Why I Believe

*Warnings: In case you hadn’t figured it out from the title, this post is religious. And I’ll warn you now, not only is it religious, but it’s potentially controversially religious. I’m accepting right up from that there will almost certainly be people, both Non-Mormons and Mormons alike, who are angry and offended by this post. To them I say, you have that right. And I’m sorry that you chose to be offended rather than to just tell yourself that I’m crazy (because I have no problem with your thinking that I am, it really doesn’t bother me) but that is your right as well. I also want to make it clear that this post is about the gospel that I believe in and despite the fact that we may be members of the same church, we may be members of the same ward, we may sit next to each other in relief society, it’s probably not quite the same gospel that you believe in. That’s just the way it works. You have been warned.

On the first Sunday of each month members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referred to as Mormon’s because it’s a lot easier to type) are encouraged to fast. In fasting we forgo two meals and/or go 24 hours without eating. (The purpose of this is to refocus on the spiritual rather than the physical but that really has nothing to do with this post so that’s all the detail you’ll get on it from me.) The sacrament meeting (Mormon version of mass) that coincides with this fast is called Fast and Testimony meeting and members of the ward (congregation) are encouraged to bear testimony (witness, to you born againers) to the rest of the ward.

In the Mormon church, just like in any other church, we’ve developed out own vernacular (you might have noticed that from the preceding paragraph) and commonly heard sayings. One of the most common of these, heard without fail (and usually several times) during Fast and Testimony meeting, is “I know the church is true.”

I work with a man, a doctor, who is at least nominally, Mormon. This man, after Fast and testimony meeting, likes to corner people in the ward who have born their testimonies and used that phrase, and ask them how they “know”. According to his reports their answers usually have something to do with some experience or collection of experiences that they’ve had and the feelings that accompanied those experiences. This is not sufficient evidence for this man, he wants scientific proof, he is a scientist after all. He wants studies and repeatable experiments, he wants something concrete and irrefutable. (As if there’s anything, even (especially) in science that’s irrefutable. There are still people who believe that the world is flat for heaven’s sake, and have “science” to back it up.)

Some might call this man a jerk, in all honesty I would be (and am) one of them (but for more than just that reason) but in one thing I do agree with him; I hate the line ” I know this church is true.”

I’m not sure that there is anyone of my acquaintance, and that includes at least two general authorities, who can really say that they know. (Alma 32:17&18…If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.) And I would be willing to bet that there is no one in my ward who has received inspiration sufficient to know that the church is true. I don’t believe that I know anyone who has been visited by the Lord and to my mind that’s about the only way that you can know.

I tend to be a pretty literal person. I don’t mind a metaphor or a simile here or there as long as it’s clear you’re talking in metaphor or simile. I don’t even have a problem with exaggeration provided we know you’re exaggerating. But the people who get up in Fast and Testimony meeting are not using literary devices, they may be (and probably are, I think) giving that particular line more or less by rote and meaning that they believe, without thinking about what it actually means, and that’s fine, I get that, we all do that kind of thing here and there, and I’m not going to corner you after the meeting and grill you about your precise meaning. (Or maybe they do really know, or think they know which is fine too, it’s really none of my business.) I’m just not going to say it myself.

What I am going to say is that I believe.

I believe in a God who loves me and wants what’s best for me because I am his daughter. I believe in justice and I believe in mercy, and so I believe that that God has a Son who met the demands of both because I can’t. I believe that I am a member of a church that makes me a better person, a church that teaches me to love and to accept everyone, but that makes the distinction between accepting and loving the person and accepting and loving their sin. I believe in good and I believe in evil and I believe that there’s a difference. And I believe that that difference matters. And because I believe that difference matters, I believe in a God who offers second and third and fourth… chances, a God who offers those chances not only in this life but in the next as well. And I believe that the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught me all those things and that it teaches me to be the best version of myself.

I believe all these things because I choose to.

I make that choice full acknowledging that I could be dead wrong.

It’s possible that there is nothing more than this life and that when I die it’s all over. In that case I don’t think that I’ve lost anything having made the choice that I am making.

It’s possible that I’ll die and find that the afterlife is a come one, come all affair and that it makes no difference what kinds of choices I made in this life. If that’s the case then in all reality I’m not that interested in the god who’s running the show, I don’t have a lot of interest in a god who isn’t trying to improve people, but even that disapproval won’t matter so again, I haven’t lost anything.

