Thursday, February 23, 2012

Trial of Faith

"Faith is tried constantly within religion. But here, without religion, faith is put on trial."

I would like to respond to a statement made to me recently: "A testimony is not something a person grows out of."

First of all, let's define testimony:

"open declaration or profession, as of faith" or "Evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof."

Now, what is proof? There are several definitions:
"evidence sufficient to establish a thing as truth, or produce belief in it's truth."
"the effect of evidence in convincing the mind"
"The act of testing, or making trial of anything; test; trial: to put a thing to the proof"
And one more for a different perspective:
"Able to withstand; Successful in not being overcome. Proof against temptation." or, for example "child-proof" "water proof" etc.

So what we have is a declaration or profession of faith, which is may establish truth, or produce a belief in it's being true. Fair?

But do we believe that we are accountable for the testimonies of others? I dare say no. In the LDS church, we are told that we must gain our own testimony, and not rely on the testimonies of others. therefore, testimonies do not "establish truth".

So what is the truth of which testimonies are witnessing? I submit to you that it is not an imperative, objective truth, but rather a statement of the truth of one's own experience. An accounting for experience, by the one who experienced it. Therefore, it is essentially sharing ones personal truths. But personal truths cannot be shared in the sense that one person's experience is another's as well. They must be experienced in person to be personal. Children are taught to cultivate and obtain their own testimonies through experience with the doctrine, with the Holy Spirit, etc. Not to base their beliefs on the testimonies or experiences of their parents, or anyone else (although that's a good place to start).

If I bear a testimony of my knowledge of, say, astronomy— that is, I share with you my emotional conviction of my beliefs in regard to astronomy— and use a vocabulary which includes "I know" and "I have received a witness of" and "I feel it in every fiber of my being..." and close it "in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen", it does not change the fact that what I did was read a book by an astronomer (which may or may not be mainly a detailed, verbose history of the society in which he lived). And if, in fact, that astronomer lived in ancient Greece, no amount of emotional conviction on what I have read, no matter to what extent I am certain of how much "sense" it makes, it doesn't change the fact that I am convinced of something that has been disproven. And therefore, my testimony is obsolete.

I can then either answer to the new information by learning and growing my knowledge. Or I can trust my emotions in which I had such surety was the indicator of truth. I cannot, however, pretend that I my emotions are absolute truth, and preclude any growth of truth.

If I choose to progress my knowledge and understanding (rather than surround myself with similar minded people, who affirm on a monthly/weekly/daily basis the "truthfulness" of Ptolemaic astronomy), then that learning is done through investigation outside the realm of ancient astronomy. I don't listen to orations by modern astronomers who support the theories of Ptolemy (if such people still exist): that we are the center of the universe, and that the sun is fixed in a sphere which rotates around us like some sort of cosmic zoetrope; that model has been disproven, and that "knowledge" is undone.

So I do it through following the progression of knowledge and observation in order to arrive at a new understanding (but no more an absolute truth than the knowledge and conviction of Ptolemy and every subsequent truth-seeker) of the behavior of celestial bodies. As I do this, I assure you, I outgrow my testimony. And no amount of citation of Greek astronomer's texts will convince me to return to a previous understanding.

A testimony is not a witness of the irrefutable reality of God, or of irrefutable truth. Therefore, the value of a testimony is the recognition and conveying of emotional experiences. Testimonies lose their value when they cease to either A) be relevant (to reveal) to the bearer of it; or B) to affect in a positive way those with whom they are shared. Either is quite possible, and even probable, if you believe in the ability to progress in knowledge (as opposed to conviction) and allow—much less invite—others to do the same.

Testimonies are personal. And shouldn't be the basis of anyone else's knowledge. It is completely out of line to tell someone that you have "knowledge" of their testimony, and take it upon yourself to "remind" them of said testimony. Testimonies are often used in this way though: as some sort of contract to remain faithful to the Mormon church. What leads people to the idea that they have a right to use anyone's testimony as doctrine against the bearer of it, or as incriminating evidence, is beyond me.

If this is the purpose of testimonies, is it not then completely unethical to propagate the idea that "a testimony is strengthened in the bearing of it" alongside the approach of "fake it till you make it"? Not to mention dictating "testimonies" into the ears of innocent and well-meaning children....

*To Be Continued*

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