Just last Sunday, January 13, 2013, at 6:00 p.m. MST, Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed an audience of mostly young adults in a CES Satellite Automatic Tracking ANtenna broad(is the way)cast. You can watch it here:
After praising the youth of the Church and telling them that the Prophet loves them. Uchtdorf promptly gets to his main message. His talk was entitled “What is Truth?” And he started it off with a partial recitation of the poetic retelling of an old Indian parable by fellow Vermonter and contemporary to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, American poet, John Godfrey Saxe.
THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT.
A HINDOO FABLE.
IT was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me!—but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried:”Ho!—what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
Uchtdorf did not read the poem in its entirety. After quoting the introductory lines of part one, he summarized four of the six character’s experiences. Then, saying: “The poem concludes…” he recited part eight of the poem. This is not how the poem concludes at all. The story of the men may end there, Dieter may conclude his quoting there, but the moral, the whole reason the author shared the story in the first place should not be left out. Without taking into account the whole work of the creator, we may commit what Uchtdorf, moments later described as, “the folly of jumping to conclusions based on limited information.” The moral to this story points out the folly of theologians and religious teachers who speak ignorantly about a God whom they know not. Oh, they will admit, on occasion, even publically, that they do not know everything. But they ask that, in general, you accept them as authorities. Such a moral ending may match the teachings of Jesus who severely chastised the teachers of religion, but it did not serve the purposes of Elder Uchtdorf, who’s aim it was to subtly scold not church leaders but a different group – you and I.
With people like the readers and contributors of this blog and others throughout the blogosphere (and more particularly that smaller bubble within a bubble known as the bloggernacle) in mind, Pres. Uchtdorf set forth a rhetorical question, employing an extra rhetorical use of the word “we”. “Can’t we recognize ourselves in these six blind men? Have we ever been guilty of the same pattern of thought? Here, the ever selfless President Uchtdorf is more concerned with others than for his self. While I am sure we all appreciate his concern, let us examine dear Dieter’s address within context.
Elder Uchtdorf wants us to think about three questions while we listen to the words he speaks at us in unassuming yet firm tones that match his grey suit and hairs.
What is truth?
Is it really possible to know the truth?
How should we react to things that contradict truth which we have learned previously?
He then proceeds to talk about Pontius Pilate. Dieter Uchtdorf says that he does not know what kind of man Pilate was, nor what he was thinking during his encounter with Jesus. But Dieter surmises that Pilate must have been a man who was “well educated” and had seen much of the “known world.” This is not merely an educated guess but a subconscious self-reference, since Deiter F. Uchtdorf is viewed by many, and certainly by himself, as a man who is “well educated” and has seen much of the “known world.” Shortly before stepping to the rameumpulpit he was introduced with an impressive bio that listed graduation from a prestigious university. And of course, from his constant use of aviation analogies, we all know that Uchtdorf is a Pilate – I mean pilot – so naturally he has seen much of the “known world”. But how much is “known” about the “unseen world” of spirit by this high flying fighter with wings earned simultaneously in the joint German and U.S. air-forces? Coincidentally, Uchtdorf reveals Pilate as the inspiration for the title of this sermon. He says that he does not think Pontius Pilate was “encouraging a dialogue” when he said those words, “what is truth?” to the accused Jesus. Having lifted the title for his own Sunday evening speech directly from Pilate’s lips, does Uchtdorf mean to “encourage dialogue” himself? That is a question for the reader to answer. So is every question. But since Frater Dieter has asked some really good questions, let’s humor him.
OH SAY WHAT IS TRUTH
A latter-day saint missionary named John Jaques penned the lyrics to one of my favorite Hymns – Oh Say, What is Truth? As if in beautiful and bold response to Pilate’s half-assked question, the lyrics paint a glorious picture of the infinite nature of Truth. Full of references to the fall of proud monarch’s and despots, Bro. Jaques song hold truth up as a treasure far exceeding the value of worldly riches and as a powerful weapon, affronts the tyrant’s hopes.
