Dr Jesse James discusses the Fowler Stages of Faith, and whether the spirit can be manipulated. We also discuss a good definition of evangelicals, and how different denominations came about. Check out our conversation…
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Fowler Stages of Faith
Jesse 00:25 What’s going on here can be understood in this [way.] There’s this theory. Max Weber. [pronounced Vay-ber]
GT 00:37 Spelled Weber, right? [pronounced Wee-burr)]
Jesse 00:38 Yeah, Weber State University.
GT 00:41 People mispronounce that all the time.
Jesse 00:45 So, good old Weber, German philosopher and sociologist who proposed this church sect theory. And also, James Fowler developed this theory of stages of faith development.
GT 01:03 We should really talk about Fowler’s stages of faith. I feel bad we haven’t talked about that on Gospel Tangents.
Jesse 01:05 Okay. Let’s do it. So, this church-sect theory proposes that every denomination starts by breaking off of some established Church. So, the most classic example is the Catholic Church. We say that because churches are institutions, that are oftentimes sanctioned by the state, wrapped up in the state. They’re very widely approved. Being a member does not put your life in suspicion. It’s completely socially acceptable to be part of a church. So, every denomination starts as a church. Then, eventually, when things get too regularized, too institutionalized, too controlled, then people start looking at the church and saying, “This isn’t doing what I need for my life. I need extraordinary spiritual experiences. I need ways of connecting with God that can’t be regularized, that can’t be controlled.” So, they break away and they start this new movement, and the new movement starts, usually, as a sect. A sect is a little body of followers, usually after a charismatic leader who has spiritual gifts and also a likeable personality.
GT 01:09 So, Mauricio Berger, a Denver Snuffer, somebody like that.
Jesse 01:32 Yes. Within the Mormon movement, you see this happen quite a few times where people can break off and they’re this charismatic personality. Most charismatic movements like that, most sects will die out after a comparatively short period of time, a generation two, once the founder, once that leader dies, then the movement usually dissipates. But, if they…
GT 01:35 David Koresh.
Jesse 01:36 Okay, I’m not familiar with that one.
GT 01:47 He’s the Branch-Davidian leader, big shoot out at Waco.
Jesse 02:52 Oh, okay. Yeah.
GT 03:00 I don’t know, maybe that movement is still around.
Jesse 03:01 But it mostly dies out after the founder dies. So, usually in order to survive past the initial founder, you have to overcome the succession crisis. This harkens back to the Joseph and Brigham thing. If the initial founder of your sect dies, usually your organization will dissipate. But, if you find a way to institutionalize the charisma, the spiritual gifts into a position of president rather than a person like Joseph Smith, then you end up being able to pass on that charisma that power, that expectation, respect and authority, into a new person to a next…
GT 03:40 Into a Brigham Young.
Jesse 03:42 Yes, into a Brigham Young, right. So, then the movement is able to survive, and the longer that movement survives, the longer it lasts. Most of the time these die out, but if you end up being able to pass on the charisma to a new person, then it shifts into a denomination. The sect becomes more regularized, more institutionalized. And it becomes a more expected, more calm version of it. So, if it’s a break-off branch, it may not eventually become a church. Because the church is often really international and really expected and really has a long history. So, the Catholic Church is the best example within Christianity. Some other denominations might have reached church status, but most of them just remain denominations. But eventually, people will break off from these denominations and become sects again. So, you just see this pattern happen over and over again. It happened with the founding of our church. It’s happened multiple times, like you mentioned, since.
GT 04:48 James Strang, yes we can talk about lots of these examples.
Jesse 04:50 Yes, lots of these examples. But then if we hearken to Fowler for a second, Fowler proposed, basically, I think, six stages of faith development, several of which happen in childhood. They’re very intuitive, childish ways of viewing God in an anthropomorphic version of an embodied person and somebody who’s constrained by those bodily movements. In the way that you might understand a physical father, you might understand God. But, eventually, most people of most religions, as they get older, they will shift into stage 3, 4, 5 faith. These stages of faith…
GT 05:28 Can you give us a brief outline of what those different Fowler stages are, even if you have to Google it?
Jesse 05:37 Yeah, so, during childhood, there’s a primal faith that is just this intuitive sense of trust or mistrust about the world. If your parents take really good care of you, then you just develop a faith that the world is a good place to be. If your parents neglect you or don’t attend to you when you cry, then you develop a distrust about the world. It transcends to not just the world but to any kind of deity. It carries forward in your sense of divine-ness in the world, or in the ether, as you get older. That is stage one. That’s like pre-faith. He calls it stage zero. Then, stage one is in young childhood. There’s this intuitive projective faith, where kids are wrapping up their faith into parables and fairy tales. So, everything is, like the Old Testament is really great for this stage of faith, where you’re telling stories about Daniel in the lion’s den, and miracles happen. It feels undifferentiated from myths like Santa Claus, and from fairy tales, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. These kids are wrapping up all these stories in their mind, learning the morals of their society, from the religious morals, as well as more secular stories, but of the same quality.
GT 06:53 Noah’s Ark.
Jesse 06:54 Yeah, exactly. Yeah, those kinds of things. You see, most of the children’s books that get published about religion are about things like Noah’s ark, and like Moses parting the sea, these really dramatic experiences that, as you get older, you may start to interpret in more figurative ways. But during that period of childhood, you’re really buying into the whole Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You’re really buying into Noah. Then you start to enter stage two, which is mythical, literal faith. In this stage, kids start to understand. They’re still hearing these stories. Unfortunately, the morals are trapped in the story. In order to know what’s right or wrong, you have to remember a story that teaches you what’s right and wrong. Because you can’t extrapolate the moral of the good from the story, yet. But, what’s new about this stage is that God stops being an abstract… This is when you start to develop the idea of an anthropomorphic God. He’s, like, an embodied being. He’s like a guy in the clouds with a beard. This is different from the previous stages of faith. Young children have an abstract notion of God. They, perhaps, haven’t even put any kind of image to him at all. But, when kids are maybe five, six years old, they start to kind of anthropomorphize him, start to embody him.
Jesse 08:26 Then, the synthetic conventional faith is stage three, where people are starting to go through adolescence and start to reflect back on the stories of their childhood. They start to wonder, “Do I really believe these things in a literal way? In figurative way? Do I believe them at all?”
GT 08:43 “Did the flood really cover the whole earth?”
Jesse 08:46 Yes, these kinds of things. We know that teenagers of every denomination, but especially, within the Latter-day Saint movement, are trying to get their own testimony and trying to figure out, “What do I believe?” So, they’re reflecting on all the things that they learned before, and they’re figuring out their own political ideology at the same time and sussing out their whole worldview. They’re trying to fit religion within this worldview. During this stage three faith, this is called synthetic conventional, because basically, most people will come out of this stage of faith. They pull together. They synthesize all the beliefs of people around them in the denomination, into their own belief. So, what do I believe? What everybody else believes. Synthetic conventional: what do I believe? Again, [I believe] what’s conventional. So, I’m synthesizing the conventions of those around me into a conglomerate that I’m going to adopt. Within Mormondom, Sheri Dew just wrote this book a few years ago, that was called Worth the Wrestle. You remember that one? I was really excited about this. I was a little disappointed when I actually read it.
Jesse 09:56 She wrote this book, and she was saying in this book–I thought it was going to be about really wrestling over the hard questions and figuring out answers, like you and I try to do. We really dig deep and think hard about all the complexities of Mormondom. I thought that she was going to be talking about how it was worth this wrestle to challenge the hard issues, confront them and figure them out. It was really all about, it’s worth the wrestle to find out the answer to the gospel question, “Is it true? Yes or no? That’s it.” Once you have the yes or no answer, then you’re done, right? Like, if you get the answer, yes, it’s worth the wrestle to get that answer, yes. And then push forward in faith. You’ve got the only revelation you really need. That’s the answer to the one question. So, I was a little disappointed, but that is a book that you would expect to be written by somebody of a synthetic conventional faith, who has adopted this mentality that is like, “We believe what everybody in our faith believes.” The reason I bring it here…
GT 10:55 This is stage three, right?
Jesse 10:56 Stage three, yes. The reason why I bring it up now, when we’re talking about this church sect theory, is because it is to the benefit of denominations and churches to keep most of their adherents at stage three. Because if you are at stage three, you’re a compliant, easygoing, average, typical, expected member. It’s easy to lead an expected member who doesn’t dig too much, doesn’t question too much, doesn’t kick against the pricks, doesn’t ask the hard questions, just sits and quietly nods and politely sings the hymns. That’s a really easy kind of member to lead.
GT 11:37 In any religion.
Jesse 11:38 In any religion. Every religion is, in fact, I should say, most people of most religions end up getting stuck at stage three synthetic conventional faith. Most people just are there. They just believe what people believe around them in the church, whatever church they’re part of. It’s to the benefit of churches to keep them there. If you’re a church leader, you don’t really want to push people much beyond that. If people seek out on their own, some reconciliation between science and faith, ask the hard questions, leave it to them. But don’t guide them through that process. Because you don’t want them going down that road. Too many of them will end up abandoning their faith or too many of them will end up deciding that this church isn’t the only true church or something. So, it’s to your benefit to keep them at this conventional place. They’re just nodding and accepting. But many people go off to college, especially in a developed, post-industrial society, they go off to college, and they learn the scientific theories. And they’re learning pluralistic perspectives. They’re starting, for the first time, to enter what he calls stage four faith: individuated or reflective faith. People are starting to individually decide, “What do I believe, independent, not of my parents, but independent of my church, independent of everything I’ve been taught? What do I actually believe?” It’s reflecting on themselves. So, individuative-reflective faith, where they’re trying to figure out, “How do I reconcile this science and faith? And how do I make sense of the disconnects?”
GT 13:06 Is evolution compatible with creationism?”
Jesse 13:08 Yes, so, that kind of thing, yes.
GT 13:10 And some people will say yes, and some people will say no.
