Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Literalism, another way to look at it


I have come to value that one of the pitfalls my formerly devout (in other words, accepted by the LDS mainstream) husband was his experience of a literal faith, which proved to have holes too big for him to ignore, followed by his need to resist the literalism of his faith community. 

In the either/or literal sense, his resistance was truly more his own effort to deepen his faith within the context of his faith community.  What he met with were too many who offered him the black or white literalism - if you are not for it, do not believe it, do not accept it, then you have lost your way, are listening to another force, are out of step and compliance with the homogeneous belief requirements. Would that his resistance have met with people who could offer him a more meaningful way to wear and use his faith, acknowledging his need to be out of compliance as part of his quest to deepen his faith.

My journey with him began at the time of his questioning, and I can only speculate what his life in the literal belief may have looked like, felt like to him.  Before I knew much of the community of LDS or Mormonism, I only knew of some of what is described as the peculiarities of Mormons - the usual array of things like their undergarments, the history of polygamy, the strong family bond, and an arrogance that they believed they had the only truth there is to have in such matters as faith, family, God.  What was more relevant to me than what the beliefs were, was his carriage of himself, the obviousness (to me) of his deeply held faith, and that there was a goodness about him that I had to conclude came about as a result of his heritage, his culture and his beliefs.   I have oft wondered if there was a way in which to accept aspects of the faith minus the literalism and still be able to hold to the faith-based tenet of the narrative.

My experience of religions considered to be traditional and mainstream Christian is that they too have holes too big to ignore, and again it seems literalism is a core cause of the need to resist by questioning.  It is the questioning process that I believe strengthens the faith.  It is the faith, I believe, that then strengthens the belief.  The two seem incompatible at times. I could never, for example, say that I believe with absolute certainty and unequivocably that a conceptual storyline is reality or truth, rather that it points to inner, deeper, personal truths that need to be nurtured over time and experience in order to more fully manifest in one's personal life.

Coming across the post Avoid The Temptation of Literalism, by Steve P. at bycommonconsent corresponds well to my take on the matter, and I'm actually a bit surprised to find it so well articulated from inside the LDS community.

To borrow Steve's words from the post;

This is why reading the scriptures a scientific text does such violence to their purpose. They are designed to connect us subjectively, consciously and spiritually to richer truths and meaning. To use the scriptures to pull out objective facts about the physical world and its history is to tear them way from what they are there to ground. Literalism is like giving a child a calculus book as a stepping stool to reach a washbasin. In so doing, much is lost that lies with the proper use of the book. Certainly children need footstools, but such use misses the true potential the book has to offer.
The scriptures are sacred. They allow us to touch the deepest truths available. To use them to read the surface of physical things (for which they are not intended and for which they don’t lend themselves) is a mistake that leads us away from where science is strong and should be used (as Elder Oaks points out) and, worse, wrenches the scriptures away from the beauty and truth they have to offer.

My husband has posted thousands of words expressing just such thoughts in his earnest need to indict literalism in any religion.  He and I have shared many hours of conversation and discussion over the past sixteen years of our lives together.  I'm not as likely to spend the amount of time, energy or resources as he has used in pointing to the flaw in a literal interpretation of what many consider the 'sacred' book.  As we have shared our thoughts, feelings with each other, I believe our sense of faith and belief has evolved and that while we share much in common in our connectedness at a spiritual level, we might have somewhat dissimilar verbalized belief sets.  It is extremely difficult to have any kind of conversation about religion, beliefs, faith because the language one eventually must employ has so many words that are 'charged' with meanings as defined for us, rather than words we can use and define for ourselves. 

Yet he and I have persevered in sharing such discussions, and when it gets close to the heart of the matter, to the faith of our child selves and the intellect of our adult selves, a reconciliation must take place for the faith to grow and mature.  I see us at this place in trying to find our own definitions. 


Related Posts with Thumbnails