doubt or question.”

    I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I try to be misleading when I bear my testimony. I do focus on what I believe and hope for, what I appreciate in the gospel. I often will pick one principle to focus on, or something that has touched me.

    Your suggestion that most of my ward could handle reading what I have written here, or that I could share it from the pulpit is an intriguing one; I will need to think more about that.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    I’m a bit behind on this post but I wanted to add a few comments about the exchange between David and Enoch. It seems to me that Enoch clarified things best when he pointed out that he was talking about communicative strategies in terms of audience. This is a pretty old strategy, actually, and while it’s not always the best approach, it is a useful and (I think) often very good approach to communication.

    This reminded me of Plato’s “Phaedrus.” There Socrates found Lysias’s speech problematic in terms of its “grasp of truth” as well as its “fit to audiences.” (I’m following Peters’s analysis of Phaedrus in his book “Speaking Into the Air.”) Peters rephrases Socrates’s point like this: “As a physician ought not to dispense remedies without knowing the patient’s constitution, so an orator ought not to deliver words ill suited to the audience” (p. 45). Peters goes on to distinguish between the “Dialogic” approach of Socrates and the “Dissemination” approach of Jesus. His discussion of communicative strategies, the anxieties surrounding them, and the ethics behind them is well-worth the read. Thanks for this interesting post.

    A little while ago I bore a testimony from the angle of why I want to believe the things I believe. I didn’t use the “I know” type of rhetoric (not using that word pejoratively) because I probably think of the requirements for “knowledge” in different terms than most of the people in the congregation. Not that my definition is better, but that it is different. In order to bear my testimony then I instead talked about why I wanted to believe certain things, like Jesus as the Christ, the power of the atonement, the need for forgiveness and forgiving, etc. and what those beliefs means for me, the fruits I’ve seen from those beliefs, etc. I feel like it was an honest and authentic testimony and I really ought to write it down sometime. (I relate this as an example of my own approach to public testimony bearing without necessarily signing up in agreement with Enoch’s personal testimony.)

  • Ryan

    I know this is an old post, but it really touched me. I’m trying to pick up the pieces after having my testimony smashed by reality a few months back, and what you wrote here echoes what I’m coming around to right now. Thank you.


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