Thursday, July 14, 2016

Joseph Smith and the Facts

I recently read about the label "post-factual world" to describe our politically charged method for gaining information. The article describes a world where facts are secondary to ideology, and where one's preconceived beliefs are like blunt instruments to hammer and shape uncomfortable facts to fit better our own ideas. This happens on both sides of the political spectrum. There are many complex, important issues that need nuance and understanding, but our current system for obtaining knowledge with nuance is broken.

We get our information more and more from social media, where our friends often think the same way we do, and ideas we disagree with become muted. Outrageous claims live on and spread even after being proven false. Arrogant politicians and activists no longer have shame for lying because the fear of consequences is gone, so long as they support the greater ideology. Meanwhile, hoax news websites are doing better than ever, and the sheer volume of news information to sift through overwhelms anyone who wants to find answers. Facts are often swallowed up in the fat belly of the angry, arrogant, intolerant bologna makers. It is absurd, and it is violent. Social media is a battleground in the culture wars, and there are plenty of Facebook friend casualties.  It is a "war of words and  tumult of opinions" (JSH 1:10).

These are mad times. How do we get truth in all this? Does it even exist?

Joseph Smith lived in a similar "war of words and tumult of opinions" where "all the powers of both reason and sophistry" were employed to prove an ideology (JSH 1:9-10). Things really have changed very little since life in the burned-over district of upstate New York. I can easily imagine Palmyra New York on Twitter, tweeting their latest outrage at the Methodists or the Presbyterians, angrily arguing in lengthy comment threads on Brother Jones' latest inflammatory Facebook post about the definition of the Godhead. 

In all this, Joseph Smith went to God, saw a vision, restored truth, conversed with angels, translated an ancient book of scripture that restores doctrine and confounds error, and restored the ordinances that help us, even little old modern me living in 2016, to gain companionship to the Holy Ghost and navigate my way home.

I love the teachings of Joseph Smith, teachings like:
"Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart." (D&C 8:2) 
"You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right." (D&C 9:8) 
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118) 
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true...and by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moroni 10:4-5)
Joseph Smith teaches me that God is not just an idea. God is someone who cares personally about my questions and wants to answer them. Joseph teaches me that we are not alone, just muddling around in this mess of rhetoric, trying to piece together jumbled fragments to give coherent meaning to our lives. Joseph teaches me that science and study and education can bring me closer to understanding God. Joseph teaches me that the Holy Ghost is a crucial ingredient for obtaining truth. Joseph teaches me that it takes effort, and I must study out the arguments, wade through the facts, formulate my own ideas first, and go to Him. Without Him, I am forced to rely on my own biases and faulty intellect.

Joseph teaches me that God loves me enough to send angels and prophets and books of scripture buried in hillsides to challenge my ideas, push me to consider things I don't want to, answer my questions and guide me home. No defector from this church has ever given me a convincing argument about God being involved like that.

Truly Joseph Smith gave wings and an engine to the promise of "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him" (James 1:5).

Trouble is, you have to feel like you need wisdom first, before it is given. You and I, with all our access to education and knowledge, often feel ourselves puffed up in our own learning, setting aside the counsels of God, and supposing we know for ourselves how the world turns, what is wrong with the Church today, who is to blame for what latest tragedy, etc. (2 Nephi 9:28) I know I am like that.

May I be like Joseph. May I separate myself from the contemporary stand-ins for the Methodist vs Presbyterians:  the liberals or the conservatives, the new age Mormons or reactionary Mormons, pro-gun or anti-gun, black lives or all lives matter, gay pride or straight pride etc., each of them hammering out their philosophies of men on their keyboard pulpits until their fists are sore, recruiting for their congregations. Many of these philosophies have truth, pieces of the puzzle. But there is more, much much more, and unless we turn to God and his answers, we are being decoyed away.

May we all retire to our own forest of trees, kneel down and put aside our preconceived beliefs and self-importance, and with simple faith receive something more wonderful than any of them: that God is our Father, that he is intimately involved in our lives, that he has restored priesthood power on the earth, and that he is closer than we know.

After we know that, we can build. And when the rains come down and the floods come up, what we build will last forever, because of the rock upon which we build--the one true fact, the word made flesh, our Savior Jesus Christ.