Is a “believing heart” really a positive attribute?

James accountability, apologetics, apostasy, Bloggernacle, book of mormon, Charity, christianity, curiosity, Mormon, new order mormon 98 Comments

I would like to introduce Madam Curie which many of you know her by on her replies at Mormon Matters she also has her own blog Third Wave Mormon . She has shared with us what I think is a very interesting and thought provoking article.

Is a “believing heart” really a positive attribute?

“Blessed are those that have not seen, and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1

Having a “faithful” or “believing” heart is greatly prized among the religious. Those who uncover less savory aspects of LDS history are frequently told to “Just have faith,” even in the face of opposing evidence. As I have pondered the question of faith, I have begun to question whether a “believing heart” is really a positive attribute, or where and when it should be applied.

From a scientist’s perspective, faith is about the worst thing you can have; the scientific method entirely depends on an ability to be objective, and to rationally and logically question what you see. This seems absolutely antithetical to the idea that we should have a “believing heart”. From the perspective of a smart shopper, you should never take a product’s claims on their word only. And in terms of internet safety, there is an army of Nigerian princes waiting for you to have “faith” in them.

Is there a requirement that the thing we have faith in be a “true” principle? For example, I can have faith that my son will one day win the Nobel Prize in Medicine, but that doesn’t not make it so. In fact, that faith may lead me to make potentially detrimental decisions in my son’s upbringing: for example, stressing science over any other talent he may have, and giving him unrealistic and unattainable goals. Goal setting is incredibly stressed in the LDS church. In the Single’s ward we were told that all we had to do was set a date for when we wanted to be married; if we had enough faith, God would provide the man.

Even if we constrain the practice of faith to the spiritual realm, it is still not entirely clear what religious teachings we should have faith in. I have heard strong, compelling testimonies of faith from Jews, Muslims, polygamous FLDS, Mormons, Catholics, and born-again Christians. Each of them had a “believing heart”. Furthermore, am I required to have faith in the doctrine alone, or must I also have faith in the leaders of these individual religions? What if I am asked to do something that is illegal, or morally wrong? (An immediate example is Joseph Smith’s commandment to enter into polygamous marriages, something that was both illegal and was considered a moral aberration). Are faith and obedience to be prized above courage and conscience?

What about when your faith in something is at the expense of another? For example, Pres. Monson told the CA Saints to give their time and money to pass Prop. 8, which overturned the ability of homosexual Californians to marry. For many of those individuals, they had faith that Pres. Monson was speaking directly for God on the matter. If they had not, they may have acted differently.

If you apply the criterion that the thing you have faith in must “enlarge your heart,” well, even that is unclear. I have found equally strong spiritual emotions in the practice of Paganism and Buddhism as I have had as a Mormon, and I find great joy in attending Catholic Mass. Does that make all of these faith traditions “true”? Yet, they contradict one another in doctrinal teachings, so how is that possible? And several of them contend to be the “only true church”.

Where is the value in faith for faith’s sake?

Comments

comments

Comments 98

  1. Madam Curie–

    I am still trying to learn what a “third wave Mormon” is. Maybe you could provide a brief explanation.

    I just finished a post on my blog about crisis of faith so the subject is on my mind.

    I appreciate Mormon Matters for providing a forum where those who have all sorts of manifestations of “faith” can write.

    I would like to comment on something you wrote:

    Having a “faithful” or “believing” heart is greatly prized among the religious. Those who uncover less savory aspects of LDS history are frequently told to “Just have faith,” even in the face of opposing evidence.

    “Just have faith” is not an appropriate answer to someone who is experiencing a crisis of faith!

    That would be like telling someone who is experiencing a heart attack, “just have faith that things will work out”, and then leave them on their own without calling for medical help. No one with a reasoning mind would do that.

    Yet, this is the answer some receive when they are experiencing a crisis of faith.

    As I have read the histories of those in the LDS community who have effectively dealt with crisis to their faith they all tell about the same story.

