Editor’s note: Since publishing Who Is Truth? Reframing Our Questions for a Richer Faith, Dr. Ed Gantt and myself (Jeffrey Thayne) have been thrilled to see others picking up the ball and running with it. In this excellent article, Dr. Yohan Delton reframes our arguments from a new and fresh perspective, and extends them further in ways that are worth exploring. We are honored to share his thoughts here.
Our General Authorities have warned us against relaying on old traditions that imped our faith and our works in the Church. Here we take a philosophical look at the truth so we can better see how men have influenced modern religion. As you read on, you will be better able to help those who may struggle with doubt and who have come to you with questions about Church History. The main purpose of this article is to show that certain interpretations of truth may be misleading members of the Church into either worshiping those claims or rejecting those claims. We want to avoid both outcomes.
Sometimes we come across an event in Church history that we perhaps do not like or do not understand—or simply do not think is true. Because the event does not sit well with us, we ignore it, or we do more research, or we just shelf it for later hoping for reconciliation at some point. For some of us, however, this is the beginning of the planting of a peculiar seed—doubt. So, we begin to doubt a certain event and we are usually not sure where to turn for help. Suffice is to say that there are many people out there willing to help interpret Church historical events for us. In this article, I will write that some of us who doubt have been taught to trust or distrust Truth Claims. I will show the problem with the idea of Truth Claims. I will suggest that Truth may not be a claim at all; rather, it may be a Person. I will then offer a different interpretation in an attempt to help those of us who experience doubt. (See Table 1. at the end of the article to find a brief explanation in the form of a summary.).
The Truth as Claims
I am not sure we always know what we mean by doubt. Doubt can be very confusing for the person experiencing it. Doubt can also create a variety of psychological responses such as fear, anger, resentment, etc. These emotions, in turn, cloud our thinking, making doubt even more confusing. This can become a vicious circle leading someone to ultimately renounce Church membership. But doubt can be useful in leading a person to choose to believe, or not to believe. Choosing this day is always good in my book because it clarifies a position. Too often, however, the doubter is tutored by someone else’s work on what to doubt. The tutoring happens in podcasts, letters, etc. Thus, people do not really choose for themselves; rather they are shown what to doubt and are invited to believe the tutor’s interpretation—an interpretation which usually carries a shock value. The interpretation is usually based on the following belief: doubt is the fruit of establishing what was previously believed to be a true claim to what is now believed to be a false claim. From this perspective, truth claims may be validated or invalidated usually on the basis of logic (also called common sense in our culture). And if one claim is shown to be untrue, it logically follows that many (if not all) claims coming from the same source are also untrue. Thus, logic seems to be a fair companion on this difficult journey since it may point to what should and shouldn’t normally happen in our historical records. This commonsense logic behind truth claims becomes our measuring stick. But what the doubter usually does not know is that such a definition of a truth claim is, in my view, misleading and unhelpful.
The Problem with Truth as Claims
In a religious context, we believe we should worship truth. But if the truth be a claim or a principle, or a historical fact, then ought we not to worship that? And if false, ought we not to discard it? The problem here is that truth is perhaps not a claim nor a principle nor a fact. I will explain the point later in this article. But for now, let’s assume the truth is a claim. So, if the truth were a claim or a principle or a fact, then the temptation would be to worship it, wouldn’t it?
We easily remember the Sadducees and the Pharisees as worshipers of the law. A law is a principle that we believe is a truth claim and a religious fact. What we may not know is that those personages were taught that principles and laws were the truth. And what we also probably didn’t know is that a certain Jewish philosopher, named Philo of Alexandria, taught them the teachings of Greek philosophers (such as Plato and Aristotle, the founders of logic). It is not surprising that our culture (which is rooted in Greek Culture—we just need to look at art, history, and literature to realize that the starting point of our modern culture is ancient Greece) would lead us to have an ancient Greek version of what a truth is. That’s normal. What isn’t so normal is the fact that you and I don’t realize the presence of Greek philosophy in our own religious beliefs. I will use the example of the philosopher Plato to make the point.
Plato was one of the most powerful philosophers of ancient Greece. He believed the physical world held no reality, no truth, because it seemed to always be changing; we just need to look at the change of seasons, of people, of society, of the elements of nature, etc. So, Plato turned to a world that is imaginary, intellectual, and abstract to create his kind of truth: the abstract form of Good. This form is represented in the symbol of the sun. Plato believed that we lived in this abstract world of perfect forms before we were born, that the current physical world contained only shadows of such truths, and that people returned to those forms after death—and of main importance to this article is the belief that a person could reach abstract truths in this current physical life using the tool of intellectual logic.
