Saturday, November 01, 2008

WHAT ALL OF US KNOW: Exploring the Mormon Paradigm--Lesson 2


“Knowledge is what saves a man.”—Joseph Smith, the First Mormon

Knowledge is what saves us, while ignorance or a denial of the facts, of truth, usually puts us at risk and peril.

The person who hasn’t learned how to swim is in danger of drowning; the person who knows how to swim is less at risk should she suddenly be caught in a flood or undertow.

The person who knows how to plant, cultivate and harvest—who knows how to hunt or fish is better equipped to avoid starvation. Without this knowledge, human survival is threatened.

Someone who discovers a tumor on his body but then continues on in denial of this knowledge, never seeking the advice of a physician puts his life at risk.

Ignorance of the facts—be it willful or unintentional—threatens human life, human progress and happiness.


“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

All religions claim to possess “the truth.” Most religions claim that if one will come to “know” the “truth” that they teach, one will be saved—from the woes of this life, or from damnation, suffering or loss in an afterlife.

The problem is that many of the “truths” proclaimed by most religions are principles that are supported by little if any objective evidence. Many of these so-called truths are faith-based principles that fly in the face of objective reality. Because of this, the type of “knowledge” that these religions champion requires a huge amount of blind-faith, denial of rational thought, compartmentalized thinking and self-deception.

Traditionally religions have issued broad declarations of a supposed truth regarding the nature of reality, and then have encouraged believers to deny or explain away any evidence that contradicts that declaration. For instances, a Biblical fundamentalist will declare that the heavens and the earth were created, a mere six or seven thousand years ago, in six days; that at that time God created human beings in their present form. A fundamentalist may claim to “know” that this is true. But when pressed such “knowledge” ends up be described as “spiritual” or mystical in nature; and this “knowledge” is maintained by denying and ignoring all of the physical evidence (and the scientific theories based upon that physical evidence) that the earth is, in fact, tens of billions of years old, and that all species of biological life (including humans) evolved from less complex life forms.

In short, traditional religions—while claiming to champion knowledge and truth—actually end up devaluing both.

The Mormon Paradigm is different.

Knowledge and truth are deeply revered by Reform Mormons—in fact, Mormon scripture equates the two concepts: “Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and of as they were and of as they are to come.” (The Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

In the Mormon Paradigm truth IS a knowledge of the facts regarding existence. The Mormon definition of “truth” is the same definition used by secular thinkers and rationalists. For Reform Mormons blind faith, mysticism and a belief in the supernatural are not required to understand truth. In fact from the Reform Mormon perspective, blind faith, mysticism and devotion to supernaturalism can actually undermine one’s knowledge of the truth.


Rather than beginning with broad declarations concerning the nature of God or the supernatural, the Mormon Paradigm begins by examining those things that ALL human beings can know objectively by virtue of their physical senses. The physical senses are the means by which human beings obtain information concerning one another and of the world in which we live, and rational thought is the means by which humans understand that information. As Thomas Jefferson declared, “Every man’s own reason must be his oracle.”

For a religion to be valuable to human beings—for that religion to inspire, encourage and cultivate human progress and joy—it cannot preach faith-based ideas that contradict what we all know to be objectively true by virtue of our physical senses.

So let’s begin our examination of the Mormon Paradigm by considering first those things that we can all agree are true—those facts upon which all of us (followers of a particular religion and atheists alike) can agree.


Consider the following ideas, taken from a classic work of Mormon theology: B. H. Roberts’ monumental study, “The Truth, The Way, The Life.”

Man knows himself as existing. He is a self-conscious entity. He knows himself as existing by many manifestations. He knows himself as seeing, hearing, tasting; as feeling…But most of all in all these manifestations through which man attains self-consciousness, he knows himself as thinking: “I think, therefore I am.”…One thinks, and one acts; therefore one is.

“And not only is one conscious of one’s self, but he is also conscious of other selves, of other men, such as he himself is, in the main; with the same kind of qualities which he himself possesses…”

“One’s knowledge is not limited to this consciousness of self and other selves—to the likeness and the difference between himself and other selves. He is conscious of the existence of a large external world. He knows the existence of earth; land, water, and air. He knows the earth is divided into islands and continents, seas and oceans, rivers and bays. He knows the existence of the town or hamlet or countryside where he was born…he knows, at least by report, of the great centers of world population….”

“Man knows objects by form, texture, and quality…. [But] man’s knowledge [is not] confined to material things. He is conscious of qualities, even of intellectual and moral qualities….He has a mind capable through the imagination of creating worlds and peopling them with creatures of his mind…”

“Man knows himself as competent to form normal judgments and realizes self-responsibility for his actions…He is capable of forming comparisons between moral states and conditions…

“…passing things in review and pronouncing judgment upon them as good or evil, better or worse, man becomes conscious of a very wonderful power that he recognizes as existing within himself: the consciousness of will; the power of self-determination; the power to choose which of two or more courses he will take. He can do as he wills to do. While there may be persuasive influences drawing him to one side or the other, yet he is conscious of the power to determine what his action shall be. He recognizes the truth avowed by the English poet [Shakespeare], “It is in our Wills that we are thus or thus.” This is not to assert man’s powers to do impossible things, especially impossible physical things…I have had in mind rather the fact of free moral agency, man’s power to recognize good and evil by their effects in human life, and his power to choose between them—to choose which he will follow.”

(B. H. Roberts’ “The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology.” 2nd edition, pp. 29-32)

(Above: B. H. Roberts--Mormon Theologian)

In coming lessons we will explore the Mormon Paradigm building upon the following facts:

--I think, therefore I am.

--I know that I share a common nature with all other human beings; in nature, we are all alike.

--I know that I exist in a physical realm. I gain my knowledge of world around me by virtue of my physical senses.

--As a human being, I have a level of natural intelligence that allows me to remember, to imagine, to think in terms of good and bad, to think abstractly, to make value judgments.

--Because as a human being I can make value judgments, by nature I am free to make choices; I am free to act on my own judgments.

--Because I am free to act based on my value judgments and choices, I must take responsibility for my actions and accept their consequences.


“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”—Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:32)

"Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.”—Joseph Smith (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

“Knowledge is what saves a man.”—Joseph Smith (The King Follett Discourse)

“Every man’s own reason must be his oracle…[God has bestowed] reason... as the umpire of truth.”—Thomas Jefferson

“I think, therefore I am.”—Descartes (from “Discourse on Method”)

“It is in our Wills that we are thus or thus.” –Shakespeare (paraphrase of “Othello 1.3.319-20)

(Left: A recently discovered 1843 photograph, reported to be the only photograph ever taken of Joseph Smith--the founder of Mormonism.)


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