Friday, December 27, 2013

Belief vs Knowledge

In a talk recently given by Elder Holland, he talked about the importance of belief.  Thank heavens. The reason why I rejoice is because I personally have a hard time with the phrase "I know." I have my personal doubts and areas where I lack knowledge and experience. Absolutes like "I know" scare and seem too final. Plus if I truly knew, wouldn't I be at risk of the sin against the H.G.?

I have always felt the pressure to "know". It's dogmatic in our culture.  As a missionary, I was taught to say "I know", not "I believe".  To take our testimonies to the maximum seems to be the expected norm. I was curious about this "norm" and decided to take some data on it. During fast and testimony meetings I kept a tally of certain phrases that were used. For example, I monitored how often someone would say "I know Joseph Smith was a prophet" or some similar variation. I kept track of the "I know", "I'm grateful", "I bear testimony", and "I believe". I also kept track of the topics such as Jesus Christ, the Atonement, the Book of Mormon, prophets, prayer, and etc.

I did this at least 10+ times over the course of a few years and came out with a few insights. For one, I noticed that YSA wards tended to express more gratitude than older family wards. Mostly though, I noticed the lack of the use of "I believe." In all of those testimony meetings, I probably heard the phrase I believe less than 5 times. Half of them were by my roommate who knew what I was doing and used them just to skew the numbers. The use of "I know" and "I testify" was roughly even in use, garnishing around 15 uses a piece each meeting.

This long observation solidified that there is a cultural tendency to use "I know" instead of "I believe." For many, this is not a big deal and the difference between the two words is moot and irrelevant. For me, I prefer the term believe because it implies hope, faith, and a bit of uncertainty. It's vibrant in its color of meaning and emotion. While the word KNOW is powerful, immovable, and certain; which doesn't convey my actual feelings. I don't think it conveys most people's actual testimony.

Due to this cultural norm I have long felt less spiritual or that I had less of a testimony because I didn't feel comfortable using the phrase "I know" whilst everyone around me did. It always struck me as ironic when the declaration of belief was never used and yet we would sing "I believe in Christ" at the end of the meeting.

Self-control and reasons to obey

The other week I was sitting in a church meeting as we were discussing some commandments and why we obey them. The question was asked on how to stay in line with the commandments and why we are obedient. Many different answers were given and each answer has some value and use to each participant. As I listened, I started to think about how I live my life in accordance with the commandments and why I do. I don't expect my answer to work for everyone else since everyone has their own preferences, strengths, and etc.

I idealize that every one of my decisions is going to based on the grand premise of what will make me happiest. Through my experiences I have found that deviating from the commandments may provide some immediate gratification but it does not necessarily yield greater happiness. When I do stray, I feel a sense of guilt and remorse. For many people that should be enough to stop the behavior, but yet for others it isn't always enough. Feelings are temporary and are easily forgotten. What our brain processes is typically the now. In the moment of temptation the immediate natural response is to take the instant pleasure, which  can be all too enticing. See this following video clip.

I eventually decided to look at these temptations with God out of the equation and look at it completely from a temporal perspective. For examples sake, I will look specifically at chastity. In my relationships with girls I have learned that while passionate kissing is fun it is also addicting. Strong feelings emerge from these actions and cloud my judgment. What if I just had sex and got that sexual tension out of the way? What harm would it do? Well would that have made my relationship better and allowed me to also focus on the more important aspects of the relationship such as mutual respect, communication, and common ideas? I honestly don't know but I don't believe it will. More than sex I want a strong fulfilling relationship. Incorporating sexual behavior seems to detract from other more important aspects of the relationship, especially in the spring of the relationship.  I also believe that limiting one's sexual encounters to just one person will help increase mutual respect, desire, and love between a couple. You may disagree, but for me I believe this to be true.

Also I find great satisfaction in having self control. This past year I have taken up running more and as many know, running isn't very easy. Every time I go I always want to stop because walking is a lot more pleasant than running. It's a mental game for me but so many times I just keep going and push through those endless minutes when I want to stop. This has taught me that I can do hard things. The increased health not only makes me feel good but I feel a great deal of satisfaction of knowing I ran those few miles and I didn't quit. Remaining sexually pure is also a matter of self-control. It's about saying no to the moment.

We all have our moments of weakness though, and for some saying no to ending a run short is harder than others just as saying no to an advancing mate is harder than others. If we do give in, it's not the end of the world. There is always the chance to be better. If you do give in, you shouldn't feel bad because feeling bad doesn't motivate us to change. What really motivates us to change is to imagine the good that will come with that change. You have to disconnect yourself from the now and view these decisions on a broader scale.

I choose to remain sexually pure not necessarily because God commanded it, but because I have found that it yields greater happiness and as I believe/hope yields for higher quality relationships in the future. It just so happens that this lifestyle is also in line with what I believe to be God's commandments. I no longer view it as an obligatory commandment I must obey because some supreme Diety says it's bad, but I view it as a path to joy.

As I prefaced, this is what seems to work for me but everyone is different and I encourage you to find what works for you.

Rich Food Inequality

I could not take another bite. It was disgustingly delicious. The table in front of me was filled with hot fudge, eclairs, dark chocolate mint brownies, and etc. All of them were housed in silver dishes, silk doilies, and hand-carved tables. This food was way too rich and it made me want to puke. I left the event and took a stroll to clear my mind and stomach. I soon found myself in a local food market. I found food, real food. I found food of the highest quality but yet it sat there hapless in dirty old broken wooden crates. I looked around and saw the potatoes in a cheaply made plastic sack digging grooves into their skin. The tortillas were tightly squeezed into a mishapen thin plastic bag. It was savagery
How could this huge disparity between rich and bland foods exist? The bland food was of no less value nutritionally but yet was subjected to such poor conditions and negative stereotypes as to taste and richness. How could I stand idly by as these foods lived at the bottom of the food chain with little to no opportunities to become rich. Is it the potatoes fault it was grown bland? Something had to be done to right this wrong.
The rich foods need to impart of their richness to the poor foods. The FDA needs to step in the create a more equal food society. Actual changes don't seem to be feasible in the near future but you can join me by boycotting the chocolate chip cookie doughs of the world. Those greedy, selfish, capitalist pigs have had their reign long enough. So join now and don't give room in your stomach for rich foods.

Obviously this is a parody on wealth inequality in our society today. This parody is only to have a little fun with some of the rhetoric being used in this argument. Unlike this parody, wealth inequality is a complex and multifaceted issue that does need serious address. That address is too daunting for me right now so I'll suffice with this.