July 26, 2009

Realities Collide

I am terrified of spiders. I have been for as long as I can remember. Just the other day I was loading the dishwasher when a small spider surprised me on the dishwasher's edge. It got away and I was almost unable to go into the kitchen for a couple of hours for fear of it.

The emotion was very real. I cannot deny the feeling I had. My heart was racing and I was irritable, agitated, and anxious long after the encounter with the little arachnid. Nothing on this Earth could convince me that I did not experience what I did. I felt it with every fiber of my being without a doubt.

But while the emotion was absolutely real, the fear was groundless. The spider was absolutely harmless. I had no rational reason at all to be afraid.
Yet I was.

Realities collide when I see spiders. I have no reason to be afraid, and yet I am. The feeling contradicts reason, yet I cannot keep from feeling it. The fear is absolutely real, but it does not make the spider any more of a threat.

Perhaps there is a parallel here with the LDS church's methodology in obtaining absolute truth. The only reason I have to behave the way I do is my emotional state, no matter how ridiculous and unsupported by other realities (i.e., factual knowledge that spiders are not a threat to my safety).

Similarly, the feeling that believers have when hearing/praying about Joseph Smith's final version of the First Vision is no doubt a real feeling. I do not wish to argue that it is pretense or exaggerated. What I do suggest is that, just like my fear of spiders does not make them more of a threat, a love of Joseph Smith does not make his final version of the First Vision any more of a factual event occurring anywhere other than in his mind.

You may ask, "If it is not true, why would I feel so strongly about it?" Fiction moves us emotionally/spiritually all the time. How many of us have literally cried when reading a book or seeing a good movie? After the final chapters of a trilogy I read years ago, I became depressed for several days because I had become so attached to the characters and I felt their pain very literally as they were separated forever. It was not the words printed on the page that moved me, but becoming so involved in the story that it felt real. The emotions were real, no doubt, but they did not make the characters in the book any more alive physically. They lived in my mind, certainly, but nowhere else. In this case, I bought the book, so was invested in it; I wanted to be consumed by the emotion of it. I wanted it to feel real, and it did. Just because not a word of it was true, it didn't mean that I couldn't feel like it was.

I'm not suggesting that emotions are only detractors from reality and truth. I feel that they certainly have their place. But as I have stated before, if one is to make very serious judgments, the reality of emotion should also be supported by the reality of fact and vice versa. For example, if one falls in love over the Internet, the love and desire are certainly real emotions. But if it is to become a healthy, companionate relationship, it must be supported by real interaction, chemistry, time, proximity, etc. To ignore discrepancies and rely only on the feeling could have serious consequences.

Can you imagine someone knocking at my door and telling me to ignore the facts about spiders, and instead to cling onto that terror every time I see one; if I ever start to doubt that spiders are dangerous, I need only let one crawl on my hand, and that fear I have will confirm that spiders truly are dangerous killers? Yet the Church would have everyone ignore the problematic history and doctrine of the early leaders and cling onto the emotion. In other words, the Church insists that emotion dictates the rest of reality. But if we are to get to the actual truth, shouldn't fact confirm feeling?

Regarding my decision about the Church, I have been accused of reasoning my way out of a testimony because I don't want to believe it is true (for whatever reason). But if I were able to reason my way out of the one truth in the universe, why am I unable to reason my way out of arachnophobia?


I. Puerility said...

I have puzzled over this for a long time: what gives Mormons (or any other religiously devout individual) the assurance that their feelings are indicative of reality despite daily experiences to the contrary?

Why are my feelings about the cosmic possibilities about the origins of the universe more important and more accurate than the scientific theorems developed proved through rigorous, objective scrutiny?

It truly boggles the mind!

Thanks for another great insight!

Richard Packham said...

Emotions - whether of fear or joy or wonder or elation - are based on many factors, including childhood experiences (your fear of spiders?). But as you correctly say, they are not necessarily reliable indications of reality.

The feeling of elation that some religious people feel when they finally receive the prayed-for witness that their religion is true (but everybody else's is not) has been studied and labeled "elevation."

A Google search will turn up the extensive literature about it.

The Mudras said...

Here's my short video about "elevation" "The Book of Mormon".