Conflicts of Faith and Intellect -- A discussion of the Crisis of Intellect.

It is easy to have a crisis of faith brought on by a crisis of intellect. When what we think we believe comes into conflict with what we think we know, conflict and crisis are natural.

Preface -- Things mistaken for a conflict of intellect.

Introduction -- The forms for a conflict of intellect.

Examples -- Examples to be used to discuss the conflict.

Denial -- One method.

Acceptance -- Another method.

Dismissal -- Putting it on the shelf.

Analysis -- Choosing to become a crisis or to solve one.

Conclusion -- Faith, Hope and Charity, with an eye single to God.

Aside -- One early brother and other issues.


In many cases where it appears that there is a conflict of intellect and belief, -- a "crisis of intellect" -- there is really a loss of faith, hope or charity. The loss of faith, hope or charity is addressed only in this Preface to clear the air for the true crisis that enter into every life.

A loss of faith often comes when there is too much pain, loss or hurt. When faced with death, financial ruin, natural disaster or other catastrophe, some lose faith in God. It is easy to exclaim "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and then conclude that faith in God is an empty shell. At such a time it is not so much a conflict of intellect and faith that is occurring, but a true crisis of faith. While real and painful, the crisis of faith is beyond the scope of this essay which addresses the "crisis of intellect."

A loss of hope comes when the desire or hope for the things of God is replaced by some other focus. It may result from placing hope in a mortal leader (followed by a loss of faith in that leader when he or she turns out to be fallible after all). Often it comes from replacing a hope centered in Christ with a hope for money, power or sex. Too often, desire overcomes hope. In its rawest and most common form a crisis of hope (not of the intellect) is linked with adultery.

A loss of charity or love is generated most often by pride or contention. Numerous early brethren apostacized from the Church, claiming a "crisis of intellect" and then later returned and confessed that they had been overcome by their pride, contention or bitterness. Their crisis was one of charity. While bitterness may well seem justified, it is a dangerous seed that destroys faith, hope and charity. Disagreement becomes apostacy only when it is nurtured with a loss of charity. Offended pride often results in what appears to be a crisis of intellect but is really just love grown cold.

So many failures of faith, hope or charity occur that it is tempting to pigeonhole all claimed crises of intellect as mere sin, lust, pride or faintheartedness. Too often one hears "if the Church were true, it wouldn't stop one [teenage boy] from simple 'loving' acts [of oral and carnal intercourse] with another [teenage girl]." When leaders look at the entire area of _crisis of intellect_ their view is colored by perceptions induced by these other crisis points. Anyone having a true crisis of intellect will likely have a crisis of patience as well, but needs to be kind and forbearing with assumptions that are all to common and all too often justified.


A crisis of intellect arises when a belief conflicts with a fact. Less simply, a crisis of intellect may arise when what we think is a doctrine of a church we believe in appears to be contradicted by what we think is a fact. How such an apparent conflict is approached and resolved determines how we react to a a religious conflict of intellect.

[Conflicts of intellect appear in politics, families, social roles, religion, music, and just about every endeavor people apply their minds to. Basically, a conflict of intellect occurs every time a leader or theory believed in conflicts with what appears to be a fact].

Denial (coupled with anger or silence), Acceptance (followed by paradigm shift or resignation), Dismissal (in connection with priority ordering), and Analysis (either criticism or context seeking) are the general ways people react to a true conflict of intellect and the focus of this essay.

Text Examples

The following text examples will be used. (1) The fact that transubstantiation did not exist as a doctrine in the primitive Church (or Biblical Community) and is the result of academic debates based in Greek and carried on in Latin, focusing on terms and grammars that do not exist in Semitic languages (in other words, it is a doctrine that came into being as the result of translation choices). (2) _The Land of Jerusalem_ (3) Anti-Bible statements made claiming that Christ is identical to Tammuz, etc.


While LDS do not believe in transubstantiation, it is easily justified (not proved, but rendered acceptable) as the evolution of a doctrine not a part of the Biblical Community (the early Christian Church of 40 A.D. to 70 A.D. or the Primitive Church as it is also called) that resulted from ongoing revelation through God's word by the Spirit working on men. (This is a solid basis for a number of adaptations of Greek Science to religion, such as the Trinity, The Flat Earth, Only one world in the Universe, etc.).

While that thesis can reconcile any doctrine, it has a solid logical basis and resolves conflicts between intellect and fact. However, most believing individuals faced with "the facts" about transubstantiation react with silence (engaging in denial and waiting for the facts to go away and not bother them -- a behavior often seen in politics).

When the "facts" are presented rudely (e.g. "can you believe, they're proud to claim to be bloody cannibals!"), anger and denial are common. It is interesting that the same people who are most likely to be outraged at accurate (though loaded) terms, are also likely to use the same type of terms themselves.

Bring up transubstantiation, the Trinity (as interpreted following the rediscovery of Aristotle), prayer circles, the chrism (anointing), baptism for the dead and other doctrines or parts of the Biblical Community and see how many respond. Of those who do, see how many react with anger. (Note that the Biblical Community did not have flush toilets or fluoridated water -- which is no reason to abandon either). Denial is an easy answer to any crisis of intellect. Anti-LDS often seem frozen in denial, but it is an easy answer and an easy method.


