President Uchtdorf taught in a recent general conference this principle:
“First, you must search the word of God. That means reading the scriptures and studying the words of the ancient as well as modern prophets regarding the restored gospel of Jesus Christ—not with an intent to doubt or criticize but with a sincere desire to discover truth.”
He repeated in this talk multiple times that we must approach our pursuit of truth with real intent.
I assume he is imagining the cynic who approaches an issue of faith solely looking for the points of conflict where they can tear down the truth claims and faith of the religious.
Clearly this type of person is not approaching the pursuit of truth with real intent. They already have their mind made up. They are only seeking evidence (witnesses) that confirms their original point of view (confirmation bias).
This would be a good example of someone without “real intent”.
But let me ask you a question.
Does a faithful person who desires to believe, automatically have “real intent”?
If a faithful person pursuing a truth claim will only consider evidence (witnesses) that is faith affirming and confirms their original point of view (confirmation bias), are they not committing the exact same sin as the cynic?
I would argue that the cynic and biased faithful person are on the same side of the coin. Neither is pursuing the journey of truth and faith with real intent. They both have made up their minds. They both will only consider evidence that supports their position.
So where am I?
Where are you?
Do either of us have real intent?
What is real intent?
I believe real intent presumes three things:
- Am I willing to accept either a positive or negative answer in my pursuit of truth? I may have a pre-existing opinion. But that opinion doesn’t own me or define me. I am willing to change my viewpoint with sufficient evidence and justification based upon a fair evaluation of all evidence (witnesses).
- Am I willing to fairly consider multiple witnesses on both sides of a truth claim? Negative emotions do arise when we are confronted with two truth claims that contradict each other (cognitive dissonance). But am I willing to push through and give a fair hearing?
- Am I willing to challenge myself and seriously consider if I am still being subject to confirmation bias. Even when we are aware of our cognitive weaknesses and risks, we can still be subject to them. The pursuit of truth in an honest and fair way is not for the faint at heart. It requires strength and courage.
I have discovered in my own past experiences, that I often was not willing to accept either a positive or negative answer. I only wanted a positive answer.
When I was in my early 30’s I intentionally decided that I would only accept faith-affirming answers about my religion. I had warm feelings often in my chest. That was enough to ignore evidence and other witnesses that made me feel uncomfortable.
I recognize that most of my life I did not have real intent in my pursuit of truth.
I had an agenda.
I already “knew” what was truth.
I knew I didn’t like the discomfort that came when I would peripherally consider contradictory evidence.
And I am sorry it took me so long to recognize these problems in my approach to truth.
I did not have real intent.
I wanted the church to be true in exactly the way it had been taught to me in church by my family and by my leaders. And by my prophet.
Clearly my approach was no better than the cynic.
Even today, I have to check myself. Is my intent pure and real?
I do not put myself out there as having discovered all of life’s great truths. Or even any of them.
However, this journey of awakening has opened my eyes.
Some things I feel that I do see more clearly. Even if I don’t truly understand them all.
But the one thing I know for certain is this. Some things I believed to be true in the past, I now know are not true.
Some things I believed to be lies and falsehoods in the past I now know to be true.
Even though the journey has included its fair share of pain and discomfort, I am grateful for the potential to be one step further away from self-deception and one step closer to understanding.