Naturalism and Supernaturalism

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 256th week, and we’re covering the Member Finances Fireside.

We’ve all seen the importance of home-centered Church during Covid, and I think we all recognize how prophetic those shifts were. I’m not sure if we recognize how long-term the trend in that direction has been, however. 

I remember trying to convince folks that the Church is for the family, no the other way around in the years before the home-centered program was announced, and I had a hard time persuading them that I wasn’t just making it up. I had a strong intuition that it was what I was being taught by the General Conference talks, but I didn’t have great examples ready to hand.

Too  bad I hadn’t read this session, because the message is very clear!

Elder Packer:

This change in budgeting will have the effect of returning much of the responsibility for teaching and counseling and activity to the family where it belongs. While there will still be many activities, they will be scaled down in cost of both time and money. There will be fewer intrusions into family schedules and in the family purses.

President Monson:

In some respects, many of our youth activities in recent years have supplanted the home and family.

President Hinckley:

This is a new and wonderful program… be grateful and prayerfully go to work to make it function. I promise you that you will be happy if you do so. Family life will be strengthened and faith will increase.

There was one other thing that really stuck out to me from President Hinckley’s quote:

This is a new and wonderful program. As with any new program, there will be a few items that will need to be corrected as we go along. There are still unanswered questions, particularly concerning recreation properties. Time and experience will provide the answers.

One of the weird tensions I often feel about our faith is the tug-of-war between miraculous and commonsensical. I’m not sure of a better way to describe what I’m talking about, even though I feel that description probably comes up short.

What I mean is that there are those who have a rock-solid belief in, say, miraculous healing power. But there seems to be a kind of simplistic “the miracle will be obvious and straightforward and perfect” corollary that goes with it.

On the other hand, folks who are more reasonable and realistic in their expectations tend to have, along with that, a general skepticism that they will ever see real miracles, the kind that are completely and totally inexplicable through any other possible rationale. For them, miracles tend to be of the “crazy coincidence” variety more than the “arise, take they bed and walk” variety.

Call it the supernatural and the natural. The two are in an uneasy tension within LDS theology and tradition. We believe that, in a sense, there are no miracles because everything God does is through the application of principles we just might not know yet. This renders all miracles a kind of footnote to Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

On the other hand, we emphatically believe that there are miracles in the more routine sense of gifts of tongues, revelation, and so forth.

I’m pretty sure that for the spiritually wise this tension fades. Maybe it goes away entirely. President Hinckley had the supernatural position that the changes were from revelation, but he also had the natural position that even divinely revealed polices would talk time to have their kinks ironed out. 

There’s an important lesson in there, somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is. Other than, if you have a temptation to go all-in-supernatural or all-in-natural: don’t. Though we might not see it yet, there’s a reconciliation. 

We don’t have to choose either-or.


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