My Tammuz example is used to cover acceptance. While this has provoked completely secular scholars to laughter, some have believed that the story of Christ is identical to that of Tammuz. When presented with "facts" supporting this claim, some have accepted the "facts."

(Tammuz is a barley god whose story is as follows. He is born, becomes the lover of Ishtar, when she fails to conquer hell and offers to sacrifice someone in her stead, she returns to earth, finds him having a party and is provoked into designating him as the one who will go to hell in her place. The myth was long incomplete and only recently has the full text been discovered.).

The acceptance (in the case of Tammuz) generally is followed by further facts which make the acceptance (and change of belief) untenable. At this point, someone who faces conflicts of the intellect by accepting the new "fact" and abandoning the belief, has several choices.

First, they can return to the earlier belief. Second, they can become resigned to believing in "facts" that they know are "screwed up." Third, they can continue to shift their beliefs in the direction the facts started them. (In the case of Tammuz believers, the next step is to just say that no one can know the truth so that any god will do).

All three of these positions are often taken. Take classical evolution. It is now generally accepted as a convenient shorthand. (We don't really know how things work, and it may be something like evolution, but the classical model has severe flaws). Some people have thus returned to "pure" creationism. Many just accept evolution, either as a convenient shorthand, or (more often) as what they believe even though they know it is seriously flawed. Others are looking for a better expression of the "non-creationist" theorem.

That is, some return, some just are resigned and some are trying to complete a paradigm shift. Note that the difference between a _crisis of intellect_ and a conversion is a difference in how the Spirit acts.


Dismissal is the "so what" answer. If someone faulted the Episcopal Church for teaching chastity, the general response is "so what?" (In homosexual issues, the gay groups are trying to overcome dismissal. Generally they can't even get to denial with most people).

Dismissal happens when the conflict appears to be without substantial meaning. For example "Samson went in to see prostitutes before Delilah -- and he is an O.T. Judge!" "So?" is the response you'll get from most people. They accept the fact, they accept Samson as on the list of judges and prophets and "so what?"

It is like telling someone "Baptists baptize." So? Or that "Plural marriage and polygamy was the norm for Christ's known forbearers (read Mary's genealogy)." An Intellectual example is "Transubstantiation does not agree with chemical analysis of the host." So? That fact is not intellectually relevant (the host is supposed to keep the appearance, thus that it has the appearance on a chemical level is irrelevant).

Many Book of Mormon criticisms fail to connect in the same way. Emotional examples and Spiritual examples are the same, just that the criticism or "facts" fail to connect in an emotional manner. E.g. "your husband is in love with that woman" when the woman turns out to be his mother or sister. Certainly there is love, but not of the kind to be concerned about.

Dismissal is based on the hearer's hierarchy of what is and of what is important. A conflict that is unrelated to any emotionally, intellectually or spiritually important issue will not create a crisis. Thus a child may reject a parent's authority, but probably not because of a conflict over where the toothpaste is squeezed.

Any time the term "tempest in a tea pot" (or similar phrase) is used, the speaker is dismissing the conflict as meaningless in terms of what is important. Further, and especially where there is a strong spiritual witness, one may be willing to put an apparent crisis "on the shelf" until a resolution comes along. That action effectively changes the priority and dismisses the issue.


There are several methods of analyzing apparent conflicts. The three most common are abstraction, criticism analysis and context seeking.

Many people approach potential conflicts in an analytical mood. Pure analysis often reduces any importance to the conflict. Pure analysis is similar to simple analysis. Simple analysis defines all fact and all doctrine as not being in conflict. Whenever a conflict appears, simple analysis insists that either there is not a doctrine or there is not a fact and thus resolves the conflict.

Critical analysis is the use of any fact that appears to be in conflict as a tool to criticize the existing belief. If you've heard Rush Limbaugh, you've heard someone who takes that approach with the "democratic belief" and with any "fact." (That sometimes he is right, and sometimes he is wrong has nothing to do with what he is doing).

More exactly, critical analysis accepts all "facts" for use in confrontational analysis of institutions, including the Church. Such an approach is confrontational by nature and will lead only to "faith" in the critical process. As one may expect, the critical analysis method will lead to a _crisis of intellect_. It may generate anger, dismissal, acceptance or displacement in those who hear it.

It will often do so time and time again (resulting in a great deal of attention with little work). The method guarantees the result. Accepting the method of Confrontational Reductionism is the creation of a crisis of faith in and of itself. This method differs from "true" critical analysis and should perhaps be referred to as "criticism analysis" to be more accurate.

Context Seeking is a powerful tool.

Context seeking often happens when one already has a conclusion. It is a powerful tool for F.A.R.M.S. et. al. E.g. "The Land of Jerusalem" example. Many, when that criticism is made just dismiss it as they have a spiritual witness of the truth and it doesn't seem to matter. Others, look at the criticism and realize that it also rejects "Jesus of Nazareth" and "Jesus, the son of David" as well as a number of other accepted titles and definitions.