Jesse 13:12 Exactly, yeah. So, some people will study evolutionary biology and they’ll say, “Okay, in order to make these compatible, I have to either compartmentalize or I have to interpret the Bible more figuratively,” and then, “Oh, I can see how the history of evolution kind of matches the history of the six days of creation in the order in which it occurred. So, I can make sense how this figuratively matches my scientific understanding. So, if I take a less literal interpretation of my religion, then I can make them fit.” And that’s okay. Or, as is the case in some people, very few, but some people, you might become very educated and get a Ph.D. and still reject most of what you’re learning. You still might adhere very strongly to your synthetic conventional faith. You might come out and say, “I think my church is right, independent of the science. I think the science is wrong. My church is right, even though I’ve learned all this fascinating new stuff, and it’s very compelling. I just think, probably there’s holes that we haven’t seen in the science yet.” So, those are basically, the only ways of reconciling. You can compartmentalize, or you can soften one or soften the other. But they are, at times, in conflict, your religion or your science.
GT 14:22 Or you throw the whole thing out.
Jesse 14:25 Yeah, if you’re going to reconcile them, those are the only ways, but some people just adopt only science or only religion. Most people who adopt only religion, have not actually had much training in science. Once you’re confronted with science, it’s really compelling and very difficult to say, “Oh, I don’t believe that.”
GT 14:41 Or you come up with your own science theories.
Jesse 14:43 Yeah.
GT 14:44 And you build a big ark in Kentucky.
Jesse 14:47 So, people take different approaches, but most of them are some form of softening one or softening the other. They soften the science, or they soften the religion. But this is happening to the stage four faith, that usually occurs at the beginning of adulthood when you’ve first left home and you go to college and you’re learning these things for the first time, and you’re getting your footing about your real-life political ideology. You’re part of your social network independent from your parents and things are really changing in your early 20s. During that stage four faith, especially, if you’re in a developed country, especially if you go to college, then you’re very likely to experience this individuative-reflective faith. And this is where we find faith crises occur in every religion, especially in Mormon religion. I should say, especially in any religion, that makes a lot of verifiable or falsifiable faith claims. So, the more fact-based your religion is, the more likely you are to engage in this conflict between those things.
GT 15:47 Even in Catholicism, for example, we’ve got Galileo. Does the sun go around the earth or does the earth go around the sun?
Jesse 15:54 If your religion says, “The Earth is the center of the universe,” and you find contradictory evidence, then you have to reconcile that somehow.
GT 16:05 Or you get excommunicated.
Jesse 16:06 Yes. So, what the church eventually ends up doing is softening their dogmatic stance toward the model.
GT 16:15 But, not in your lifetime. (Chuckling.)
Jesse 16:17 No, almost never in your lifetime. But eventually, it always happens. So, there’s all kinds of things where, it used to be considered evil to be left-handed. In fact, the root word of the word sinister is actually related to the word left-handed.
GT 16:35 Oh, I think I’ve heard this before.
Jesse 16:37 So, there’s all kinds of things that are we perceive today as morally neutral, that at one point, were viewed as negative, evil things, [viewed] as immoral things.
GT 16:49 I think that’s still kind of prevalent in the LDS Church, because you’re supposed to take the sacrament with your right hand.
Jesse 16:56 Yeah, exactly. You raise your right hand to get a consent to and to sustain people and give common consent and things like that. So, there’s a little bit of that, and the residuals of that really persist. But, if you use your left hand, nobody’s going to get on your case about it, probably, most likely. If you lose your right hand, you have to use your left hand.
GT 17:18 It depends on how stage three you are.
Jesse 17:20 (Chuckling) Yeah, so, there’s things like this. Other things like interracial marriage, [which] was perceived, for a long time, as immoral, as something that was against the nature of God. So, if blacks and whites married, that’s the kind of thing that would, in Brigham’s day, would justify blood atonement.
GT 17:41 Right.
Jesse 17:41 In other words, you had to kill yourself in order to atone for the fact that you married somebody of another race. But eventually, we can really see across all these kinds of examples, we see that the church eventually softens.
GT 17:54 Now we have interracial apostles which is fabulous I think.
Jesse 17:56 Yeah, it’s so great to see the changes. As people progress through their understanding of what God really does care about, and what he doesn’t care about. Sometimes we think he cares about things, that it turns out, a generation later, we realize He probably doesn’t. He probably doesn’t care if we’re using our left hand for something, or if we’re left-hand dominant. Probably he doesn’t care that much if we marry somebody of another race. We may find, within the next 30 years or so that maybe he doesn’t care that much if we marry somebody of the same sex. We don’t know the answer to these kinds of things. Because it usually takes a few generations before the church, any church will soften their stance enough to step back and look at an issue and say, “Maybe God doesn’t actually care about this as much as we thought He did.”
GT 18:39 The Community of Christ is right there, right now.
Jesse 18:43 Yeah, exactly. So, starting about the 80s, they were like, “We’ve got these women who are as righteous as men and are good leaders, and maybe we should ordain them to the priesthood. They prayed about it, and they felt good and so, they went ahead and moved forward with ordaining women.
GT 19:00 Well, I’m trying to remember–Community of Christ people, forgive me. I think, isn’t 156 where they allow gay marriage?
Jesse 19:08 Yeah.
GT 19:08 Which was just a few years ago.
Jesse 19:09 I can’t remember. 2013 or something like that where they allowed for gay marriages to be sanctioned by the church, to happen in the church.
GT 19:19 I hope it’s 156. That’s what I think it is. 
Jesse 19:22 Yeah, and so…
GT 19:24 I understand why Community of Christ people get our revelations mixed up, because I get theirs mixed up too.
Jesse 19:29 It’s hard to keep track, especially when you’ve got your own number system conflicting with theirs.
GT 19:35 Exactly.
Jesse 19:36 Because their revelation numbers might be different than ours.
GT 19:38 I’m always impressed when any Community of Christ [member] says, “And in Section,” whatever, “of LDS Doctrine & Covenants…” I’m like, dang. You’re good.
Jesse 19:45 I’m not that good at our own Doctrine & Covenants. You see that over generations, the things that people care about, the things they view as moral or immoral, often soften. They often change over time. So, you’ve got individuals who are in this stage four reflective faith, who are seeking God’s will, independent of their church. They’re saying, “When I pray about this, I feel like…” Before the priesthood ban was lifted, you’ve got individual members praying, and they’re feeling like God doesn’t want this priesthood ban. God doesn’t care about race like the church seems to care about race. It might be a decade or two or three or four before the priesthood ban is actually lifted, that people are independently feeling this [personal] revelation from God, that’s antithetical to what the church is teaching. But it’s only in this stage four faith of individuative/reflective faith, that people are able to ask the questions that differ from the institution that they’re a part of.
Jesse 20:46 So, this stage four faith kind of gives rise to faith crises. It’s a mature kind of faith that asks the hard questions, even if the church has already, supposedly, come up with the correct answer. So, in Fowler’s model, then you come across stage five faith. There are six stages, but five is the last stage that most people are able to achieve. After this really rough stage in early adulthood that might last into your mid-30s.
GT 21:16 It might last your whole lifetime.
Jesse 21:18 It might last your whole lifetime where you’re really wrestling with the hard questions and feeling like, “I can’t figure out the reconciliation between science and faith. And I’m remaining tentative about these things, because the answers aren’t coming, and I can’t figure it out.” If you manage to make it past stage four, stage five faith might come in your 40s, 50s, 60s, where you realize: I’ve asked the hard questions, and I’ve come to peace with a lot of these things, not because I put it on the shelf. But because I have reconciled it. I’ve figured out how to make sense of both science and faith. I’ve figured out how to make sense of conflict between my personal beliefs and my institution’s beliefs. Things like that are reflective of what he calls a conjunctive faith. Conjunctive, meaning a combined faith between my own individual faith and my institution’s faith. So, people with a really mature, developed, wrestled-out faith will come out the other side, if they keep wrestling. If they are able to reconcile, they’ll come up the other side, more at peace, more committed, perhaps more tentative, more pluralistic than they would have been if they only stayed in stage three faith. But at the end of it, you will have a better, more healthy faith, more psychologically healing faith, more pluralistic-for-the-world kind of faith than if you never wrestled in stage four in the first place.
Jesse 22:41 It’s to the benefit of institutions to keep most people in stage three. It’s to the benefit of individuals to wrestle through stage four and come out in stage five conjunctive faith. But if we recast these faith crises that we see in the LDS Church, as natural developments within Fowler’s stages of faith development and maturation, then we can stop demonizing them. [It’s not] that it’s a terrible thing to ask these hard questions. [We can] make way for people to reconcile things on their own. I don’t know that there’s a lot the church institution can actually do to support that process. I mean, they’ve tried to be more open about their own history, more transparent. Writing was a good step along the way. The Saints Gospel Topics Essays and things like that [were helpful.]
Jesse 23:27 But a lot of people will say, “I want to hear about this stuff in my everyday Sunday school classes.” You’re not going to have stage three conjunctive faith, for most people, if you start addressing the hard issues in class. An example is the Unitarian Church. Unitarian Universalists wrestle with the hard questions all the time. They ask all the existential crap. In fact, they’re one of the only denominations that really do, that make it part of their everyday practice to really wrestle with the hard stuff.
GT 23:57 Does Community of Christ [wrestle?] Do you know? It seems like they do better.
Jesse 24:04 When I attend the Community of Christ Church, I have found that sometimes the meetings will incorporate some science and some religion in the same meeting. It’s everything I ever hoped for in a Mormon meeting.
GT 24:21 Especially John Hamer. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched his online. He’s got a Wednesday night thing that’s fabulous.
Jesse 24:26 Yeah, I love those. But also, the Sunday meetings are really, really uplifting. In the Community of Christ Church, it depends. They’re more congregationally led. So, what’s true of one congregation won’t necessarily be the same in another congregation.
GT 24:43 Yeah, they don’t have correlation.
Jesse 24:44 So John Hamer’s congregation is, of course, way more conjunctive five stage faith. He is encouraging all of his people to get there, wrestling with the hard issues and really approaching them openly. But not at every congregation of Community of Christ will be that way.