    1. They confront a crisis to their faith of some kind
    2. They struggle for a period of time deciding what to do to resolve the crisis
    3. They seek help from others
    4. They turn to God in mighty prayer (and sometimes fasting)
    5. They experience a “Spirit of conversion” that resolves the crisis
    6. They are stronger members of the church and thank God for the experience
    7. They have learned how to talk with God and find greater access to Him

    I realized that not everyone who experiences a crisis of faith has the same results, just as everyone who has a heart attack doesn’t have a successful outcome.

    The bottom line is if someone is told to just have faith when they are experiencing a crisis of faith they need to know they are being short-changed and need to seek more qualified help.

  2. Jared – “Third-wave Mormon” = Third-wave feminist + Mormon. Since it is my feminist leanings (well, more than leanings, really) that made me uncomfortable in Mormon culture, it seemed fitting.

    I agree with your response, that “just have faith” is an insufficient (albeit common) answer for those with real concerns with one’s religion. I also agree that faith “crises” present a real opportunity for individual spiritual growth. I would argue that in many ways, doubt and questioning, moving past blind obedience and faith – that those things are vital for real spiritual growth.

  3. LDS Scriptures and other teachings seem to stress the idea that faith includes or must be accompanied by a desire to believe. That seems to be a surface question to this post, and one that I have been aware of for long time. I am borrowing this question from a comment on a post from another blog, but which I feel is pertinent to this post. Why is it more virtuous to have a desire to believe than not, and why should desire to believe be a pre-requisite to spiritual experience? To me it seems like circular logic, that you must first believe/hope to believe, before faith. A second matter relative to this question is what are bounds of faith. Generally we talk about faith in the abstract, ie, “just have faith”. Should that faith be broad and open to expansive view and acceptance of divinity, or should it be confined to Mormonism. Would we encourage Muslims to contin”have faith”, where such a course will likely only entrench them further into Islam? Richard Bushman was asked how he is able to keep his Mormon faith inspite of all he knows regarding Joseph Smith history, and his response has always confused me. He said, “because I’m a believer”. Does that mean he possesses a proclivity to believe broadly, or that he is a “believer” in Mormonism.

    If having “faith” broadly is what is desirable, then what value is faith if can lead to so many fallacies concerning God and religion (entertaining for a moment that the Mormon perspective the the restoration and apostasy are realities in fact). The LDS bible dictionary suggests the circular reasoning even further by saying that one can only have faith in the truth. Conversely, if the latter is true and faith confined to Mormonism is desirable, then what about Mormonism makes a desire to believe more virtuous than a desire to believe in any other religion?

    Ultimately I find the encouragement of a predisposition to believe fraught with logical pitfalls and religious abstraction, as to be utterly useless as a matter of practical application. Where does one go with such insinuation, other than into a fingers crossed religious crap-shoot.

  4. The wisdom of God is foolishness for men, according to Paul.

    I think there is an attitude attainable, that can enable us to be less judgmental towards our 19th century forebears as well as our fellow Mormons today.

    “A believing heart” would definitely be the kind, that is willing to believe. I think faith is always ultimately an act of will. At some point we come to a threshold we cannot cross unless we have “faith” and will ourselves to step over, and it’s a decision, even if it’s not very conscious.

    It is difficult to explain; it does not work like a science lab experiment. We are not in control of our environment. But it also is a trial-and-error thing. It is not just one event, although some can be defining, seminal. It’s more like doing the little things day by day that make one a disciple, that help one learn to have the charity that is necessary.

    When something brings peace and joy year after year, it seems that there’s something to it…

  5. Having a believing heart isn’t a good thing when you use it the way you do here: “be gullible.” What it means, I take it, is “be trusting.” I trust my heart. By saying that I haven’t conveyed any knowledge to you. The unique thing about religious or spiritual knowledge is that it is necessarily first-person subjective and specific. I can think of numerous reasons for that. Spiritual knowledge ought not be based on how intelligent and able to sort out the evidence one is — otherwise spiritual aptitude is the same as IQ essentially and all those poor old ladies and men who cannot formulate their beliefs correctly, or assess the evidence as well, are left in the dark — not to mention those who are mentally challenged. Spiritual knowledge is based on a trusting heart. There are folks in my ward who are far more spiritually attuned than I who couldn’t formulate an argument for their belief if their lives depended on it. They are not thereby spiritually deficient.

