Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mechanism and Meaning - Book Report

Usually I would wait until I finished reading before recommending. No wait necessary with the kindred spirit I've found with Dr. Sam Brown's new book, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple (Maxwell Institute, Provo, Utah 2014). I just read a paragraph that I have to share:
. . . . Mechanism is not meaning.
We have, many of us, come to believe that seeing is providing an account of mechanisms. Being able to see mechanisms has been a great boon to us as a civilization in many respects. Antibiotics, effective surgery, telecommunication, biology, and many other domains have been enriched by clear accounts of mechanisms. But in the course of seeing mechanisms we risk losing track of meaning. We come to believe, as I suggested at the beginning of this chapter, that when we espy the mechanism we have arrived at the meaning. But that is a pernicious belief. Knowing how human sexual behavior functions or watching a brain's blood flow in a functional MRI during an emotional event does not tell us what sexual intimacy means or what it is as a human to feel emotion. Triggering an out-of-body experience with an electric shock administered deep in the brain does not explain what it means to feel that jolt of awareness that comes when we realize that we are not just our bodies. Keeping ourselves open to meaning beyond mechanism is itself an act of vibrant faith. In my faith I strive to see God in beautiful days and in human miracles, in a laughing child or the touch of my wife's hand. The strenuous debates of the culture wars, which often confuse mechanism and meaning, can do us harm. When I allow my encounter with the grand drama of creation, the beautiful power of physical existence, to be dominated by debates over atheism or belief, I miss the point of faith. [p. 31]
Wow. Not only does this book go deeply into the complexity of basic principles which I have tried to address on occasion, but he compares faith to marriage, and, while I haven't read that far, he will connect basic principles to the deep symbolism of the Temple ordinances. He may not get to Kierkegaard, but I can sense the Knight of Faith in his quest of a whole life.

Dr. Sam and I have been on a lot of the same themes and I've even reported on another book of his with deep insight on death and salvation.

This is also similar to a lot of themes expressed by Anonymous D on this blog and in wonderful discussions. As a geologist, D explains that the Genesis, Abraham, and the Temple do not teach us the "how" of creation, but the "why," "who," and "whereto." Meaning - not mechanics.

Broader than just the marriage comparison (Love in Marriage is a lot like Faith in the Church - feeling follows choice and action), I see that Sam is going to take us to the exercise of basic principles in a community of faith. a community of believers with all our rough stones rolling. Living or dead, "we without them cannot" . . . etc.

Anyway, for what it's worth, I highly recommend the book. Oh, and the life-long journey of Faith too.

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