GT 25:04 I don’t know. I want to say this, and I don’t mean to offend. But it seems like, especially when we look at restoration branches of which, especially in Independence, are a lot, a lot of the break-off RLDS congregations are very much more stage three, old-style RLDS.
How the Different Denominations Came About
Jesse 25:23 Yes. So, this leads me to, okay we keep–it’s so good that your thing is called Gospel Tangents, because this is just another tangent. This whole conversation has just been tangent after tangent. You have said on your podcast before several times that it’s hard to understand like, what is Evangelicalism, right?
Jesse 25:30 And you don’t like them. They are nasty people sometimes.
GT 25:36 I like the nice ones.
Jesse 25:37 Yeah, exactly. But it’s hard to come across a nice Evangelical. Well, here’s what’s going on. So, evangelicalism came about, I just looked this up the other day, and I can’t remember exactly when, but I think it was the late 1700s.
GT 26:05 Well, there’s kind of two types of evangelicalism. I have another interview with a Lutheran pastor.
Jesse 26:11 Oh, interesting.
GT 26:12 It will be published by the time I do this, but it hasn’t been published yet. He talks a little bit about the old-style evangelicalism versus the new evangelicalism, which is more charismatic based, and that sort of thing.
GT 26:26 I believe, if I remember right, he’s old-style evangelical Lutheranism, not new-style evangelical Lutheranism. But, anyway, tell us the difference.
Jesse 26:39 Yes. If you ever look at the Pew Research on religion, you’ll see that whenever they categorize people into religions, they start with Catholic, Protestant, but they’ll split up Protestant into two primary groups. They’ll say, mainline Protestant and evangelical Protestant. Those two groups really reflect, mainline Protestants–they’re called mainline, because they’re the traditional path that continued along a particular trajectory of becoming more progressive over time, more figurative in their interpretations of scriptures, less dogmatic, less fundamentalistic, more reconciling science with faith and more open.
Jesse 27:26 So, over time, Protestant denominations, all of them, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, all have gradually become more progressive than they used to be. This is not unexpected, because church-sect theory suggests that over time, all denominations are going to find better ways of becoming more like churches, which are expected, reconciled with society, no longer meeting the real spiritual needs of people, but really integrated with science and faith and society. So, you’re leaving behind some of the more fundamentalist ideas about left-handedness as being evil, and interracial marriage being evil and things like that.
GT 28:03 I think there are still some churches, let me just interrupt for a second, that are still struggling with these issues. The two of them that popped into my head are Episcopal, because they’re still trying to decide if gay clergy are okay or not. Some are saying yes, and some are saying no. And Lutherans, to some extent, and the Methodists. There’s a big schism going on with Methodism right now. But, anyway, sorry, go ahead.
Jesse 28:31 What you’re describing is mostly over ordination of gay members.
GT 28:35 Right.
Jesse 28:35 Gay clergy, gay marriage, things like that, sanctioning of marriages. So, mostly, the schisms are happening today over the issue of same-sex attraction rather than for instance, interracial marriage. That was settled back, maybe the 60s or so.
GT 28:52 Right.
Jesse 28:53 Most, almost everybody…
GT 28:54 There wasn’t a lot of schisms, I mean, a little bit. I mean, there’s still some fundamentalists, like the Bob Jones University people.
Jesse 29:00 Yeah, but most denominations weathered that without schism.
GT 29:03 Right.
Jesse 29:05 So, mainline Protestants are those that continued along this path of progressivism, that kind of integrated science and religion and became more open in their interpretations and less literal. Within any of those groups at various times, there have been movements of people who have broken off from that denomination and become a sect and those sects have ended up being evangelical sects. Almost every break off sect is more evangelical. Momentarily I should use the word conservative, more conservative than the progressive mainline.
GT 29:41 Are you talking about the 1700s version or the 1900s version?
Jesse 29:44 So, right now I’m talking about the 1700s. So, in the 1700s, you’ve got all these break off groups. Though, I should say, even today, when we see break off groups, they’re almost always more conservative. The point is always to get back to the original, back to the original founding church, back to the original interpretation of scripture, back to the original practices, back to the original ordinances.
GT 30:04 Back to the conservative version.
Jesse 30:05 Yes, right. But they’re not working in that way. They perceive that. See, what conservative means is the old ways. Conserve means to save, conserve, to save the old ways. So, conservative, literally, not in a political sense, though it’s political, too, but in a literal sense what we’re saying is [that] we want to conserve the old way of doing these things, the old standards, the old commandments, old interpretations.
Jesse 30:32 So, as churches become more liberal, more open and shift in their interpretations, sects will break off and try to get back to the old ways. You can see this in Mormon history, as well. Joseph Smith starts this new church, trying to bring back, to restore the original version, the old ways, the old interpretations, the old ordinances. Everything’s been corrupted. Right? Well, every time somebody’s broken off of the LDS Church, also, we see the same thing. They’re always trying to get back to the old ways, the original ways that Joseph established, the ways that he was talking and the ordinances and the authority as it originally stood.
GT 31:05 Most of the time. There are some progressive break-offs, but yes.
Jesse 31:08 Yes. So, as you see these people break off, I have been calling them conservatives. They are evangelical. Evangelical is a word that means a more literal interpretation of the Bible. It means practicing things in the old ways of this Protestant movement. So, every denomination has evangelical and mainline versions. So, there’s evangelical Methodists, and mainline Methodists, meaning progressive Methodists. You could say the same of Lutherans. You could say the same of Presbyterians. Every denomination has more evangelical versions and more progressive versions or more mainline versions.
GT 31:45 Evangelical, can we substitute the word conservative?
Jesse 31:49 Yes, yes.
GT 31:50 Okay.
Jesse 31:50 And it really is quite accurate to say evangelical and conservative are almost entirely synonymous in terms of this old 1700s movement. Now, recently, evangelical and Protestantism have become more synonymous, not entirely synonymous, but evangelicals have taken on… Okay, so if you look at Denver Snuffer’s movement, you can kind of see similar voice to this. You can see that he broke away to become more conservative, but also to give rise to the original spiritual gifts that Joseph was providing for the saints. Speaking in tongues is allowed in Denver’s movement and visions and manifestations and miraculous spiritual gifts are allowed and encouraged in this movement, where they’re discouraged or put under the rug in the mainline LDS Church.
GT 32:46 They’re okay with Bickerton, though.
Jesse 32:49 Yeah, but you see the same kind of thing where–you could call Denver’s movement, evangelical Mormonism, right? Basically, what it is, is a conservative and gift-seeking charismatic movement, right?
GT 33:02 Okay.
Jesse 33:03 So it’s not actually to go back to the original ways, it’s also to go back to the original gifts, the original signs described in scripture. So, a lot of times as churches become more institutionalized, more regulated and more accepted by society, they lose the gifts. They lose the spiritual manifestations that they had, at one point, when they were a sect. As they become more regularized, they just get further from God.
GT 33:04 That’s what’s so weird about Denver’s movement, because, originally, especially when he was still LDS, he was more progressive. He was more open to women being [ordained.] Actually, well, yeah, more open to women being ordained, more open to even gay marriage. Then, since he got excommunicated and started his own thing, he’s become more conservative.
Jesse 33:52 Yeah.
GT 33:52 He’s still, in a way, I don’t know if you know about his priesthood, the way he does it with priesthood.
Jesse 33:58 Yeah.
GT 33:58 You do know?
Jesse 33:58 Yes.
GT 33:59 For those of you who don’t, seven women have to recommend a man to be ordained. It’s still a male priesthood. But men can’t vote. Only women do. So, that’s kind of interesting.
Jesse 34:12 Yeah.
GT 34:12 But I mean, he’s gotten away from polygamy, completely, which is weird to me.
Jesse 34:16 It’s really interesting. Because yeah, he now says it never happened under Joseph. Brigham started it.
GT 34:23 Isn’t that fundamentalist?
Jesse 34:23 Yeah, it depends on what version of fundamentalism, but, if you believe that Joseph never started polygamy, then getting back to the original is to go back to a version of Mormonism where polygamy didn’t exist, or where, if it existed, it was an apostate version of polygamy or something. Denver has some weird things. Originally, if you go back to blog posts before 2014, you can see that he wrote some stuff about how–he uses Jacob, the interpretation in Jacob 2:19 or something like that, where God says, “If I will raise up seed unto myself,” then polygamy is okay. Denver originally with his blog says, “This is what happened to Joseph.” If everybody had followed polygamy the way the Lord, actually, originally asked for it to be, then there would never have been a problem. But it become corrupted, and people got selfish about it and became overly sexualized. So, some bad stuff happened. But God intended to raise up some seed because we need more Mormon babies, something like that. That’s the gist.
GT 34:24 Yeah.
Jesse 34:28 Sorry, Denver if you’re [listening.]
Jesse 34:52 Something like this. Right? Eventually, he [Denver] kind of shifts. He shifts tone to where he no longer believes that Joseph ever practiced it, because he, himself, [Joseph] said he never did. Emma said he never did. So, now Denver will proclaim that Joseph never actually practiced polygamy. And there might have been polygamy me in the early church, but…
GT 35:49 That’s all Brigham.
Jesse 35:50 The Cochranites and Brighamites, weird people who were out on missions and doing bad stuff that Joseph didn’t know about or didn’t sanction. So, he kind of maybe partially acknowledges that. But then there’s this odd thing, where every once in a while Denver will hint around about how actually, there’s a polygamous law that you can get from God, but you better know your stuff. If you’re going to do this, you’d better be holier than anybody, because it’s so easy to become corrupted. So, I can’t tell where Denver really lies, because on the one hand, he’s got some people in his movement, who really believe in polygamy. And he’s kind of giving them a nod. He’s even had some people in his movement, do the spiritual wifery thing, and then get in trouble for it.
GT 36:38 Which is probably why he’s distancing himself from it.
