*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.