It’s possible that I’ll get to the other side a Buddha will be sitting there and he’ll shake his head at me and say “you know, you really missed the boat, Buddhism was the way to go.” But if that Buddha is the kind of god that I am interested in, then the next line will go something like this, “but you lived a good life, and you tried to help your fellow man and sure you got a few of the details wrong, and you may have to do a little work to make up for that, but overall I say well done.” If the next line doesn’t at least have something to do with having tried my best and still having some way to improve, then again, I’m not that interested in that god.

I also believe that if you’re not Mormon but you tried your best and helped your fellow man and so forth that my God will welcome you with something a lot like the line I’d expect from the Buddha. (And I’ll even mention that I believe that there are Mormons who won’t get such a friendly greeting from my God.)

Could Joseph Smith been crazy or delusional or a phenomenally good con artist? Sure. But If he was then he was a crazy/delusional/con artist who started something that has done more good for the world in general, through charitable giving and humanitarian aid than any other crazy, delusional, con artist ever (and I don’t believe that that just happens) so I’d still giving him props. But I choose to believe that he was just what he said he was and that he did and saw just what he said he did.

I choose all of that because to me that’s what faith is.

The difference between me and that doctor that I work with has nothing to do with questioning, we both do that, I do it all the time, the difference is that he has no faith because he’s unwilling to be wrong. Having faith means choosing something with the knowledge that you could be wrong, with the knowledge that there’s no concrete evidence but choosing to believe it anyway. That’s why they call it a leap.

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. melanie
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 07:27:14

    well said!

  2. smee
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 10:25:34

    amen.

  3. Catherine
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 11:11:40

    Not offended. I feel the same way. It’s almost like we’re sisters or something.

    Huh, weird. -Al

  4. Chris Jones
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 15:15:06

    I get to argue with you. Awesome! This happens so rarely…

    If I’m ever in your ward and it’s fast Sunday, you’ll have to tie me up before you can stop me from bearing my testimony and specifically including the line “I know this church is true”, which to my knowledge I have not used in twenty years. Because I want this guy to corner me. I’m itching to be cornered.

    He will ask me how I know, and I will ask him how he knows he loves his mother. And if he can actually prove to me that he does, I will prove to him that I know the church is true. But he can’t. So I won’t.

    Some things can be proved to others. Some things cannot. This in no way invalidates those things. Any scientist worth the name knows this. It strikes me that this guy is not much of a scientist.

    Try it this way: have this fellow attempt to prove to Archimedes that blood is composed of cells and plasma. He will find that he cannot do so. This apparently means that blood is NOT composed of cells and plasma if we accept the brilliance of his scientific premise about how people do not really know the church is true. Just because his mind is incapable of accepting my assurance doesn’t make ME mentally deficient.

    I don’t dispute that a large number of people toss the phrase off without thinking much about it, but I do dispute, Mr. Montoya, that we keep using this word and it does not mean what we think it means, whether you think so or not.

    I know my car will start. I know Jeanette loves me. I know Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at Gaugamela. I know RSL is the best soccer team in North America. I know that if I eat, I stop being hungry for a while. And I know that the church is true. I know all of those things in different ways. But of all the things I know, there’s only one of those statements I am prepared to deny all the others for, only one that is objectively true independent of experience and time and space, spark plugs and the writings of Arrianus and whether the ball goes in the goal. One of those things is TRUE, in a way that makes scientific knowledge look like Harold and the Purple Crayon.

    If I cannot say that I know the church is true, I cannot say that I know anything. I think you might be surprised at how many of the people in your ward are in a similar way.

    There’s a lot to think about here and I think you may very well be right about a lot of it. But in the interest of discussion (which I know you love) here’s what I’m thinking. First, a lot of it comes down to your definition of know. I would argue that you don’t actually know that the sun is going to come up tomorrow. It probably will. Almost certainly. But an enormous asteroid could hit the earth tonight changing the rotational spin of the earth sufficient to prevent the sun’s rising. It’s not likely but it could happen. probably I’m splitting hairs here but that’s what I do. Second, and this one is more important so, like Mr. Collins I probably should have mentioned it first, I think it has a lot to do with where you are. At this point I’m leaping and so I can’t really conceive of people who are through with the leaping part and have moved on to Moroni 10:5. But if I think really hard about it I can sort of remember a time when I was past the leap. I guess at some point I fell back, as I think we all do and so we have to leap again (or maybe we’re still moving forward and we meet another chasm). God willing we’re all always willing to do it again.

