Saturday, March 2, 2019

"We don't know"

I've heard the phrase "we don't know" a number of times this week.

Some things are not fully known or are lost to history.  That's not what I'm getting at here.  For this post I’m referring to the use of the phrase regarding some Gospel or doctrine or religious topic where "We don't know" actually means "It's impossible to know" "Don't pretend to know" "Anyone who does think they know is wrong or lying" "It's out of the realm of possibility to ever know".  “Because I’ve never heard it, no one must know”.  It's an insistent ignorance and refusal to investigate.  This phrase also carries the implication in some circles that no LDS General Authority has spoken of the topic and therefore, "we don't know". 

Saying "we" don't know gives the absence of understanding a certain sense of authority by speaking for some undisclosed and unnumbered collective group.  It implies the speaker's experience sufficiently vast that since they don't know, no one must. It's as if "we" sometimes refers to all of humanity.  "We" don't know about X Y Z.  "We'll have to wait until the afterlife to know about X Y Z".   And yet there may be hundreds of people who know additional information about that thing.  In one sense acknowledging you don't know something is the first step towards leaning more about that thing.  But that depends on what the person does next. 

The phrase is one of those conversion stopping, mind stopping phrases. It stops the search.  It puts things out of limit.  It prevents someone from learning what information IS available to know about the topic.  It put a stop to an otherwise enjoyable conversation earlier this week and I found that very unfortunate.  Rather than a childlike attitude of asking questions, seeking, asking, or knocking, or simply reasoning through something, or some doctrine "we don't know" is more like a declaration that our minds are shut.  Any conversation after such a declaration therefore gets firmly labeled as speculation.  

"I don't know" is a different phrase.  It suggests the knowledge may exist, but the person may just not yet have learned or be familiar with it yet.  When my kids use the phrase "I don't know" it's often followed by a question.  Once they become aware they don't know something, they instinctively begin to build their understanding.  Unless I've failed as a parent and made them feel dumb or ashamed for not knowing.  That's on me.  Their little attention span may be short, but their child instinct is one I find admirable.  To an adult it seems like it's safer and a more "respectable" position to pronounce that "we don't know" rather than risk looking uninformed or uneducated.  But it also stops the inquiry and doesn't promote seeking, or gaining the understanding.  It's a lazy phrase.  In some ways it's anti-knowledge because it's already declared that the knowledge isn't had or is unavailable when neither may be true.   

Making knowledge or declaring knowledge unavailable seems like an unintelligent idea.  Christ's teaching to "Become as a little Child" in my experience is perhaps the most overlooked and neglected portion of Christ's Doctrine.  Hard for me to not see that one blessing of children is that God has given an in-your-face constant pestering reminder of some of the attributes taught in scripture.  

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