    Spiritual knowledge is not the same as objective “knowledge” — or as I think you use it — superior, objective scientific knowledge. You assert that scientific knowledge is superior and more trustworthy. I doubt that it is for a entire range of human knowledge and experience. There is a great deal of literature in the philosophical discussion of this issue by Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, and Nicholas Wolterstorff regarding the parity of spiritual beliefs and beliefs based upon sensuous experience. More importantly, spiritual knowledge is dependent on having a certain kind of interpersonal relationship and trust – and we don’t know persons or trust them in the same way we test a hypothesis or amass evidence toward supporting a theory.

    I would translate these scriptures that say “be believing” as “be trusting.” Trust your own heart to know what it knows already. James argues that because others in other faith traditions are also trusting or believing, that means we shouldn’t be trusting because if one or another of them is right then all of the rest must be wrong. That doesn’t follow. One can only rely on one’s own experiences for a whole range of human knowledge and experience that lies well outside the scientific method.

    Finally, the value of “faith” isn’t for faith’s sake. The value of trust is to take the risk of a relationship that bears its own kind of knowing. To be open to spiritual impressions is not the same as being gullible. It is to learn to trust that entire realm of human experience — in all human experience and religious traditions — that opens eyes to see and ears to hear what otherwise appears not be seen or heard at all.

    James asks: “What if I am asked to do something that is illegal, or morally wrong? (An immediate example is Joseph Smith’s commandment to enter into polygamous marriages, something that was both illegal and was considered a moral aberration). Are faith and obedience to be prized above courage and conscience?”

    That depends on what kind of being you believe God has to be to conform to your pre-conceived view of who and what God can be. If you believe that God cannot ask you to do anything that goes against your own moral beliefs because God must conform to your moral beliefs and cannot ask you to do anything against the law, then you already have your answer. But you don’t have much of a God.

  6. Blake, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that idea, in fact on a personal level I see it as a very appropriate approach to faith, hope, and belief. The trouble I do have with this notion is how this non-gullible faith that trusts in your self and what you hope for, can lead to a singular truth which is specific to time and culture. In other words, how does that get the hindu to Mormonism. The usual response is to take a somewhat ambiguous, all religions contain some truth, universalist view on Mormonisms relationship to the whole world and world religions. While this rational seems reasonable, it comes across as highly makeshift when taken in consideration with the way Mormonism is and has been presented to the world as a “pure” religion brought forth out of an era of global apostasy. Last week I started reading Angels & Demons, which is a novel by the author of the Da Vinci Code, but follows a similar mystery plot based on historical-fiction. In first few chapters there is an exchange between the two protagonists of the book regarding their beliefs about God. In short the question was, do you believe in God, and what is your take on religion. The female protagonist made simple observation that I actually highlighted (I rarely highlight in novels) because I thought it summed things up pretty well. She said:

    “Religion is like language or dress. We gravitate towards the practices with which we were raised. In the end, though, we are all proclaiming the same thing. That life has meaning. That we are grateful for the power that created us.”

    Not exactly mind blowing I know, but after careful consideration I think this pretty well defines religious experience. The only thing I would add to her observation is that “…we are grateful for the power that created us, we hope for better tommorow, and seek to understand those things we presently do not comprehend.”

  7. To have a “believing heart” does not mean having a desire to believe in any one particular sectarian doctrine. It means being willing to be taught by the Lord. It means confessing that you are a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth, that there is more to existence than can be known by the ordinary evidences of reason alone, and that God is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.

    “Have faith” does not mean “shut up, stop questioning, and get with the program.” One does not have faith in things that are susceptible of being known by diligent rational inquiry. (Faith has no business operating in the magisteria of geology, astronomy, or biology; and whenever it presumes to poach on those fields, it inevitably gets creamed.)

