Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Doubts Have No Shadows



by Dustin (bio)

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Few things are more guaranteed in an LDS testimony meeting than an onslaught of idioms and cliches, and none are as prolific as knowing something "beyond a shadow of a doubt." A distant and equally effective cousin is the classic qualifier "with every fiber of my being." Both yield great power, but from where do these phrases originate? And how can we use them most effectively?

Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt
This humdinger is actually the fifth level of "burden of proof," a legal and scientific phrase meaning the "obligation to shift the accepted conclusion away from an oppositional opinion to one's own position." This is nerd-speak for the necessity to prove something is true. The spectrum of proof looks something like this:

1. Air of reality - only having the traces of truth
2. Preponderance of the evidence - it is more likely than not
3. Clear and convincing evidence - it is substantially more likely than not
4. Beyond a reasonable doubt - no reasonable doubt could be raised
5. Beyond the shadow of a doubt - no doubt whatsoever could be raised

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the phrase dates back to the Dark Ages, circa 1300 A.D., meaning it was likely used by Marco Polo in his discoveries, townspeople describing the Black Plague, and/or John Wycliffe in advocating religious reform -- "I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this plague is the pits" or "beyond the shadow of a doubt your religion is oppressive."

But how do we deploy this verbal missile in modern times? The best way is to place it immediately before stating something that would be viewed as doubtful by a reasonable person, like so: "I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was not meant to serve in the Nursery." Likewise, you could say, "I definitely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, did not realize that our son was poopy. I'm sorry for not changing him before you got to him."

A recent use of this powerful phrase occurred just prior to the May 21st Doomsday gaffe. Harold Camping, the American Christian radio broadcaster who predicted the Rapture down to the day, said this:

"Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment. The doctrine known as the Rapture teaches that believers will be taken up to heaven, while everyone else will remain on earth for a period of torment, concluding with the end of time. That will happen in October."
Turns out that prediction, good sir, would be considered more of a level one "air of certainty" or even a level two "preponderance of the evidence." Which leads us to an important point -- if you know something beyond a shadow of a doubt, you'd better be darn sure that your doubts have no shadows.

With Every Fiber of My Being
This phrase is notably more mysterious. I was unable to encounter an etymological explanation, despite trying with every fiber of my being, but I did find this unfounded and unsubstantiated definition from a fellow blogger:

"A fiber is a thin thread, so the phrase means 'deep down, down to the smallest thing I am made of' and becomes a metaphor for your whole being, character, and inner psychological strength."

The Free Dictionary describes a fiber as "a slender, elongated, threadlike object or structure." Thus, believing something with every fiber of your being signifies the depth of your commitment down to the very sinewy make-up of your muscle-matter. Perhaps this latter statement would be even more potent at the pulpit. Regardless, it should be noted that it is often used in reference to either love or rage, such as "I love him with every fiber of my being" or "It took every fiber of my being to resist slapping him." For the ultimate power move, find creative ways to combine these two phrases. The comments below are a great place to practice your technique.

So there you have it. You are now better equipped to wield these rhetorical weapons in a Sunday School class or from the pulpit. Likewise, you will now understand what Sister Smith really means when she knows something beyond a shadow of a doubt AND with every fiber of her being. Like explorers and religious zealots centuries before her, and with every piece of sinewy fiber in her body, she undoubtedly believes what she is saying and so should you! Use them, but do so with wisdom. For it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.

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