Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Frozen Yogurt FAIL: What a Bad Consumer Experience Taught Me about Retaining Members in the Church

With some background in the consumer products industries, I've learned how important customer relationship management is. I've also learned how valuable it is to get feedback from customers, and now I often go the extra mile to let companies know when there is a problem they need to fix. Today I tried to go the extra mile to help a company improve something. I gave them several chances to retain me as a customer. But they left me feeling abandoned and irritated. Now I'm a customer who may never come back. Going through the experience and observing my reactions and emotions was an interesting experience, one that I think helps me better appreciate a different customer relationship issue: meeting the needs and addressing the concerns of members of the Church, some of whom can quickly become ex-members.

So today at the O'Hare Airport, Terminal 3 (near the beginning of the G wing and I think H also), I had an interesting experience that quickly cost a major frozen yogurt chain one of their once loyal customers. I had a small cup of frozen yogurt, a mix of the two flavors of the day, "old fashioned" vanilla and chocolate. Yawn--but as a loyal fan, I was willing to settle for that. As I ate my yogurt, I noticed how disappointing the flavor was. What was it? How could they make both be so disappointing? Then came the aftertaste--yuck, a larger than expected dose of artificial chemicals, the taste of unsuccessful artificially sweetened product. I went over and looked at the signage: it said non-fat, but there was no indication that either yogurt was sugar-free. I asked the woman there and she explained that yes, it was sugar free. Doesn't that need to be listed? Whether the law demands it or not, consumers certainly should be told when the product is sugar-free because many of us want to know--some because that's a plus, and others like me who wish to avoid high doses of artificial sweeteners, if only because they taste bad. I was really unhappy about that and tried explaining to her why they need to let consumers know. I explained three times before I seemed to get an acknowledgment: she said she'd pass the suggestion on to her boss. Oh well.

There's no way the chain would do this nationwide, I thought. They need to know and fix this. With a few minutes before my flight, I went to their website, wanting to let them know that they've got a labeling problem in Illinois. The website provided no phone number, but did have a "contact us" page with a form a user could fill out to register a complaint. I spent a couple minutes filling it out and typing up the story, and then hit submit. A new page came up indicating that there was a SQL error and that a field was invalid: "You have an error in your SQL syntax; check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near 'Hare Field - Terminal 3-Concourse K-4, Chicago'." Drats - I should have listened to that prompting to bring along some MySQL manuals for this trip. Tried other choices, still got errors. Impossible to send them a message with their contact form. Impossible to call them. Wow, talk about leaving their customers out in the cold.

I went back to the store and asked for a phone number to call management. They gave me the name of the company that owns the franchise and a number with 7 digits, no area code, and they didn't know what area code it was. I also gave them my receipt and asked for a refund since I was unhappy with the mislabeling and poor quality. No, they couldn't do that. Why? They had just "cashed out"--I guess in changing shifts. Hmm, that's the first time I've heard that excuse (hey, it could come in handy someday: "I'm sorry, dear IRS, I'd love to give you more of my money, but I've cashed out for this shift"). OK, now I had a phone number. I tried the two area codes I knew for the area, 847 and 630, but neither worked. Called directory assistance and got the number for the company in the area. That took me to a fax machine. (I considered trying to leave a fax message by making fax sounds into my phone, but that always frightens passers-by when I do that in public.) Then I noticed a number on my sales slip. Called it. No answer. Tried the number the employee had given me with the area code on the sales slip. Got an answering machine. Left a message. Do I think they'll ever call back? Who knows. But now I was marveling at how hard it was to talk to someone about my concerns.

So here I am, after genuine efforts to reach someone to explain a problem, without getting anything close to an answer and seeing several layers of dysfunctionality in the company. In a few moments, a loyal customer became one who may never come back. He might even tell others about his bad experience. They may have the best yogurt in the country, but the mistreatment on one day at one store makes an impression which is hard to overcome--but it was much more than that. It was the concern that they don't care about properly labeling their product, that they don't make it possible to get answers to questions or to register complaints, and that "they" don't seem care to help a troubled customer. A few minutes with an informed customer service rep may have fixed things: "Yes, Mr. Lindsay, we're so sorry. There's no excuse for that--we'll get it fixed. And would you please accept a coupon good for some free, all natural high-sugar yogurt? Enough, in fact, to give you and three family members diabetes? It's the least we can do." That might have kept me. Maybe just a kind and informed word or two, and an assurance that I was being heard and that they would look into the problem. But now I'm a lost soul in frozen yogurt limbo. Which brings me to the topic of retaining our own members when they run into trouble.

