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Zealous Believers and Chronic Doubters: Guilty of the same 'sin'

This post comes from an insight I have gained over the past year or so after having conversations with many people. For purposes in this article, I have generalized two types of people when it comes to 'Church activity':

1. Those who have a tremendous amount of zeal, but sometimes their zeal causes them to project their view of orthodoxy onto others. It creates an inevitable 'Holier than Thou' feeling even though the person with the 'zeal' didn't mean to come across that way.

2. Those who have chronic doubt. These individuals either leave the church or are on the precipice of doing so. They, ironically enough, can't ever be comfortable in their doubt and skepticism, but they feel they have moved onto a more progressive or forward way of living and thinking.

This is not to say that only these two types of people exist, but we all probably know a good handful of people that fall into either category.

Over the past year, I have pondered over each type of person and came to critique the failures of both ways of thinking. Admittedly, I would have fallen into the first category a few years ago as I projected my orthodoxy very often. I would rationalize this way of thinking by believing I was on the obedient side of things and wanted to be faithful. I realize now that was very admirable but very closed off. Honestly, I still probably am a little closed off in that sense. Dr. Spencer Fluhman, director of the Maxwell Institute at BYU, explains what I mean:
"If, for instance, we simply want to fulfill our responsibility to be a witness, period, then we need not care for the questioner at all. If that’s the extent of our interest, then we can bear our testimony and walk away. We’ve done our part. Check. And, as an aside, I hope it goes without saying that using a testimony like Thor’s hammer to smash a doubt or a skeptic is likely to end badly. If you’ve ever given into that temptation, you’ve found as I have that it leaves you feeling more than a little hollow. Boldness is sometimes called for, yes, but the overbearance the Book of Mormon warns against surely has something to do with our lack of love for a questioner (see Alma 38:12). So let’s admit in those cases that the exchange was about us, it was about meeting our needs and checking our boxes. If, on the other hand, there’s a deeper motivation to be had in these exchanges, such as unfeigned love for the questioner, then our boxes matter less and theirs matter more." ('A relational approach to answering difficult gospel questions', J. Spencer Fluhman delivered at BYU Women's Conference on May 2, 2019)
In other words, we can be as obedient as we want to be but miss the covenantal admonition to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.

Joseph Smith spoke about those in the Church who are so zealous they become too rigid. Speaking of “the present state of the church... that they were depending on the prophet [and] hence were darkened in their minds of neglect of themselves... they are also subject to an overmuch zeal which must ever prove dangerous, and cause them to be rigid in a religious capacity...” (JS, Discourse, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, 26 May 1842; in Relief Society Minute Book, [50]–[54], see The Joseph Smith Papers)

What about those who have chronic doubt and seem to embrace it almost?

For the sake of brevity, these individuals have gained some new insight from learning, or learned some various aspects of Church History, or have exalted a social cause above the sweeping and all-encompassing gospel cause, or feels the Church isn't where it should be in regards to the social injustices of the world.

If you notice, these ideas are commendable as well in their proper context. Just like the person whose emphasis is on obedience and zeal, they can become trapped in what Elder Maxwell called the prison of one principle:
"Elevating any correct principle to the plane of a religion is poor policy; just as one person makes a poor church, one principle makes a poor religion. Principles can become “prodigal” as well as people and can be estranged in “a far country” and be “spent” with little to show." ('Family Perspectives, January 15, 1974 devotional)
All of this has had me pondering on the similarities and differences between these two types of people. Interestingly enough, and in my opinion, I have found their similarities to be more telling and they all relate in some strange way:

1. Neither individual has grasped yet the grand scale of the continuing restoration.
2. Neither individual is willing to have their faith paradigms shifted or molded into something more pure and true.
3. Both individuals have skewed views as to what actually constitutes Church doctrine.
4. Neither individual is willing to plummet the depths of historical contexts or patient enough to let historical resources answer their questions or create a more nuanced understanding for them.

In a recent Reddit discussion with Dr. Terryl Givens he gives credence to this idea:
"Many who stay do so because they are intellectually incurious and not apt to be troubled by new developments or discoveries. And many who leave do so because they are intellectually curious, but not intellectually open enough to reformulations of faith paradigms." (Reddit Discussion from September 16th 2019)
The point I am making is that both sides in this sense are guilty of the same 'sin'. Their strength is becoming their downfall.

Those who have overmuch zeal might be setting themselves up for things to be turned upside down. There is a long history of the Lord turning tradition on its head. Those who have embraced doubt have childishly left an organization who embraces more light and knowledge at its heart. They don't understand that the Church is a living body (i.e. body of Christ) and not a mechanism that is meant to answer all your questions now. Like people, the Church has growing pains to go through; how else are we to build Zion?

I have found this experience from Dr. Melissa Inouye instructive:
"... my cousin was researching cookware because she was getting married, and she said, “Have you heard that stainless steel pans contain toxins?” I was curious, so I  googled stainless steel toxins, and I found this website that said stainless steel pans might seem safe to you, but they actually contain toxins. You can perform this simple test: boil a tablespoon of baking soda in your pan and see what horrible materials leach out. So I did this in a little sauce pan, which I love. I use it all the time to make hot chocolate, pasta sauce, and to heat things up. I boiled it in the pan, and then I did a comparison test with just dissolving baking soda into hot water. It’s like salty tasting, but it’s normal. Then, I tasted the water that was boiled in the pan with the baking soda, and it was like scraped nails. It was just terrible, and I spit it out and was horrified because I had been cooking my family’s food in this toxic pan... And I literally chucked it into the trash. I was like, “Yeah, there’s no way we can use this pan.” But then I got suspicious and tested every single pan that we had with this baking soda test. I laid them out on the floor and labeled them with what material they were made out of. Then, our whole family did a taste test. And even now, as I’m thinking about this, my body is having this yucky feeling. It’s like remembering drinking bike chains, magnet tea, and horseshoe toddy. It was just horrible so we spat that out. We all rinsed our mouths several times but that horrible taste stayed in our mouths for a long time.
And so then, I had this conundrum: “If all my pans are toxic, should we just never cook anymore?” Do we eat all raw food or buy a stone pan or something? I just didn’t know what to do. As I thought about it some more, I looked at the website again and noticed that this website sold titanium pans, which, unsurprisingly, did not react with baking soda when it boiled. I decided we should be able to cook stir-fried vegetables. This is important. Maybe this particular thing causes some things to leach out or maybe the test itself is designed to frighten. But recognizing the imperfection and the inherent yuckiness of the pan, I decided we have to keep on cooking. I think religion is that same way. It’s manmade, at least to some extent—its people, traditions. Nothing is perfect. Everything is a little problematic. Sometimes under shockingly commonplace circumstances, a bitter taste can leach out. There are hazards to a religious life, but there are also really good things to it as well. Like all this stuff that we cook in pans. I decided that for me the benefits outweighed the hazards." (LDS Perspectives Podcast, Episode 110: The Global Church and Lived Religion with Melissa Inouye)
 In summation, it is my experience and belief that both groups of people fall trap to the same paradigms and traditions. Both types of people are held back by this. The body of Christ is forever severed because of it. Our doubts and our zeal miss the point of the second great commandment. While we must keep the first great commandment in its place to properly keep the second, the reverse is also true. We need to do a better job at the second great commandment ('to love our neighbor as ourself') if we want to complete the body of Christ (i.e. Zion). It is important, therefore, to remember this wonderful line that keeps coming back to me day after day:
 "... the restoration will not conclude until every daughter and son of God who will come has been safely gathered into his extended, covenantal embrace.” (The University and the Kingdom of God, BYU Speeches)


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