The latest piece in the paper from him has a curious effect on me. I agree with everything he says from a secular perspective, but I can't swallow it as one who believes the church is led by God. Never does he acknowledge that the leaders of the church are considered prophets--those who speak for God--in his comments. He compares the LDS church to "any organization" and cautions against considering the leaders infallible. That's all nice, Nielsen, but you seem to be a pretty bright guy for having missed such a central premise of the church.
"Unexamined belief is not faith, but superstition, and we must clear away superstition to make way for genuine faith," says Nielsen. Was it superstition, then, that led Abraham to submit to God's completely unacceptable commandment to murder his own son--a son He gave Abraham fair and square? How exactly did he rationalize that away? He examined it and, yup, it's still ridiculous. What was it about his obedience that was so significant then?
Back in my days studying philosophy at the BYU (hee hee-the BYU... I'm so old), I read some of Kierkegaard's thoughts on Abraham. I didn't really get it. But whatever the hell Kierkegaard really thinks, it ultimately left me with the impression that there's a paradox to faith. My take home point was that you can examine certain things rationally till the cows come home and they'll come up unexplainable, and that there's a particular power in accepting God's curious position anyway.
The real question is whether we are justified in viewing leaders of any organization, even those of the LDS Church, as infallible when they make a doctrinal or policy pronouncement.... If they want to be considered infallible, then they have every reason to worry about members like me who will always refuse to surrender those most precious divine gifts, namely mind and moral agency, to another human being....
Is the church led by human beings then or ultimately by God? You can believe either way, but Nielsen sure seems to want the latitude to take his pick for whatever issue du jour comes along. I've always been taught that being obedient gives us more moral agency, and that there's merit to obeying every word of command with exactness. To the extent a leader misleads, he is responsible and not me. Yes, I see the many problems with this oversimplification of the issue, but it seems a good rule considering the complexity (and ultimate failure) of the other ways people see to reconcile mistakes from priesthood leaders. Rules can have exceptions, but if I wrote them out trying to anticipate them, they would be part of the rule.
I can imagine the Israelites, "Hey Moses, do you honestly think going in and wiping out all the Canaanites is a good idea? I mean, they've got children in there. Aren't the children innocent?"
Moses: "What the hell do I know? God just said to do it."
"Well, I'm sorry, but I just don't think I can sacrifice my most precious gifts to you--my mind and my moral agency. Killing children is wrong."
"Umm... okay. I guess you've got to do what you've got to do. The whole walking across the Red Sea as if it were dry land didn't persuade you that God is captain here and not just me?"
"Well, you've got a point there, certainly. I'll think about it. But I think I've got to ultimately be true to myself and I was taught not to kill. It's one of the commandments."
"Yeah, I'm familiar with those."
Nielsen later lectures the leaders of the church on the Golden Rule. Does he think the comparison to polygamy has escaped them? Does he honestly think their belief on this issue is "unexamined"? Do I? Am I willing to stand up and criticize an unjust church, the very same one that taught me how important it is to stand for the truth! I suppose I would, if I thought the church really was unjust... if I thought it wasn't God's church. But I think it is. I don't get everything that's going on with gay marriage, but I'm working from limited information and God's not.