Have you shared my frustration of seeing people who once were happy, vibrant members of the Church suddenly give up on it? There are all sorts of rough experiences people can have in a church without professionally trained clergy and numerous mortals among our members. In addition to problems with service (their interactions with others, including those running the local shop), some have problems with the quality of the product or the labeling. Some feel that they have been mislead and not informed about the tough issues and unanswered questions of Mormonism. We may not have good answers--we may not have anything more to offer than an apology, but they deserve attention and answers from those who can listen, understand and respond. Troubled members cannot be ignored, nor should their concerns be dismissed or equated with personal wickedness. We must never assume that the man or woman who is expressing doubts about the "product" of Mormonism is doing so because he or she is having an affair or has picked up some other serious sin. People with objections may have been offended by some interpersonal event, but they may just be having a sincere theological struggle or intellectual challenge that you may not appreciate.

Just as the woman at the yogurt place didn't seem to understand why I was concerned about the errant labeling of the product I had consumed, so some of our fellow Latter-day Saints may have real objections to how we tend to label and package some things. (To be fair, this is a problem for every religion. There is a lot of baggage and complex stuff in any belief system - just spend a few minutes leafing through the Old Testament if you think your Christian church is immune.) Let's take their concerns at face value, listen to them, get them in touch with people who can listen and empathize and maybe even offer solutions. Let's not turn our backs on them and make their quest for help as frustrating as my little experience at O'Hare today. Our members are more precious in God's eyes than any customer to any business. These are His children and He expects us to minister, to listen, to love, and to help, not to judge. We may find some will leave us after all we can do because they have fundamental objections, but that's OK. Respect their wishes, stay friends, love them, and recognize that they are still important, precious children of God wherever they end up.

Personally, I hope they won't leave. I hope all of you who are members will grow in the joy that the Gospel brings, in spite of the puzzlements. But if that changes, I hope we can still talk and respect each other. Learn from each other. Maybe even follow each other on Twitter. You know, the stuff of true friendship. Instead of getting all heated up over our religious differences, we would sometimes be wiser to make like frozen yogurt and chill.


Andrew S said...

I'd submit a ballot for "Jeff Lindsay for GA," but I don't think people become GAs that way...

I'd like to ask some questions...for example, you knew what you were wanting in this case. You had a particular taste that you had been expecting, and knew when you got the sugar free/alternative product that it wasn't what you were hoping for.

You were and are certainly free to find that product elsewhere, since that particular store wasn't offering it. In fact, you found out through personal experience the hassles of trying to change an organization instead of changing your habits.

So...I think this is intriguing, because nevertheless you say that you "hope they won't leave." But do you ever consider that people who become ex-Mormons leave precisely because they know they are unable to find what they were looking for within the church, yet they can find it outside?

I don't necessarily know what your position on this issue would be, but you tried to change the way things were done with this store. I don't know if you advocate that members try to do the same thing with the church, but I doubt that you would, because of the implications of this.

Papa D said...

Great post, Jeff.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Good questions, Andrew. If people can't find what they really need in the Church and it is available elsewhere, then it's natural that they should go where they can find it. As a caution, though, many times the things we identify as "needs" are rather superficial. I hope the real needs at the top of their list include things like truth (including revealed truth), authority from Jesus Christ, an understanding of the purpose of life, and guidance toward eternal life.

We are a rough and unpolished Church with plenty of shortcomings and lacking some things that other churches may offer, but we do offer the things that really matter, in my opinion, for those who can endure the other shortcomings and all the weaknesses of mortals.

The analogy between my "yogurt fail" and "Mormon fail" can't be taken too far -- there are some huge differences. The post largely contemplates local effects (analogous to the ward level or issues with one or two individuals). That's where the real work of ministry needs to be done.

In the case of, say, a person being unhappy with an official LDS practice or doctrine, that's more difficult. Change is possible, but faith and a lot of patience may be needed. For those who were concerned about or directly affected by the policy on the priesthood prior to 1978, soul searching (and God searching) were needed. I appreciate the courage and faith of those who determined that they would put that burning and puzzling issue on hold, recognizing that it was still the Church of Jesus Christ at its core. I can understand why some may have left or refused to join over that issue, but as with many of the decisions we mortals make, that would not have been the best route, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. I agree that we as a faith community can do better at nurturing each other through our various questions, concerns, offenses, sins, weaknesses, etc.

Bookslinger said...

This reminds me of a couple things:

1) How not to get hurt in a church. Written by Dale A. Robbins. (He's not LDS.) All his points seem applicable to LDS settings too. That articles deals with the local paradigm.

2) Jeff already mentioned corporate or global issues. But the church can change there too, sometimes needing feedback before it happens.

One of my friends is in an inner-city ward that is mostly African-American. I don't know if it was when the ward (or previously a branch) was created or when, but it was back in the 80's or early 90's. She was asked to teach primary, and when she went to the ward library (materials center) for visual aids, all the pictures of children with Jesus showed caucasian children.

She refused to use those pictures in her mostly African-American primary class. And she let it be known. And she made sure her opinion got back up through the channels in church headquarters to whatever curriculum or media people had the power to create and dissemminate multi-racial visual aids back down to the ward libraries.

