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Kirby: Building faith through flexible doctrine

Published August 27, 2012 10:16 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last week, I wrote about the fluid nature of my faith. Namely that it ebbs and flows depending on what kind of day I'm having.

Others factors can affect my faith, not the least of which is listening to you talk about yours. Depending on what you say, I'm either a true believer, a skeptic or a fire-breathing atheist.

As I said, this is not the kind of faith that works for everyone. It is also not, as some of you hastened to point out last week, faith anchored solidly in church (pick one) doctrine, to which the only response I have is, "Duh."

I don't base my faith on doctrine because doctrine changes. It might not change as fast or as much as you'd like it to, but it changes.

If you don't think so, let's make a wager. I'll bet that an element of doctrine you swear is intractable forever and ever amen will be noticeably different — if not altogether gone — in 5,000 years.

Shall we say $50? Adjusting for inflation, that's $895 trillion and 11 cents in millennium money. You'll have to figure out the tithing on that yourself.

Hey, I can hear you. You're sitting up straighter, squaring your necktie and harrumphing, "I'll have you know that the doctrine I believe in hasn't changed in nearly 2,000 years."

Couple of things right off, first of which is the very real possibility that you're an idiot, because only an idiot would even assume he or she knows precisely what the "unchanging" doctrine of their faith was 2,000 years ago.

And the future? Do you have any idea how little 2,000 years is in actual eternity minutes? It's like a particle of a second. Who knows (including/especially you) what the next five minutes will bring?

Then there's the little matter of arrogantly believing that an omnipotent god has bestowed on you the entire sum of his thinking on the subject of anything, or that you'd be smart enough right now to figure it out if he had.

No, I prefer a more flexible approach to doctrine. It keeps me thinking — and flexible. And I think that's an important part of faith.

Hardliners won't agree (which incidentally is the fun part) and will insist that doctrine represents the actual mind of an unchanging god rather than just a current temporal state of affairs.

But hallowed doctrine is a fundamental part of any religious organization, if only for the fact that it helps keep everyone on the same page while waiting for the new/actual/other doctrine.

Not for me. If God is one vast eternal round, church doctrine is a human attempt to tell everyone which corner to sit in.

The plus side to admitting this sort of flexible faith is that it gets me out of a lot of work at church. Nobody wants to risk having an uncorrelated spirit speak its mind. I can sit on the back row and doze.

It turns out I may need to be flexible about that as well. After last week's column, I got a call from Glenn Tomicic, a member of my LDS ward's high-priest group leadership.

Glenn (who is almost certainly going to hell) asked if I would teach tomorrow's priesthood lesson.

We argued. In the end, we agreed spiritually that the lesson only need contain 52 percent actual church doctrine. So we'll get out early.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.






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