Odeon of Herodes
C S Lewis once wrote ‘99 percent of what we believe is taken on authority’.
Now my just stating this is an example of quoting an opinion and not a verifiable fact. Although I believe there is truth in this statement, it is just the number, 99 percent, that I question. Perhaps it is 100 percent! Remember we are talking about what we believe rather than what we know. Most of us do not have the capability to verify all the information we receive whether it be person to person or through some media. When we are given information we then have to process it in order to make sense of it. Because of the language we use, understanding from one person to another of the same information will be different. Also, we categorize information; file it in a drawer we think it should go in. Here again this will mean understanding between 'filers' will be different. Only when we have to access that information is our knowledge tested and even with factual knowledge there can be an element of doubt, like when having to fill in an application form, or pay for something online using a plastic card, or enter a password. If there is an element of doubt in our minds regarding such precise knowledge, how confident can we be in anything we think we know or remember? Then of course there is the passing of time. The longer the time since last having to access any information will also determine what are ‘beliefs’ and what is knowledge, it is simply a matter of confidence. I am inclined to say that everything in our minds is actually what we believe rather than what we know and so where do we begin when it comes to tending to the gardens of our minds?
Previously we discussed identity (See Part 2). Perhaps the toughest identity to accept is one that is a failure and disappointment. When you suddenly see your garden for what it really is; untidy, unkempt, or simply in a mess and that it requires major remedial action. Such action however may not be as hard as at first imagined. Sure there may be weeds and plants that have taken over but all that is required is some extra organic matter, a boost to your attitudes and values with some determination and hard work. It may need one well chosen feature, like joining a choir, taking up a new interest or hobby, visiting some places of interest or hey, maybe joining a horticultural society!
When that one new feature is established it will encourage the other work that needs to be done. Other forgotten treasures will come back to full glory, like remembering you once began to learn to play an instrument or used to paint, draw, write poetry or grow tomatoes!
'to dress it and to keep it'
Every garden, for it to remain a garden, requires ‘dressing and keeping’. Whatever type it is there will be intruders that invade and try to take over or there are plants that do not grow the way you hoped. Every season of the year there will be more or less to do to prepare for the season ahead. In some seasons there is less to do, in others there is more, but all the time diligence and vigilance is required. So it is with the mind. Our minds are constantly under attack, some invasions may not trouble you but others should.
Just like your garden you should want your mind to develop, flourish and mature. Solomon’s greatest wish was for wisdom. Wisdom is where knowledge and experience help you and others who come within your influence make the best choices. It does not necessarily come with age. A young mind can be wise if it has learnt how to assess and value what it knows and understands, to discern. So the question is how do we discern? How do we evaluate or trust what we think we know?
Firstly, people often give information and facts which they themselves have received second, third, fourth or more hand. Be aware of that. Chinese whispers are rife! Ask yourself; what is the original, primary authority or source of the information. I remember long ago as a child when the Encyclopaedia Britannica was to me the ultimate authority on everything. But in fact it was information that was selected and edited to fit the columns of the page and of course every year it was updated. Today Wikipedia is a useful tool with almost unlimited space, but information here too is selected and edited and it too is subject to constant revision and updates. Editing is the common practice of all who write or say anything, whether the BBC or me?
Secondly, especially when it comes to opinions which we are bombarded with from all sides, ask yourselves: does the authority of that source match the information given? Here Lewis gives an interesting example.
‘when Freud is talking about how to cure neurotics he is speaking as a specialist on his own subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy he is speaking as an amateur. It is therefore quite sensible to attend to him with respect in the one case and not in the other— and that is what I do. I am all the readier to do it because I have found that when he is talking off his own subject and on a subject I do know something about (namely, language) he is very ignorant.’
(Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (p. 89). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.)
Freud believed that religion is an illusion, but he was no expert on religion. So often someone with specialised knowledge will be asked to speak on something outside of his expertise, whether it is Brian Cox or Boris Johnson!
For those familiar with the Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints they will have often heard the final words of the 13th Article:
‘If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.’
Similarly in the Doctrine and Covenants 90:15 we are encouraged to:
‘study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.’
And in Section 88:118 to
‘seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.’
Elder James E Faust, once of the First Presidency, taught:
‘(We) are to seek after loveliness. We do not seek a veneer painted on by a worldly brush but the pure, innate beauty that God has planted in our souls. We should seek after those things that endow higher thoughts and finer impulses.’
Personally I have found great joy in seeking after those things which elevate, inspire and bring greater hope to the mind. We each have born in us a natural inclination to that which is good. Let that inclination work in you to cultivate the mind with that which brings greater appreciation, tolerance, peace and reverence for life and creation. When it comes to what we allow to take root in our minds, as well as assessing the facts and the authority, sense how you feel about it. By feelings I mean honest feelings of good and bad, right and wrong, true and false, not what appeals to our prejudices and pride.
When I have a cultural experience like watching a movie or reading a book or listening to music it may appeal in different ways. For many years Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was one of my favourite pieces of music. I still love the energy and rhythms of the ballet score, but how does it now make me feel as compared to hearing Handel’s Messiah? ‘Mere Christianity’ by C S Lewis is probably the most influential book I have read in recent years, it appeals to my logic and beliefs already held, but how does it make me feel compared to reading Moses 1 or section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants; or reading Lewis’s acclaimed essay, ‘A Weight of Glory’ as compared to any talk given by an LDS prophet?
Truth and things that are worthy of our gardens, our minds, appeal to our inner selves, something about us that has always existed, to our spirit.
The Apostle Paul said, “Look upon us as trustees of the secrets of God. And it is a prime requisite in a trustee that he should prove worthy of his trust. make no hasty or premature judgements. When the Lord comes he will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts.”
(1 Corinthians 4:1-5 JBP translation)
Thirdly, try and assess the motives of those giving the information. What are the ‘secret motives’ of their hearts? Because those who are giving information may be trying to uphold their own positions, standing or very existence, the information they give may be strongly biased, incomplete, selective or simply false.
How do we evaluate or trust what we think we know?