It took a while. I don't know how long. But it took a while for the powers-that-be in Utah to be apprised of the need for multi-racial illustrations and finally get the ball rolling.

But from listening to her explanation of the history, the church was not pro-active in re-doing materials to be multi-racial. It took complaints, or "suggestions" from the local level filtering back up.

Mike said...


If you want to give their web feedback another shot, try to type your comments again without using any quote or apostrophe characters (" ' `). Apparently whomever programmed their feedback page didn't properly code around that, and simply pass your comment directly to the database unfiltered. This is a huge security hole, btw, so don't tell anyone. :)

MySQL uses a single quote character as a string terminator. Your O'Hare word was interpreted as the end of your input, with everything after the ' interpreted as a new database command. Type your comments again and just say O Hare instead of O'Hare and it will probably work just fine.

Good luck, and great post.

Mormon Soprano said...

Jeff Enjoyed reading this well written post! In the end, it should be noted that just because one particular yogurt shop and employee has a customer service problem - and their offering was not in compliance, the entire chain should not be blamed.

Likewise, the older I get the more I have learned how true my mother's mantra is: "the church is true, the people aren't", or in other words - The gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect. Those who follow are not.

We should not deny ourselves the ultimate rewards, just because of one bad experience.

Andrew S said...

Re Mormanity @6:38 AM,

I could say something about "superficial" needs in comparison to "real needs," but this would just be petty and argumentative. Needless to say, the judgment of which needs are superficial and which are real is rather subjective and personal, and it sounds arrogant to try to dictate certain ones to be real.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Yes, Andrew, that's a valid point. I spoke as "we" in stating that our needs are sometimes superficial. Let me be more specific and state that MY needs, at least in retrospect, are often superficial. In the eternal perspective, some things truly are much more important that others. At least for me.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Mike Callaghan, you offered one of the most valuable insights ever found in religious discussions. Thank you for making sense of the MySQL error at one of the nation's leading frozen yogurt places. Fascinating!

Anonymous said...

you may wish to check thefoyer.org for discussion on this blog post...

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 10:21 pm, Why? Other than perhaps you like wading in bitterness, depression, negativity and neuroses. What a sad group that is.

Andrew S said...

yeah, not even going to lie, but the foyer is...not where the DAMU community needs to be at. but I mean, I guess there are people who just need that space.

Anonymous said...

Jeff--I'm just curious. Did the yogurt shop happen to tell you that you were going to be damned and that you couldn't be with your family for eternity because you didn't care for their yogurt? Did your wife consider divorce when she found out that you weren't committed to the same yogurt shop that you were when you got married?

another anonymous said...

Is the president of the Yogurt company insisting that his yogurt is the one true yogurt, and all others are made from inferior recipies?

Are there 12 men on the yogurt company's board of directors? Are there 70 regional managers?

Unknown said...

I agree with the earlier poster who said that you should be made a General Authority. This was a charming and insightful post. My experience (mirrored by many of my friends) is that any sort of questions as to the sugar content (gospel doctrine) of the yogurt/church got one punched in the face and then booted out the door. Please please please keep up the good work.

Patrick said...

If Bednar can talk about pickles I guess you can talk about yogurt shops. I'll let it slide.

Ujlapana said...

It's posts like this that have kept me coming back during my entire disaffection. You really get it, Jeff. One organization can't work for 6 billion people; it's unfortunate more people don't understand that.

Jeff Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew S said...

Your latest comment impresses me, that you can recognize that while you are making great steps to understand the mindset of DAMUs and exmormons, you still don't fully get it. And you don't pretend to get more than you actually do (even if some commenters like Ujlapana think so).

Unfortunately, this is regrettable, because this is where the chasm is.

I see too many people who struggle to stay in the gospel even though it's hurting them (because of some long-term hope that in the end, all of their suffering will lead to some blessing), and they know they have doubts that are hurting them too, but they want to stay in. They want to wish that the church is true, even though they do not believe and all of their experiences bring pain and discomfort.

I see too many people who break the cycle and find happiness elsewhere. And people who have not been in the church, but who have the same fervor that you do for the church but for other causes -- sometimes concepts that are directly at odds with the church or its theology. So while these people would say they know there is Truth and divinity in what they say (the same as what you say about the church)...it cannot all be so. At best, their comments tell us something about *those individuals*, not about *universal truth*. One size doesn't fit all.

I liked your yogurt analogy, but in the comments, I think it was clear that you weren't willing to go a step further (but you recognize this in your latest comment). Taking your same yogurt analogy, you are essentially asking people to learn to accept the yogurt shop for what it is and learn to appreciate sugarless yogurt, because that is the truth and will bring -- or so you believe -- longterm happiness. It doesn't matter if it has an aftertaste; it doesn't matter if someone's allergic; it doesn't matter that people may find better tasting stuff; this is how your analogy relates to the church. Sure, the people (employees) in the church (shop) can offend, but by your own rules, you cannot diss the product...the gospel (the sugarless yogurt).