Jesse 36:40 Perhaps so. But he’s kind of nodding at the fact that okay, there is actually a true law like that exists in the ether, that God has sometimes sanctioned polygamy to occur. He doesn’t seem to say yes or no, it was Joseph. But if you’re going to do it, it’s not spiritually wifery, and you have to be like prophet status before you ever even venture to ask that question. So, if you think that you’ve got sanction by God to practice polygamy within my movement, think again. It’s something like that. So, on the one hand, he’s so conflicted. It seems like, it’s almost like he can’t tell whether Joseph may have done it, but if he did, he was really sanctioned. And he probably did it. I don’t know, Denver, whatever.
GT 37:25 That’s a nuance I wasn’t familiar with. Sorry, that was a big, long tangent there. Let’s go back to the old-style, evangelical, conservative [discussion.] We got tied up in that.
Jesse 37:36 People break off, and they become, so every time these evangelical movements break off, they’re both more conservative than the mainline progressives, and they’re also more sign seeking. So, this is the reason why today you can say an evangelical is kind of synonymous, in some ways, with Pentecostals, because many evangelicals are–what are they doing? They’re speaking in tongues, and they’re jumping up and down and swaying in the pews and might fall down at the altar, up front.
GT 37:37 Very enthusiastic.
Jesse 37:50 Yes.
GT 37:50 Which is what the Methodists, back in Joseph Smith’s day, they used to do the same sorts of things.
Jesse 38:17 But, again, what we see with the Methodists is the same as we see with everybody. We see this gradual progressivism entering the church where people become more mellow, less sign-seeking, more liberal in their interpretation of scripture. So, you have a calming of every church over time. It always happens in church-sect theory.
GT 38:34 So, Methodist services are just as boring as LDS services?
Jesse 38:37 Today, if you’re going to Methodist Church, it’s so interesting, because at the time of Joseph, both Joseph’s church, which, he was most familiar, I think, with Methodism, at the time when he started the LDS Church.
GT 38:48 Right.
Jesse 38:48 Also, Methodist [churches] were really, pretty dramatic places to be. Over time, we both mellowed out in the same ways, but it’s not–like, if you go to a Methodist church today, it looks very similar to the LDS Church. But honestly, if you go to any church today, it looks almost exactly like the LDS Church.
GT 38:48 Unless it’s modern evangelical.
Jesse 38:59 Yes, exactly. If you go to..
GT 39:02 You’ve got the rock band.
Jesse 39:05 Modern evangelical, then you’ve got a more enthusiastic worship style, right? But, if you go to a Lutheran church, if you go to a Methodist Church, if you go to a Baptist church, almost all of them feel completely undifferentiated from an LDS Church. The things you hear in a typical Sunday meeting, the things you hear in a typical Sunday school class–I mean, I’ve been to dozens of churches, and every time it feels exactly the same as our church, like exactly. It’s all the same. And this is the reason why among Christians generally–so, if you look at Christian denominations, what differentiated people? Honestly, Luther broke off. Have you ever read the 95 Theses that Luther wrote and nailed to the door?
GT 39:49 I have not read them. I feel bad.
Jesse 39:50 I read them once thinking–I always knew that Luther was concerned about selling indulgences. But I wondered what his other 94 problems were. So, I went, and I read the 95 theses, and they were all about indulgences.
GT 40:05 Oh, really?
Jesse 40:06 It was like 95 nuanced ways of decrying indulgences as bad.
GT 40:11 Oh, wow.
Jesse 40:11 It was so fascinating. I was like…
GT 40:13 There’s got to be some grace in there and works.
Jesse 40:16 Really not.
GT 40:18 Really?
Jesse 40:19 Mostly not. It was almost all about indulgences. I was like, so this is like, the Lutheran Church is really, basically, the Catholic Church, “but don’t do that.”
GT 40:28 Yeah.
Jesse 40:28 And that’s really how it is. Then, later on, you’ve got the Baptist break off. First, the Anabaptists. Anabaptists are, today, what we would call, they’re kind of like the forefathers of the Amish and the Mennonite churches.
GT 40:43 Oh.
Jesse 40:43 But, eventually, Baptists come out of the Anabaptists, as well. The Anabaptists are also Germans. They break off of the Lutherans. The reason why they do that is because the Lutherans broke off and decried indulgences, but they were still performing infant baptism and baptism by sprinkling. Baptists were like, “No, it needs to be by immersion. It needs to be somebody of age to be able to decide for themselves.”
GT 41:03 You know what’s so amazing, have you ever seen an Orthodox Church infant baptism where they dunk the kid?
Jesse 41:13 (Chuckling)
GT 41:13 Holy cow! Isn’t that child abuse?
Jesse 41:16 No, because so children have reflexes built in that disappear after the first two months of life, but up until they’re like two months old, they have lots of reflexes that allow them to survive. And one of them is a swimming reflex. One of them is a breath-holding reflex. If you put an infant in water, they will flap their arms in a swimming motion.
GT 41:34 It looks awful, though.
GT 41:35 I’ve seen them on YouTube where they take a baby, and dunk them under the water three times, and it’s just like, “Oh my gosh! Are you kidding me?”
Jesse 41:36 I hate to laugh at other people’s beliefs. I’m sorry.
GT 41:48 It’s wild. But that goes back to really, because I’m curious. When did the Catholics start sprinkling because the Orthodox still dunk and do infant baptism?
Jesse 42:10 Yeah, so the Orthodox, that great schism was in, like, 1000 AD.
GT 42:11 Yeah.
Jesse 42:11 So, the Catholics started sprinkling at some point after that.
GT 42:12 Okay.
Jesse 42:12 I don’t remember when.
GT 42:13 So, they used to dunk, too, it sounds like.
Jesse 42:15 Yeah. Originally, again, this is the whole thing.
GT 42:19 I should say, immerse probably, not dunk.
Jesse 42:20 Immerse, yeah. You always are trying to go back to the original. So, the Catholics corrupt something. They start doing sprinkling baptisms, and somebody breaks off to try to get back the original. That’s the evangelical movement. That’s the break-off schisms. So, you’ve got Luther breaking off, and then you’ve got the Baptists breaking off of them. Then, you’ve got the Presbyterians breaking off. Their main concern was, authority for the congregation should not be held at the–what we would call the stake president level. In the Catholic Church, it’s called the bishop level. A bishop is over multiple congregations, and a priest is over each congregation. So, what we call a stake president and a bishop, they would call a bishop and a priest. But they would say–in the Catholic Church, for the longest time, before the great schism you don’t have a pope-ly authority. All the authority is held in the bishop and each individual congregation has independent authority.
GT 43:08 Yeah, because–well, they used to have a patriarch. A patriarch was over the bishops and then the Pope said, “I’m head patriarch,” and one in Istanbul, (no, it’s Constantinople.) It was like, “No, we’re all equal.” So, you’ve got the Russian Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox and the Greek Orthodox.
Jesse 43:29 Yeah.
GT 43:30 I still haven’t figured out why they don’t have an American Orthodox [Church.] They should. I think, with this whole thing going on with Ukraine and Russia, they’re talking about Ukraine breaking off from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Jesse 43:44 Oh, interesting.
GT 43:46 But, basically, the way I understand it is they had patriarchs, and the Pope was like, “No, I’m head patriarch,” and everybody was like, “No, forget you.” Then, the schism happened and– anyway.
Jesse 43:57 At some point, I mean, even when you have the Pope, you’ve still got a lot of independent decision-making authority empowered within the bishops, a lot. Bishops, and especially Archbishops, who are over multiple bishops. So, you’ve got an archbishop who is still a bishop, and he still has his own section of many congregations, parishes and many priests. But you’ve also got an archbishop over many bishops, which we would call, in the Mormon Church, an area authority.
GT 44:26 Okay.
Jesse 44:27 So, the archbishop–except that, if an area authority served as stake president, at the same time he was an area authority and he was like, the head stake president over a region, that’s what it would be to be an archbishop.
GT 44:38 Okay.
Jesse 44:39 So, an archbishop is basically telling other bishops kind of what to do, but still, each individual bishop still has a lot of authority over their diocese. Well, Presbyterians come along and they’re like, “We don’t like that the stake president has authority. We want the ward bishop to have authority.” In other words, [they want] the pastor to have authority. The presbytery, actually is, the word presbytery refers to the local leadership in your ward or in your congregation. So Presbyterians are people who believe that the local congregation should be in charge of themselves, rather than some stake-ly authority, some bishop authority being in the Catholic terminology, bishop authority, being in charge of multiple parishes.
Jesse 45:20 So, the Presbyterians come along, and they start this new movement, over one tiny little issue. It’s just, basically, who has authority? We want our local congregation to have authority. So, they separate from, I can’t remember it’s Anabaptist or Lutherans. Anyway, they separate from some, they make some schismatic movement.
Jesse 45:39 That’s around the same time as John Calvin. Calvinism kind of runs out of the same Presbyterian movement. So, you start to see some themes of, foreordination and some really bizarre Christian principles of Calvinism enter the Presbyterian Church.
GT 45:56 But they don’t think they’re bizarre. (Chuckling)
Jesse 45:57 Yeah, exactly. Most Christians today denounce Calvinistic principles. Most people don’t really believe in foreordination. People believe in agency.
GT 46:06 Oh, see, I swear, that’s like the big deal. Are you a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist?
Jesse 46:10 Oh, interesting. Yeah, maybe.
GT 46:12 That’s what Steve Pynakker says.
Jesse 46:13 Interesting. Fascinating. I, actually, personally haven’t met anybody who’d said they’re a Calvinist. At least, maybe I haven’t asked the right questions, I don’t know. But, of course, then you’ve got the Henry, VII movement, where they break off from the Catholic Church and become…
GT 46:33 The Anglican [Church.]
Jesse 46:34 The Anglican [Church] and in America, the Episcopalian Church, which is the exact same thing, just by a different name.
GT 46:41 But we couldn’t do that because of the Revolutionary War. It was bad. We couldn’t be called Anglican because that was too much England. So, they’re called Episocpal.
Jesse 46:52 Fascinating. I didn’t realize that. That’s really fascinating. So, we end up with the Episcopal Church, which is basically, again, it’s basically the Catholic Church, decrying the Pope, and just like, “We don’t want the pope authority.”