Plato also believed the physical body to be a cave (the body is a dark shadow; and latter European Christians using this Platonic interpretation of truth started to call the body ‘evil’ and thus started to baptize babies because they were born evil. (This is in contrast to the Hebrew interpretation of the body as a temple). Plato focused on the mind and the intellect using the subjects of math and logic to reach this abstract world of perfect forms, to reach his perfectly logical principles. He also warned people against using emotions in their decision-making endeavors, since emotions could bias the choice to be made. He would rather you chose out of logical duty, and not out of love. As you may notice, this type of philosophy holds that truth cannot have a physical body and that it is SEPARATE from us. This kind of truth does not feel. In brief, this truth is abstract, unchangeable, unbiased, without body parts, without emotions and passions, and separate from the physical world. Do those terms sound familiar to you? (For more information, see the European Christian creeds, starting with the Nicaean creed.)
It turns out that this powerful Jewish Philosopher, named Philo of Alexandria, himself a forerunner of the doctrine of the trinity (an abstract concept), took the teachings of Plato and merged it with the teaching of Moses. This merger became popular among the Pharisees and Sadducees. The impact of this Greek philosophy merge was massive. The new teaching required the followers of God to view commandments and principles as abstract truths not to just follow, but also to worship. The temptation to worship this kind of truth seemed to work for many. But when Christ said I AM THE WAY THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE, many Pharisees and Sadducees did not understand; they did not believe; they had thought the truth was a truth claim and not a person. Sadly, their logical philosophy made them blind to the embodied truth of Jesus Christ. Indeed, they thought the commandments were more important than the people, including more important than the personage of Jesus Christ. Plus, Jesus seem to be breaking truth claims left and right; for example, by breaking sabbath rules, by claiming to create sons of Abraham out of stones, by claiming to walk on water, etc. All this was not quite logical and quite improbable. But the truth coming from the Hebrew tradition (as opposed to the Greek tradition) is improbable and illogical because this is a truth that is embodied. It is a physical truth to be found in the personage of Jesus Christ, as prophesied by Isaiah and by many others, and restored in our day by the prophet Joseph.
The Problem with Logic
Today, too many are using rational philosophy—knowingly or unknowingly, most likely unknowingly, since they have not critically assessed the assumptions of logic itself—to establish what they believe is truth. And the use of such a philosophy must imply that the philosophy of logic itself is the ultimate truth; and this is how you and I may be tempted to worship it, again because we think rational philosophy is truth.
There is a simple problem with rational logic: no one to this day has ever found the foundational truth claim upon which all rationality can be built. This is a notoriously difficult problem for rational philosophy; that is, logic has no true foundation. Anyone can use the rules of logic and sound correct, but the foundational premise used could be false. For 2000 years, philosophers have fought as to what that pillar of logic could be. Alas, they are still fighting under the same contending philosophical banners and are no closer to finding this foundational truth claim.
Thus, any claim can be made, but if it is made using logic, it will sound truer to the doubter. Also, any claim can be put down by the so-called logical fallacies (such as Ad Hominen, Stick Man, etc.). If, however, the foundational premise on which the logic is based is false, the conclusion will always be false, no matter how logical it may appear, or no matter how clever a person may feel pointing out a logical fallacy. Thus logic, in my view, in not a bulletproof companion—it can fail us.
The Truth as Person
The God of Abraham is an actual tangible being ruling our world through the Light of Christ which emanates from His presence to fill the immensity of space. This physical light, you see, is the law by which all things are governed—and it is not abstract. The law, then, is not a platonic abstraction—but it is a presence, a real physical presence, even the presence of God who sits in the midst of eternity. This God wants us to come back to his presence because we are his. He has called himself Father because we are his daughters and his sons. He is, ultimately, always CONNECTED to us though this family connection.
This is getting personal because this God is also passionate—he will not stop at logic to get us back; in fact, he will at times do terrible things to the logical mind. For example, he will ask us to bathe seven times in the river to heal. Well, I know if I send a claim to my insurance for reimbursement for such a treatment, my insurance will deny my claim: the treatment is illogical and mystical. In contrast to human logic, this God can even bathe the whole earth for cleaning purposes; in fact, He claims He can heal all, not out of duty as Plato required, but out of passionate love; not with compulsory means demanded by logical rules, but with a simple invitation—Come follow me. I have never seen math, nor logic, act in a loving passionate way; that is because math is acted upon by order, and logic is acted upon by rules.
Math in fact does not act, nor does logic; and neither can those things intend to act—thus they cannot intend to love; they do not have the creative power of choice which enables love. Only a God can intend an agentive world and keep love alive at the same time. For love to be alive, to be meaningful, it must be chosen; that is, it must be agentive. If love is not a choice but a necessity demanded by logic, then we must conclude that love is just a foregone conclusion of previous truth claims; and love ceases to be love, because it is driven by necessity—by duty. This view of love is grim, because this love we thought to be so flowering, mystical, and magical is in fact just the conclusion of a logical premise; a premise stemming from a method that will ultimately deny the existence of the feeling of love anyway.