In your story, you want to change the way the yogurt shop does business. You want, perhaps, a refund. Or, perhaps, coupons for sugary, non-artificial yogurt. But don't you see what kind of implications this has when compared with the church? It's like you're asking for the gospel to change.

If you could only be willing to recognize this implication of the yogurt analogy to the church, and then embrace the ramifications of it, then I wonder if you could learn to feel that some people legitimately leave the church.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Here's my original comment that Andrew refers to, minus one little passage about an unnamed someone I admire that I later decided should be left out for now. Sorry for the confusion.

Yikes, I was afraid that might happen. Thanks, Ujlapana, but yikes! My apologies in advance. Here why:

I was worried that someone might misunderstand me and think that "I get it" when I really, really, really don't. Yes, some of my favorite people are ex-Mormons and I know that they (my friends) are smart, sincere, good people that I can respect and love and learn from. But I don't get much of what led them away from the Church. I'm somewhat clueless there. DAMU dwellers would say idiotic beyond all cluelessness. I can listen and empathize and understand former Mormons intellectually, but deep down I'm pained and hope that someday they'll come back to what I sincerely believe is true - in spite of the well-known failures of mortals that offer many disappointments to those of us who want to live in a more ideal world and ideal Church.

I don't get it because I'm a hypocritical true blue Mormon who takes his faith super seriously but stumbles. The kind who thinks the Holy Ghost is real, who thinks Jesus is real and that Joseph Smith really saw Him and the Father, the kind who has frequent spiritual experiences and finds small miracles and sometimes big ones scattered through his religious life, the kind who needs daily prayer and who really believes the basic principles of the Gospel and has all kinds of silly guilt trips when I don't listen and go my own errant way.

I don't get it because Joseph Smith's flaws and the puzzle of past polygamy and past racial limitations on the priesthood and all sorts of things past and present that can trouble people may also trouble me, but without erasing my burning testimony that Jesus is the Christ, my Lord and God, and that His power can be found in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and His revelations can actually sometimes get past the thick skulls of humans and be revealed through living prophets. In fact, when I consider what I have experienced, what I have seen, and what I know, I simply can't deny that there is divine power behind the Church, behind the Priesthood, behind the Temple, behind the Creation of the Earth, and behind the Book of Mormon. Which leaves me facing all the good reasons one can find for doubting and questioning, and yet I look at them and say, well, I just don't get it, and will have to figure some of this out later or let others be accountable for whatever happened in the past, for none of that can deny the truth of Christ or His word or His power that I have experienced so often. This brings me to that pathetic and laughable state of a believer who just simply doesn't get it. Not even a little bit. That's me. Sorry!

You in particular have made a lot of insightful comments, like many of my friends, which add to the discussion and helps me understand some things better - even though I'm probably never going to fully get it.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Andrew, for what it's worth, here's a postscript to the story:

After writing my story, the owner of the shop as well as the parent company both contacted me. The owner said he just put up the signs he got from the company, but fully sees my point and will contact them to ask for change. The company told me that they ask for proper labeling and will work to resolve the problem, and that they are very concerned about the whole experience I had and are taking steps with several parties internally to resolve it. What happened truly looks like a foul-up that concerned businesspeople are going to resolve. They recognize that there were several problems in this experience. A refund was offered and coupons were offered. I said it wasn't necessary, but they did ask nicely enough that I gave them address to let them send me coupons (the "diabetes option" in my story). Today I received a nice packet of coupons with a letter of apology.

So maybe they get it and maybe things aren't as bad as I thought. There's a good chance I'll use the coupons some day. They messed up once, but it was not a conspiracy and a sign of chain-wide incompetence, but a local problem due to unintended human incompetence that can be corrected. Do I need to abandon the chain forever or forever deny myself the joy of frozen yogurt? No, really, I don't - not in this case.

Many of the challenges or gaps in Church history, doctrine, or modern Church actions that look like gaping errors invalidating the Church do not require an intellectually honest person to leave the Church. I think Rough Stone Rolling is a good illustration of that. While I can appreciate why others might reject the Church and know that I can love and respect those who do in spite of my sorrow in seeing them leave, I could not at this time be intellectually honest with myself by denying what I have experienced, seen, learned, witnessed, and felt. It would be utterly wrong.

As one small example, I can appreciate why some have left over the Book of Abraham. I, too, was deeply shaken over the anti-Mormon spin on the book. I am so grateful that I held on and continued seeking for answers. When I found that the anti-Mormon spin of the Tanners and others artfully leaves out some of the most important data that undercuts key assumptions in their attack, I realized that there was more to the story than they were letting on. Further study demonstrated that the BOA issue is hardly a reason to leave the Church and, in fact, provides some compelling evidence in favor of Joseph SMith as a prophet. That's a long story, but one of many pointing to an intellectual richness to the Restored Gospel for those who dig in and apply a touch of faith during the journey. So I can understand why people leave over the LDS scriptures, but after years of exploration, they are actually foundations of my testimony rather than the gaping flaws some critics say they are. So how can I "get it" when someone says that's why they are leaving because of them?

