Today is my 11 year anniversary of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So, I decided to put a thread on my Facebook page where people could ask me anything, and I will now answer all of their questions here. Questions will be in bold, answers will be in this font. Here we go!
Does agency differ from free will? Do we have free will?
I take agency and free will in the scriptures to be synonymous terms; in philosophy agency and free will are a bit more nuanced.
We do have free will, though I also believe that we are causally determined; this view is known as classical compatibilism and soft determinism. We are free as long as we are not constrained or coerced by outside forces, and if we can do what want to do.
Have you ever had any negative experiences as a black man in the LDS church?
My experience with race in the church has generally been positive. I would say that the worst experiences I've had have been from people who think that the 1978 revelation ended our racial problems. While it is true that black people can now be ordained and sealed, racism is still a problem in society and the church is no different. I have not, however, been called a racial slur or treated poorly in the church, and for that, I am extremely grateful. I hope we get past this before my children have to think about it.
Are there parts of church history you wish the brethren would address or apologize for? If so, what are they?
I wish that the brethren would address that the ban was not inspired and wrong (or at least that we have no historical evidence of the ban being inspired). In addition, we could have more frank discussions about plural marriage. But I leave that to the brethren's discretion. As I have forgiven President Brigham Young and his successors for the ban, I see no reason for an apology personally. But I have friends of color who disagree, so do not take my word as the final word.
If teenage Chloe joined a women's group that advocated for women to get the priesthood, how would you respond?
As parents, my wife and I plan to let our children develop their own spirituality and relationship with the divine, just as our parents allowed us. If Chloe feels that women should be ordained and advocates for that, I will give her the freedom to do so. While I have no problem in principle with women being ordained, I consider it highly unlikely and it would require a revelation.
What drew you to the Church, and how does Stoicism enhance your understanding of the gospel?
I came across Mormonism while reading through my set of encyclopedias. I was immediately drawn to the non-Trinitarian aspects of the faith as well as the naturalistic outlook. I also thought the church was more New Testament like than any other church, as far as its organizational structure. Those were the attractions in the beginning. Other things were probably causally related, but I cannot remember them now.
As for Stoicism, it allows me to endure to the end, focus on what I can control, and allows me to not be offended, which I consider being Christian virtues. But there is also the possibility that you can become impervious to others suffering because of Stoicism, so I try to watch for that.
Hey Tarik, how do you navigate your spirituality and academic pursuits? Not that they are incompatible, but I have noticed that as my education gets more advanced, my spiritual beliefs become more nuanced. Can you describe how you navigate these dynamics?
The philosophy and neuroscience that I work on are not directly related to religion or spirituality, so there is not much conflict there. While it is true that most philosophers and scientists are atheists or agnostics, none have been hostile to my religious beliefs or have even asked about them. Philosophy and science seek truth, and Mormonism does too. So, I don't see a conflict at all really. My academic and spiritual pursuits, like other parts of me are intertwined.
Having said that, I always ask myself whether the stances I take are evidence-based rather than just wanting to believe something. A healthy dose of skepticism, like a healthy dose of cologne, is always appropriate. Inhaling it leads to trouble.
Has having a daughter made you more troubled by any elements of LDS theology or culture?
Certainly, I have thought about certain aspects more now than I have in the past. But I wouldn't say I am more troubled now than I was before. Perhaps that will change in the future.
I do hope that the Relief Society will be given more autonomy in the future, as it was in the past.
What was the particular appeal of LDS over other forms of Protestantism?
While I have a very soft spot in my heart for Calvinism, I have never been a fan of Protestantism. I have always believed that there should be one church that traces its authority back to the ancient apostles.
What did you buy the church for your anniversary?
I read and think about philosophy as an untrained amateur. I was drawn to Hume, but have trouble saying why. Can you say a few words about why you and Hume get along?
I can say many words about David Hume, whom this blog is named after. My favorite things about Hume were his astute view of human nature (or rather the lack thereof), his view of causation, free will, conservatism, naturalism, and skepticism are all reasons I revere Hume. His racial views were disappointing but understandable. Still a great philosopher at any rate.
How do you reconcile supporting the death penalty on the basis of desert while simultaneously holding to moral nihilism?
That's a post unto itself, so I will answer it as next week's post. Stay tuned.
You have said “I've wanted to leave several times. But my basic belief in the fundamental doctrines of the church have never wavered.” Define “fundamental” for you.
Following the Prophet Joseph Smith, I view the atonement and resurrection as the fundamentals of the gospel with all else being an appendage. But in the context of the post, I define fundamental as 1. The existence of God (theism) 2. The divinity and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth 3. The Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith 4. The Book of Mormon is an inspired, historical document 5. The modern church president is a living prophet.
Why “wanted to leave”? Culture? History? Folk (or whatever not-fundamental means) doctrine?
While I am a devout Latter-day Saint, I am not a cultural one. For example, I vocally point out that I generally dislike church meetings, think most talks are awful, and that elder's quorum and Sunday School only scratch the surface. (Did I mention that I hate green jello? Because jello of any kind is awful.) At times, this has caused me to consider leaving because I feel at odds with some members of the church. However, this has not been an issue for many years now.
Different Presidents of the church have very different ways of thinking through problems. Are you able to see any philosophical patterns in their thinking? Could you assign a philosophical system of thought to the patterns of any?
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, David O. McKay, and Gordon B. Hinckley I would characterize as pragmatists, which is unsurprising since pragmatism is the quintessential American pattern of thought. Orson Pratt, B.H. Roberts, and John A. Widstoe I would consider process philosophers, but they were not church presidents.
Offer us insight into how you experience engagement with God through Biblical scriptural texts that you presently conclude are either mythicized history, history so legendary that it might as well be mythical history, pseudepigrapha, and similar type texts.
I think that the Lord can speak to people through scripture and non-scripture. As far as Biblical texts that I consider non-historical (Jonah comes to mind, as well as parts of the Exodus), I think that they are trying to teach us a moral truth rather than trying to be a history book.
Why are you so wicked?
I am what I am.
I've seen you and Blake Ostler (an outstanding thinker) argue about time on this page before. My understanding was that you believe in the possibility of existence outside of time as we know it and his argument was mostly made up of the assertion that the idea is absurd.
Am I characterizing this disagreement correctly? Would you mind expounding on this idea and your beliefs and arguments? I know this is a really "out there" question but I was interested in the discussion when you two were disagreeing.
A belief is a proposition that you hold to be true. So, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of God, that LeBron James is the best basketball player of all-time, and that Texas is a better state to live in than Utah. For something to be a belief, it must be capable of being true or false, and your belief is the stance you take on it.