How can a painting be true?By: Andrew S
I was having a chat with a friend on Facebook. I have plenty of chats with plenty of people, and certain I have had many chats with this one friend, but discussing with this friend is particularly interesting because even through several conversations, I haven’t quite been able to crack what is so enticing to him and some others (yet, so utterly ungraspable…at least to me) about his beliefs.
He has in the past labeled himself a “hopeful agnostic sympathetic Mormon,” and I believe his post at Faith-Promoting Rumor of the same title will capture some of the most intriguing beliefs I’ve heard of his:
First, I believe in the symbols and meaning of religion even if I am agnostic about the referent of those symbols. I sincerely believe in the power of belief in God, the power of belief in the priesthood, the usefulness of choosing to live within a world view with loving Heavenly Parents and eternal friendships and progression and individual worth and indomitable hope. I love the Mormon worldview and I “live as if it were true” even though when I press the limits of my intellectual belief I admit I don’t know if I can accept it literally—in fact, if most of it were true it would be a pleasant surprise. I find love the parallel of religion to language—I delight in the dance of effective language and wordsmithing. Does it make a bit of difference that there is no objective correspondence between the letters I am typing and objective reality? Not at all.
He has ultimately written quite a bit on things like this, and we’ve also discussed quite a bit as well, and I definitely have several reservations about his approach (which could doubtlessly fill volumes of posts others than this one). However, instead, I’ll talk to a relatively minor point that was only briefly alluded to in the previous passage, but which seemed to be more fully fleshed out in a more recent discussion.
Notice the line near the end of the paragraph: I find [I] love the parallel of religion to language — I delight in the dance of effective language and wordsmithing. Does it make a bit of difference that there is no objective correspondence between the letters I am typing and objective reality? Not at all.
My major concern with this was this idea that he is distinctly casting off the importance of truth and objective reality. And he himself mentions in several places that he “struggles” with “literal” belief (although he always caveats by saying he is “hopeful” or “willing to believe.” At best, you get that he is a hopeful agnostic sympathetic Mormon…although his statements are wrapped with precisely guarded hedges, you never hear him outright come and say that he doesn’t believe the church is true. There’s always a “But…” nearby. Or a refocusing on things like language.
I have to paraphrase, but in another conversation, we got to talking about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Bible…and at some point he said something to the effect (paraphrased):
If the historical claims of a particular religious tradition are not true, that is not a problem, because religions don’t claim their texts to be “the most true history book.”
Forgive me if I sound like a Philistine, but the question I’ve been pondering ever sense is this one: but in what other sense could a religion be true?
I don’t want to advocate for a purely empirical or positivist understanding of the universe…but I’m pretty hazy on a lot of other ideas and foundations of truth.
I know a lot of people who would rather compare religion to poetry or art than to things like science and history…but in what sense is a poem “true”? How can a painting be true?
Poetry may be beautiful.
Poetry may be profound.
Poetry may be inspiring.
Poetry may be effective.
Poetry may be meaningful.
…But do any of these things equate to “true”?
What are your thoughts?