As for the diversity of human experience, yes, that's a fair point, one that I may take up later. Out of time now.....

Anonymous said...

When it comes down to the consumer approach to faith, the only person one can complain to is yourself. The faith is the faith and Christ is the messenger and ultimately the Lord. Christ is the starting point. In order to understand the message of Christ, we need to apply a fundamental approach, ie: reason and freedom. In order for anyone to understand their faith, they must find it reasonable. Does it make sense? What is the risk if I don't believe it? Does it stand up from various points of view and ultimately, did Christ endorse it either by word or action as written in the Gospels? Additionally, one must experience the Freedom to search for Truth, wherever it resides. Seekers of the truth should seriously question any authority that prohibits the message of other faiths outright, without full understanding of the message. For a truth to stand up as truth, it needs to be reasonable and acceptable to all people of all times. Truth does not change, only mans interpretation of it.

God is Love. God is Good. One needs no other prophet or messenger other than Jesus.

Every action of man should be judged against this basic tenet. Anything more is just noise, an endless gong, a distraction away from this message. The trick is not to adhere to a faith and spend a life attempting to make it fit into Truth, the right way is to discover Truth and to continue to experience it daily in your life. If you spend your days questioning your faith but defending it without really understanding it, then it really is not faith, only a religious position.

Reason and freedom. Look at it through these eyes and you will see all clearly.

Andrew S said...

Not to be a silly kind of guy, Anonymous @ 8:29 PM, but for all of your rambling about freedom and reason, and particularly about "seriously questioning any authority that prohibits the messages of other faiths outright," you sure seem certain that you have to put Christ before all of that. When, by your own reasoning, Christianity is not something that is "reasonable and acceptable to all people of all times."

But you're so quick to say no one needs any other prophet or messenger than Jesus that you break your own tenets...first, you prohibit the messages of other faiths outright, and second, you do not consider freedom and reason.

Anonymous said...

Andrew S.

You did not read my statement correctly. I stated"

"For a truth to stand up as truth, it needs to be reasonable and acceptable to all people of all times."

You interpreted this as "When, by your own reasoning, Christianity is not something that is "reasonable and acceptable to all people of all times."

If a person does not find Christianity as reasonable, then they are obligated to find TRUTH as God leads them, somewhere else. This is where Freedom comes in. Man NEEDS freedom to search for Truth/God.

My statements, again, require that, as Christians, Christ must be at the center of Christianity. Christianity requires that we respect the search for TRUTH by all men everywhere whether that leads them to Christ or not. Those who do not put Christ as the center of their Christian faith, are not Christians. This is not a put-down but a logical result brought on by reason.

If we, as Christians, believe Christ to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, then what need is there for other prophets? The coming of Christ on earth, it seems, is the fulfillment of the ultimate prophecy of the Old Testament. Finding Truth in Jesus Christ does not prohibit messages of other faiths, as you allude, on the contrary, it requires the faithful to consider (through reason) whether other messages from other faiths, are consistent with the message of the Savior.

I am not talking about individual religious tenets brought on by different religions. I am talking about basic human nature that recognizes each and every person on earth is searching for some unknown Truth/God. Some find it in alcohol, some in sin, some in Buddhism, many in Christ.

Christ welcomes each and every soul in his/her search and demands that we welcome all into is fold. After all, who would not want to have a God that is also known as Love and Goodness?

Does that work for you Andrew S?

Andrew S said...

re: Anonymous @ 9:44.

That's an interesting twist, I will admit.

On the other hand, this makes me wonder how you can say things like "Truth does not change, only interpretations of it." Is it possible that there can be such drastically and mutually exclusive interpretations of truth? It seems to me that if someone's going to be Christian, it's not just because it's a personal interpretation of truth that may only work for them...rather, most Christians would assert that Christianity is a universally correct brand of truth for everyone. While I think this has problems, I think this kind of stance is more intellectually honest than a different stance, which makes the religion into a lame kind of animal.


Anonymous said...

Andrew S.

You have hit the nail on the head with your question. How can two seemingly opposite opinions about Truth both be true? Here-in lies the the pit that most seekers fall. If we casually concede that truth lies everywhere and that one persons truth cannot be another persons truth, is it really Truth? Shouldn't one viewpoint really be the right one? I submit that this is so.

One must truly understand the pit of relativism that puts all statements of truth into one bag. It not only clouds the waters but it really does not reveal the real truth to those who agree that it is all relative. To them, relativism them becomes the truth. Not much hope there, eh?

