Born To Believe

A while back, some of us had an interesting discussion on my blog called “The Faith Gene.” We were examining the possibility that certain people were born with such a gene, while others weren’t.Personally, I find it hard to believe that faith is genetic.  But at the same time, it certainly appears that some of us, whether it’s genetic or not, are somehow predisposed to believe.

Certain scriptures seem to support the idea that God gifted some of us with the ability to believe:
“And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them… And to another, exceedingly great faith; and to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit… (Moroni 10: 8, 11)”
(see also 1 Cor. 12: 9)
“Wherefore, you have received the same power, and the same faith, and the same gift like unto him…” (D&C 17: 7)”
“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.  To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (D&C 46:13-14).
Some of finest people I’ve ever known, in terms of ethical and moral uprightness, generosity and compassion, are non-believers.  It’s always been a mystery to me as to why some people can be such strong, firm believers, while others just can’t.  It’s been my observation that those of us in the Church tend to attribute unbelief to pride.  In other words, those who claim to not believe (I say “claim” because there are many believers — not including myself — who contend that non-believers really do believe deep within themselves) just haven’t humbled themselves enough or tried hard enough.  I’m just not sure that it’s that simple.
Questions for discussion:
1.  Is faith innate or an acquired trait?
2.  If faith is such an essential component of eternal salvation, do those who have been given the “gift of faith” have an unfair advantage in the Plan of Salvation?
3.  A commenter in one of the discussions I took part in suggested that non-believers are a needed component of God’s plan, in that there must be “opposition in all things;” that they are there to challenge and try our faith.  If that is so, were they “foreordained” to that role by not being endowed with “the gift of faith,” or have they made a conscious decision to not believe?

Comments

comments

14 comments for “Born To Believe

  1. Ray
    February 19, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    What perfect timing. This was scheduled days ago. Maybe we are inspired occasionally. 🙂

  2. February 19, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    As I posted at your website, FD, I think that faith is something that is innate…but I don’t necessarily think it is genetic, and I think there are some *extreme* events that can shake someone from true faith or inspire true faith. But I also have a specific idea of faith in my mind that may not conform with the church’s idea. It’s not necessarily genetic because you can have nonbelievers in a very faithful family…or believers in a family that generally lacks faith. But where my idea would disagree with the church’s idea…is because the church and scriptures would say that even if you don’t have faith, you should “desire to believe.” This, in my opinion, is trying to fake it until you make it, but in actuality, it doesn’t work. I think faith *is* the desire to believe, and if you don’t have it, you don’t have it.

    I guess it would be nice to say that if you toil and study and read and go to your meetings and and got a testimony of the Gospel, that would be really neat and Mormon faith promoting and all that stuff, but what I see more often is people who rack themselves in guilt because despite doing all of these things, they just don’t believe or feel it deep within.

    2) Of course. I think that the answer to this is similar to answers of church members on some other issues. Heterosexuals have an unfair advantage with respect to starting eternal families, while homosexuals just need to endure to the end, etc., Similarly, people who are inclined to trust and believe and have faith have an unfair advantage, while those who don’t trust and don’t believe (according to the church, I suppose) should just “desire to believe” and live the gospel even if they don’t fully understand it.

    In the end, this “unfair advantage” doesn’t mean much, since our disadvantages and our weaknesses are our opportunities to grow. So, the church model of faith is very clever in that aspect.

    3) I remember reading that comment (and there have been other posts here about the same idea). It kinda reminds me of a Calvinist idea of Irresistible Grace and the elect (which is actually why I named my blog after those kinds of idea). I don’t really like the implications of that if it is true, because foreordination to these kinds of roles is…kinda…I dunno. I’m not even going to pretend to know.

    I dunno. It kinda unnerves me to think that my purpose is to just challenge and try other people’s faith. I will challenge anyone’s faith who thinks that is true and counterpoint that they should not be so willing to accept that that’s all some people reduce to.

  3. Jen
    February 19, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    2. I don’t believe that those who have been given the gift of faith necessarily have an unfair advantage because in my experience they can have people rely on them to the point that it is exhausting. Just like any other gift given from God we are expected to use it to help others and when a person has the gift of faith they tend to be a stabilizing force in other’s lives. They might be the one always listening to others who are struggling with their faith, and it can be a challenge for them to believe so easily and see other’s struggle so much.

    3. If we aren’t endowed with the gift of faith, I believe we are given others gifts, such as the gift to believe on other’s words, etc. I don’t know how others come to the point of not believing in God. I have wanted to not believe many times because of my life experience but have never been able to turn away and convince myself God doesn’t exist. I don’t understand just how much the life before this has to do with what gifts we have now, but for me personally the Lord seems to bring it up alot in priesthood blessings, my patriarchal blessing, and through personal prayer that the things I am going through and have gone through have to do with what I said I would do before this life. Maybe He justs wants to keep a constant reminder in my mind that what I have gone through was my idea! 🙂 I don’t know if it is a conscious decision to not believe because I have tried it and it just doesn’t work…for me it is impossible. I believe even when I have a desire not to.

