On adjusting one’s religious views in the light of science, history, and the like

On adjusting one’s religious views in the light of science, history, and the like May 3, 2018


Jaffa, with Tel Aviv
A view of the very modern city of Tel Aviv, founded in the early twentieth century, from the very ancient city of Joppa (Jaffa, Yafo), which first shows up in written references nearly four thousand years ago.     (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


Some out there seem to hold to the notion, so far as I can decode it, that, while human understanding of science, history, and other areas is constantly in flux (and, we hope, fairly constantly improving), human understanding of scripture and revelation is perfect, set in stone, beyond refinement, and as deep and as subtle as it can ever be. At least, it is for believers.  Or, to put it in cruder terms that sometimes seem to me to fit, that a Junior Sunday School understanding of scripture and divine history is all believers are allowed to have, even as they pursue graduate studies in this or that academic field or (more significantly) in life.


I have no grounds for believing that my current understanding — or anybody’s current understanding — of, say, history or science is complete and without error.


But I have no more reason to believe that my understanding of scripture and revelation is infallible or currently perfect.


I’ve had too many experiences with inspiration that turned out to be true, yes, but that also was realized or fulfilled in a way different than what I had imagined, and I’ve heard too many such accounts from others, to indulge myself in the fantasy that I cannot learn more, and that, as a consequence, my understanding cannot ever change or be improved.


 “For now,” said the apostle Paul, “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).


“The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, groveling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. . . .  If an angel should come to this congregation, or visit any individual of it, and use the language he uses in heaven, what would we be benefitted? Not any, because we could not understand a word he said. When angels come to visit mortals, they have to condescend to and assume, more or less, the condition of mortals, they have to descend to our capacities in order to communicate with us.”   (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:314)


Do I believe in the revelations?  Yes.  Do I believe that I’m infallible?  Not even close.  Do I believe that, when I finally understand everything — as I hope I eventually will — it will turn out to be exactly as I picture it now, let alone as I understood to be it when I was nineteen, or eight?  Not a chance.


I hold the basics of my faith very strongly.  On the non-basics, though, my views tend to be provisional.  That seems to me to be the course of humility.


It also seems to me strongly akin to the famous and very commendable Christian slogan “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”


Those who want to insist that believers must never revise or adjust their views of scripture, scriptural history, doctrine, or revelation in the light of what those believers learn often seem to me to be people who take (or, more commonly, took) an essentially fundamentalist view of their faith.  In more than a few cases, they’re now apostates who want to hold those who still believe to such a standard because it makes attacking the faith of their former co-believers easier.


Posted from Tel Aviv, Israel



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