It is easy to think yourself out of a testimony. It’s as simple as saying “well I can’t prove God exists, or doesn’t exist, therefore I am agnostic.” Today’s guest post is by jmb275.
Since both faith and intellectualism are necessary in our lives, I think it helps to define these terms.
Let’s start with faith. There are many definitions of faith, and each religion seems to place a slightly different emphasis on faith and its meaning. From Wikipedia: “faith is the confident belief or trust in the truth of or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.” In Christianity faith is an act of trust or reliance on Deity. In this way it is distinguished by the object of its faith rather than the faith itself . In Islam, faith is a complete submission of will to Allah. In Hinduism it means an unshaken belief and purity of thought. In Buddhism faith connotates a feeling of conviction, specifically a conviction that something is, a determination to accomplish one’s goals, and a sense of joy deriving from these two.
There is another important aspect of some people’s faith – fideism. Fideism is the idea of having faith for the sake of having faith. That is to say, it does not rely on logic, or reason of any kind. It is independent of reason, and even holds that reason and faith are diametrically opposed. This may lead us, in the church, to shun intellectualism and focus instead on faith. For many TBMs, faith trumps logic. Some believe that the events of the restoration were physical, external realities. This can result in viewing our own spiritual experiences as evidence of external realities. We are taught from a young age that the “Spirit” will direct us, put thoughts in our head, prompt us to do things, not do things, comfort us, and even tell us what is “true.”
Intellectualism (rationalism, reason, logic, etc.) is “any of a number of views regarding the use or development of the intellect . . .” It is sometimes synonymously viewed with “rationalism” the idea that knowledge is derived through reasoning .
In my life I have had thoughts come into my head, felt comfort, and felt promptings. However, it has never been clear to me, since some of these thoughts were wrong and uninspired, how to distinguish “spiritual promptings” I should heed, from just plain ‘ole regular thoughts. In other words, my “thoughts,” or “promptings” or “experiences” have not always been a manifestation of external truth or reality.
Science is often the “poster child” for intellectualism. But it indeed has a strong track record. It is repeatable, reliable, and effective at describing the physical realities that surround us. Although science is imperfect, its mechanisms are very good, indeed inspired. On the downside, science is not spiritual. Science doesn’t write poetry, compose music, paint pictures, or do other activities meet humanity’s spiritual needs. Science is a utility. It is one of many tools in the toolbox of life. It complements faith.
Faith, on the other hand, inspires us, makes us happier, makes us feel good. It serves as a guide to help us know right from wrong. It gives us comfort, something to rely upon, and hold to. I believe that faith is the soul’s innermost desire to express itself, to be born, to come out, to manifest itself in the world around us. Arguably most importantly, faith moves us to action, and that action is a manifestation of the spiritual being within. There is great worth in this concept. It is in this sense, that I believe that faith, like science, is a tool in our toolbox of life.
Having said this, why is it that so many view intellectualism as mutually exclusive to faith? Might I suggest one possible cause; that religions and people have a psychological affinity for treating the spiritual as physical realities. Studies have shown that people who have sleep-paralysis, after having an episode, associate the events with reality. They literally are unable to distinguish the fact that it was a dream. Is it possible that this happens at the subconscious level even while awake? Certainly for some people this will be more pronounced than for others. This can help explain why Joseph had many visions, revelations, etc. which he deemed external realities, yet many, and even most, prophets after him have not. Joseph was a visionary, for whatever reason. That does not necessarily mean that his experiences were literal, external, physical realities. And what if, indeed, they weren’t?
This does not, in my mind, diminish the idea that the metaphorical ideas shared through these experiences can help us in our lives. Nor does it mean that the organization that he started was worthless even if it’s origins were slightly less miraculous than we like to tell. Muhammad had visions, and conversations with the angel Gabriel which were eventually written down to form the Quran. The idea that Muhammad wrote that book himself is heretical to a Muslim. Yet if it really came from the angel Gabriel should we not heed the teachings contained therein? But in Mormonism we don’t. In fact, we don’t give it a second thought. My solution to this conundrum is the same as that of Joseph. Muhammad was a visionary. He even wrote a beautifully inspired book that is every bit as sacred, special, and inspired as the Book of Mormon. However, I would suggest that the truths therein, and even his conversations with the angel Gabriel were internal experiences and metaphors.
This viewpoint makes it a lot easier for me to have faith in Joseph’s teachings, Christ, God, etc. I have internalized these concepts. They are metaphors for my spirituality. I don’t need to reconcile them with science. I don’t need to reconcile them with reason, or logic, or rationalism. And I don’t need to reconcile them with any specific brand of religion as they all have metaphors that can help me in my life. I can have the celestial kingdom right here, right now in my life, by being humble, kind, loving others, etc. If we will live the way He advocated, we can unleash the inner god and in this way have a testimony of the doctrine. This, I believe is what Jesus meant when he said “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)
Is faith in an external reality necessary for spiritual growth? If faith moves us to action, is faith in metaphorical ideas as powerful as faith in physical realities? Does intellectualism present a problem for faith in external realities? Is that problem reduced if we only have faith in metaphorical ideas?
Discuss. Wikipedia article on faith.
 Wikipedia article on intellectualism