Thursday, October 12, 2006

Can Mormons see Grey? Dealing with Difference Part II

Roughly speaking we can talk of two different ways of conceptualizing a world imbued with morality—as black-and-white or as shades of grey. In regards to our religion, I see faithful members of the Church in both camps. Those that see in black-and-white, view the Spirit as a power that is either present, or is not. Any given thing is either of God or of the devil. A church is either the church of the Lamb or the church of the devil (1Ne. 14:10). Those that see in grey emphasize parts of the gospel that talk about the good in all things—growth line upon line, and improvement grace by grace. And sometimes of course we fluctuate back and forth between these positions.

To give a more practical example:
The black-and-whites would say that one scene in a movie (be it sexually explicit, violent, or otherwise) warrants not seeing the movie altogether. The greys on the other hand, would say that the one scene, while not good, does not ruin the other enlightening parts of it.

The questions that I’m interested in are as follows:

Is it really the case that Mormonism allows for two different world views? If so, then how should the black-and-whites relate to the greys? Is there something else that holds us together as Mormons besides a common world view (or other parts of a world view larger than what I’ve described)?

Is there a progression involved? In other words, have those that see in grey “evolved” beyond seeing in black-and-white? Or have they simply made a choice to use a different lens with which to view the world—a different, yet equally valid lens?

I certainly have a lot to say, but I’d like to know that there are others out there who are interested in discussing the issue. So please provide some of your preliminary thoughts.


TrailerTrash said...

Great post! I certainly think that the Gospel deals much more in shades of grey than we often hear. But, that is not to say that there is no such thing as "black."

The question that you ask about whether Mormonism can sustain both is an excellent one. I suppose that since it does sustain both currently, that we must conclude that it is able to do so! It think that for me the division occurs at the level of discourse and practice. Much of LDS discourse speaks from the "black and white" perspective, but I supsect that all of LDS practice really does deal in shades of grey.

Dave said...

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who split everyone into two groups of people and those who don't.

diahman said...

And apparently a semi-snide thrid group who comments the fact that there are two kinds of people in the world...

In all seriousness, I'm some what aware of the post-structuralist critique of binaries. But I'm also aware that binaries can be a useful heuristic device to act as a spring board to move beyond them and into a more frutiful discussion.

I'b be more than happy to hear your thoughts on any other these matters rather than quib comments.

Jeremy said...

What I tend to see is people speaking (in Sacrament Meeting, RS, etc) in black and whites, but usually practicing their religion in shades of gray.

diahman said...

What I tend to see is people speaking (in Sacrament Meeting, RS, etc) in black and whites, but usually practicing their religion in shades of gray.

This raises an interesting issue regarding the relatioship between theory and practice in Mormonism. Your comment indicates that there is a gap between the two. I'm wondering if we can investigate that further.

Assuming that you are correct that we speak in absolutes (black-and-white) but act in greys, what are we to make of this? Are we projecting our ideals in speech, but unable to follow through with them in action? Or is our speech out of line with the reality we find our selves living in? In other words, this comes down to the question, is the correct way to view the world through the black and white lens or the grey lens?

I would personally tend to side with the notion that our speech is out of sync with the normative reality. What I mean is that I too often hear sacrament (and other) talks that over simplify issues that have much more to offer. For instance, one recent member mentioned in sacrament how greatful he was that he didn't live as the old Greeks and Romans did with all their "false gods" and "false prophets". He was very glad he knew "the truth". When I spoke with him on other occassions however, he was quick to recognize the "good in everyone" and to volunteer to help less active struggling members (although I guess, one could always posit that his movtives are mixed).

diahman said...

I suppose that since it does sustain both currently, that we must conclude that it is able to do so!

Although another position to take is that dealing in greys is a silppery slope. It only leads to justification of sin. We should remove ourselves from even the slightest appearance of evil. As such, those who see in greys are members of the Church, but not orthodox members and so should be corrected in their views. It's only a matter of time before we rectify the current situation.

There's also the other side of the coin: Those that see in black-and-white don't recognize the complexity of the issues we are faced to deal with. As they educate themselves and become less provincial they will eventually begin to see in grey. As the church as a whole grows in the gospel we will make that move to the ideal.

Mark Butler said...

I think slippery slope arguments are for the weak minded, i.e. those who cannot tell which direction the slope runs, and why.

In any case we can pretty much credit Aristotle with endowing Western civilization with the curse of logical bivalance (the law of the excluded middle - where a statement is either true or false, and no shade of fidelity in between).

So far as natural language is concerned, the LEM is an approximation for the intellectually lazy, one that has led to more theological and philosophical errors than perhaps any other convention.

Everything about theological absolutism seems to be a consequence of the LEM, for example. So also the (false) doctrine of total depravity.