Below is a further update from Chris Ralph on his journey,
I want to give full credit where it is due. Our Stake President is an intelligent and sensitive man, and someone deserving of my respect. Recently he visited me and my daughter at home. His demeanour was not that of a priesthood leader on church business, but that of a concerned friend who had known us for many years as “strong members”. I accept, of course, that he can never allow himself to switch off entirely from being stake president, but the meeting was comfortable, (for us at least), and it was evident that he genuinely just wished to understand what I/we now feel. That was commendable.
Since the resulting discussion was essentially between friends, I must respect the confidentiality of it in a way which I would not have been able to do had it been more “official”, as had been the case on the previous occasion. I will report only upon my own after-thoughts therefore, and not upon anything which actually passed directly between us.
It seems to me that sometimes there is a perception within the LDS bubble that those who, in LDS terminology, “fall away”, have suffered a “loss of testimony”. I believe my experience qualifies me to comment upon this idea. While such loss may appear to be self-evident to believing LDS, actually I would say that sometimes the reason those who investigate the history of Mormonism’s founding claims “fall away”, is not because of a loss of testimony at all, but because their testimony forcibly undergoes a broadening with each new astonishing discovery. I’ll rely on an analogy which I trust will illustrate this concept:
Supposing we still lived in a society where the general consensus was that the earth was flat. If by careful observation and measurement you found you could discern a slight curvature of the horizon, you might begin to suggest the unthinkable, that the earth was in fact spherical. Would you be likely though to be immediately believed by those who claimed they could feel the flatness of the earth’s surface through the soles of their feet? I very much doubt it; intellectual progress rarely happens so smoothly. If, however, those who continued to believe in a flat earth refused to consider your evidence objectively, and chose to keep believing in their limited but familiar and “safe” worldview, would it by any means render your understanding false, and theirs correct? Of course not, because perceptions have no influence over reality. Nor would it be accurate when they claimed that you had lost your understanding, simply because it did not accord with their own restricted one. Surely it would only be accurate to say that your understanding had changed, developed, evolved; the only element of loss would be of the misconceptions under which you had formerly laboured. In real terms your understanding would have increased, not dwindled, and with that new understanding you would begin to appreciate things you could never have appreciated while believing the earth was flat.
For example, you would now enjoy a more realistic perception of space, and by observing the apparently erratic courses of certain heavenly bodies against a fixed backdrop of other stars, you could even start to hypothesize that these “wandering stars” or planets orbited the sun, and that this earth upon which we live must also be such a planet. It would then seem irrelevant to you that those who yet lacked these insights insisted that they could not feel the earth’s motion beneath their feet. After all, their feelings, divorced from the objective enquiry you had undertaken, could have no bearing upon empirical reality, whereas your measured observations, being tried and tested, would daily reveal some new facet of demonstrable truth; your appreciation of our cosmic context, rather than the discredited dogma of a less enlightened age, would now inform your understanding.
And so it is also with my belief: has my testimony been lost through considering founding faith claims in a rational way? I would say not at all. I would say that on the contrary it has increased greatly. If a testimony may be likened to the construction of a house, then I have merely been able to be more selective, discarding some of the original building blocks which were available to me, because investigation had shown them now to be unsuited to the task. Where would be the wisdom in building a house from unfit materials? Isn’t it always prudent first to test those materials and use only those which are durable? To rid oneself of weakness, is surely the same thing as to acquire strength. If we uncritically accept the fitness of all building materials available to us, then what kind of a house are we likely to end up with? Could such a house withstand the worst winter storms?
And would a so-called testimony fashioned out of faith-promoting stories, which are readily deconstructed and discredited by the historical record, shelter us from the most testing storms of life? It has properly been said that truth cannot be damaged by investigation. If it is damaged then it is not truth at all.
Part 2 to follow soon.