It isn't as easy as this. As Christians, we are challenged to go further and delve into the tenets of ones statement or search for Truth. The basics are extremely important. Many Christians, in there zeal, will make statements condemning others while not really understanding another's basis for their statement. For example, I am always extremely wary of people who make a statement (regardless of their faith position): "I just know it to be true" or "I believe it and that is enough". If a truth exists somewhere in a persons understanding that permits them to make a rather bold statement like this, and cannot at least pinpoint or communicate the reasoning behind it, I am suspect of that persons ability to reason out their thoughts on the matter. Blind faith (caused by relativism) is the most dangerous position for one's soul.

I agree with your statement that this position is "more intellectually honest than a different stance..." Reason requires intellectual (including philosophical) understanding and Freedom requires unfettered and endless access to sources of information.

I would also submit that if Truth exists anywhere in a faith, that it will stand the test of time and (this is very important) remains unchanged. For Christianity to exist for so many people over many centuries, there is something there that needs to be explored. Once one finds an understanding of the love of Christ that exists there, it is very hard to argue against that message.

Reason & Freedom, it changes lives.

Andrew S said...

Well, it's certainly been interesting hearing your thoughts about it...I really didn't expect to hear that.

Regardless, I still have a sense that Truth (big T, universal, etc.,) is overblown and rather we do only have truths (small t, personal, etc.,) But I do not think the pitfalls of relativism are as you say. Because I think that regardless, people will still treat their truths as if they were Truth. This happens to generally cause conflict most of the time, but it doesn't stop people from believing that their personal truths are somehow objective and universal Truth. Relativism is a bit of a moderating influence, but I do not think that it need become so widespread as to make all beliefs ineffective. For example, it is one thing to say, "I respect your belief, but I hold a different belief that I will fight for" and it is a completely different thing to say, "Oh well, I respect your belief so much that I won't try to fight for mine."

So, in the end, I'd argue that Christianity is not something that really strengthens your point of truth being something that "stands the test of time and...remains unchanged." Christianity has changed *massively* over time. And I see that you use a reductionist or 'mere' definition of Christianity that makes it nothing more than "the love of Christ," but I would argue instead that Christianity has never become widespread and popular for this reason. Instead, it has become political, it has been morphed, it has become a tool of force, people have attempted to restore it or recreate it or renovate it or whatever, and that's how it has spread. It has become a message so warped by differing interpretations that the original message is not so meaningful anymore, except on a personal level to very few people. This is great to show the power or utility of a small-t truth, but it doesn't show us anything about the possibility of Truth.

Anonymous said...

Andrew S.

Forgive me, but I sense a real distrust of Christianity in your words. If I may be so bold, may I ask about what particular truth that you have sought in Christianity that you have not found to be satisfactory?

By your statement "It has become a message so warped by differing interpretations that the original message is not so meaningful anymore," it appears you are agreeing with my explanation of the pit of relativism.

Christianity, like every human organization, has changed over time, it cannot help but change, but we are talking about Truth here. Certainly there also exists people in any faith that use the faith for their own personal gain or control, but I was hoping to keep this conversation above this.

Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice as a gesture of love on the Cross. What other message in Christs life/example that that I need to consider? Is it so wrong to live my life under this one truth? How are we not affected by people who would sacrifice for us with their life?

A good contemplation of the Beatitudes does wonders in understanding the message of God through Christ here on earth through his own words.

If we stop all of the extemporaneous noise from our lives and fixate on this simple message, everything falls well into place. No?

Andrew S said...

A distrust, you say? How flattering!

I think distrust is too much to attribute; it makes it sound like I do this for a career or something. Rather, I am simply unimpressed, uninspired, and unconvinced.

For example, you are assuming and taking for granted a Truth -- whatever it is -- that has not been established. So, you can play around the bush by suggesting that people will have different interpretations, and even throw around terms like Reason and Freedom and ominously capitalize the first letters as if that legitimizes them for some superior purpose...but you haven't really gotten to the heart of...how do you reconcile genuinely incompatible ideas of Truth?

What if Biblical Christianity is merely a novel? Then it is not Truth (because it is fiction), but that does not preclude it from being personal and subjectively felt truth.

I dunno. I don't think I'm being very clear.

I guess I will respond directly to the last thing you said: If we stop all of the extemporaneous noise from our lives and fixate on this simple message, everything falls well into place. No?If your message makes everything fall into place only if you "stop all of the extemporaneous noise from your lives," then what would happen if "extemporaneous noise" actually is 99% of life? Why should anyone be convinced to appeal to a case that they should strive to ignore that 99% of life?

Anonymous said...

Andrew S

It seems you have a whole lot more questions than answers. Most of these questions and observations, quite frankly, don't make much sense to me, particularly the supposition that Biblical history is a only a novel and my use of capitalization for certain words. Not sure how these questions really matter here. It seemed it wasn't making much sense to you as well at one point. (This would be noise in my book)

You do however, bring up a real good question "how do you reconcile genuinely incompatible ideas of Truth?"

I had asked you in a previous note about what particular truth that you have sought in Christianity that you have not found to be satisfactory? I did not get a real specific answer. What does inspire you? convinces and impresses you? What truths matter to you? Really matter to you?

