Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Baby in the Bathwater

No, it's not me. I was never that cute. (And I'm not saying who it is.)
Almost all babies are cute. But they all stink a lot. They get messy faces. They are in constant need of bathing. After a baby's bath, you don't save the dirty water. Hopefully, you dry off the baby and enjoy the cuteness until the next episode of eating or pooping or both. You simply, "don't throw out the baby with the bathwater!"

That phrase, of course, is not about babies. It is an analogy for losing what's essential when we discard the trivial or the false. It comes to mind so often when I see people struggling with their belief systems in the face of intellectual or other challenges.

This keeps coming to me when I think about my own beliefs and decisions. I wish I could find the notes from my Poli-Sci 170 class when the guest lecturer gave perhaps the most important lecture I have heard in my life. He talked about Kuhnian Paradigms along with Popperian Falsification and Revelation. In doing so, he introduced me to the word, "Epistemology," that is, the study of knowledge or how knowledge comes to us - an existential "how we know what we think we know."

The point of the lecture, and I think this was deliberately obvious in a BYU setting, was to open up our minds to the infinite possibilities of the acquisition of knowledge without "throwing out" the value of Revelation.

Now that I'm approaching 55 years of life on this earth, I've learned by experience - some sad, some joyous, that there is another epistemology on which I rely, that of Experience itself. Yes, it gets interpreted through various forms of philosophical systems of knowledge like those above, but it's still mine and mine alone. And I can't deny my life-long experiences with Revelation. That's why I've made the choices I have with regard to religious beliefs and practices.

Thinking about the baby in the bath for some time now, I was sparked by this passage in a friend's Sunday School lesson plan. With full attribution to Ardis at Keepapitchinin.org who graciously shares her Gospel Doctrine lesson outlines on-line, I share this:
The more familiar terms for a “mighty change of heart” are “conversion” or “gaining a testimony.” Sometimes we speak of conversion as if it were a single event – “Alma was converted when an angel appeared to him” – or that a testimony is a single, solid thing to be gained or lost in a moment. Does that match your experience?
To illustrate this, I’d like to call on a half dozen or so of you to state, very briefly, one small element or fact that is part of your testimony or that was involved in your conversion. For example, through an unusual experience, I gained a testimony of Joseph Smith’s call to be a prophet. What “ingredients” go into your testimony? How likely is it that any one person would become convinced of all of these things [cite three or four elements mentioned by class members] at one moment?
I am concerned by the number of people I hear tell about losing their testimonies, often in an instant – they learn one thing about Joseph Smith that they hadn’t known before, and do not understand, and – poof! – there goes the whole testimony. How can we help our children, and our friends, and maybe even ourselves, recognize that even when a testimony is shaken in one point, there are still countless other points of a testimony to cling to while we work out the difficulty?
[Somewhere in this discussion, draw out the idea that even if we – or anyone we are trying to help – does not feel ready to make a blanket statement like “I know the Church is true” or “I know Jesus is the Savior,” people almost always *do* feel certain of smaller statements, like “I know that following the Word of Wisdom brings blessings” or “I believe that following the teachings of Jesus would make the world a better place,” and that these *are* elements of a testimony that can be added to, piece by piece. Perhaps we can all benefit from making these elements explicit, rather than limiting our shared testimony to the blanket statements.]
Freely admitting that my belief system requires some amount of advocacy or testimony/soul-bearing (hence, this blog), I share Ardis's concerns. With all the respect I can muster for those who choose differently, I fail to understand why the baby has to be thrown out with the dirty water. I choose to believe and hold on to my covenants even when I don't understand everything - even when the things I think I do understand don't always square with so many of those in my belief system.

I am constantly learning and molding my beliefs as I hold onto a few, simple, basic principles. I disregard some ideas as I hold fast to others very important to me, sometimes for reasons that are so personal I can't talk about them. I admit I have a "desire to believe" and am constantly experimenting on the word. And it looks like I'm also skipping ahead in the Sunday School lessons. . . .

The baby is slippery when lifted from the tub. I hold on tight and wrap the towel around it as quickly as I can.

1 comment:

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