Monday, July 20, 2015

On Authentic Truth and Authentic Faith

In 2001, Todd Compton wrote the following response to negative reviews about his book "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith." I find his insights extremely relevant and endorse his comments, excerpted below:
I believe that all truth is faith-promoting, if we're talking about authentic faith. No authentic truth damages authentic faith. Truth, even difficult truths, will only deepen and give breadth of vision to authentic faith. Only brittle, oversimplified faith will break easily when confronted with difficult truths. When we face difficult truths, we should not sensationalize them, but we should deal with them straightforwardly and honestly, using historical context and sympathetic insight to put them into perspective. Sometimes, when we have had oversimplified faith, we will need to deepen and broaden our faith to include tragedy and contradiction and human limitation, but that is not a matter of giving up our faith -- it is a matter of developing our faith. I realize that this can be a painful process at times, but it is a process that gives our faith more solidity and more breadth. The eye of faith sees greater depth, perspectives, and gradations of color; the heart of faith responds more to the tragedies of our bygone brothers and sisters, who become more real and more sympathetic to us.
I believe that the gospel includes all truth, and all truth is part of the gospel.
I believe that the gospel is afraid of no truth. All truths, both the brightness of love and the shadows of tragedy, contribute to the infinite beauty of the gospel.
The gospel includes heights and depths. It includes shining, dazzling light, and darkest shadow -- and everything in between, all shades of gray. It includes knowledge of God, but it also includes knowledge of Satan. It includes knowledge of great and good men and women, and of deeply flawed men and women. It also includes men and women who have great goodness and serious flaws at the same time -- sometimes, seemingly, on alternate days. It includes aspects of reality that are supposedly "secular" -- science, economics, music, history. (See D&C 93:53.)
... For extreme conservatives, who believe in a view of the gospel in which all church leaders always make the right decision, and for whom church leaders never disagree among themselves, these issues conflict head-on with a fragile, impractical oversimplified gospel; therefore, their only option is to ignore these issues entirely -- both on an individual level (not researching and thinking about these issues in their own minds, hearts and spirits) and on an organizational level. You preserve an absolute silence, not admitting that any of these problem-issues happened. You discourage others from thinking about and researching these issues. And when they do, even if they are trying to deal with the issues within a context of faith, you try to change the playing field by labeling the historians as the problems, rather than grappling with the problem issues themselves.
However, the gospel is more complex, and more beautiful, and possessing more depth, than extreme conservatives give it credit for. When they create an oversimplified, narrow, sentimentally idealized, shallow view of the gospel, and orient their faith toward that oversimplified view, obviously the primary historical documents, and anyone who reflects those primary documents honestly, will undermine such shallow faith. The fault is not the historian who reflects that complexity of historical reality in line with the documents in the archives and the infinite complexity of true faith. The fault is the extreme conservatives who live by, and demand that others accept, an oversimplified view of the gospel.
Granted, many church members and leaders accept such oversimplified views of the gospel, and strive to make such views the "official," untouchable version. But to the extent they do, they are doing the church and their faith a disservice, because they are propounding a version of faith that is unworkable.