Noteworthy: Malcolm Gladwell on God (and Mormons)

If you keep up with popular modern books, you’ve probably heard of Malcolm Gladwell.  After being a staff writer at The New Yorker for many years, Gladwell has written anumber of bestselling books (such as Blink and The Tipping Point) that explore the implications of social psychology and research. I listened to a recent podcast* interview with Gladwell where he made a couple of interesting comments:

On Belief in God

 Interviewer: "What is something you believe that other people think is crazy?”

 Gladwell: "I believe in the existence of things outside my own direct physical experience. I don’t see why that’s controversial; why people believe we can only believe in things that you have conventional explanations for and that you can see and touch. That strikes me as being… why would you limit yourself like that? In a kind of purely rational way, I believe theres stuff out there that can’t be properly explained. Why wouldn’t there be?"

Some in modern society dismiss faith with condescending terms such as “magic thinking” and “mental gymnastics” but I’m with Gladwell. We may find that the dose of rationality that lead us out of dark-age superstition turns to poison if we continue to enthrone physical observation as the only viable source of truth. Given that we haven’t even observed everything on earth, let alone a single complete pocket of the universe, that seems hasty.  I'm told the burden of proof lies on people of faith. But despite all our learning, the unknown still far outweighs the known, so why do we act so smug and smart? I don't think this demands a belief in God, but the possibility shouldn't be dismissed too cavalierly.

On Mormon Missions

Later, Gladwell talked about regretting that he didn’t spend time outside of the country when he was younger. He recommended everyone spend some time experiencing the world. “It’s always my advice to young people, particularly young people of privilege, to just leave. go away. you can’t stay in the cocoon your whole life. It’ll limit you in ways you cannot even begin to understand at this point."

 “There are two religious groups who take a lot of heat but for whom I have enormous respect, the Mennonites and the Mormons, who have an institutionalized practice of sending people to other cultures. 'The mission.' People who go on those missions come back transformed, not just spiritually…"

Although I didn’t leave the country, Chicago was definitely outside my “cocoon.” I find myself frequently trying to express to young people just how valuable my mission has become to me. I’m convinced there’s a reason young men and women are called to serve at a time when most 18-26 year olds are entirely focused on themselves, and it’s not because 18-26 year old young men and women are the hardest working, smartest, most spiritual teachers in the church!

Simply put, I saw and experienced things about the world and myself that could be had in almost no other way.

A couple weeks ago I sat in a high council room to participate in the setting-apart of a departing missionary. I watched this young man’s father, with tears flowing from his eyes, tell his son: “When I joined the church and left on my mission, my father told me I was wasting my time. Son, I know you’re not wasting your time."




* The Interview was on the Podcast The Tim Ferris Show. On the podcast, millennial self-help author Tim Ferris interviews experts in various fields for insight into their habits and processes. I can't fully recommend the podcast; the quality really depends on who he's interviewing and some I've had to turn a few off for bad language, but some of them have been pretty insightful.