January 6th, 2007

Inimical Influence


A common argument among anti-mormons is that we Latter-day Saints must not know (or fully believe) our doctrine since we cannot defend each facet of it. They claim this fact since most Latter-day Saints will, rather than debate them on each point they wish to raise, abstain from arguing and ignore the would-be rhetorician.

What such persons do not understand is the higher ground one takes when refraining from debate and argument on spiritual topics. Something could be said for the element of contention, or the act of casting one’s pearls before swine, but I think one of the more important factors in this type of interaction (or lack thereof) is expressed in the following quote by Stephen R. Covey:

Empathic listening is also risky. It takes a great deal of security to go into a deep listening experience because you open yourself up to be influenced. You become vulnerable. It’s a paradox, in a sense, because in order to have influence, you have to be influenced. That means you have to really understand.

That’s why Habits 1, 2, and 3 are so foundational. They give you the changeless inner core, the principle center, from which you can handle the more outward vulnerability with peace and strength. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 243)

So in a nutshell, Latter-day Saints refrain from such interactions so as not to be influenced by unclean things and have the stain of sin dirty their garments.

Critics might still argue that this methodology is one contrived of cowardice and weakness, thus further disproving our cause. Not so, as Elder Oaks has said:

When attacked by error, truth is better served by silence than by a bad argument.

So-called “apologetics” organizations do exist among the fold, such as FARMS and FAIR, or individuals like Jeff Lindsay or Gramps. These persons seek to stem the tide of ignorance and misinformation regarding the LDS Church’s beliefs, doctrines, and practices. I applaud them for their excellent work.

But on an individual, personal basis one might observe that the most common reaction to anti-mormon sentiment is to ignore and shut out the influence, so as not to be influenced in any way by it, as Covey suggests. Those who have attended General Conference have undoubtedly noticed the coterie of anti-mormon protesters with their large signs, undergarments, and out-of-context scriptural citations. The reaction of nearly all members in attendance (save for the sometimes curious teenage boys) is to pay no attention to them.

However, we can’t ignore people with whom we frequently interact. Should a family member or close friend have different opinions, be they religious, political, or otherwise, we must learn to respect their beliefs and understand them. The chapter from which the above-cited Covey quote was taken is about learning to “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Rather than giving our opinion and holding such a firm stance, I think we would all be better served by listening and sincerely attempting to understand the other person’s position.

I find that as I’ve practice this method, I have gained more respect for those of differing beliefs. This might be a friend of another faith, a co-worker with different political ideals, or a family member with different interests.

But the line is a fine one to tread, especially when dealing with truth and matters of the spirit. Degrees of evil are still evil, and one should not compromise accordingly.

What are your thoughts on interaction with and influence by those of different beliefs/ideals? Do you feel easily influenced when you open yourself up to their opinions? Do you see this as detrimental or beneficial?

7 Responses to “Inimical Influence”

  1. Lucia
    January 6, 2007 at 1:38 pm #

    I have found that lately I am not influenced by anything anybody has told me. I do listen to what they have to say but I don’t get into arguments with them trying to make them understand my point. I usually simple state what I believe in and what I know is true, it’s up to them to decide what to do with the information at hand and I do the same thing with the information they provide. I don’t just change my mind or my actions because they said something that sounded pretty, I study it out in my mind and then make a deicision.

    I don’t expect someone to change their mind because I said something that makes more sense than what they believe in, that would make me sick, I don’t expect anybody to change their mind after a conversation they had with me, but if they choose to do so I hope it’s because they think about the things that have been said and realize for themselve what is best.

    I would hope that everybody would work that way and then it would be very beneficial because people would start doing things because they came up with the answer themselves instead of having been given the answer. There is a stronger base when one does the first.

  2. fontor
    January 8, 2007 at 4:15 am #

    I’m coming at this from perhaps a different perspective. But I do remember what it was like to have faith and encounter people with different or challenging opinions.

    I think I used to have this idea that people with other opinions or beliefs could somehow reach into my mind and affect me (perhaps even with the aid of malevolent supernatural beings) just by expressing their opinions, and then I’d change my mind and not believe the Gospel. It worried me. Looking back, I now see that there was no danger of that. I had a variety of cognitive defenses that I used to protect my belief system. You do too.

    Since becoming more aware of these defenses, and realising the value of a scientific approach, my view has flipped completely. Now I seek out people who will try to oppose my views because if can they show where I’m wrong, I say ‘Thank you!” and I change my mind. I love when people can show me where I’m factually in error. Now I don’t have to believe that wrong thing anymore! I still have to watch out for my own dogmatism though, and stay open to change, because I know that I can be really certain about wrong things.

    This may seem like a weakness, but it’s actually a strength. If I have the facts to back me up, I know I can go to the wall for an idea. And I’m not afraid of being wrong anymore! Cause I probably am on lots of things. So show me the facts and I’ll join you. It’s so much better than worrying, “Ooo, will this person influence me from my currently-held view?” like I used to do.

