Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I Believe

Recent events in my life have caused me to pause and wonder on why it is that I believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is something that I do not take lightly, nor have I not considered this very thing before. As a man who has consistently attempted to try and live my life according to the dictates of my conscience, I confess that I do not always understand why my conscience leads me the way it does. There are, as it were, cognitive-dissonance points in my belief system that I have yet to fully grasp and reconcile. However, that being said, I would not for a second call me one with doubts, as this implies that I have a dark spot in my faith that, if not checked, will cover my soul in disbelief and eventually drive me from the faith. Instead I would say that I am believer who has questions, questions that need answering but can wait til the next life to be received.

But the conquering of one's faith by the forceful chiming of one's intellect is a theme that I too have had to struggle with for most of my life. This very thing of which I speak has happened to several of my good friends as of late, and from some it has come as something of a shock (though not altogether unexpected). Needless to say it has forced me to once again revisit the reasons why I can have questions, seek for an intellectually solid belief system, and yet still believe. I have for some time felt that I should write up how and why I believe, but these events have finally forced me to do so.

There are, from my prospective, two pillars that I have built my faith, and they revolve around my belief in God and my belief in modern revelation. I will attempt to be lucid, but please be patient with my weakness in writing as it is always difficult to vocalize a deeply internal belief.

My Reasons to Believe

Atheism, with all its promise of being truly intellectually freeing, has never in any sense appealed to me. Indeed, the very thought that God does not exist has never been entertained in my mind as the idea seems simply preposterous. I have always felt that God, in any sense, is something that must be experienced through indirect means and not through implicit observation or logical treatises. Therefore I categorically reject any logical or physical proof that God does (or does not) exist. 

The reason for this probably comes from a deep sense of spirituality that I cannot explain despite years of effort to dismiss it as something emotional or the deranged chemical reaction of an overzealous mind. I know that what I feel cannot be explained through some simple physical wiring of my brain for it is too consistent across all the emotional spectra to be anything but God (whatever you may claim Him to be). Even in rational thought I have at times had elucidation upon various subjects that were beyond my ability to grasp that has stood as a witness to me that He is truly there.

But perhaps an even better reason for why I intellectually believe comes from my childhood passion for reading. One of my favorite authors growing up was Orson Scott Card, creator of the Ender Wiggin story. Unlike most who have read those books, my favorite in the series was actually Children of the Mind, quite possibly his most maligned in the series. I won't go into too much detail, but in short there is a world in the book where a small part of the Chinese descendants have been genetically altered with super-intelligent children who, to keep the caste system in check, also were given ticks that could not be avoided. These ticks were seen as a "sign from the gods" and gave these children a lordly status. But at the end of the book everyone in the population is made aware of this defect and these children are cured of the tick that made them chosen of the gods. All but one give up the old ways. The one continues to choose to believe, and in the end is seen as one who actually communicates with the gods. A book is later written of quotes that she has given on her faith throughout her life, and Card quotes it throughout the remainder of the story. One quote in particular sticks out in my mind:
My father once told me
that there are no gods,
only the cruel manipulations
of evil people
who pretend that their power was good
and their exploitation was love.
But if there are no gods,
why are we so hungry to believe in them?
Just because evil liars
stand between us and the gods
and block our view of them
does not mean that the bright halo
that surrounds each liar
is not the outer edges of a god, waiting
for us to find our way around the lie.

-- Children of the Mind, chapter 8, opening blurb
The point of sharing this quote is to demonstrate that this character, despite having all the reasons in the world to disregard her faith, even a knowledge that her ticks were caused by the government and not some god, chose to keep believing that the gods were still there and desired her faithfulness. In a sense she decided that she would continue to have faith in light of some fact that she could not reconcile with her current religion.

Now this is not to say that there aren't good reasons to cease belief in God or in a religion due to some fact or logical premise. I do not view those who honestly explore the details of religion to be liars or to stumble upon lies. In fact I fully understand why someone would choose to not believe after discovering a piece of true knowledge that creates dissonance in their framework of faith. But for me I have selected to look at such an event as an obstacle to my understanding of God and not a proof that He isn't there. Faith has always required patience in ignorance, by definition. I believe in God because I fully accept the necessity of Faith in doing so. Moreover, I choose to let my intellectual objections die if I can't reconcile them, being humble enough to admit that I don't have the intelligence right now to understand, and perhaps later I can revisit and see what I make of it.

Note that at this point I have not made reference to any particular god, just that I believe in God. For that reason I want to point out that even if I didn't believe in Christ I could never be an atheist. There is too much beauty, too much elegant complexity to this world that I cannot deny His existence. I know that this is not a very good reason to believe, but for me it is sufficient.