GT 47:02 Right.
Jesse 47:03 So, we’re going to break off and be our own version of the Catholic Church, which is exactly the same. But whether you use fermented wine for the sacrament or not–the kinds of things that differentiate these different movements are minuscule, just tiny little differences. [For example] at what age do you be baptized or, who has authority?
GT 47:24 Is sprinkling okay, or not?
Jesse 47:25 Exactly, all these kinds of things, just tiny little things. So, today, you’ve got this Christianity within the United States, that’s bifurcated into, literally, hundreds of different denominations. I should say congregations, because we’ve got this semi-church movement, where a lot of people are loosely affiliated churches. You’ve got, like, a Calvary Baptist church might have–it might be like a McDonald’s version of a church where they have 10 affiliated branches, and they’re all overseen by the same body, the same oversight body. They might be across two states or something. But they’re just a Baptist church. They might differ in one small way from other Baptists, but, maybe, not even. So, it’s hard to know where to draw the boundaries. I mean, the major boundaries are Lutheranism, Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglican/Episcopal and the Methodists. The Methodist broke off of the Anglicans. John Wesley just was, again, this conservative idea of we’re not doing things as strictly as we should be. We need to improve our methods. That’s, literally, where the word comes from. Methodist, because we need to do better at our methods, being more particular, more pharisaical about stuff. We just need to do better. It was like breaking off, but not to start a new church, just because he wanted to do Anglicanism better than the other Anglicans. He just wanted to be more assiduous about it. So, it starts this new church, but it’s really just the Anglican Church.
Jesse 49:14 The differences between the Methodists and the Anglicans are so just so minute, tiny little things. So, you’ve got this completely bifurcated Christianity, that’s essentially one Christianity. One congregation might believe that your authority is one level up or one level down. You get baptized a little earlier, a little later. You get baptism by sprinkling or baptism, you use wine for the sacrament, we use grape juice. All these things are such minor differences. But the Christianity that we’re all adhering to is, essentially, the same. Oh, the other the other big difference is whether you believe in spiritual gifts or whether you allow them to occur in your congregation. So, you’ve got more evangelical or Pentecostal kinds of beliefs where we’re sign seeking, or you’ve got more main mainline movements that aren’t. And that’s it. I mean, that’s it. Those are the big issues that divide all of us. And more and more as Latter-day Saints distance themselves from, like, we hear President Hinckley in the interviews with Larry King saying, “Well, we don’t really emphasize that, we don’t talk about…”
GT 49:14 Whether we become Gods.
Jesse 49:20 Yeah, becoming like God and stuff like that. We distance ourselves from some of the traditional beliefs and practices that made us uniquely Mormon. It used to be, that being Mormon, we were a peculiar people, and it was a point of pride. We were uniquely different.
GT 50:38 We have polygamy.
Jesse 50:39 (Chuckling) There was a time when we were really proud of that. But then we also were proud of–we’ve always been proud that we have the authority. We have the true authority. We also have interesting revelations. We have the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine & Covenants and the Book of Mormon. And we have prophetic revelation, ongoing revelation, these things that make us unique. And the longer we go, the more mainline we become, the more accepted we’re trying to be in broader culture. So, we end up losing a lot of what makes us unique, even if we implicitly still believe it. Even if it still appears in some manual somewhere, we don’t emphasize it anymore.
GT 51:16 We’ve started emphasizing grace more.
Jesse 51:17 Yes, exactly. Yeah, we see that in the 90s and especially Stephen Robinson writes this book, Believing Christ. He gets some flak for it, and then, eventually, it becomes mainstream doctrine. But I guess my point was, even to attend a Latter-day Saint congregation is almost exactly the same as any other church. You attend any church, and it just is. The LDS Church, the Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, every church just feels exactly the same.
GT 51:52 We’re just repeating the same schism between the Orthodox and the Catholics 1500 years ago.
Jesse 51:55 Yes. We’ve just been doing it over and over again, but it’s not unique to Christianity. Every [one] of the five major world religions, or six, depending on how you count major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and…
GT 52:12 Islam.
Jesse 52:13 Islam, thank you. There are actually more people who practice, in the northwest corner of India, there’s a there’s a practice that starts with a J.
GT 52:32 Jainism?
Jesse 52:30 Jainism, yeah, I think. Or, or Sikhism. Yeah, there’s more people who are actually Sikhs than are Jews, but because they’ve been so isolated, culturally and geographically for so long, we don’t really consider them a major world religion. They haven’t proliferated across the geography of the world. So, it depends on how you count whether that’s a sixth or not, major world religion.
GT 52:32 You always wonder about Confucianism and Taoism and those, too.
Jesse 52:42 Yeah, so, that’s so interesting. Confucianism and Taoism come out of Buddhism. But they’re more philosophies than religions. Chinese folk religion ends up being an amalgamation of Confucianism and Taoism. It’s kind of sanctioned by the Chinese government, but only because it’s really more of a philosophy than it is a religion, really. It’s like Golden Rule kind of stuff. It doesn’t speak to the issue of whether God exists, and neither does Buddhism, actually. Most people don’t know that. But you believe in reincarnation. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and these multiple lives. Your eventual end goal is to cease the cycle of the wheel of time. Cease the cycle of endless births. And you do that, not by becoming some exalted being or living in heaven, but you do this by ceasing to exist. Your ultimate goal is to poof out of existence, if you’re a Buddhist. And you do this only when you arrive at a state of peace about everything, like if you are no longer troubled by death and difficulty in your life, and you can be at peace, no matter what happens to you. Then, you’re Zen and you cease to exist. So, that’s the ultimate goal. But some people who are Buddhists believe in a higher power and believe in God and some don’t. Buddhism is agnostic on the issue.
Jesse 54:34 But, anyway, why am I saying this? I’m saying, across the five major world religions, you see the same kind of schism that you see in Christianity. This is a human trait. This is not a Christian trait, but we are all repeating the same differentiation of breaking off over and over again over tiny issues. We see that in the Great Schism over whether there’s a Pope or not. One tiny issue results in a huge break off. We see the same thing happened across all Christianity, but we see it also happen across every one of the five major world religions, just breaking off and breaking off and breaking off over tiny issues.
GT 55:09 So, we’re just reinventing the wheel.
Jesse 55:11 Yeah. I mean, Shinto is like the major religion in Japan.
GT 55:16 Right.
Jesse 55:16 And there are hundreds, maybe thousands of different denominations of Shinto in that one tiny little island country. As you go to the different denominations, you might see [that] one of them broke off because the sun worship ceremonies should be done with two hands, rather than one hand. It’s just things like this, tiny little differences that result in a schism breaking off. You’re doing your shrine wrong. You’re supposed to use twice as much water or–just weird little things that just don’t matter. [These things] shouldn’t result in schism, but people just have a divisive nature. Everybody just wants their own way, and nobody wants to compromise and everybody’s just snotty about it. So, over time, you see schism, after schism, after schism.
Jesse 56:03 I don’t know what you do about it. Because people are so loathe to compromise, and so loathe to make space for people, to have this big tent philosophy. Within the Mormon church, you have some people [who] are like, “We should allow anybody in the church who believes in the basic tenets of what Christ says in 3 Nephi 11. I think [this is] where he says, “This is my doctrine. It’s the only doctrine I’m going to give you. It’s the only doctrine that matters. You believe. You repent. You’re baptized, and you’ll receive the Holy Ghost. If you do those three things, that’s it. That’s all my doctrine. And if you believe those things, then you’re part of my fold. And if not, then it’s fine. But don’t let contention be among you. Don’t argue about it. It’s fine.” If you want to talk about other ancillary things, these are the four things that matter. If you want to talk about anything else, just don’t argue. Don’t have contention about it, but it seems like it’s fine to disagree. Because everything else is ancillary. Everything else is superficial. It seems like you should be allowed–I’m of the big tent Mormon philosophy. You should be allowed to believe whatever you want to believe, as long as you’re with us on the core, four things that Jesus said.
GT 56:10 Polygamy? Is polygamy ok? Because right now that will get you ex’d.
Jesse 57:29 Yeah. So I’m trying to think what else I want to say.
Fowler’s Stages 5-6
GT 57:33 So, you know what? One thing that we forgot, because this is what we do is we go off on tangents. These are the fun conversations. We didn’t do stage six of Fowler.
Jesse 57:41 Oh, yeah. So stage six is, I can’t remember what it’s called. It’s called transcendent faith, or– let me just look it up again.
GT 57:52 See what I understand, while you’re looking that up is, I’m trying to remember, I think it was Susan Skoor, who’s a former RLDS apostle. I believe she said that there’s very few people who ever make it a stage six.
Jesse 58:06 That’s true, yes.
GT 58:07 Jesus, Martin Luther King, because, usually, you get killed when you’re at stage six. So, why do you get killed?
Jesse 58:17 The whole principle of martyrdom is that when you have universalizing faith, you live your life out loud in the particulars of every facet of everything you do, the way you believe God wants you to. Sometimes God asks of you very controversial or demanding things. He asks you to push against the conventions of society to make a better world. So, you see that almost every mover and shaker is unaccepted, in that time. They are viewed as a hostile threat to the status quo. The things they’re saying are revolutionary, and dangerous, again, to the status quo.
Jesse 59:03 So, the examples you gave, like, Martin Luther King, Jesus, Joseph Smith, these are people who are doing things that society does not like at the time, and, eventually, a lot of times, society comes around later and says, “You know what? They were right in their time, but we didn’t recognize it, because we weren’t ready.” So, people of universalizing faith, have reached a point where they have such a connection with God and such confidence in how they live that out, that, come what may, whatever the consequences, they will do what they know is right. They will fight with every last breath for the cause of justice, for the causes that God wants them to fight for. So, a lot of times, this is viewed as, just really, it’s really dangerous to established political bodies. It’s dangerous to established cultures and in various movements a lot of people will just not receive them well. So, that’s universalizing faith. Like you said, Fowler believed it was very rare, that hardly anybody actually achieved it. Some researchers have come along later and said, “I’m not even sure it’s a really different stage of faith.” You might give these examples but, if you look at the actual beliefs that these people have, sometimes their beliefs don’t look that different. It’s just that the answers they’ve come to in this conjunctive faith, stage five faith…
GT 1:00:40 Would Muhammad be a stage six, would you say? I mean, he wasn’t really a martyr.