    There is no inherent virtue in desiring to believe in any one particular sectarian tradition. It may be that having a believing heart generally — being open to the voice of the Spirit, and willing to choose by faith to believe that its promptings are truly supernatural communications — may lead one to become a Mormon, or a Catholic, or otherwise. But one has faith in God, not “faith” in an institution. Only faith in God will never be disappointed.

  8. I like Blake’s definition of a believing heart. In fact, it plays very well into two statements from the post.

    “From a scientist’s perspective, faith is about the worst thing you can have; the scientific method entirely depends on an ability to be objective, and to rationally and logically question what you see.”

    Here is a perfect example of re-defining a term. Of course scientists have faith. They trust their learning, their methodology, their observations, etc. They may not want to admit that, but it is true.

    “Is there a requirement that the thing we have faith in be a “true” principle? For example, I can have faith that my son will one day win the Nobel Prize in Medicine, but that doesn’t not make it so.”

    Because you do not control your son’s agency, you would be foolish to have faith in something where you ultimately have no control or choice. You can do all the set up you wish, but in the end, it is not your decision. Even if it comes true, it is because he decided to make it have, not because of your faith.

  9. Blake: Having a believing heart isn’t a good thing when you use it the way you do here: “be gullible.” What it means, I take it, is “be trusting.” I trust my heart.

    What if, in trusting your heart, you come to a conclusion that is different from what you are taught to have faith in from a sectarian perspective?

    Spiritual knowledge is not the same as objective “knowledge” — or as I think you use it — superior, objective scientific knowledge. You assert that scientific knowledge is superior and more trustworthy.

    I’m didn’t mean to imply that scientific knowledge is “superior” to spiritual knowledge, only that it is different. I asserted that you shouldn’t have “faith” when applying the scientific method. I see faith as a tool that is not usable in the realm of science. My point was that faith should be consigned to a completely different realm entirely from scientific thought. I don’t prize a scientific result over one that is felt in the heart, but neither do I prize a spiritual experience over a scientific finding. They are apples and oranges.

    Mostly, the point of the comparison to science was to ascertain where faith or belief is applicable, and where it is not.

    That depends on what kind of being you believe God has to be to conform to your pre-conceived view of who and what God can be. If you believe that God cannot ask you to do anything that goes against your own moral beliefs because God must conform to your moral beliefs and cannot ask you to do anything against the law, then you already have your answer. But you don’t have much of a God.

    Spiritual experiences and faith in God’s commands have been used to justify every action under the sun. Abraham nearly killed his son because God told him to. Nephi killed Laban because God told him to. Abortion clinics have been bombed and people killed because God told the faithful to murder. Women have undergone horrible atrocities at the hands of spouses because they were told that God wanted them to submit. Suicide bombers have laid down their lives for Allah, faithfully believing that they will be rewarded by the god who commanded them. If we cannot have some basic premise of right and wrong, if God has no immutable laws – Do we really have much of a god?

    Thomas: “There is no inherent virtue in desiring to believe in any one particular sectarian tradition. It may be that having a believing heart generally — being open to the voice of the Spirit, and willing to choose by faith to believe that its promptings are truly supernatural communications — may lead one to become a Mormon, or a Catholic, or otherwise. But one has faith in God, not “faith” in an institution. Only faith in God will never be disappointed.”

    If it is true that we are not to have faith in specific religious institutions, then where does the admonition to “Follow the Prophet” come into play? Is it not “faith” that we are being asked to have in a man?

    Jeff Spector– You said, “Of course scientists have faith. They trust their learning, their methodology, their observations, etc. They may not want to admit that, but it is true.”

    My comparison was with scientists having faith in a hypothesis, not in underlying assumptions. I agree with you that there are underlying assumptions inherent in any field of study. Are underlying assumptions synonymous with “faith”? I suppose that since the Primary song teaches “Faith is knowing the sun will shine/ Lighting each new day,” that must mean that we have “faith” in anything we assume – the law of gravity or laws of thermodynamics, or laws of friction, for example?

