November 21, 2008

On Opposition as Evidence of Truth

A YouTube video of Robert Millett (left) presumably addressing future missionaries has been used by various critics of the Church to claim that Latter-day Saints encourage the practice of "lying for the Lord."1 In it, Millett relates the following:

If I didn't already know by the whisperings of the Spirit to my soul that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in fact the Kingdom of God on earth, that we hold the fulness of the Gospel, that we hold the priesthood of Almighty God--if I didn't already know that in a quiet way--I might suspect that's the case by the kind of loud opposition that that very concept elicits.
This reminded me of something Brigham Young related in regards to building the Salt Lake Temple in 1861:
If you wish this Temple built, go to work and do all you can this season. Some say, “I do not like to do it, for we never began to build a Temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.” 
I want to hear them ring again. All the tribes of hell will be on the move, if we uncover the walls of this Temple. But what do you think it will amount to? 
You have all the time seen what it has amounted to.2

Certainly the early Saints had good reason (from experience) to fear the opposition that seemed to accompany temple building. Although the "opposition to truth" concept has been repeated by many Church leaders, in and of itself it is short-sighted when taken to its limit. "Truth" will be opposed, but clearly so will falsehood. Millett appears to recognize this, as he elsewhere hedged "The significance [of a truth] may be known by the loud jangles of opposition."3

Criticism (or even persecution) of the Church or gospel does not validate its truth claims. To claim otherwise may be a cheap declaration of victory without having engaged an opponent.  It can also lead to overlooking ones own part in eliciting negative feedback. Church teachings oppose various things but this opposition isn't considered evidence of the "truth" of those things. Further, the feeling that one is right based on evidence of opposition from others isn't confined to Mormons, it has been embraced in various contexts by various parties.

While I believe that truth can be (and perhaps often is) opposed loudly, I don't view opposition in and of itself as proof for truth. Else, whenever I openly or strongly opposed something I would only be confirming its truth.

What is the purpose of Millett's (and earlier, Brigham's) comments? I believe they are statements geared to buoy up believers; to help them endure opposition with an understanding that such should be expected. When the opposition itself turns into evidence, however, the concept quickly breaks down. There are many benefits to opposition but being sheer evidence of truth isn't one of them.4

"Lying for the Lord" is a fairly common accusation. In this video Millett encourages members to answer questions by deflecting to answer the question "they should have asked." A post on this idea is forthcoming.

Brigham Young, March 3, 1861, Journal of Discourses, 8:355-356.

Jason Olson, "Robert L. Millett: Mormons need to get on the same page," MormonTimes, Aug. 19, 2008 (emphasis mine).

I suspect Millett would agree with me on this clarification. The purpose of my post is to clarify any potential instances when people will take a simplified approach and feel justified


Jacob J said...

Yep, nice post. I fully agree.

Matt W. said...

Excellent point. I think Brigham and Millet were using the concept in different ways, in that Young wasn't calling the opposition evidence.

I guess I like the idea that anything worth doing isn't easy, but not so much the idea that something that isn't easy must therefore be worth doing.

BHodges said...

Matt, you reminded me of Nibley's statement about people who would get up at 6am to write a poor book versus people who would get up at 11am and write a good one.

Jared* said...

I guess scientology must be really true.

More seriously, I wish we could cultivate a little more objectivity in how we view ourselves and our history.

Amaron said...

I am under the impression, although I feel slightly disinclined at this time to verify with exact references, that the scriptures describe opposition to truth in the last days. If you believe the scriptures to be true, which I do, then opposition is evidence of truth. Not every instance of opposition in history verifies a truth. But if the truth will have opposition then whatever doesn't have opposition cannot be truth. This makes opposition evidence of truth, not proof of the whole fact, but definitely evidence to be used when considering the whole picture.

Amaron said...

perhaps "prophecy" would be a more accurate word than "describe"

BHodges said...

Indeed, while I believe that truth can be (and perhaps often is) opposed loudly, I don't view opposition in and of itself as proof for truth.

Else, whenever you openly or strongly opposed something you would only be confirming its truth.

BHodges said...

Ranveer Patil said...

This is great do you have a catologue if so I would love one to share with friends and family.
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