Jesse 1:00:46 Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s hard to know. In Fowler’s mind, he’s saying, “These people have worked through all the hard issues. They’ve come out on the other side. They have this reconciliation.” Do you have to be a faith founder in order to reach universalizing faith? For instance, could…
GT 1:01:15 Buddha, would he be another one?
Jesse 1:01:18 I mean, if you only define the leaders of major religious world movements as universalizing faith, then it becomes too circular. If that’s the definition and also, that’s the examples you give of the definition, then, you can’t say it’s an actual thing.
GT 1:01:39 David Koresh? (Chuckling)
Jesse 1:01:44 So, I tend to think if it’s a unique thing, if it’s an actual stage of faith, that more people than movement leaders, who are revolutionaries have to be able to achieve it. You have to be able to live it out. For instance, I have a neighbor right here, Lorrie Long. She’s the most wonderful person I think I’ve ever met. She’s lives out her whole life in the conviction of the Community of Christ faith and trying to serve everybody in her local community. She walks everywhere she goes, instead of driving, because she wants to meet people on the streets and just brighten their day and accept everyone and love everyone. She constantly serves them, and she serves on every community board, the Lions Club and the Optimist Club. She’s everywhere, doing everything in town. Everybody knows her, this whole town. [She’s the] most wonderful person on earth. She’s truly living out her faith in this universalizing way.
GT 1:02:42 So you would call her stage six.
Jesse 1:02:43 I would think if you define it the way Fowler does, then you have to include her. But she’s not the founder of a new religion. She’s not a radical. She’s not going to end up being killed for her kindness.
Jesse 1:02:53 But, how do you know? It’s so nebulous how he describes this. He says [that] this is a faith stage characterized by a walking representation of how you view God. It’s described as a deepening of the particulars of one’s faith until it becomes inclusive of all human beings. So, you view all human beings as children of God and equally deserving of your love, and equally deserving of justice and goodness. So, you fight all the time, all you can, to make sure that there are no poor among you, and that there are no people who are being subjugated, and there’s no war. That’s your life. That’s what you do. But you have to do it on a big grand scale in order to be classified as universalizing. James doesn’t say so, but he implies so. I don’t know. It just depends on how you think about it. But, like I said, a lot of people have come out and said, a lot of later theorists have said, “Stage six isn’t really a stage.” That doesn’t make sense. So, it is or it’s not. I don’t know.
GT 1:03:58 I know, also, in the past, they’ve said, I mean, the way you presented this thing, these were progressive, but they shouldn’t always be viewed that way, I’ve heard.
Jesse 1:04:08 Yeah. So you can advance through the stages of faith, and almost never empirically do people skip stages. But people do sometimes regress back to previous stages.
GT 1:04:24 So, let’s talk about somebody who, say an LDS person, they start studying church history. So, they move from stage three to stage four. Now, we throw it all out with the bathwater, because Joseph Smith was a horrible person and now, I become anti-Mormon. And then I regress back to stage three.
Jesse 1:04:44 In some ways, all you’ve done is you’ve said I’m going to synthetically conventionally adopt the typical beliefs of the scientific community in my country. And if you’re not really critically thinking about the science, also and not subjecting that to the same scrutiny that you subject your religion to, then you’re really adopting a stage three synthetic conventional faith, but not about religion. It’s about the dogma of science. So, in some ways you would regress backwards. Sometimes people would do the same thing. They would start to study church history and have difficult challenges. They might put these issues on a shelf, not think about it, and then regress back to a stage three as well, but stay active in their church.
GT 1:05:25 Okay.
Jesse 1:05:26 But usually, if you’re going to continue to wrestle with these challenges, then you’re not–people who continue to wrestle, people who try to reconcile these kinds of things, try to come up with answers to them, usually don’t fall back into stage three. You can. It happens. But I’m saying like, if you keep pushing forward, then…
GT 1:05:45 So how do you decide somebody’s in a stage five? What would be the characteristics of a stage five?
Jesse 1:05:49 Sometime you can’t tell from the outside. So, how you would know, yourself, if you were in stage five is you would have said like, I dealt with all the issues.
GT 1:06:01 I dealt with polygamy, Mountain Meadows.
Jesse 1:06:04 Mountain Meadows, blacks in the priesthood, interracial marriage, blood atonement.
GT 1:06:11 I have my own beliefs, my own idiosyncratic beliefs.
Jesse 1:06:14 Literal historicity of the Book of Mormon, yeah, I have idiosyncratic beliefs. I have reconciled these things in ways that are not conventional to my institution. My institution tells me that this is the way I should believe. I’m loyal to the institution, but I don’t believe all these tenets that have been outlined for me, necessarily. I’ve come up with my own ways of performing mental gymnastics, of answering questions for myself, or within a temple recommend interview. [For example,] I’m posed with, the question something like, “Do you believe in the Restoration of the gospel to Joseph Smith?” or something like that.
Jesse 1:06:55 Well, what does that mean to me? I’m going to reinterpret the question in my own way, so that I can answer yes. I’m going to say, “Well, you know, maybe a restoration means bringing a fresh, something new, and maybe it doesn’t mean bringing back the exact original thing Christ did.” Because there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that what Christ really did was not exactly the same thing that Joseph restored. So, maybe I’m redefining restoration in a way that still feels true, but also isn’t the way that I think the writers of the question meant it. So, you answer questions for yourself, and you answer questions to the institution in ways that maybe feel a little bit like mental gymnastics. You’ve wrestled with all the hard things, but you’ve made your peace. You have, for most things you haven’t put them on a shelf.
GT 1:07:45 Or you’ve made your peace with ambiguity.
Jesse 1:07:47 Yeah. So, there are definitely going to be certain things where you don’t have answers, where you do have a few issues on the shelf, and you’re okay with no answers. But most of the issues, you’re going to have wrestled with the issues. You’re going to say, “This is the story that I believe, and I might not be right.” I’m going to be tentative about it. I’m going to say, “If I die, and I land in heaven, and God says, ‘Actually, the Book of Mormon was literal,’ then I can say, ‘I’m fine with that, that’s okay.’ If I don’t believe that in this moment, right now, it’s also okay.”
GT 1:08:18 It just all took place on the Malay Peninsula. (Chuckling)
Jesse 1:08:25 Right? That’s a reconciliation. That is to wrestle with the hard issue and come out with an answer. That’s not my answer. Yeah, so that’s stage five, where you’ve wrestled with the hard things. Most things are no longer on a shelf, because you’ve come up with an explanation that makes sense to you. From the outside, if I go to a church on that particular Sunday, if I’m in stage five faith, and I go to church, people might not know I’m stage five. I might look just like a stage three, because I might sit, quietly nod, and not say anything. But, in my head, I might be thinking, “I don’t agree with that, and I believe something different instead. But I’m okay, I’m happy.”
GT 1:09:10 Or, you could also be outside the church and do the same sort of thing, right?
Jesse 1:09:13 Yes.
GT 1:09:13 You don’t go to church anymore.
Jesse 1:09:15 Yes, of course.
GT 1:09:16 But, you’re very spiritual.
Jesse 1:09:18 Yes.
GT 1:09:18 You may still give a father’s blessing or whatever.
Jesse 1:09:21 Yeah. So other stage five people who–oh, interesting. There are some people who have left the church, but also still feel like they have sanction from God to administer in their family. So, they might still perform the sacrament or blessings or things like that, after they’ve left the church. But there are also people who, I’m trying to think–so a lot of what we talked about today was scientific explanations of spiritual phenomena. If you’ve wrestled with the hard questions, and the answer that you’ve come to is all of the religions in the world just occur because there are brain regions that predispose us toward religion. There are reasons why we all should be religious for the benefit of society. And we have these spiritual experiences, but really, they’re rooted in unconscious parts of the brain that manifest in motor movements, and thoughts that feel like they’re not ours, but they really are ours. If those are the explanations that you adopt, you’ve wrestled the hard issues. And you’ve reconciled your science and faith, but you’ve just said, there is no role for faith. It’s all it’s all hokum, and science is all there is. But I haven’t just believed the dogma of science. It’s that I wrestled with the hard issues, and I arrived at a place of peace, where I’m satisfied with the answer, that there’s a scientific, rational, naturalistic explanation for all of these spiritual phenomena. So, that could also be stage five.
GT 1:10:51 So, you could also be a stage three atheist or a stage five atheist?
Jesse 1:10:55 Yes, exactly. It depends on how hard you’ve wrestled and how much you’ve made peace with it.
GT 1:11:00 We probably don’t like the stage three atheists, but we don’t mind the stage five atheists, right?
Jesse 1:11:05 Yeah, because usually, stage five atheists are also going to make space for other people in the world to have different [views.] They’re going to be a lot more pluralistic, a lot more open to different perspectives. Because of their own wrestling, they’re going to see why other people will disagree with them. And they’re going to make place for that. So, often, it’s a much more mature perspective. It allows a lot more room for disagreement without contention. So, I think societies are better when they have more people in stage five faith, but the difficulty is people have to go through stage four first, and stage four is difficult. It’s difficult, and it’s a wrestle. It’s uncomfortable.
GT 1:11:29 So, no church, no Buddhist church, Hindu, Islam, no church really supports stage four. Is that true?
Jesse 1:11:50 So, this is what I was saying about the Unitarians, and maybe even the Community of Christ, where, what you see in a typical congregation might be a lot more embracing of the hard questions, and reconciling science and faith.
GT 1:12:05 But that will be congregation by congregation, not from an institutional perspective.
