Seeing is believing. But what you believe depends on what you see.
In one of C.S. Lewis’ stories, the narrator meets alien beings called the hross. They are kindly. But from time to time he develops an unreasoning horror of them:
It was only many days later that Ransom discovered how to deal with these sudden losses of confidence. They arose when the rationality of the hross tempted you to think of it as a man. Then it became abominable—a man seven feet high, with a snaky body, covered, face and all, with thick, black animal hair, and whiskered like a cat. But starting from the other end you had an animal with everything an animal ought to have—glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath, and whitest teeth—and added to all these, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason. Nothing could be more disgusting than the one impression; nothing more delightful than the other. It all depended on the point of view.
It all depended on the point of view.
Mormon teaching on the sexes and the scrub philosophy known as Game have a number of truths in common. But Game seems them as cynical truths, while Mormonism sees them as principled truths. So Game leads to contempt for women and sexual coup-counting, while Mormonism leads to marriage and respect. The same facts, but different points of view.
If you approach Mormonism from the standpoint of the mythic stories told to children (which is a natural thing to do for those who were Mormon children), then you are shocked when you later discover that Mormonism has a history, and your faith is shaken. If, on the other hand, having grown up in the Church, you approach it as an all too-human an institution, you are shocked when spiritual manifestations out of myth keep occurring, and your cynicism is shaken. It all depends on the point of view.
If you approach Mormonism as an outsider, read all the scurrility and the scandal, some of it true, and then discover the power of the gospel, you are amazed. That these pearls of great price issue come from damaged mortals make them more likely, not less likely, to be divine. Here’s Bruce Charlton, just such an outsider, on what makes Mormonism in-credible and incredible:
1. Joseph Smith.
On the one hand, it is hard to believe that such an ordinary and flawed person as Joseph Smith should have been a prophet of God; on the other hand it is hard to believe that anybody except a prophet of God could have done what he did.
2. The book of Mormon
On the one hand, the convoluted story of how the book of Mormon came to be written is bizarre, unprecedented – in a word incredible; on the other hand, it is very hard to believe that a book of such length, quality, complexity could have been dictated verbatim and unrevised in extremely difficult conditions and in just a few months.
3. The organization of the LDS church
On the one hand, the piecemeal emergence of the Mormon church, the adoption of elements from various traditions, the revisions and corrections of doctrine and so on – all seem like ad hoc improvisations and strain credibility; on the other hand, the results were incredible: a church which commanded great strength and devoutness and expanded exponentially for 180 years and successfully scaled up from a few hundreds to many millions.
4. Mormon theology
Contradicts so much of the theology of the historical Christian church, and so profoundly, that it is very hard to believe that almost all Christians could have been so wrong about so many things for such a long time; on the other hand, the Mormon theology is so simple, systematic and also Biblically coherent that it is incredible that Christians could have failed to discover it for so many centuries.
If you believe in a god and later discover that he bleeds like a man, you are outraged. (Some Christians are irrationally outraged at Mormons for the same reason).
But if you know a man, a farting, stumbling, drowsing man, and later discover that he rose from the dead, you are amazed with his divinity.
The way our understanding is shaped by our expectation may be why hope, the expectation of better things to come is one of the paramount Christian virtues. Even miracles cannot shake an expectation that all light is stage show magic:
the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen—Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people
The good news is that we have some power to choose our point of view. The bad news is that once we choose it, we may no longer be able to choose differently. Confirmation bias can be very strong.
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: ‘Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!’
‘You see,’ said Aslan. ‘ They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.