Context seeking, however, looks for meaning. When looking at the phrase "The Land of Jerusalem" in the Book of Mormon (when we "know" that Jerusalem refers "only" to a city) a group of scholars looked for context. The result was placing the phrase The Land of Jerusalem from the Book of Mormon in context with 600 B.C. Hebrewisms that used that phrase (in other words, around 600 B.C. the term "the land of <City> was used to refer to the area the city was in as well as the city and was a legitimate and solid use that we don't have today).

Thus, rather than "explaining away" the usage, it becomes a legitimate proof of the truthfulness of the translation. (All the more so since those involved in the translation were aware of the quirk and resisted the "correction of a typo" approach urged on them).

Scientifically, context seeking is important. E.g. eating honey is thought to be healthy. Long baseline studies reflect that babies who eat honey are more likely to die from SIDS. Anger was an immediate response from many nutritionists to that fact (denial). Others, dismissed it as statistically insignificant (dismissal). Some used it to attack nutritionists. (criticism oriented analysis). Some looked further.

They discovered that honey contains spores which younger immune systems cannot always handle. The solution was a combination of processing and not feeding honey to children under twelve months of age. Unexplained SIDS cases were reduced.

Within the gospel, context seeking is why so many intellectual LDS have stronger faith. True intellectuals were the first to discover chaistic structures in the Book of Mormon (without knowing what they were) and then to seek meaning for them. They have also debunked the Bat Creek Inscription (which is Hebrew, but 100 A.D. Hebrew -- obviously not Lehi's group which left long before 100 A.D.) and the "Lehi Cave" (definitely someone like Lehi, but also someone else).

Context seeking also helps to deal with Samson, Eli and the other prophets (ancient and modern) who had flaws and helps us to understand how God deals with men through fallible channels. Interestingly enough, one often discovers that some are having crisis of intellect over context matters that are strengthening the faith and understanding of others.

The Book of Abraham is an excellent example of context seeking in action. The parts of it that make the least sense to some are the parts that are critically important about the book to others who place the book in its appropriate context.


There will always be apparent conflicts. The scriptures are filled with warnings about them. When faced with conflicts, there are a number of final results one can come to. One can accept Bonewits (and others) "it is all correct and all false." One can accept the new age "it is all somewhat wrong and all true." One can believe it is all wrong and all false. Or one can believe that there is a truth. One can accept that there might be a real (nodal) truth and that humans can find parts of it, to the limits of faith and patience and desire and the timing and purpose of God.

From that position, context seeking is a natural response. It is possible for pain to give way to bitterness (that is the warning in Hebrews). It is possible for love to wax cold. However, if we obey the commandments (cf the Iron Rod and John 3:21, John 7:17) and hold on, the context will come. Patience, humility and peace make it easier.

Pride, anger and confrontation make it harder. God doesn't always do what we want. Humans are fallible and will stumble especially if their desires and hopes are for sin. If our faith is in anyone or anything but Christ, our faith will fail us. Pride will lead us into sin and rebellion. Loss of patience will leave us groundless or willing to accept the second best.

Aside -- Examples

Evolution The theory of evolution is now accepted as a convenient shorthand for a more complex process that is not fully understood. It was accepted by B. H. Roberts and Dr. Talmage. Hugh Nibley has been good humored about it. On the other hand, some of the brethren have taken it as a personal affront and preached against it.  The First Presidency Statement on the subject is linked to here and another statement here .

What does one do when one thinks evolution contradicts doctrine?

Well, first, you can remember the first presidency position that there is no doctrine on the point. That is why Elder Talmadge was requested to preach and publish his views on the subject (in order to keep the members informed that there was room for debate and that it was not a doctrinal point).

Second, one can remember that it is by no means a complete and well developed fact. It is sad to think of the people who have lost faith over a fact that is not a fact that conflicted with a doctrine that is not a doctrine.  btw.

There are literally infinite possibilities for non-doctrines and almost facts to clash and no human way to answer all the conflicts that approximately exist.

Thomas Marsh

Thomas Marsh is a good example to consider. He knew all of the brethren and discussed and understood the good and the bad about them. If there was a sin, he knew it. He was intimately acquainted with the sins of all. In this context, his pride overcame him. His bitterness almost destroyed him.

Then he saw death in the face. In spite of all obstacles, he returned to the Church. There, he faced constant ridicule, verbal assault from the pulpit and grinding poverty. Thomas had chosen God and His Church over pride or ambition or gain. He saw chastisement as apart of sealing his testimony and as a witness that he knew and acknowledged the truth without any earthly hope or vindication or triumph or fleshly gain.

Thomas had known Christ and at the end, valued Christ and the truth over all else. In context, Thomas could see the hand of God moving, sometimes in spite of humans and sometimes through them. He knew his redeemer, and when his priorities were called, he sought him. None of us is likely to know more of the weaknesses of the brethren or to be treated with more harshness by the Church and its leaders in spite of continuing humble repentance.

If we lay aside pride, if we seek the Spirit first, with full purpose of hearth, if we endure, it is my testimony that God will be faithful.


Write your own in your own life.

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