This may seem to be getting a little ahead of my place in life, since I don’t have children, nor am I married or in a place where I would have children, but it has somewhat broader applicability and since I hope to have kids one day, why not start thinking about how I’ll raise them now? The question at hand is how do I teach my kids about historical or doctrinal issues that I view with some nuance, but are typically presented in a less nuanced fashion? When do I teach something at home that challenges the traditional narrative that I learned (and presume will continue to be taught) at Church? How old should they be? What is my responsibility?
Do I present information that I know to be wrong? Do I suggest that what I’m sharing is simplified and that the complete story is more complicated and we’ll talk about it later? Do I teach my kids to think critically and to analyze what they are taught and to challenge things that seem out of place? Do I work to lessen the confusion that they’ll have when information that I teach differs from the information that they hear in Church? How can I prepare them for that scenario in a way that allows them to embrace the ambiguity and conflict and retain faith and belief?
While many of these questions are hypothetical for now, I do wrestle with them in how I interact with people at Church and in other areas of my life. My interactions are definitely different than a parent with their child and I do not have the same responsibility to educate and share information with others as I think a parent has for their children. However, I think that all people with knowledge or understanding have some level of responsibility to share that with others, to help edify, inspire, uplift, and enlighten those around them. I have that responsibility. And I try to be open and vulnerable with people as I share my struggles and doubts and beliefs and thoughts (in a way that does not endanger my academic status at BYU). Yet, I sometimes hold back on specifics because I do not want to be the instrument in collapsing someone else’s belief.
I firmly believe that truth is useful and that truth can be incredibly inspirational and that without truth we cannot be saved. However, I understand a few things that complicate this.
- My perspective is limited. No matter how much I study, whatever I understand will be incomplete. My perspective is inherently limited. I do not know everything that was going on at that time historically, not to mention inside each of the individuals involved in whatever historical event is in question. I may have a pretty solid idea of what historians more skilled than me have pieced together, but even that involves interpretation and will be a version of events that is somewhat skewed. Sure, there are usually some “facts” that can be agreed upon, but what those facts mean is much more open to debate and my perspective on them will always be limited and colored by my own biases and inclinations. I have to be open to the fact that I could be totally wrong.
- Truth is Eternal. Now, this may seem to simplify things, but for me it does the opposite. If truth is eternal, then I think it has some sort of infinite quality, something that helps it exist outside time and space. This also means that it should be uniformly applied throughout history and anything that has had variation and changed is not by itself ‘truth.’ They may be pieces of truth or applications of truth, but cannot in and of themselves be ‘truth,’ because truth is eternal and unchanging. This should probably all be Truth rather than truth, but just imagine all the ‘t’s’ as capital letters. I just don’t feel comfortable labeling many things as Truth with this understanding, since most have changed somewhat, at least in our understanding and application of them. Principles like Faith, Hope, Charity, Repentance, and such things feel eternal in nature to me.
- Knowledge is hard to come by. The two above points combine for me in that I just don’t think I “know” very much. I feel comfortable saying that I know God is and that God loves me. That’s about it. This leaves most of my religious understanding in somewhat hazy territory as belief with some level of uncertainty, which is often hard to express. I mean, I feel like I know a lot about Church history and such things, but at the same time, my understanding of what it means to ‘know’ is such that it feels slightly uncomfortable to assert knowledge about things that I do not know and have only read about in pieced together reports.
A related point is that not everyone has access to or time to consume the amount of information that I have. Access is much more prevalent now than it probably ever has been in history, but it is still fairly limited. At least the sort of detailed, contextualized information that I find most valuable. Most people don’t have (won’t invest) the time to study intently Church history or doctrine because it doesn’t seem to really matter to them and that’s fine. But it means that if I have learned something from my studies that challenges traditional narratives or that I think lends a useful insight, I have to carefully frame whatever I share so that it may challenge others, but ultimately builds faith, however that is determined.
- Context is everything. While this is true for studying and learning about history and doctrine, I think more important is that the context in which this information is shared with others is incredibly important. If I am able to talk through the implications and the full picture (as far as I know) with someone, I can help process a lot of the questions and things that may arise. Also, I likely have a better handle on what someone knows or has heard already one on one than in a large group setting. Not to mention that it’s much easier to be open and honest one on one than in front of all sorts of people (if the two people are friends/close/whatever).
I don’t think that switching to blasting these super complex narratives immediately is the best strategy. There needs to be some preparation and build up to reach that point. Context. It matters.
- I can’t handle the Truth. I don’t think I’m fully ready for the truth. At least not in its full, complete, eternal form. I just don’t know that I can comprehend that. It seems to me that no matter how good the stuff we have, it has to be far from what God knows. I mean, my capabilities seem pretty far from God’s, which I think has something to do with knowledge and understanding. I’m not there and maybe you are, but if I’m not, who am I to shove what I think is accurate down people’s throats? Best to let things sort of naturally unfold, I think. But in a proactive, being open and vulnerable sort of way.
Long story short, I don’t know what the answer is. I think probably teaching simplified versions of narratives is inevitable, but being open and honest is a necessity. I do not want to lie and deceive my children, or other people. I want to help foster faith and I think truth (or at least as close to it as I can get) is the best way to do that. I don’t know where I’m going to draw my lines, but they’ve gotta be drawn somewhere. I guess I’ll just see how it all shakes out.