    Because you do not control your son’s agency, you would be foolish to have faith in something where you ultimately have no control or choice. You can do all the set up you wish, but in the end, it is not your decision. Even if it comes true, it is because he decided to make it have, not because of your faith.

    Does faith require that no one’s agency but our own be involved? When one is told on their mission to “set a date and God will provide the convert” – under your assumption, this cannot be faith b/c it implies the agency of another individual. Mothers are told that if they pray for their “wayward children” and are faithful, they will be with them eternally – How is that faith not contingent on another’s agency? This issue of agency underlies the entire foundation of faith as an action. What is the point in having faith in something, if anything in the course of human events – if anyone elses possible agency, in other words – can negate it?

  10. Madam Curie: I’ve read your blog and watched your metamorphosis with some interest. If you distrust your heart because it somehow conflicts with what you “learned” from a sectarian perspective (whatever that is), then I suggest that get in touch with what really matters most. If you sell out on your own heart, there is very little that you could trust. Indeed, you very question suggests that you privilege the “sectarian perspective” (whatever that is) over the commitment and knowledge held fast in your own heart.

    Madame: “If we cannot have some basic premise of right and wrong, if God has no immutable laws – Do we really have much of a god?”

    First, what kind of ethical theory do you have that privileges your notion of “right and wrong”? Are you suggesting that your notion of right and wrong is simply the Truth? Are you really that confident? Are you suggesting that if God deviates from your notion of right and wrong that he’s not really god at all?

    I ask because you seem to me to have a pretty immutable notion of right and wrong — so I’m interested in what kind of ethical theory you subscribe to that underwrites such confidence. From my perspective, the notion that you know all about what God must submit to, what moral laws bind him and what kind of being he must be to qualify as God seems like a pretty strong fixed belief on your part that most who profess belief in God would be reluctant to commit to. I know I would be reluctant to be so sure.

  11. All I can control (to some extent, at least) is how well I live what I believe and feel I know. I simply have to have faith (active belief) that following my own best understanding is acceptable – no matter what that is.

    Adding charity to faith, I also have to grant that same privilege to others – not condemning them for choices that are different than mine.

    Nutshell: I can’t say what your faith must mean to you. I only can say what it must mean for me. In that sense, every single one of us needs faith – and we need it badly.

  12. Blake:

    Indeed, you very question suggests that you privilege the “sectarian perspective” (whatever that is) over the commitment and knowledge held fast in your own heart.

    Hmm. I don’t think that I hold sectarian perspective (i.e., the perspective of the religious institution) over my own heart, though I will admit to trying for a number of years. Eventually, I had to accept that my “values system” or internal moral compass was at odds with what I was told I was supposed to believe culturally. Hence, the question of faith. What is the difference between faith in a church/sectarian institution (Mormon, Catholic, Buddhist, Islam) and faith in God? From a Mormon perspective, aren’t we taught to have faith in the prophet? How is that not confusing, if what the prophet says and what one’s heart says are different?

    Personally, I have chosen to act according to what my heart says. That makes me a bad Mormon, but I can rest easier at night.

    First, what kind of ethical theory do you have that privileges your notion of “right and wrong”? Are you suggesting that your notion of right and wrong is simply the Truth? Are you really that confident? Are you suggesting that if God deviates from your notion of right and wrong that he’s not really god at all?

    First, I didn’t use my examples to convey that those things were right or wrong, merely that there are a lot of things that are justified by “faith”, many of which seem contrary.

    Second, to answer your last question: No. I was just using your own language from your first comment: “If you believe that God cannot ask you to do anything that goes against your own moral beliefs because God must conform to your moral beliefs and cannot ask you to do anything against the law, then you already have your answer. But you don’t have much of a God.

