Sunday, March 28, 2010

on legend. God works in mysterious ways--the Gertrude Specht story.

The following conversation was started by another very kind person who forwarded a mass e-mail that was addressed to me. It began,
God works in mysterious ways!  As we were having this discussion[about Bible prophecy], [my husband] received the following email from someone that he doesn't recognize or think that he knows. It is the story of the search of a European woman with more than one Ph.D. - one in theology - who searched all her life to find out the truth about God - who did the empirical research as much as that can be done - who studied all the scripture available to her and the dead sea scrolls and on and on - who said she had been hungry for the truth all her life, then something happened that forever changed her life.  But, it is what she has to say about that which is so moving. It's in the attachment. She challenges us all to do the research - to learn all we can about our God.  She is an example to us all.
 Attached was a reading from Scott Anderson's journal. It can be found here under the heading C.1.6.2 Scott Anderson's Journal Entry. (Except the original document she sent did not mention a name.)

After reading this e-mail, I was rather in disbelief. I replied,
Well, I hardly find it mysterious that your husband (having been a Mormon for years) would randomly get an e-mail about a conversion to Mormonism in his inbox anymore than he might get an advertisement from This story lacks a lot of substance. There's literally nothing about her actual intellectual journey, and it doesn't even mention her name so that we can find out more about her or that she even existed. This story will likely only affect people who are already Mormons.
She did a little research and found out that this person did have a name and that people had in fact met her.
OK, she does have a name. My husband emailed the person back and it turned out to be a Bishop in a British congregation who sent it. [My husband] had met her at some church gatherings when he lived in Germany.
She expounded on how impressed she was with the woman in the story...
I'm not sure what you meant about "there was nothing about her intellectual journey." The fact that she has 3 Ph.D's in theology, philosophy, and European history focusing on Christianity - that doesn't tell you about her intellectual journey? She was obviously brilliant - it is so hard just to get one Ph.D. but three? I just think it is interesting that after knowing all that she knew, that she chose to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Even more importantly, after all she knew (including philosophy), she chose to be a believer, practicing Christian, a worshipper of Jesus Christ. That is so significant.
She commented on an earlier conversation. I only leave it here because I feel like it shows the mindset she is working with, which I basically see as, "It doesn't matter if the stories are true as long as they help people do good."
[This is really] about only one thing, and that is that Christianity teaches us to be good, to treat others as we would be treated, to pray to the Lord for help when life gets tough and to put our faith in Him--knowing he is there to succor us and He knows all, and he can better lead us than we can lead ourselves? The Bible is the most read book in the history of this planet, and I am sure it has changed people's behavior and caused them to do good when they might have been more inclined to do bad. What Jesus taught - to love one another and to love God - is what the Bible is all about - so it doesn't really matter if it is imperfect in some ways or if there appear to be discrepancies between Matthew and Luke or John. When we all reach the other side then we will be able to learn and understand what those discrepancies were about and how they came about. I am not at all worried about that.
And I again replied,
Well, now we know she existed. That's good. What I meant was that there was nothing about what she read, what she studied, what her theses were, etc, etc. Nothing of substance. She may have had 3 PhD's. If I find someone who's an atheist with 4 PhD's (let's say history, physics, philosophy and psychology for the sake of argument) will that convince you of anything? Of course not.
Furthermore, the very fact that the story says she has a PhD in theology is a huge detriment, because that alone tells me that she spent a very long time doing a PhD that is based on the assumption that God exists. She never started from scratch [as far as I can tell]. Her history degree focused on Christianity and probably classical philosophy. I can't see the two sides of the argument presented anywhere. It's just not that impressive from where I sit. If you still can't see why [it isn't] then try rereading it again but replace all the Christian words with Islam words and see how it affects you.
I'm going to blow past the preaching part and focus on one thing. The point of all this back and forth is not "the Bible teaches us to do good things." It's been about truth. Furthermore, humanism also teaches us to do good things, treat others well, the Golden Rule, etc, etc, and so do Scientology and Buddhism to name a few. And unfortunately, religions have also been known to severely skew people's sense of morality, especially Christianity.
By this point, she had found out the name of this Mormon legendary woman, and after some quick research, I was very excited that my skepticism had paid off this time. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
I'm so glad we have her name now! You may be very interested in reading what the Times and Seasons (an LDS [Mormon] publication) has to say about her. In summary, she only earned one Ph.D. in economics. Her dissertation was titled "Organisations- und Entwicklungsfragen in der deutschen Baumwollindustrie" which translated means "Organizational and development issues in the German cotton industry." She was a "good Catholic" all her life, but didn't find what she was looking for (her perception of truth) in Catholicism, which is likely why that story didn't include both sides of the God/not-God argument. It was about Catholic vs. Mormon.

Even if the "sensationalized" story were accurate [about her education and position], I'd still take issue with the fact that the story says she "was a professor of theology," and that the story says she read a few verses of the D&C (which has a interesting history too as I've been reading) that changed her life but then never mentions what they are. The story is nice; she was a lovely woman but not the legend that she's been made out to be.

1 comment:

  1. Religion is democratic (ie. accessible to the masses) but science is not. Even a quasi-comprehensive scientific understanding of the universe will not be practical for most people because of the educational barrier to entry that it presents.

    Religion is a necessary means to an end for people to achieve a sense of completeness, like how to live in harmony with the rest of the universe. We could definitely use more of that spiritual completeness right now in this hungry, cancer-like culture that we now see in America. I'm no scientist myself, but I have a good "feeling" that if one studies science enough, it could also lead to the same desirable effects as religion... such as a sense of connectedness, and the love that would hopefully come about from that knowledge.

    (See Maslow's Self-actualization pyramid, note the human instinct to climb to the top.)

    The difference? Many years of study of science in order to fully grasp "truths" for that could have otherwise been conveyed through a simple email like this.

    Now another question: is a legend/parable ethical if it explicitly lies in order to achieve a greater good? I would say that depends on the perspective. Generally someone that tells a parable with good intentions of helping others to realize spiritual truths would make it somewhat obvious that it is just a story. I think that people that make fiction to pass as truth are generally more concerned with social control... which is absolutely not ethical, but that's a whole other can of worms topic.