Heavy questions indeed. I hope it makes you dig deeper. Leave out the noise and see what happens.

For example, I stated one truth (capital letters notwithstanding) that I have discovered, "God is Love." I have not found any reasonable argument that contradicts this. We can start here or use one that you have found?

Andrew S said...

This is what it seems like to me: if we assume or take for granted that there is a god, in whatever way we will want to talk about it (e.g., God is Love or God is Good for example), then we create unrealistic expectations of the world around us. We have to reconcile the fact that the world and people do not neatly fit in with the expectations we have just set, and in fact, there are a lot of holes. Then we either have to make excuses to cover up for these holes (well..."it'll be different in the next life"...or..."well, there are many things about god that we just don't understand"...or..."I guess that's how people abuse free will")

If we do not take for granted god, then everything falls into place. We are not disappointed because we do not take for granted things that we should not. At the same time, when we do experience things like love or kindness, we are *truly* appreciative of these things, because we did not take them for granted, did not expect them, and instead know that they are things that come from the interactions of people.

I have many questions and not a lot of answers because it seems like when people get into the game of making answers, they really get into a game of making a whole lot of assumptions that they probably ought not make.

Anonymous said...

Andrew S.

I am going to give it another try because I can see you are hanging in with my inquiry..

Of the two scenarios you describe, which appeals to you? and Why?

To me, the second scenario is appealing as there exists an unadulterated love, no expectation for love in return. Not a mere physical love, but a complete and committed example of total love.

I am in total agreement with your explanation for folks to feel compelled to fill in the holes.
(there is the endless noise again).

What I am proposing is a discipline in which we can realized that love, but more importantly, we can show and live that love for others. This discipline is not unknown in the world, but rather it exists to those who quietly contemplate these very issues; how are others loving me, and more importantly, how do I love others? We need to ask questions, but we need to ask the right questions. These questions should not serve to attempt to figure how others operate, they need to stimulate our actions and encourage us to act as true disciples of the truth that we find.

If we are dissatisfied with others, their explanations, their faiths, their directions, (their noise) It would behoove us to move our search toward those who can better direct our inquiries inward rather that trying to figure out others.

Peace and the realization of God truly exists. Am I one of them, well, it seems to be working for me after many years of searching, contemplation, self reflection and prayer. I now know hundreds of folks who work and live quietly but practice a inward looking life that is full with outward love of others. They live in the world are successful and deal with all of the trappings of life, as we all do. But they have found a simple way in the Christian faith and they not only understand it, they live it.

Do I know why they love others in this way? I can see that if one has no understanding of God as the source of all Love, then it would be useless in explaining anything that is based on this belief.

But I have found that if I am to understand not only the words of someone who seems to understand the truth, then I need to also witness their actions to see how it is affecting their lives and the lives they influence, over time.

Here is hoping and praying that your search is fruitful.

Andrew S said...

Interesting answer...I too like the second scenario I presented because it is more realistic, more resilient to actual experience, and more growth-oriented.

But it does not require a god in the least.

For example, when I learn to look at my actions and control my actions better, to become a better person, one who insists upon treating others the best I can despite recognizing that I cannot expect the same from others, this is something that is contingent upon me and my development. There is no need for anything mystical or anything supernatural. That would seem more like noise.

So I'm still confused as to why you need to make a "source" of this. It seems like you cheapen the idea of love infinitely when you attribute it to god rather than recognizing that it is the result of people who are like-minded -- people who recognize that they are striving to be better than themselves.

Again, I can then see that some may find it helpful to have religions as sorts of allegories to show them the way, but then this doesn't make those religions actually real.

Anonymous said...

Andrew S

You don't believe in God?

Andrew S said...

No sir, I do not.

Anonymous said...

Andrew S.

How do you explain creation?

Andrew S said...

I don't explain it. I am not a physicist and I do not keep up on the latest ideas in physics as it relates to the start of this universe.

However, I do reiterate something I said before:
I have many questions and not a lot of answers because it seems like when people get into the game of making answers, they really get into a game of making a whole lot of assumptions that they probably ought not make.so please do not fall into the trap of thinking that plugging in a supernatural answer to a question we currently do not know the answer for makes that answer better or correct.

Anonymous said...

Andrew S.

It seems that those who are physicists really don't know the answer either. I know many of them and they are the most spiritual folks I know.

As an observation, you are quick to dismiss something that is very obvious to many people over many ages. You assume those folks "ought not make those assumptions". What is it that you know that they don't? If it is obvious to them, why should they not make those assumptions? One would wonder if there is something that powerful to move ones life, would it not be worth a closer look?

If the answer is not obvious in the natural world, why would we NOT look at the supernatural?

Andrew S said...

