Stages of Faith – Part Four – Blindness

Faith Is Not Blind

Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Yes, I know, I’m kind of stuck on faith stages. But, this one is different.

From the Audience: “Their all different because you’re the one writing them.”

Okay, I’ll give you that. I’ll try to keep it short.

The concept of faith development through different stages has not been part of the Mormon vernacular (nor, for that matter, is it part of most faith traditions). But, we now have an LDS authority (former general authority and BYU professor) that introduces the subject to our community.

Bruce and Marie Hafen’s book, Faith is Not Blind, presents a 3 stage construct similar to Richard Rhohr’s. In their short book Hafen’s describe development from “first simplicity,” passage through a challenging “complexity” period, and an ultimate “second simplicity.” In the second chapter they quote Oliver Wendell Holmes:

I would not give a fig for the simplicity [on] this side of complexity. But I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Note: The authors indicate that, with the exception of the prologue and epilogue, the content of the book was largely written by Bruce. Thus, I will refer to the author in singular.

Faith Must Confront Doubt

From the pulpit, “doubt” is often presented as an evil or antagonistic position instead of reasonable questioning. This is unfortunate because it demonizes (literally) those who are struggling and leaves us with fewer tools to address legitimate concerns.

I have found that “belief” and “doubt” are not the only alternatives. . . . Such polarizing dichotomies not only don’t help us, they often interfere with genuine spiritual growth. (pg 6) 

Hafen recognizes that intentional ignorance is not viable to faith development. Instead, he calls us to face the challenges.

True faith is not blind, or deaf, or dumb. Rather, true faith sees, and overcomes, her adversary. (pg 6)

The Simplicity Beyond

Often faith problems are due to tensions between inherited ideals and troubling reality. What seems right is not necessarily true. Facing this complexity is part of our faith journey.

Stage One of our model is the simplicity on this side of complexity, innocent and untested. Stage Two is complexity, the gap between the real and the ideal, where we struggle with conflicts and uncertainty. Stage Three is the simplicity beyond complexity, a settled and informed perspective that has been tempered and tested by time and experience. (pg 11)

Only when we see both the real and the ideal can we deal with the gap in a constructive way. (pg 12)

In recognizing stages of faith believers have a model that allows them to experience the tension in their belief without feeling that it is all lost; complexity becomes a natural and necessary phase.

Information is Not Knowledge

In a recent conversation with a dear friend that is no longer practicing her faith, I said that “ignorant Mormons make ignorant exMormons.”

From the Audience: “That wasn’t very nice.”

Maybe, but what do you expect from a grumpy Mormon? Hafen states it more tactfully.

A little learning, as valuable as that is, can be dangerous when left to think too highly of itself. (pg 13)

Just as the advent of the printing press challenged power structures of the time, Internet resources have drastically changed our society. Books and printed content of the 18th century was as full of vitriol and fake news as our current Internet content.

Making a point about Internet discoveries that only a law profession could, Hafen introduces us to the idea of “burden of proof.” 

Running across any criticism or complicated difference of historical opinion can seem to shift the burden of proof to the traditional source—as if merely raising an apparently legitimate question is enough to win a guilty conviction in the court of public opinion. But most of today’s readers aren’t prepared to understand the criteria for shifting the burden of proof, let alone to know how to evaluate the qualifications and motives of witnesses. (pg 32)

Citing an email from a friend, Hafen points out that: 

“[Critics] don’t have to prove anything; they just have to make someone doubt, which is infinitely easier than producing conviction.” (pg 37)

While it is harder for a proponent to build conviction in stead of doubt in a another, we must also acknowledge that it is also much harder for someone to build internal conviction than it is to let go.

Make Space for Uncertainty

To move from complexity to informed simplicity, we must remain open, learn to honor competing principles, accept the tension, and transcend an either-or mind-set. Then the tension becomes productive. (pg 39)

One challenge of those in the Complexity stage is not only from the internal tension, but the additional tension in our relationships with other believers. 

At times we judge other Church members too harshly, not allowing them the space to make personal judgements. Learning to understand and live with competing true principles is an essential skill . . . . That capacity is one of the hallmarks of settled simplicity in Stage Three. As we do that, we will learn for ourselves that “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” (pg 43)

This journey to Stage Three is not a short or permanent transition, it is an individual journey and can take years or decades with frequent regressions. But, Stage Three is there and gives us something to work for and hope for.

In the balanced stance of accepting both the ideal and the real, we prize individualism and reason, yet we also prize our faith in God’s authority. We would not return to a simplicity so innocent that it completely excludes either reason or faith. But the simplicity beyond complexity invites us to realize that a balanced approach alone won’t be enough. When we are stretched to our extremities, we must reach for a new level that draws most deeply on our Hebrew roots. No wonder Neal A. Maxwell said ‘we should have our citizenship in Jerusalem with a passport to Athens.’ (pg 57)

Your Choice

As an empiricist, someone who wants convincing evidence, the words “I know” are reserved for a specific kind of knowledge. As such, the choice to believe when evidence is lacking is a personal hurdle for me. Yet, willingness is the essence of faith and the basis for a relationship with God. A willing choice between real, viable alternatives is the only true discipleship. And that conscious, willing choice is ongoing.

Citing his own biography of Neal A. Maxwell, Hafen writes:

“the very act of choosing to be a disciple can bring to us a certain special suffering. [Such] suffering and chastening is the dimension that comes with deep discipleship,” when the Lord takes us “to the very edge of our faith; [and] we teeter at the edge of our trust [in] a form of learning as it is administered at the hands of a loving Father.” (pg 58-59)

Later, using the words of Peter Wehner from a New York Times opinion, Hafen relates:

“What God is seeking is not our intellectual assent so much as a relationship with us. . . . Faith is a greater blessing than proof because if gives us a relationship with Jesus. All good relationships are bound together by love. And love is always an expression of faith. . . . We are changed by what we love more than [by] what we think.” (pg 116)

Conclusion

From the Audience: “Finally. I thought you said this would be short.”

Hafen’s book is a wonderful contribution to Latter-day Saint thought. My only disappointment with the book is that it is trying to stand alone; there are NO references to decades of scholarly and pastoral work on faith stages. They seem to be reluctant to acknowledge this commonality with other faith traditions.

Nevertheless, Hafen’s have introduced Latter-day Saints to the concept of stages of faith. By providing a vision of a journey to Stage Three Simplicity, we have hope of some resolution to the tension, fear, and duplicity that distress us in our Complexity stage.

Recognizing these faith stages as a journey that many people will face can help us be loving and understanding. To struggle, to question, to doubt, is normal, not unfaithful. Similarly, to be simple, naïve, or ideal is not to be blind.

I hope that we may all learn to rebuild our faith with looser clothing.

Eugene

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