One Thing Matters, In Science and Religion

As the world continues to scrutinize the LDS Church during this election season, there are plenty of would-be experts ready to share some weird and scary nuggets of what Mormons “really” believe.  Besides almost always being bizarre, disingenuous distortions, these “shocking secrets” never seem to be considered by those who “reveal” them—or by those who reads them—with the only important question in mind: are they true or not?

Secular America prides itself on being scientific, a bastion of the reason bestowed by the Enlightenment; only an extreme irony can account for this myopia.  Yes, a lot of the supposed facts out there about Mormons are, as Christopher Hitchens put it, “weird and sinister.”

But why stop at pointing that out?  Plenty of things that are weird and sinister are also true (any number of strange historical occurrences and scientific findings).  If those who would criticize the LDS Church have any real intellectual honesty, why not definitively expose the errors in its claims?  Or, more objectively, investigate those claims to see if they’re true or not?

As an example, consider what may be the most outrageous belief in the world today, the Scientology tenet that “Xenu…was, according to the founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard, the dictator of the ‘Galactic Confederacy’ who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of his people to Earth in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs” (Wikipedia).

Sounds like silly science fiction?  Sure.  But all that really matters is whether or not it’s true.  (I’ve always wanted to ask a Scientologist how they know their beliefs are true.  They must have some kind of answer.)  If it’s true, it doesn’t matter that it sounds silly.  If it isn’t true, then it really doesn’t matter at all.  Surely all theories deserve to be either confirmed or denied, but not just mocked and ignored.

The same holds for any belief.  One nugget that makes the rounds in a lot of Mormon exposés now is the idea that God is an alien who lives on the planet Kolob.  If it’s true, it doesn’t matter that it sounds silly.  If it isn’t true, then it really doesn’t matter at all.  (That’s not at all an accurate description of LDS doctrine, by the way, but nobody even seems to care to look into it; just having some tantalizing yellow journalism—not discovering truth—appears to be the goal.)  And yet, the very nature of the Book of Mormon and our use of it begs for skeptical scrutiny and experimental study, which we know is rewarded by the creation of faith.

I wish that any of us who subscribe to the idea that I posted last week—that our goal in life should be to learn facts about our world—would approach religious claims with the kind of maturity we’d use for anything else, whatever the conclusions might be.