Uchtdorf did not ask “Where” truth is. Mr. Uchtdorf is assuming that you are assuming that it is safe to assume that the Church is the one-stop dispenser of any and all truths available to man (or at least truths as good as any others out there). A whole lot of assuming is going on here. He is also assuming that you do not fully understand the truth in the Book of Mormon which plainly testifies of “the truth of all things”. No one really looks for something they think they have already found. Searching for The Truth is not seen as necessary when one can sit and wait for truths to be presented to him in the same way consumers await new goodies and gadgets from the inventors and purveyors of trick-nology and con-venience. Second Councilor Uchtdorf tries to communicate the will of the rulers of the “Saltican City” and instill a bit of the uneasiness they feel into his listeners. “Now, never in the history of the world have we had easier access to more information — some of it true, some of it false,” he says. As long as the technology is tightly controlled by them, the “brethren” are happy to utilize it. Aficionados of these fictions presented as the Truth – but in reality, never more than fractions of truth – will become not only addicted to the truthological advancements but also disillusioned by them, when they discover that each new wave renders their old truth tools obsolete.
Sometimes our so called advancements in truth are just plain frivolous. But this does not mean that truth should or can me static. One of humanity’s most ancient forms of technology is the book. Some books, like the Golden Plates, were built to last. They don’t make ’em like they used to. But even solid forms of true and lasting technology like books never did contain Truth. Rather, they serve as transmitters for Truth. The Truth is not on paper. Words are imperfect and it is apparently meant to be this way. When Moroni’s mind is preoccupied with worries over the reception of the sacred record he is compiling by the latter-day gentiles due to imperfections in the text, he is comforted and told – “Fools mock but they shall mourn.” But if modern Church leaders are allowed to, first discretely then openly, alter the words of prophets of the past, in all their perfectly ordained imperfection, or simply sweep them to the side with the trump card afforded them by dubious doctrine delivered in General CONference…might we ask upon what credentials their truthfulness rest. And even if such bold bullying of the general membership and indefensible defense of the general authorities were to be kept in check by the First Presidencey as it once was…still, are all the words of the prophets of old to be accepted as 100% accurate, just because of their ancientness?
Even those people who unflinchingly declare that they have seen God and/or Jesus – is there no possibility that they have misinterpreted the significance of seeing gods. And instead of urging all people everywhere to seek a personal audience with them, so that they might bask in their literal presence and hold meaningful conversation with their Father and Savior – is it not possible that those prophets were sometimes led to assume an erroneous position of middle-men between man and his maker? Caught up in their personal experience of the divine or even overcome by their lack of divine dialogue, do men sometimes assert unrighteous dominion over their brother, misleading many? Could it be that Christ does not define the specialness of a witness by the spatial relation between the visitor and visited, and in fact holds internal manifestation as equal if not more blessed than face to face encounters?
As part of Jesus’ personal appearance to the Lamanites and Nephites gathered at the temple in Bountiful He spoke these words:
“Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am. And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am.”
To Thomas He said:
“Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe.”
Joseph Smith said:
“Indeed, such is the darkness and ignorance of this generation, that they look upon it as incredible that a man should have any [dealings] with his Maker.”
The Lord asks: “What is wanted?”
Peter says: “Adam, having been true and faithful in all things, desires further light and knowledge by conversing with the Lord through the veil.”
The Lord says: “Present him at the veil, and his request shall be granted.”
I ask: “Could it all be so simple?”
Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Pontius Pilate ask: “What is Truth?”
It’s a good question.
THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
When we are called to testify in a court of law we swear before God and other witnesses to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. God is amused by our highfaluting hypocrisy in such instances. If we were to seriously attempt to tell the WHOLE truth the proceedings would go on longer than the O.J. Simpson trial. Even the King of Heaven and Earth acknowledges the fact that in the course of time, it is impossible to tell the WHOLE truth with words. He says of his own breathless testament, “My works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.” (Moses 1:4) The guy never stops talking, so it is more than a little fishy when church leaders cease to prophesy in the name of the Lord. That we may say true things, it is true, but we can not speak THE TRUTH. Real holy men know well that God’s name is ineffable. So they speak in fables. The Church leadership on the other hand, must think that God’s word is effable. Why else would they ‘eff’ with it so much. In response to Uchtdorf’s second question – “Is it really possible to know the truth?” – we can say yes. But to have a monopoly on it is impossible because no one man can fully express the truth.
THE HIEROPHANT vs. THE ELEPHANT
The answer that Uchtdorf hinted at in regards to his third question – “How should we react to things that contradict truths we have learned previously?” is crafty and subtle. And for those with ears to hear, his talk made a rather weird but barely detectable turn at this point. He strangely steers the people away from skepticism, warning that it might easily spread to all parts of our lives – “From sports to family relationships and from religion to politics.” Oh heaven forbid that we expect truth and transparency in each of these arenas of our lives, in ascending order of sacredness with Church & State at the top of the pyramid! Uchtdorf even starts citing some of the most bizarre conspiracy theories one could find circulating on the web, in order to get a laugh and generate a feeling of disbelief that he can then attach to those Church members who are “wast[ing] and wear[ing] out [their] lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness” as per Doctrine and Covenants 123:13.