Anonymous, if I may provide some advice, I don't think this is a good path for you. You are now seriously implying that your need for god is merely to fill up gaps in current human knowledge. What's particularly unfortunate is your final comment:

If the answer is not obvious in the natural world, why would we NOT look at the supernatural?I'll tell you; you're absolutely right about history. Throughout history, we've had many people who've had particular answers to questions with the supernatural, and I bet it was just as obvious to them. It was most likely very obvious that rain was caused by one god and lightning was caused by another -- perhaps Zeus. The sun rising and falling was due to Apollo with his chariot.

But I guess you don't have much love for Zeus and Apollo anymore, do you? Neither do most people. That is because these gods were gods of the gaps...and the gaps in knowledge were closed up.

But no, it seems like even in today's world, people will not be humbled. Instead, they remain proud, proclaiming to know everything by attributing it to some god. But they do both human progress AND God great injustice when they do this -- they weaken and obstruct human progress by placing limits on the possibility of human growth and exploration of reality and the universe. And the insult God by making him master of all we simply do not currently understand -- a kingdom that is diminishing every year with each discovery we find. So I would please encourage you to reevaluate things if your belief in god is contingent on things we do not currently understand. I think that every theist deserves to treat himself and his God better than that.

I think you have a better argument hidden in your post -- there is something that is powerful enough to move people's lives. Unfortunately, I don't think this is your argument's saving grace. For one, it seems that people can be just as motivated for one cause as to another -- even when the causes are diametrically opposed and cannot be reconciled. And some people may not be motivated at all. So, really, this motivating factor seems to tell us a whole lot more about an *individual* and *his biases* than it does about *a universal force*.

Anonymous said...

Andrew S

Thanks for the advice. Your position really doesn't work for me.

My belief in God is NOT contingent upon those things I do not understand. I attribute everything to God, known and unknown (even non believers!). God gave us all a free will which both of us are participating in now. My belief in God explains everything, He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

I hold out hope (another intangible I attribute to God and that fills in the gaps!) that you will find your path through it all. I now realize that there really isn't much I can tell you that you don't attribute to mere human bias or design. I understand you more than you know, but propose that there is more. Keep thinking tho. Saul(St. Paul), a famous persecutor of Jesus, was knocked off his horse when God spoke to him.

I will share with you one observation from a good friend who advised that those who argue against the presence of God are more closer to Him than those who are ambivalent to Him.

Have a good Memorial weekend.

Andrew S said...

Don't get me wrong. Saying that I argue against the presence of God makes it sound like I do this for a career or something.

Rather, I am being very simple and very straightforward. I am merely pointing out that we need not argue for such a presence and we need not believe in such a presence. I like the way you say it...ambivalence...that keeps us humble and honest with ourselves and others.

It just seems to me that with the way you describe God (as an attribution to everything known an unknown), this ultimately cheapens the very idea of god. You don't seem to provide any meaningful difference between your idea and instead just "nature, the universe, and everything in it?" You don't provide any meaningful necessity for the supernatural or the concept "god."

Regardless, if it works for you (whatever it is), then that's the best possible thing. I hope you have a good Memorial weekend as well.

Jim said...

For someone who doesn't believe in god, I wonder how much more cheap one can be about Him. Atheism is the definition of cheapening God.

Atheism is the source of all of the major wars in history. Only 10% of all wars can be attributed to religious wars. Three of the top wars attributing to the largest massive death of humanity, communism, the pol pot revolution and the Chinese revolution, each claimed over 50 million deaths, all at the hands of atheists.

In addition, the Pew Research states that only 16% of all people studied claim no affiliation with a religion; only 1.6 % are atheist and 2.4% are agnostic. This is very meaningful.

Atheism attributes, and so do you, that the universe is a random series of cosmic accidents in which there is no free will, a negative meaningless existence, hopelessness, no objective morality and no purpose in life. Atheism can't explain why people seek to do good and avoid evil, the source of the natural law. Atheism exists on the the cultural capital that Christianity has given it. Christianity is responsible for the direct advancement in democracy, the worlds university systems and countless human justice advancements in the world. What has atheism offered to humanity? Atheism only offers a vast emptiness once the echoes of Christianity are gone. There is absolutely no rigourous intellectual treatment in the belief of atheism. Christianity offers absolutely no contradiction between science and faith, unlike atheism.

But of course, you are ambivalent to all this. What is more meaningless than that?

Andrew S said...

I'm flattered Jim. And speechless. I'm going to put that up on my wall; that was priceless.

Ujlapana said...

Now, now Andrew...don't provoke the Jim...be quiet and it should just go away.


Okay, well you may not get it, but at least you're respectful. That's a good place to be for folks on either side of the "belief" line. I think comments like, "I can understand why some may have left or refused to join over that issue, but as with many of the decisions we mortals make, that would not have been the best route, in my opinion." show a strong potential for you to "get it" if you don't already. Complete emotional understanding probably requires the personal experience of a belief change, which I don't recommend for everyone.

jim said...

I am glad you agree Andrew.