    So I guess my message for True Believers would be: Don’t worry. Exposure to other beliefs won’t necessarily change your mind, especially if changing your mind would be especially threatening. You’ll be able to revert to whatever you want to believe. People are good at that. Keep in mind also that Mormonism has a strong tradition of taking that which is of good report, wherever it comes from. All truth is part of the same great body of knowledge, words to that effect. So hearing other opinions can be a good thing and shouldn’t necessarily be threatening. As long as you hold on to the idea that you can believe what you like, your beliefs are safe.

    What you should worry about, in my view, is science and reason. Reject those, and you can believe what you like. Accept them as valid, and you can’t. Once you are aware of critical thinking and the scientific method and you decide to apply them to your life, including your belief system, without being afraid of the consequences, then — in my view — loss of faith is the likely outcome. It just so happens that I now think that’s the right answer, but it’s not an easy one to accept.

  3. Connor
    January 8, 2007 at 11:45 pm #

    What you should worry about, in my view, is science and reason. Reject those, and you can believe what you like. Accept them as valid, and you can’t. Once you are aware of critical thinking and the scientific method and you decide to apply them to your life, including your belief system, without being afraid of the consequences, then — in my view — loss of faith is the likely outcome.

    Fontor, your comment started out so well, only to tank at the end! 🙂

    I’m sure it’s not surprising to you that I disagree completely with what you said here. Remaining open to correction and instruction is key, but arguing that science and reason are the antithesis of faith (and as a corollary, religion in whole) is, in my opinion, erroneous.

    I suppose my stance is best summed up in the following words by Rulon S. Wells:

    The apparent conflict, and let me say it is only apparent, between religion and science, arises from two definite causes. An imperfect knowledge of science on the one hand and an imperfect knowledge of religion on the other. True science is knowledge classified and must be true, hence it is a part of true religion which embraces and accepts all truth. How I rejoice in the wonderful development of science and invention, and I hope I may ever have an open mind ready to receive all knowledge let it come from whence it will, for it has but one source; it comes from God who is the fountain of all truth. (Conference Report, April 1929 p. 104)

  4. fontor
    January 9, 2007 at 7:47 am #

    I’ve heard that quote before. Though I think Wells had it wrong, I like his courageous approach to knowledge-gathering. It’s a part of that grand Mormon tradition of ‘taking truth wherever it be’ that pokes its head up every once in a while.

    Science does present a challenge to religious faith, though. Every once in a while, beliefs systems (yes, even LDS) teach ideas that run counter to facts. (Old Testament literalism comes to mind; take your pick.) When that happens, and some tactless scientist points out that the evidence is against some belief, then the believer has to decide what to do.

    I’m going to guess that not one time in a thousand will a believer dump the belief because of a fact. Probably 950 times, the believer will keep the belief, reasoning that the evidence comes from an ‘imperfect knowledge of science’. Maybe another 49 times, if the evidence is very strong, the believer may need to modify the belief a bit, but can’t bear to part with it. Some intelligent Latter-day Saints I know now go with ‘theistic evolution’; they admit that the case for evolution looks pretty solid, so… maybe God’s actually in control of evolution. Theistic evolution doesn’t hold water scientifically, but losing faith in a cherished belief is painful, so this is what believers do.

    And so we ask questions, as you have: how can we have contact with conflicting views without having to go through the pain of having our beliefs challenged or modified? It hurts! I depend on those beliefs! I can’t imagine what my life would be like without the Gospel! I’d probably be dead in the gutter! and so on.

    Well, when your standard is observable reality, the conflict evaporates. If someone shows you contrary facts, you say “Oh. I didn’t know that. Cool.”

    What I hope Latter-day Saints (and indeed all Christians) will be able to do is to value facts, and let go of beliefs that are clearly counterfactual. But I’m afraid people aren’t very good at it because it is very very difficult.

  5. Naiah Earhart
    January 9, 2007 at 8:33 am #

    I know I kind of harp on this here and there, but it’s all about synthesis (the process of dialectic). You have to be careful/responsible what anitheses you feed into your synthesis, because a skewed sample will yield a skewed view in time.

    I guess I’m just an ‘open’ person, and, really to be honest, I can be empathetic to a fault, taking on to myself the pain and angst of others through our communications.

    I love to see the world through new eyes, to really get a sense of how others interface. I just have to be careful to stay self-aware and keep an eye on the ‘creep’ of my synthesis, and feed it appropriate antitheses to keep it on track.

  6. Jordan
    January 11, 2007 at 3:46 pm #

    I remember how Jesus reacted when questioned, mockingly, by disbelievers. He held his peace.


  1. LDS blogspotting « Heart Issues for LDS - January 9, 2007

    […] For the first time, I read “Connor’s Conundrums“; and I must say, if I see anyone making a buffoonery of Christianity by waving undergarments or bellowing Scripture-out-of-context during the dedication time of the Rexburg temple, I will not keep my mouth shut.  Maybe, I will take them behind some woodshed and paddle their butts. […]

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