Wednesday, June 10, 2015

True religion encompasses and is shaped by science

I am reading Brant Gardner's book The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (a review here). Practically the first thing he deals with is the sociology of the concepts of religion, science, and magic. He points out that all three arise from similar impulses and processes, and that large parts of the differences are simply labels or perceptions. That said, I value refined and tested systems of thought and practice, and science as we know it today has created an astoundingly effective system for proving effectiveness. Religion on the other hand, seems more broadly prone to reliance on unproven authority, and to slip into the realms of what we call magical thinking. Yet I have always resisted the idea that true religion is magic. True religion should be testable, just like science.

I may have grown up a little in my understanding. I've certainly changed. I still view Mormonism as encompassing all truth. If it's truth, it's part of Mormonism. If it's error, it's not. If it's truth, we should welcome it into the LDS church, when it's error, we should let it fall away, or even cast it out (I am referring to ideas, not people--even people with funny ideas). But with my realizations over the years of the limitations of language, the inability of large organizations to be safe and good for everyone, and the difficulty of knowing anything complex with too much certainty, I have softened my expectations to a degree. At the same time, I have clarified other expectations. I want to come out a true Mormon, so I want to welcome truth--whatever it's source. Here is my aspiration:

Science is good at testing measurable, reproducible truths. My true religion will embrace these truths and change itself to accommodate them. Ignoring or not adapting to these truths makes religion the magical endeavor some believe it is. Religion can be good at telling us how the world could be. Religion also reminds us that there is more beyond what we can measure, and there always will be. That doesn't make it false or unimportant, simply complicated. I will seek out science that not only tells us how the world is, but gives us tools to understand what we don't now know. I will seek after science to make of the world the beautiful heaven God has told us it will become. I will look to science for tools to try the traditions of my fathers and show me where they have been false. I will trust that there is truth and reason in the traditions of my fathers, and use those traditions to guide my questioning and remind me to check twice, or thrice, or many times, when there is apparent conflict with science. I will not allow scientific authority to justify discarding tradition or the belief that there is something more, but when measurement can answer a question, I will accept good measurements and admit the error of my former beliefs.

I guess I believe in the magical. I do believe in the limits of science to know truth, and I even think it's scientific to believe so. I do believe that there is more beyond what we can measure, and I suspect infinitely more. In these regards I believe in magical thinking. At the same time, I fight the idea that anyone knows what those limits are. I refuse to believe some things are unknowable until it is proven to me, scientifically, that they are. I embrace the power of science to explain and demystify things that have long been the domain of religion. I'm reasonably comfortable with religious authority, but when it tries to set limits to my knowledge or understanding, I balk. I'm reasonably comfortable with scientific inquiry, but when it tries to tell me there is nothing beyond its powers, I rebel. Give me science. Give me religion. Give me no false limits. Let me build Zion.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


While God will judge us not only by our actions, but also by the intents of our hearts, there is a lot of truth to the claim that I value what I spend my time and money on. Maybe it's time to reexamine what I value so I can see if my actions truly support the things I want to grow. Here's my second attempt. I've tried to be more practical that philosophically coherent. If you have encouragement or helpful suggestions, feel free to pass them on.
  • I want as large a percentage of my money as I can arrange to go directly to the people who produce things I value as possible, and as little as possible to go to middle men, and even less to money managers and administrators. To do this I buy local and direct from source as much as possible, particularly with food, even though it probably costs us to do so. I don't worry as much about it with things that are mass produced primarily by machines. I do worry about it with things that are "mass produced" through intensive human labor.
  • I want to waste and pollute as little as possible. To do this I support recycling efforts with my actions and my votes. I choose hobbies that are minimally consumptive of money and non-renewable resources. I support energy efficiency at home, at work, and in government. I support a local food economy as much as possible. I eat less meat, although I'd like to improve a lot on this one.
  • I want to be creative and productive. To do this I have chosen a career in teaching with a side of research. I do many creative hobbies. I learn to build and repair as much as is practical.
  • I want life to have meaning and be filled with hope and beauty. To do this I learn, I share, I create, and I enjoy the creations of thousands of others.
  • I want to live in the Mormon ideal of Zion. To do this I examine Mormonism really intensely. I try to live as God directs me. I try to use learning and reason to help me and others reach the goals that religion has inspired in me. I try to live and comprehend what I'm told are the ineffable experiences of connection to the divine. I don't get it, but my reason admits the reality of such connection, even if I fail to understand or explain it fully.
  • I want to value community. I've lived much of my life giving service to my neighbors and my community. Church was the dominant organizing factor in this. I cared for neighbor children. I cleaned up neighbors' yards. I moved dozens of people in and out. I did service projects through church sponsored scouting and other church sponsored activities--feeding the poor, beautifying neighborhoods and improving public spaces, preparing aid for disaster victims, and looking after both physical and emotional needs of neighbors. I branched out into environmental restoration on my own for a few years, and I've often given free tutoring over the years. Now I'm struggling to find the community I once had since I'm not the person I once was, nor living the life I once did.
  • I want to be mentally healthy. I write. I connect with people the best I can. I try to be physically healthy. I try to accept that I'm likely to struggle with this at least until the demands on my time and energy from work and young children lessen--and I can't count on the demands lessening, even though it is likely. I try to get help when I can find it and accept it.
  • I value family. I want to live in a society that values childhood and parenthood. I want children to have space to grow without fear or want. I want mothers to not have to choose between motherhood and care-giving and avoiding the threat of poverty or subjugation of self. I want fathers to be able to choose time with their young children without fear of economic failure. I value allowing everyone who desires the responsibilities and joys of family to be able to choose it. I value women having not only full responsibility for the choice to have a child, but also full control over that choice. I value policies, practices, and beliefs that sustain women in this life-giving choice, and that recognize their full agency as human beings and children of God.
  • I value equality of opportunity to do good and live safely. I recognize economic inequality as a great barrier to equality of opportunity. I don't know how to do much about this, but I hope that some of my other values and actions support this.
  • I want to value people simply because they are people. I want to live in a society where we value contributions based on what is actually contributed, and not on how well the economic or social system is manipulated for personal gain, but I also want to live in a society where people are valued and cared for simply because they are people. Simply because they are here.
  • I want to take care of my home and yard so that it is beautiful, in good repair, produces yummy vegetables, and contributes to maintaining local biodiversity--including native plants--as much as possible. I am a long way from this ideal.