In this two-part interview we speak with Fiona and Terryl Givens on the release of their new book “The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life.”
There is no end to things portrayed in the Bible and the Book of Mormon which I weep over. I like to hope I would still weep over all that, even if I ever achieved anything like God hood and I ever had to watch such occur. In fact, just the fact that Gods or anyone has to ever hide from anyone causes me to weep.
My question is, can we hope that much of what causes such weeping could be overcome long before we achieve anything like omnipotence? For example, we’ve mostly overcome crucifixion. Or, must we give up faith and hope, and accept that even if we do become like God, all that kind of stuff will still exist, and we’ll have to watch it all, while we hide… and thereby be so weepy?
Will we be subject to such weepy damnation, eternally, or should we hope, have faith in, and most importantly strive for more?
Yes, being a ruler from heaven and seems like hell – a millions of times over (Moses 7:30).
It is hardly clear from Moses 7 who God is actually weeping for – or why – considering how his weeping swings so violently to “fiery indignation” (Moses 7:1), hot displeasure, and “fierce anger” (Moses 7:38). Or considering how this leads to Him creating a cursed black skinned race that must be excluded from blessings (7:8, 7:12, 7:22), perpetrating a genocidal flood, and building a post-mortal prison equipped with chains of darkness (7:38, 7:57). And all the while covering the earth with a veil of darkness (Moses 7:61), which seems like giving up on all but a privileged few.
All that sounds like nothing but devilish eternal damnation to me.
I was intrigued by Dr. Givens’ foundational belief about our ability to freely choose belief. From what I gathered from this and his previous MS interview, it seems to include the the following propositions:
First, that notwithstanding the contingencies of our lives, God’s plan provides us – at least at some crucial point(s) – with sufficient evidence to make the warranted inference that neither belief nor disbelief in the essential Mormon/Christian propositions are compelling.
Second, that we have – at least at some crucial point(s) – an “eternal” innate ability to detach ourselves from our dynamic and complex web of physiological and social influences and climb onto a knife edge of dichotomous belief-choice – positioned smack in this “middle ground” of non-compelling evidence – and from there freely make the presupposed virtuous one.
Perhaps there is more to Dr. Givens’ proposition, but anything approaching the above is an extraordinary claim given given the findings of modern psychology and cognitive science, if not simple common knowledge about human decision-making (at least of others’). And given the foundational nature this meta-belief for the exercise of free agency, it seems especially crucial to the entire theistic enterprise.
Has Dr. Givens given thought to the consequences of this meta-belief being empirically, philosophically and logically untenable? Or does this belief lie in the same nearly unbounded middle ground of innumerable other unfalsifiable, and often contradictory, theological propositions? I think it is fair to ask that such a proposition carry some burden of support beyond mere theological assertion – particularly because it claims as a virtue a methodology of belief-choice and commitment that in many instances can lead to harm.
I feel compelled to offer these thoughts, but I am not compelled, evidently, to offer a detailed argument which would not escape that middle ground.
However contentious this might come across, it is a heartfelt response of a person who has suffered and self-doubted his way toward a carefully considered choice to take leave of the extraordinary claims and promises of Mormonism – delivered to him just when grander life opportunities were emerging and delivered by people who claimed they were “compelling” and made so by compelling feelings that could only have come from an external source – and with such certainty that they could not even admit a single fact as weighing against them or for other possibilities.
Belief and unbelief are not symmetrical life stances. Virtue does not distinguish them. And the middle ground of natural experience is not a barren landscape of the unprovable that must be escaped through faith. It has beautiful gardens and dangerous jungles with local peaks of understanding that always point to higher ones, but never ultimate ones. I now strive to explore them them with the gracefulness of Spinoza who said:
“Though I were at times to find the fruit unreal which I gather by my natural understanding, yet this would not make me otherwise than content; because in the gathering I am happy, and pass my days not in sighing and sorrow, but in peace, serenity and joy”
Friona and Terryl,
Thank you for your time and willingness to share your knowledge with us. I really enjoyed this interview. I was wondering what you think about the passages of scripture in the standard works where the damnation and punishment of the wicked is emphasized. There is genocide, the flood, sore cursings etc. Some of the Law of Moses seems very unfair towards women and outsiders. Above this all are the numerous threats of eternal damnation. Would you be willing to elaborate on how you understand these types of passages and reconcile them with the loving God we see in other passages? I am a believer and trust that God knows what he is doing but have always struggled with some of what I find in the standard works.