A different interpretation
So, I am sorry Philo of Alexandria, because although I think logic is useful in many matters, I also believe it surely will not bring salvation to the human race. And although I do believe principles and commandments are good and are to be followed, I will not worship them; because I know that on their own, commandments and principles are dead. They are only useful as they help point to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ never said to come unto the holy commandments and to worship them. He said, instead, to follow the commandments because of where they point: to HIM. And once we enter his presence, we can have a conversation with him. And this is the journey of the Latter-day Saints: to come unto Christ and make covenants with him.
Covenants can vary across people. For example, a group of people may covenant with God to not take up arms and if they would take up arms, they would sin. Another group of people may covenant to take up arms to defend a nation, but if they would not take up arms, they would sin. Those covenants were made in the same era and in the same plot of land. This example makes no logical sense: the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” should reign supreme regardless of context and people, but that is true only according to a Platonic interpretation.
This desire for consistency regardless of covenants stems from Greek philosophy. Yes, for the Christian logicians, commandments should reign supreme and be worshiped. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about commandments; rather, it is about Christ who wants to make covenants with us; commandments are only there to help us come to His presence. And commandments change, you see, they always have, depending on the circumstance and the preparation of the people. But covenants, once made, do not change, unless a person decides to break them. And when that person does break that covenant, she actually breaks a tender and glorious relationship with her Father. This relationship, this family connection, is beyond logic. It is actually beyond human intellect. It is, however, bathed in the bounds of love that make us free. We can return. The foregone conclusion stemming from our poor choices can be proven wrong and we can, by miracle, become a new creature in Christ, and return to that Being who gave us life.
With this new understanding, could it be the case that Joseph Smith entered into covenants with God that seemed illogical to the rational mind? Absolutely. And so does bathing seven times in the river sound pretty illogical, or pretty un-Greek. Who does that annoy the most? First, it annoys perhaps those of us who believe in the consistency and the perfection of a rational (i.e. rules based) claim system or historical account; and second, it also perhaps annoys those of us who believe that God is abstract, everywhere and anywhere, without body parts nor passions (a definition used by Plato to described the world of perfect logical forms and baptized into European Christianity by the scholastics who were the philosophers of religion). But I fear those of us who belong to those two categories a lot less than those who are unclear about their true foundation as they entice others to doubt—because that is the realm of the Great Sophists.
So I invite you to consider accepting Jesus Christ as being the literal embodied Truth and to have a conversation with Him—this covenant relationship is, I believe, our only hope.
Table 1. Types of Truths
|Types of Truth
|Entity to worship
|Truth as a Claim
|Truth is a factual principle. Unchangeable, abstract, intangible, rational, everywhere and anywhere, without body parts, without passion.
|The ultimate entities to worship are the laws of the gospel. Thus, principles, statements, programs, and numbers are the main themes. The guiding principle here is duty.
|This turns out to be a cold way of approaching Deity because it feels so abstract and so irresponsive at times. We focus on finding the right principles or truth clams to live by and on questioning God. We ultimately loose our passion for the message.
|Plato, the Greek philosopher who believed truth was abstract. Philo of Alexandria brought abstractions to the Jews. And the Scholastics merged Greek philosophy with European Christianity.
|Rational proof though logical argumentation is the best way to find truth. Truth is a logical principle or premise and it is not an action, nor a person. Truth is an intellectual possession. Those who do not possess this type of truth are thought to be unintellectual and perhaps gullible.
|Truth as a Person
|Truth is a person. Changeable based on His feelings of compassion, with body parts, in a particular context, concrete, and gets into covenants that He won’t change.
|The ultimate entity to worship is the physical personage of Jesus Christ with whom we make covenants. The still small voice is a main theme. The guiding action here is Jesus’ love.
|This turns out to be an all-encompassing way of approaching Deity because we need to be responsive to his voice. We focus on being the answer to God’s questions and on acting through infinite love. (Love being a title for God).
|Jesus Christ and his establishing and restoring prophets such as Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Joseph.
|The personal experience of changing into a new creature because of Jesus Christ is the proof of leaving truthfully. Thus, how a person lives witnesses of the truth. Truth is acting with God. Since this truth is not a possession, all are equally able to encounter Him, both the educated and the uneducated.
About the Author: Yohan Delton, PhD, was born in an obscure suburb of France touching Geneva, Switzerland. His K-12 education came from Private Catholic schools. He now directs the Industrial Organizational Psychology emphasis at Brigham Young University-Idaho and regularly presents his work at some of the world’s finest venues. His professional mission is to make the workplace human. He currently loves to teach the History and Systems of Psychology course to help build faith in Jesus. Yohan has served as a family history consultant, a teacher and supervisor at the MTC, a risk analyst at Church HQ, a nursery leader, a stake Sunday school counselor, a high councilor, a ward clerk, etc.