Guest post by Seth, an active member of the LDS church
There is no telling the amount of damage that has been done in the world in the name of a good argument. Argument and debate are a natural part of the process of understanding other people and this is as true of inter-faith dialogue as any other aspect of our society. But we do have to be careful in how we argue. Argument can be very damaging – not just to our opponents, but to ourselves as well.
One way this manifests itself, is when we push an argument that turns out to be just as damaging to our own position as the opposing position. A quick example might show what I mean.
Some time ago, I came across a blog run by an avowed ex-Mormon who had, however, remained “Christian” in affiliation. She was voicing various concerns about her former faith and explaining why she had rejected it. One of the reasons she gave for leaving the LDS faith was the supposed lack of empirical evidence for the Book of Mormon and it’s historical claims. She noted that while the Bible had some hard evidence showing some of its content to be historically-bases, the Book of Mormon completely lacked such evidence, and was therefore not a credible document to her.
Now, I’ve been around the block a few times on the interfaith dialogue circuit, and this argument always annoys me to no end. It just seems to show a lack of awareness of one’s own position and what really provides the foundation for faith. The truth, as I see it, is that while the Bible may have some of it’s historical incidentals corroborated by the undisputed weight of historical and archeological evidence (like the existence of an actual city of Jerusalem, and the fact of a man named Jesus Christ living), it’s faith claims completely lack any such evidence or proof.
Since both the Bible and Book of Mormon claim to be primarily religious texts, it seems apparent to me that – in ways that matter – the texts are equally unproven by empirical evidence (I realize some Evangelicals like to point to eyewitness testimony of the resurrection – but until these people are willing to give equal weight and credibility to the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, I’m not inclined to take these arguments too seriously). It has always been apparent to me that belief in either book is first and foremost a matter of faith in that which is not seen. Evidence is just the icing on the cake for people who already believe. It is not an adequate basis for faith.
Furthermore, I have been arguing over matters of faith long enough to realize that whatever “hard evidence” you think you have, there is always someone out there knowledgeable enough to call it into question. I also have realized that hard evidence has a disturbing habit of becoming outmoded, outdated, and discredited by new discovery. It always seemed like a foundation of sand to me.
So, full of irritation, I waded into the comments section to show this deluded soul what’s-what, and defend my own faith “for the umpteenth time” against this silly and misguided attack.
Well, I made my points, had a bit of back and forth arguing about them, and left feeling like I had defended my position, and my faith well. Just another day’s work in the defense of the true faith. What a hero!
Well, a week or two later, I was browsing the latest new content at the blog of an atheist ex-Mormon whose measured and respectful opinion I have always respected and valued. And he had a new post up – and I was mentioned by name! We bloggers can’t help but feel pleased when other people online are talking about us. Well, what’s this about?
I’m afraid it wasn’t all that flattering. He pointed out my response as an example of how a Mormon SHOULD NOT witness to other Christians. He noted that Mormons supposedly believe in Jesus too, and we are hardly well-served by undermining what basis for faith in Jesus other people may have. His paraphrasing of my argument basically boiled down to:
“Well, my faith might be ridiculous, but yours is just as stupid.”
Which, he noted, is really only a good method for creating a brand-new atheist. Reeling a bit with the irony of being reprimanded by an atheist for undermining someone else’s faith in God, went back to the Christian ex-Mormon’s blog and offered a sheepish apology along with a statement of my belief in the Bible. The apology was graciously accepted, and via continued interaction I was reassured that my opponent’s faith in the Bible had not been irredeemably damaged.
But I was still a bit shaken by the implications of what might have been. Those of us who debate regularly on the internet tend to get a bit thick-skinned and callous, due to the repeated experience of having our treasured beliefs and opinions challenged, and even ridiculed. We also get used to debating people who are just as jaded as we are. After a while, we tend to assume everyone out there is like that – a hardened ideologue who is likely immune to most of the arguments you can make. We start to assume that – if you are on the Internet, that must mean you “came to play hardball.” And the gloves come off.
But I don’t think that was true at all of this particular blogger. She turned out to be much more sincere than I gave her credit for, and my words really did seem like they might shaken her faith a bit. I of course, expecting a hardened ideologue, did not expect this. But the whole experience was a reminder not to forget the people we are arguing against. There is a real person there behind the screen. We cannot lose sight of that as we “prep for battle.”
This makes interfaith dialogue something of a delicate operation – which is unfortunate for me, because I’m not always a “delicate touch.” You never know how much that “false doctrine” you are arguing against is intertwined with something vital in their overall faith life. Like a barbed arrowhead that has lodged close to some vital arteries. You can’t just rip the cursed thing out. You might kill the patient.
There’s probably more that could be said on this subject, but for now, it might be a good idea for us to step back and realize that, while we are at each other’s throats on occasion, we also are all in this thing called “faith” together. And we probably ought to be supportive of each other.
Fellowship in Christ.