  4. February 19, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    “If we aren’t endowed with the gift of faith, I believe we are given others gifts, such as the gift to believe on other’s words, etc.”

    I know that the two are listed as two separate gifts, but sometimes I wonder what the difference is. Faith in fellow man vs. faith in God?

  5. Jen
    February 19, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    D&C 46
    13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
    14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

    An example of this is when Alma was “blessed because of his exceeding faith in the words alone of Abinadi”, and likewise so were those who in turn believed in Alma’s words. (Mosiah 26:15-16)

    For me, the difference in one who has the “gift of faith” and one who “believes on other’s words” is not about faith in fellow man vs.God, but faith that God WORKS THROUGH man and uses them to do His work through testifying, teaching, etc. I am convinced that being a witness of the Lord is no easier than being a believer in that witness. They both come with different challenges, but interestingly the differences bring people together and create an opportunity for unification. If we all had the gift of faith we might need each other a lot less.

  6. February 19, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    There is some interesting research going on gene expression that indicates that even identical twins can be more different (genetically) than expected (see this article also). This, combined with research such as that regarding the “faith gene”, makes me wonder whether what the scriptures refer to as “gifts of the Spirit” might involve (among other things) genetic expression as influenced by our premortal spirit self and/or God Himself. ..bruce..

  7. Andrew Ainsworth
    February 19, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    FD, interesting topic and interesting questions. I’m not sure I have the answers, but I do have a couple observations:

    1. My brother once pointed out to me the same scripture that some are given to “know” while others are given to “believe”. I don’t like the idea of God playing favorites either, but I suppose it has something to do with the fact that “believers” play a role that is just as important as “knowers.”

    2. Like you, I’m skeptical of the idea of a “faith gene.” Scripture tells us that God allowed an entire war in heaven to occur because he refused to compromise man’s agency. So I don’t see him ceding that agency to a bunch of molecules and chemicals.

    3. My biggest reason for not believing in a “faith gene” is that, as far as I know, your genes don’t significantly change during your lifetime. That being the case, I’m at a loss to explain how I apparently possessed the “faith gene” necessary to allow me to “know with every fiber of my being” x, y, and z for the first 32 years of my life, but now feel much more at home among those who long to believe on others’ words. How long until we’re talking about losing our faith gene? 🙂

  8. February 20, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Whether it’s genetic or it’s a mixture of nature and nurture, I don’t know. But I do think there are certain personality/character traits that lead people towards faith on the one hand and other traits that predispose people instead to skepticism.

    suggested that non-believers are a needed component of God’s plan, in that there must be “opposition in all things;” that they are there to challenge and try our faith.

    I have to admit, I’m not thrilled with the suggestion that I’m just the scenery or props in someone else’s narrative…

  9. February 20, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    yeah, I’ve already posted, but I’d really like to reemphasize that making it a “faith gene” is…a copout.

    Because everyone can easily dismiss that and then say, “If it’s not a gene…then it must be a choice.” No, that’s not true. There are other things that could lead to predispositions that are unchosen other than genes. So, I’ve seen quite a few people (whether here or on FD’s blog) focus on the “gene” part, dismiss that, and then go on with their lives, and miss the spirit of the concept that there’s a predisposition — a distinct personality trait — in question.

  10. hawkgrrrl
    February 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    “I know that the two are listed as two separate gifts, but sometimes I wonder what the difference is. Faith in fellow man vs. faith in God?” I think these are different in the way that some people have the ability to discern whether other people are telling the truth vs. the ability to communicate directly with God. I think they are very different gifts.

    But I have observed that some people just have a believing heart (as Richard Bushman pointed out).

  11. John Nilsson
    February 20, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    “Scripture tells us that God allowed an entire war in heaven to occur because he refused to compromise man’s agency.”

    Andrew, you have it! You have the faith gene!!

  12. steve w
    February 24, 2009 at 2:43 am

    ok as a somewhat inactive member I have an ability to look on both sides of the coin (or even all three – think about it)

    Ok if the LDS Church is completely true then we all have the ability to beleive because we had the faith in the pre-existence
    BUT i dont think its genetics
    I think it is definatly more nature then nurture
    Even in a non-believing family I think that the way someone is brought up by parents can influence if they may believe later
    Have the parents brought up the child with good morals and ethics
    yes – then that person will adapt more easily into a culture of believers and accept that OK Im not going to hell for that reason
    Has that person had a loss – are they looking for something

    alternatively if the parents havent been the classic “good” parents
    has the child had other influences such as seeing happy friends at school or the kind teacher

    I think every day of our lives we are potentially opened up for faith
    Its just how we handle things and that is dictated by previous experiences

    slightly confusing but i think ive put it as best i can

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