Brothers and Sisters, I want to bear you my testimony this morning…
I know the world is true. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. I have had so many experiences that have made this belief unshakable, and I want to tell you about one of them this morning.
My 14-year-old son and I went skiing a few days ago. It has been unusually warm in the Canadian Rockies for the past few weeks, and so very little snow has fallen in an already bad snow year. The previous weekend we had also skied, and the conditions were terrible. So, this this last time out our expectations were low.
We wonderfully surprised. It was sunny. There had been some fresh snow, and so the skiing conditions were pretty good and the environment was spectacular. There is something about getting up near the tops of the mountains, even on a chair lift surrounded by many other people, that makes us feel wonderful. What immense forces caused those mountains rise up? They inspires awe. Those mountains are true.
And my son is becoming a snowboarder. He can almost beat me down the hill, and is so proud of the skills he is developing. We had fun together. True fun, not just ordinary fun. A debt doesn’t get that kind of opportunity very often with a teenage boy. Our moments together, enjoying a beautiful day, some jokes and some challenges, were true.
However, that was not the greatest part of the trip. We were with two young couples — part post Mormon and part never Mormon. After a great day skiing, we stayed overnight at a cabin not far from the ski hill. We cooked dinner together, tried three new kinds of beer, and talked late into the night. I don’t usually say grace over meals anymore, but occasionally it seems appropriate. This was one of those times. We held hands around the dinner table and I looked each person there in the eye as I told them how grateful I was for their friendship, and in particular, for their companionship that day. I expressed gratitude for the many wonderful aspects of life that we enjoy. The spirit was strong. We all felt it. That was another true moment.
And the beer. Talk about true beer. One was from Germany, and I can’t remember what it was called. It was pretty good. But those QuÃ©becois (seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Fin_d…) — they make true beer. 9% alcohol. And they give their beer true names. The two we had were, ironically, â€œDon De Dieuâ€ (Gift of God) and â€œLa Fin du Mondeâ€ (The End of the World). I won’t say that I felt the spirit after drinking it. That would be sacrilege. But it’s pretty good stuff. We had a pretty good debate about whether it was appropriate to drink the Gift of God right before The End of the World, and whether it was metaphysically possible to do the reverse.
The spiritual highlight of the evening came later, as we were talking about the economy, the way education works, and a little bit about religion. Religion didn’t dominate the conversation by any means, but it came up once in a while. This little group seem able to talk about anything. There were no taboo subjects. It was all about learning. Reality is what it is, and with few exceptions, the more we can find out about it the better off we will be.
This reminded me of so many other social situations in which I have found myself where certain subjects make people seize up. Those often have to do with their religious beliefs, but belief with regard to politics, sexual practices and anything else that acts as the foundation of a social group will do it. When I now occasionally find myself in situations like that, it reminds me of what life used to be like, and I feel sad for all those years I spent in fear. I also mourn for many people whom I love and respect who continue to live that way. These people, sadly, are bound by a delusion — what has been rightly called a mind virus — that makes them believe that they have the truth with regard to many things that are impossible to know. Whenever they run into information that threatens these beliefs, it has a paralyzing effect on them. This blinds them to the importance of more simple truths â€“ like the truth of live moment or QuÃ©becois beer â€“ and so makes it impossible for them truly live.
I am more grateful than anything else that I now know that most of what affects my life cannot be known with certainty. Oh, it is easy to identify a true mountain, a truly awe-inspiring day or moment, or a truly fine beer. Most other kinds of truth are much harder to discern, and once we admit that we allow certainty to bring us to life. As a result, true mountains, true moments and true beer become much more meaningful.
This made me remember a couple of things I came across years ago. The first is an interview with the great scientist John Maynard Smith (seehttp://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?spe…. He talked about his youthful conversion from dogmatic religion to agnosticism (he doesnâ€™t like to call himself an atheist because this indicates too much certainty on his part) and acceptance of the scientific point of view. He indicated that he felt a powerful kind of freedom once he did not have to believe that reality was anything other than what it gradually disclosed itself to be. I highly recommend listening to him. This is a true talk. Not that everything he says is true, of course. Its just that listening to him speak is a true experience.
The other person I found most helpful in this regard is Robert Ingersoll (seeÂ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_G… andÂ http://www.infidels.org/library/histo…. He was a contemporary of Brigham Young. Reading what he had to say on a variety of topics makes one wonder what it means to be a “true prophet”. But in any event, I didn’t want to talk about that. I simply wanted to share with you what Ingersoll said about the feelings he had when he stopped believing that reality had to be anything other than what it is. He said:
â€œWhen I became convinced that the universe is natural; that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world; not even in infinite space. I was free; free to think, to express my thoughts; free to live to my own ideal; free to use all my faculties, all my senses; free to spread imagination’s wings; free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope; free to judge and determine for myself; free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past; free from popes and priests; free from all the “called” and “set apart”; free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies; free from the fear of eternal pain; free from the winged monsters of the night; free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought; no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings; no chains for my limbs; no lashes for my back; no fires for my flesh; no master’s frown or threat; no following another’s steps; no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.
And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain; for the freedom of labour and thought; to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs; to those whose flesh was scarred and torn; to those by fire consumed; to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.â€ (Robert. G. Ingersoll, “Why I Am Agnostic”, 1896)
That is, pretty much, what I experienced as well. I don’t think I should say anymore than that, but rather should leave you with Robert Ingersoll. I’ve already taken too much of your time on this beautiful Sabbath morning. We should be of experiencing truth instead of sitting here talking to each other.
So, I say these things in Reality’s name, Amen.