I recently sat in on a discussion with a newly-reactivating member of our ward in which the missionaries were reviewing basic gospel concepts and doctrines. I was impressed that she had the humility to invite the missionaries to teach her such things considering she grew up in the Church. It quickly became apparent that she had grown up with many false assumptions which she attributed to her parents, church leaders and other members. As is often the case, too many bad experiences with individuals of influence yields an estrangement from the Church and its teachings.
The discussion in which I participated was about the afterlife (spirit world, 3 degrees, exaltation, etc.). As she was trying to nail down exactly what the spirit world would look like and exactly how we’d be living in the Terrestrial Kingdom (or whatever) it became clear that not enough people in her past had said the words “I don’t know” but rather filled in the cracks with well-meaning anecdotes, myths and/or false doctrines. And when something doesn’t add up it’s easy to become confused and/or disenfranchised with the system.
I don’t know how many examples I’ve heard/read of this happening and it makes me wonder what would the result have been if the authority said “I don’t know, that’s a good question” rather than “because they were less valiant in the pre-mortal existence” or “because there were more women in Utah at that time than men” or “because of the caffeine content” or even “because he sinned/wants to sin and needs a way to justify it.”
Why can’t we more often admit it when we don’t know something? My feeling is that it stems from one of three things:
1) Pride. Smart people have answers.
2) Genuine confusion as to what is established truth and what is anecdote/myth/fiction.
3) We have the “Fullness of the Gospel” therefore we should be able to answer every question.
I suggested to her that a significant percentage of what she was taught about the afterlife was speculation (masked as doctrine) and that we actually know very, very little. And I told her that I’m okay with that. I used to know everything. Since then I’ve realized that the more I learn about the Gospel the more I realize how little I know.