    Love you brother-Al

  5. bythelbs
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 15:46:31

    I get what you’re saying, but sometimes I think we get too caught up in semantics. Also, I’m curious how you would explain Moroni 10:5. 🙂

  6. cheryl
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 16:55:08

    I’m gonna have to go with your brother on this one.

    I totally understand what you mean, and it doesn’t make me love you less, though. I think it’s awesome that you posted about religion! 😉

  7. Flip flop mama
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 10:55:37

    Apparently the Internets ate my comment….

    What the gist of it was this: I love this post and it’s very beautifully written. I do however respectfully disagree. I do think that people tend to use that phrase a little carelessly but I do believe that we can know. In fact I submit that having a testimony of the gospel and knowing it is true by having it confirmed by the Spirit may be one of the only things we can really ~know~ in this life. I can think I know a lot of things, but I do know, because the Spirit has testified to me, that the gospel that is on the earth today is true.

  8. Carmen
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 21:24:09

    Hi – I will respectfully disagree…..:)
    I am a Christian – a “Reformed” conservative Christian. I believe that our God is a loving God, but He is also a “just” (with regard to judgement) God. Just because we are “nice” or “good” does not mean we will enjoy eternal life. How simplistic! We are commanded to love Him, and by our actions we show our faith. Please – I beg you – read the Bible! It is His word. This is about our eternal life! There is no prophet Moroni in there – that is an addition of humanity – not God! His Word is enough to convict – but you need to read it…..too many Christians think that just being good people is enough….this is not what His word says – even though we do not want to be told what to do…..we want to reject His truths, after all “no-one can tell ME what to do”. We need to go to church each week – to be strengthened by His Word and encouraged by eachother. How easy it is to fall away without a constant reminder – we are human after all. We do not live in a society that oppresses Christians (violently) – but our society is complacent, and so self-focussed that we end up being “persecuted” by our wealth and liberal lifestyles. If only it was that easy.
    Please – look at arguments “for” and “against” each religion……I could never say that only Christians will go to heaven – that is NOT for me to judge – but I do know what is commanded of me. And by those commands, I too will be judged. This is not a light matter. We each do not know how long our days will be….so this is not something to put off.
    If we have been created by an Almighty God, do you think He would command us to worship a man, or a statue, or another “being”? I do not believe so. God is God – not a prophet, not Buddha, not a thing.
    I just ask you to consider these things.

  9. bythelbs
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 10:53:38

    I wanted to say thank you for this post. It got me thinking. A lot. And in a good way.

    Also, I meant to tell you before how much I completely agree with your assertion that faith is a choice. We would all do well to remember that.

  10. E
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 12:26:18

    Chris wrote my post and did it better than I would have. He completely stole the argument about knowing that you love someone right out of my head. (Only I would have used the example of loving my husband and kids.)

    I have all of the same questions and answers to them go around in my head all the time. That used to really bother me. REALLY, REALLY BOTHER ME! But then my all wise mother told me that it was ok. And it changed my life. Because they weren’t going to stop and if I kept trying to make them stop and thinking that I had to make them stop my brain was going to spontaneously combust. I’m glad that you figured that out already because I wouldn’t wish that kind of stress on anyone.

    But here’s where I differ with you, I think. Around that same time, God condescended to tell me (again) that this was in fact the true church. He told me straight to me heart in a way that is undeniable. I can’t say that the experience was so profound that it cannot be questioned. But that’s only because I can question anything-and I do. But the questions don’t matter. They exists but they’re weak. They’re like yapping dogs. I say “yeah, yeah I guess you could be right, but what do you have to offer me?” And they’ve got nothin’, just more questions. And I say “well, this is what my God gave me; peace and assurance and strength.”

    John 6:68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”

    The Book of Mormon is the word of God-he told me that when I was in high school, Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Church is True. I know it’s true, just like I know that I love you.

    BTW my guess is that you have not fallen back but are in fact at another chasm which you are clearing just fine as far as I can tell.

  11. LisAway
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 04:36:56

    Liked this post. I sort of agree about the technicality of it. I cannot say that I KNOW the church is true. But saying I believe it doesn’t feel right, either, just as your brother expresses. Some things you just know, whether they can be proven or not. You may be right that there is a possibility of finishing this life and finding it was all not as you believed, (but worth it) but I would not feel comfortable saying that that might happen, because I do not believe it even one whit. 🙂 (I know you don’t either, you know, I’m just saying I don’t think I can say, “yes, it may be that blah blah blah.” Because it ISN’T. I’m sure there will be surprises after this life and things that aren’t the way I imagined/expected, but the general idea? That is just real and true.

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