Jesse 1:12:07 It will, though, Unitarians, I mean, Unitarians, they differ by congregation, but almost every Unitarian Universalist Church you go to is going to have that same kind of feel to it, where you go in and people are really honestly wrestling with the hard issues. You have coffee hour after church, and everybody sits around and just talks about existential stuff. They’re really wrestling. But here, this is the funny thing. If your whole church is designed to get people to wrestle, but never actually arrive in stage five, then stage four become stage three. I know that sounds so bizarre, but within the Unitarian Church, the synthetic conventionalism–in other words, to adopt what everybody else already believes, is just a wrestling attitude. So, if you go to the Universalist faith, if you’re raised, for instance, from birth, in the Unitarian Church, then you’re going to spend your whole life around people who just question, question, question and never really come to any resolutions or answers. And if that’s the whole point of your church, if that’s all you do, then you’re really actually in stage three, even though it looks like stage four. Because all you’re doing is just adopting the same conventions of the people around you.
GT 1:12:15 Oh, that’s interesting.
Jesse 1:12:35 Does that make sense, though?
GT 1:13:13 Yeah, yeah.
Jesse 1:13:14 It’s weird, and it doesn’t happen very often, where stage four becomes stage three, but in the Unitarians, if you don’t push past stage four, if you don’t help your congregants arrive at a place of reconciling and not just wrestling, but also coming to peace about issues, then, really, you’re just helping people stay in a different version of stage three, which is just…
GT 1:13:47 Just to question everything.
Jesse 1:13:48 Just question everything.
GT 1:13:49 A rebel without a cause. Well, this is interesting. All right.
Manipulating the Spirit?
GT 1:13:57 Well, is there anything we’ve missed?
Jesse 1:13:59 Oh, there is. So, we talked a lot about spiritual explanations of naturalistic phenomena. And I just want to say, there are ways that you can tap into this. C.S. Lewis wrote this paper called . It’s an essay within a book. I can’t remember the name of the book, but this one essay was really powerful to me. He says, “God can only communicate with us in the natural senses that we have.” So, we have five basic senses, kind of more than that, because we also have emotions that vary. They’re visceral and things like that. But basically, we have these senses, these physical organs in our body. And if God wants to talk to us, the only thing he can do is he can make us see certain things or hear certain things. These might feel like hallucinations to somebody on the outside, but, if he actually makes you see a vision or hear an auditory voice, then, he may have caused your auditory nerve to vibrate or eardrum to vibrate. Or he may have put photons in your eye to make you see a vision. These things could actually happen. But most of the time, he seems to speak with us through emotion. We feel right or wrong. We feel good or bad. We feel a sense of certainty or knowledge. So, the problem with the fact that he speaks with us with these emotions is how do you know if it’s just an emotion or if it’s a godly emotion? [How do you know] if that’s a God-given emotion, or if it’s an emotion you would just normally have anyway? So, you’ve got cry-night at bible camp, or Thursday night at EFY, where people are given circumstances that manipulate their emotions into feeling something that allows them to have a spiritual experience. Transposition
Jesse 1:15:59 So, for instance, you spent a whole week with the other kids there in your group, and then you’ve gotten really close to them and the whole day at EFY, Thursday, you spend the whole day in church clothes. You hear a lot of really powerful, novel, powerful, speculative theology, talks that are really inspirational by really powerful CES speakers. Then, you have a private devotional with the lights low and everybody’s calm. Then you have an opportunity for people to share their emotions, and experiences they’ve had during the week. Oh, and you have this part of the devotional with really moving music that you sing together. The reason why we sing hymns in congregations, anyways is because the music is very moving. It taps into these emotions. So, all these things kind of cluster together to evoke a particular emotion that not everybody has, most people end up having. But when people don’t have, they worry. What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I have a spiritual experience this night? But some people might be having [it,] not because it’s spiritual, but because it’s just an emotion. We might have just tapped into emotional experiences, and tricked people into thinking it was the spirit when it really wasn’t.
Jesse 1:17:16 We might do this in other kinds of venues, as well. Like, whenever the church comes out with a new video that’s trying to be inspirational and help me live more righteously. I struggle a little bit with it, because I can hear the violin music in the background. I hear. I can see the climax of the storyline build up to this moment of drama, and I just feel like, how much of this is my emotion? How much of this is really God trying to inspire me? It’s so hard to tell which once you knnow that God is mostly communicating with people through these natural mechanisms. But, also, you can tap into those natural mechanisms. If you just watch a rom com, then, how much is really God inspiring, and how much is really just natural emotion?
Jesse 1:18:03 There’s other facets of our church experience that tap into these emotions. For a long time, the Catholic Church has known that if you build grand, huge cathedrals, with tall ceilings and really interesting architecture and shapes and stuff, that it’s awe-inspiring. And the feeling of awe is a very reverential feeling. It makes you feel. The Catholic Church isn’t trying, necessarily, to manipulate people into having spiritual experiences, but they are trying to evoke the concept of God being grander and greater than you can possibly imagine. So, you build this cathedral that’s like a symbol of God. This cathedral is greater and grander than you could possibly imagine. So is God. So, this feeling of awe you have for the cathedral, is really the same feeling you should have towards God.
Jesse 1:18:44 Well, you have the same kinds of feelings in the temple when you go. It’s this pristine, silent, white environment. It gives you a visceral experience in your auditory nerves, silence. Especially, if you are traditional Mormon with a lot of kids at home, and it’s loud and crazy, a lot of time. Then, you go to the temple, and it’s very quiet, and you go, and you get dressed in these very clean, pristine clothes. And everything around you are luxurious, crystals and, just clean and soft fabrics. Everything just seems so grand and nice. So, it’s tapping into these senses, these emotions. These physical senses that cause you to feel certain emotions, and how much of a spiritual experience you have, seems, perhaps, in part, to be dependent on tapping into those emotions. People often have spiritual experiences in the temple. But how much of it is because God’s there and how much of it because there’s no kids there? I can’t tell. I don’t think anybody can tell. Is it wrong to tap into those emotions? I don’t know. I don’t think so. If that actually does allow you to have a greater connection with God, then maybe it’s fine to co-op that natural mechanism, and trick your body into having a spiritual experience.
GT 1:20:08 It reminds me of the mega churches where they’re using the music, too. Because I know a Mormon, if we go to a mega church, we’re going to be like, “They’re just manipulating you.” So, it’s easy to see it in the other guy, but it’s hard to see it in yourself, right?
Jesse 1:20:24 Yes, and we see that, actually, the power of these kinds of mechanisms, when we sing hymns, in the hymnbook, every single one of them has a word at the top. You should sing this prayerfully, gently, reverently, fervently. Every single song has a particular attitude it’s trying to evoke in you. It’s trying to manipulate your emotions, literally. Again, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. But it’s trying to tap in, to give you a differential spiritual experience from one song to the next.
GT 1:20:52 Reverentially.
Jesse 1:20:53 Yes, it helps you feel something more than you would without the music. But the more often we tap into these same senses, outside of church contexts, the less power they have in church contexts. So, back in the 1600s, who had grand edifices but the Catholics? Not one person. Nowhere else were there grand edifices–the king, the palace, that’s it. But, today, Traverse Mall, the Traverse Outlets Mall…
GT 1:21:21 In Lehi.
Jesse 1:21:22 In Lehi, right there in Thanksgiving Point, I went in the bathrooms when they first opened. Those bathrooms were the grandest room I’d been in, in years. [There was] marble everywhere [and] grand, glorious, pristine fixtures. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bathroom so beautiful in my life, not in the temples, certainly. Nowhere. It doesn’t matter how hard you try. You’ll never top those bathrooms.
GT 1:21:49 Grand America Hotel. (Chuckling)
Jesse 1:21:50 Okay. So, the fact of the matter is, the more–so you go on cruise ship, you see the same thing. Everything’s done pristine. If you use the same tactics to manipulate, a lot of people today, the architecture of the typical American household is just more grand and more beautiful, more done up, more clean than it’s ever been. People are wealthier today than they have been in the past. So, you go to the Albertsons– I remember, I was 17 years old, when I first went into a remodeled Albertsons, and the floor in the produce section was done with [what looked like] hardwood. I looked up at the signs and everything was artisan and beautiful. It feels like being in this glorious place. It’s a freaking Albertsons. But the more you tap into these emotions, everywhere you go, and every business is trying to make you feel that same sense of awe and inspiration and wealth, like “Spend all you can here, because this is a wealthy place, and you’re wealthy too. Right?”
Jesse 1:22:45. If you try to tap in those emotions outside of a religious context, then you’re diluting the effect within a religious context. So, you go to the temple today, and, yeah, it’s beautiful and grand. But is it more grand than the mall? Is it more grand than the funeral home down the street with also a water fountain and marble? The more wealthy we become, the less those things have an effect. The more we sing, the more we listen to music that makes us feel various emotions all the time, the less power hymns have in church. So, all these kinds of things get watered down over time. You can see people become less susceptible. So, when people cry, like it’s cultural in the Mormon Church to cry in testimony meeting, for instance, often, when you’re bearing testimony. Even after the end of the talk, or something. People often cry. The scientific research has suggested that the reason why we cry is because we have a range of emotions that our body likes to experience. And if it gets too much outside of that on the positive end, or on the negative end, it tries to evoke some response that’s going to bring you back down towards the middle. Because your body can’t handle too much of good or too much of bad. So, if you’re in a very awkward situation, incredibly painful, so awkward, you laugh. Right? Laughing is the opposite of what you would expect to happen in that situation. But laughter brings you up towards the middle, something out of that negative state, more towards something more positive. Crying is not what you would expect to happen. Crying is a sad emotion. You would not expect it to happen in a happy moment. But if you experience something that’s so powerful, so beautiful, that it is outside of your body’s capability of handling, you cry to bring you back down to something more reasonable. So, Mormons cry because when they’re crying–first of all, they cry because it’s expected. But, also, they cry, because when they’re experiencing that cry, it’s because what they’re feeling inside is so much more powerful and transcendent beyond what their body is capable of handling and beyond what their current framework of understanding can wrap their minds around. Their body has to cope with it and they cope by crying. There’s empirical research that evaluated this to demonstrate that that is not just the theory. That really happens.