He does not want people questioning what they think they know. So he carefully tries to invoke a mental association between those who trust God more than men and those doctors who did not agree, and did not follow the advice of Ignaz Semmelweis. Uchtdorf relates the story of the Hungarian physician who practiced medicine in the mid-19th century, and early in his career figured out why many of the patients — specifically women — were getting sick with childbed fever and even dying. He figured out that many of the doctors were going from studying contaminated corpses to delivering babies, therefore infecting the women with deadly fevers. Semmelweis tried to tell the doctors to wash their hands. But many doctors did not listen believing themselves to be experts in their field and above reproach.
President Uchtdorf spoke of these cocky medical doctors whose hands were thought to be pure enough and therefore not expected to wash them before operating on people’s bodies. This was a nice little attention-grabbing slight of hand which worked like a charm to distract the vast majority from the “Brethren” and leadership who are trusted to operate on the hearts and minds of people, but are never required to wash their hands. They are in fact expressly and expertly advised against even mentioning any “past trangression” in their special manuals and Church Handbooks of Instruction. A Magician will never call direct attention to what the one hand is really doing. Drawing away the attention of his audience with the other hand instead.
Thus, while it has been helpful to look at exactly what Dieter F. Uchtdorf said to his audience of primarily college age youth, it may be even more helpful and revealing to take note of what he did not say. He did not speak to the leadership. He did not warn that, in as much as his life has been blessed with an opportunity to love and serve people, he will personally use the collectively acknowledged rules and commandments of the Church to actively crack down on any and all leaders, at whatever level they might be found, who hinder or discourage youth and the rest of the general membership from seeking a personal relationship with Christ. He did not say that. He could have. He did not. There are many reasons he did not speak with anything even approximating that language. If we are honest with God and ourselves, we can know many of the reasons behind it.
Because Uchtdorf is more masterful a magician than Oaks or Packer, he did not say…”Just follow the brethren blindly and do not question. Know that if you hold up the truth learned personally with God to the truth that the leaders approve and the two do not match up, you are deceived.” He did not say any of this because he did not have to. It has already been said. By not correcting it, he extends it. There were some who he did not lead to further dependence on the arm of flesh (you can’t get ‘em all) hopefully you were one of them. But do not think for one second it was for a lack of trying. If you are earnestly seeking to rely less upon the arm of flesh and more upon God, know that the “brethren” are not going to help you in that. Even the very fact that you may have concluded that Uchtdorf was inspired and that his words were calculated to direct people towards Christ, is perfect evidence of this. Think about it. If you walked away with that impression, many more will take that same impression to the conclusion that they can always simplify their personal quest for truth by turning to the “brethren”.
I have used the phrase “the brethren” several times here. The phrase was also used by Uchtdorf, very purposefully, when describing “The Devil” as a, quote, “accuser of the brethren”. With that he sought to insinuate that the Devil is behind those critical of the “brethren.” And he would be right. The Devil is behind those critical of the brethren! He is behind us as he is behind Jesus because that is where Jesus told him to get to when he said,”Get BEHIND me Satan!” From that day forward the Son of God commenced to speak so boldly and without regard for the (past)”feelings” of the Pharissite “brethren” in His day. So must we do as His disciples.
How appropriate that Dieter would use an elephant analogy to draw attention away from the “Elephant in the Room”. He walked in there talking about the blind men holding different parts of an elephant and left the audience holding a big pile of elephant crap. The very elect are being deceived and others are waking up en masse. We need to answer the call of the Good Shepherd and transcend all belief traps. One very important truth that Uchtdorf, bless his heart, dropped during the devotional was this:
“The thing about truth is that it exists beyond belief.”
May we take truth wherever we find it and set it to work for THE TRUTH. And as we do this with ever increasing faith and bravery, we will have the power of God unlocked in our hearts and minds and upon the earth today. In the name of Jesus Christ…Amen!
D&C 1:19 The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, THAT MAN SHOULD NOT COUNSEL HIS FELLOW MAN, neither trust in the arm of flesh.