That being said, I have and do believe in Jesus Christ, and more specifically that He has restored the fullness of His Gospel to the earth today through the prophet Joseph Smith. I believe that this man was directed in the translation in the Book of Mormon, and I believe this book to be an inspired history largely written by a prophet named Mormon for the spiritual benefit of man in our day. I further believe that inspired instruction and clarification came through Joseph Smith as a means to provide structure to a framework known as the church to provide God's power on the earth today and to lead us towards our own personal understanding of God's teachings.

Please note that I have very carefully worded what I believe in this last paragraph. I do not believe that much of the cultural doctrine of the modern church is true or even inspired. Indeed, I often find myself shaking my head at some thing or another taught in Sunday school or some other venue that is primarily cultural in nature and not supported by scripture or prophetic teaching. I make a clear distinction between the two because I do not believe that any man can give a true account of the scriptures or the doctrines of God without the Holy Ghost verifying the veracity thereof.

I do not follow the leaders of the church blindly, nor do I blindly believe every explanation I read. Most teachings are general and are, for the most part, intended to guide us in our own personal learning and interaction with God. The church is the framework God has established for us to learn about Him and His ways, not the end-all and be-all of His will. If it were so then God would have far more to say through his prophets on matters of doctrinal issues that plague many disaffected members. The fact that the church remains silent about many issues is not proof to me that the church has no answers, but rather that God does not see a good reason to answer them. It is further evidence to me that He wants us to act in faith and not by sight, seeking in patience rather than in impetuousness.

Therefore I believe because I choose to do so. There is no reason for me to delve into the mysteries of factual conflicts because they hold no appeal to my current state of mind. I do not see them as proof or even evidence that something may be amiss. Proof, what of it? I reject the notion that there is proof for God as much as I reject the notion that there is proof there isn't a God. I reject the notion that there is proof for the church much as I reject the notion that there is proof against the church. I reject the idea that there is proof in any of this.

So what do I accept? I conclude with a simple outlay of how I believe. Faith is a hope for a better world, a knowledge of things which are not seen but are true, an assurance that the unknown and unseen are there, that promises will be kept, that patience will be rewarded. I guess I do err when I say I do not believe in proof, for there is one proof that I have tested and has never failed me. I don't consider it a proof in that it is not scientifically verifiable, nor can I call this proof at will (thus making it hard to call a proof). What I speak of is the proof of faith. When I have been down on my luck, when all other things have seemed hopeless and I did not think I could go on, I endured and held true to the faith that I had been taught. I could not see the end, and I could not say that I had any knowledge of the outcome. But I held, and I endured. I was proving my faith by being patient.

What followed can only be explained as the proof of the trial of my faith, that moment when all the patient wondering and frustration culminates into the beautiful moment of bliss that can only be described as unadulterated peace; such a peace that leaves the mind for a moment doubtless and calm. Time and time again, through multiple scenarios and varying circumstances have I held firm in what I believed, and in so doing have come off conqueror - conqueror of my fear and of my harrowing doubt. Victor in that I successfully proved to myself that my faith was not in vain. Ultimately this proof is personal and cannot be transferred to others by any physical means.

My belief stems not through a single experience, but through an intricate web of various beautiful events that have shown to me that God is real, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His church on the earth, that the Book of Mormon is indeed a true record in that it was written by men inspired of God to give us hope in this life that God still lives and loves us. There may be errors in the church or its teachings or even contradictions within the Book of Mormon; but it does not make it any less true and real to me.

I firmly believe that the church is the keeper of God's power and authority on the earth, but in so doing I do not seek to discredit the good found elsewhere in other religions. I do not doubt that there are many outside of the church who will receive the exact same inheritance as I because of the situation which they were born in or because of the knowledge they have received. My faith is not exclusive to those who view the world as I do, or as some in the church would have me believe. That does not mean I do not believe in the need for every human to be baptized by the authority in the church, and that man would do best by joining this church, but I believe the scriptures when it says that God is charitable and that He loves His children.

God asks us to bear testimony because, when it is all said and done, this is the only thing I can do to tell you how I know He is real. I would plead with you to be patient, to have faith, and to trust that your intellect does not need to be satiated in order for something to be true. There is no harm in seeing the world through rose colored glasses so long as you will lift them to get your bearings. Don't be deceived by those in the church and those without, but also don't give in to your own self-deception. The claim of self-deceipt can be made both ways. Narrow mindedness is a plague of both the skeptic and the believer.

I believe because I have faith, and that faith has been verified. I hope and pray to God that you would see things as I do too. Faith can be enough, you just need to be calm and wait for it to win you over.