Thank you very much for your comment, JT. It articulately expresses exactly how I feel. The God of the Bible, BoM, and D&C does not appear to be one who respects moral choice. God compels belief (e.g., JSH 1:25) and disbelief (e.g., 2 Thes. 2:7-12) whenever he pleases. It appears that even moral choice must be subjugated to the whims and desires of a God who sets his own rules.
I loved the comment about how God must create a situation where doubt is equally as palatable as belief, otherwise it woulds destroy our agency. Anyone who doesn’t sympathize with doubters has their head in the clouds.
John, thanks for another insightful and thoughtful interview. Terryl and Fiona, thanks for taking the time to sit down for this too.
Here are the two most stunning quotes for me:
“I think that it’s absolutely essential to the operations of moral agency that the world be constructed in such a way that there is equal appeal on the side of doubt as there is on the side of faith, otherwise we couldn’t be free to choose for ourselves faith or doubt” (Terryl Givens, Episode 386 @ 1:05:35).
“God will force no man to heaven. Coercion is not…has nothing to do with God. So, giving us a surplus amount of pentecostal experiences would be coercion. We would not be able to choose. And we have to be able to choose” (Fiona Givens, Episode 386 1:06:05).
I don’t think I understand these quotes. I don’t understand how knowledge, experiential or otherwise, is coercion. I’ve never head that line of thought before. I guess the only sense I have heard something like this is that knowledge is responsibility and accountability. So maybe by keeping someone ignorant you are protecting them, but I don’t see how it ties into freedom, personal liberty, or moral agency.
Wouldn’t it be just as true then to say that I am taking away my son’s moral agency if I explain to him why drinking too much alcohol is bad for you? Or from the other side, wouldn’t it being taking away my daughters moral agency if explained to her why it was good to go to bed on time or maybe even just telling her that is good to go to bed early without even explaining why. I guess Givens is making some deeper philisophical argument that I don’t grasp.
It almost makes it sound like knowledge and information are from Satan. Kind of like in the Garden of Eden where the Serpent (not God) was the one that got Adam and Eve to see the difference between good and evil. Does God want us to remain ignorant or even just protected from the certainty of knowledge? He is after all, the one who forbad them from knowing good and evil. This just doesn’t sound like the narrative I learned from the temple.
I also see a couple contradictions in the Givens answers (I’m pretty sure Terryl loves contradictions/paradoxes). They say several times that they “choose” to believe, but then talk about how not everyone has the gift of belief. They say God is careful not to make it apparent that either belief or unbelief is better, but then they also iterate that to some it is given to know and to others it is given to believe (D&C 46:13-14). Another contradiction is that we always live in this space between the certainty of belief or unbeilef, and yet Terryl said near the end that he wasn’t even comfortable entertaining the idea that the theology of Mormonism was false or illegitimate. How do you get to such a degree of certainty with any justification?
Fundamentally, I see a belief in belief. There is virtue in believing or faith that I don’t understand. What is virtuous about believing is someone or something without having justification to believe or not believe? Is this a characteristic God wants to nuture in his children? I rather like the idea of faith as loyalty and dependability, but this blind belief I don’t see as good or bad. It seems a rather a-moral and unreliable way to live.
I think what they’re saying is that if truth was too obvious then life wouldn’t really be a very good test or proving ground. i.e. what would have been the point of coming to earth.
You think God should make it more obvious?
Yes. I think God should have a website, a facebook page, and an email address so we can communicate with him on a level like I can with my biological parents.
I don’t understand why it is virtuous to have faith (in the modern sense of believing against evidence or with little or no evidence). In my own children I like blind obedience, but it is only because of expediency and only when they are young. Even so, it is built on a relationship of trust and communication. I don’t try to make the motivations of my requests ambiguous like Terryl is talking about.
You think that God doesn’t have those things?
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