GT 1:25:12. I thought it was just the fear of public speaking, that’s why we cry.
Jesse 1:25:19 Some people probably do. So, here’s the thing. When I was a teen, I had a lot more spiritual experiences than I have now. A lot more. And I cried a lot more. It was almost a weekly thing for me. People used to call me in seminary, they would say, “Oh, Prophet, Jess,” because everyone thought is going to be a general authority someday. I was so sensitive to the Spirit. I had all these spiritual experiences. Once I went on a mission, I came home, and it stopped. Not entirely, but I didn’t feel like a radically different person. I didn’t feel like I was worse, like I was wicked. I didn’t understand. Why did the heavens close?
Jesse 1:25:58 As I’ve come to understand the reason for these dramatic spiritual experiences in my youth, the reason I would feel certain ways was because it was outside my capacity to understand. My current framework of the world was this small, and when I would sit with the other priesthood brethren, and stand and sing Praise to the Man, the chorus of all these voices resounding together was so beautiful, it was outside my current framework of understanding. I have since experienced that. It no longer makes me cry, because after the first time, it doesn’t hold the same power. You can only experience that the first time once. So, the first time that happened in a priesthood meeting, like [at about] 12 years old, it’s like, “Oh, my goodness!”
Jesse 1:26:41 [It was] the most amazing spiritual experience. The first time I went through the temple, and this is the opposite from what some people experience where it’s really awkward. I was in tears. I was bawling. I’m in the celestial room, and my whole family was there, and this room is so grand and so beautiful. I was raised in a pretty blue-collar, low-class background. It was the most beautiful building I’ve ever been in. And it was so great, and so glorious. It was so transcendent. But once I’d been there, you can’t experience that first time twice. So, once it’s within your framework of understanding, once you’ve familiarized with that kind of experience, you’re not going to feel that again. So, the older you get, the less likely you are to have those grand experiences of just this moving emotion that just blows you over. You might have that in your teens, and then it dissipates as your worldview expands, and you understand why these things are happening. As you begin to understand more, as you’ve experienced more and more things about the world. So, I think a lot of people have that where their spiritual experiences taper off throughout their life. As I’ve made sense of that, it’s been helpful for me to realize it’s not wickedness on my part. It’s not because I’m doing something wrong. It’s because my worldview has expanded to a point where my body doesn’t need to cry in order to bring it down out of this space anymore, because this space is normal for me now. This high emotion is something my body can handle. So, I have found that interpretation is really helpful for me.
GT 1:28:07 Yeah.
Reconciling Science & Faith
Jesse 1:28:08 Well, I just want to end by saying–I read, at one point–I’ve talked a lot today about different spiritual experiences, different ways that people can make sense, scientifically, of these spiritual experiences that we might have, and different ways of understanding faith movements, and denominational schism and all these kinds of things. After having finished a Ph.D. in psychology, well, even during the whole course of that 10-year study, bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D., that whole 10 years was rough for me. I was stage four the whole time, wrestling and struggling and trying to figure out, “Do I believe this? And what do I believe? How do I reconcile the science and faith?” My answer finally came when I read the book, “ The Life of Pi.” I don’t know if you’ve read that book.
GT 1:28:52 I’ve seen the movie. The movie is awesome.
Jesse 1:28:54 Yeah. It’s a fantastic book, too. It’s so good It’s so moving. Even if you’ve seen the movie, it’s worth reading the book. But at the very end of this book, so if you’re not familiar with the story, or even if you are… This character, Pi, he is in a shipwreck. His family has a bunch of zoo animals, that they’re moving from India to another country, that were on the ship with them. Well, somehow, the animals get out during the shipwreck, and Pi survives in a lifeboat. He’s, apparently, the only survivor with a bunch of animals like an orangutan and a tiger and a hyena and things like that. So, he’s in this lifeboat and he’s like, “Holy crap. How am I supposed to live?” So, he starts setting boundaries around the animals. He’s trying to not let the animals eat each other. All these things happen where the hyena bites off the leg of the orangutan or something. The tiger comes out and eats the hyena. It’s just this really graphic, horrifying display. Eventually, he’s left alone with this Bengal tiger in this boat.
GT 1:29:59 Huge tiger.
Jesse 1:30:00 It’s just huge tiger. Unbelievable in this tiny little dinghy. He’s just trying to find a way of cohabitating with this Bengal tiger as they float aimlessly across the ocean. Some of the things that are described are so beautiful. As you watch the movie, it’s visually stunning. There’s this island that seems so ethereal. It’s unbelievable. Because there’s meerkats all over the island and there just happens to be food for the tiger and food for the kid. They live on this island for a few days. There’s fresh water for the first time in ages. He sleeps on this island for a few days. Then, it seems like he finds evidence that maybe somebody else has lived on the island. And the only thing left is a human tooth. That island ate the person. They just disintegrated. You hear the story. This kid’s telling the story, and it seems unbelievable. Eventually, he lands on the coast of Mexico, and the authorities from the shipping company come and chat with him. They ask him to tell the story, and he relays the whole thing to them. He tells them this whole animal thing happened.” It was unbelievable, and I land on this island, and it’s just so bizarre.”
GT 1:30:23 Unbelievable story.
Jesse 1:30:50 Truly unbelievable. Within your current framework of understanding of the world, it doesn’t make sense. It just seems truly, almost unbelievable. So, they say to him, “We need a story we can put in a report. This is not believable.” And so, he tells them this other story, where the animals were actually people, and they did barbaric, awful things to each other. They ate each other. They engage in cannibalism, and they murder each other.
Jesse 1:31:34 So, in this second story, you come to see that PI has reinterpreted all this barbarism, in light of his, in psychological, protective terms that make them animals, so that he can protect himself from the trauma of this event. So, he tells the story where the same things happen, but it’s more naturalistic, more believable, but also, so disgusting. You don’t want to believe it. And he says, “So it goes with God.”
Jesse 1:32:04 When I read that in the book, I was like, “What? That makes no sense.” I had to go read an interview with the author to figure out what he was talking about. But when I did, it was like, “Oh, my gosh. It’s so impactful.”
Jesse 1:32:14 He said, “We are all each given a story about the nature of this world that is either so transcendent, and glorious, to be almost unbelievable, or so meaningless and base, barbaric as to be so gross you don’t want to believe it. So, you can say, “God is real and loves us all, and we will eventually all be saved with him. We are destined for greatness, and we will become like him.” That’s a beautiful story, almost so grand that you can’t believe it.
Jesse 1:32:48 Or you’ve got this version of the story that’s like, we just evolved randomly here, and when you die, you’re gone, and it’s completely pointless. You should probably just live it up now, because maximizing your own personal hedonic pleasure is the best thing you can do to get through this life happily. That’s so base and meaningless to be something you don’t want to believe. And you’re given a choice. Just as Pi sat there telling these two shipping company officials these two stories, they didn’t know which one to believe. They had no proof either way. The Tiger had run into the woods. The dinghy was there, and Pi was the only thing found. There’s no proof, no evidence of anything that had happened on that journey. They had Pi’s word alone, and he told two potential stories, and they got to choose which one to believe. When I heard that I was like, “Oh my gosh. I will never know if these scientific explanations that I’ve studied my whole life are real, or if spiritualism is real. I will never have the answer. No matter how long I study, no matter how hard I wrestle, I will never have the answer.”
Jesse 1:33:54 Today, I think, probably, there’s some both. There’s some there’s some naturalistic stuff going on, but there’s some spiritual stuff going on. But if I believe in God, if I believe this story, if I give my loyalty to the Mormon Church, if I live in this way–I look at Mosiah 3:19. And he says, or maybe it’s 2:17. I can’t remember. Shoot, I can’t remember. He says, like, “Consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.”  It goes on and says more but consider it. Consider the blessing and happy state that they have. If I choose to believe, my life is better. I’m happier. My marriage is better. My life feels more meaningful. I feel more peace if I choose to believe this story that’s almost unbelievable. Even in the face of contradictory evidence, even in the face of all these psychological theories that say [that] probably nothing is going on here. Probably this is all fake.
GT 1:34:45 There’s no free will.
Jesse 1:34:47 Yeah, exactly. There’s no free will, and you are all just convincing yourselves of fake stuff that’s going on in the unconscious parts of your brain and all the things that you think are spiritual, are actually, just naturalistic, just random firings. That’s a potential explanation. But the other explanation is, there’s actually a God there and he, actually, really cares about me. He really loves me. And I can be like him. If I believe that, I’m happier. It’s really touching. It’s really transcendent. So, when I read that book, I decided, “I choose to believe. I will believe.” So, I still study all this stuff. I still enjoy it. I enjoy the intellectualism of it, but I’ll never have the right answer. I’ll never know for sure until I die and find out and I either won’t find out–that there was no God, or I will find out there was a God. I just hope for the best and I and I’m going to live my life as if there is. Because I think that it’s a better life if you do.
GT 1:35:47 Wow. That’s a fantastic way to end. That’s awesome. All right. Well, Dr. Jesse James, thank you so much for letting me stay at your house here in Lamoni, Iowa.
Jesse 1:36:00 Yeah, it’s been really great.
GT 1:36:01 It’s been awesome.
Jesse 1:36:02 I’m happy to have you here. Thanks for making the trip.
GT 1:36:04 Yes, it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to talking with you more in the future.
Jesse 1:36:09 Sounds great.
GT 1:36:10 Thanks.
Jesse 1:36:10 Yep. Take care.
 Section 156 allows women to be ordained in the Community of Christ. Carla Long is a Community of Christ bishop in Salt Lake City. She wrote, “There’s no section in the Doctrine and Covenants because it isn’t a worldwide thing. There are a lot of countries that we can have priesthood that is LGBTQIA+ and many that we can perform same sex marriages, but not all. Section 164 does talk about it…mostly to say that we need to have national conferences to decide. We aren’t going to force it into countries where they can’t even say the word “gay.” Each country has to have a national conference to decide if they want to allow it or not. So far, Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and the US have had national conferences to decide.
 See Mosiah 2:41 at https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/mosiah/2?lang=eng
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