    Third, with respect to an internal moral code: Yes, I do have a strong internal value system. An internal moral compass, a sense of moral right and wrong to try my best to “do no harm”. Does that mean that I always think those promptings to not hurt another come from God? Do I make that internal compass my “god” or say that it comes from “god”? Or that those feelings are “True”? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, because I am still working out what “God” is. I try to do and choose what my heart says to do and choose, but they don’t always agree with what the LDS church teaches are True. And so, that brings up the issue of faith, which is at the heart of the original post.

    Finally, I think that trying to say that God can tell two different groups of people simultaneously contrary things seems a little… disorganized. To one church he says, “Killing is wrong” while to another he says, “Kill your children if they don’t follow your religion.” How can there be multiple, even Christian churches on the earth at once where all boldly claim that they know God is with them and them alone? God sure does relish in entropy and confusion, if that’s really Him doing all the talking. Do you support that we toss out the idea of right and wrong and make everything morally relativistic? All of this makes the concept of God very confusing, when all one has to do is to firmly believe that God told them it was right.

  13. Ray:

    Adding charity to faith, I also have to grant that same privilege to others – not condemning them for choices that are different than mine.

    Nutshell: I can’t say what your faith must mean to you. I only can say what it must mean for me. In that sense, every single one of us needs faith – and we need it badly.

    Thanks, Ray, I appreciated that comment.

  14. #7 – Thomas, “Only faith in God will never be disappointed.”

    I’m not really sure how this is true, unless you’re talking about the idea that at some point, possibly in the next life, god will “make things right.” To use a topical example, I’m pretty sure everyone who cares about Susan Powell, including Susan Powell, are pretty disappointed in how her exercise of faith in god has turned out. Again, I understand the concept that all will be somehow put right eventually by god, but I don’t see how that excepts those with faith in god from disappointment.

    Personally, I don’t see any value whatsoever that is unique to having faith in god. If we’re talking about faith generally, then I would agree that having faith in onesself or in other people or events; in other words, faith that is measurable and definable, is of value. But faith in an unseen and unseeable god – I don’t see any value in this.

  15. The idea that faith (belief without evidence) is a good thing is one of the most insidious myths ever perpetuated on the human race.

  16. “Is a believing heart really a positive attribute?”

    Yes! After living with those who don’t believe and those who do, I have seen a stark difference in their overall outlook in life, their ability to cope with life in general and the way they view and treat others as well. I am not talking about people who “pretend” to believe, I am talking about those who truly do and live as they believe.

  17. #11: “From my perspective, the notion that you know all about what God must submit to, what moral laws bind him and what kind of being he must be to qualify as God seems like a pretty strong fixed belief on your part that most who profess belief in God would be reluctant to commit to.”

    If no moral laws bind God, then He’s Allah, not Jehovah — an oriental despot, who brands things as moral and immoral solely by his whim. We are ethical monotheists here — Mormons even more than many other Christians. Moral law exists co-eternally and co-equally with God. God could not command idolatry, and thereby make it moral. While some things may be moral in some circumstances that are immoral in others (such as the taking of life in defense of one’s own), bedrock moral truths like “Thou shalt not murder” are true and moral in and of themselves.

    There are a few moral principles that I do believe we can assert with confidence that God is bound by. Start with “God is not a man, that he should lie.” If we can’t trust that whatever communications we may receive from Deity are reliable, we can have no assurance that any of our spiritual life will do us any good whatsoever.

    Second, in order to reasonably hope to benefit from seeking God, we must have faith that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. The only God whose existence is worth hypothetizing — commencing an “experiment of faith” — is a God who blesses humanity because he loves humanity and desires our happiness, and who we come to know by conforming ourselves to this aspect of God’s character. Otherwise, we are left to grope around for some pagan god to bargain with — to try and win deity’s favor by the right combination of burnt offerings, ritual dances, and sacrificed virgins. And since the range of such possible deities, and their preferences, is infinite, we stand no hope of ever guessing what they are and what they might like.

    Therefore, it follows that any God worth seeking is bound (or characterized) by something along the lines of the Golden Rule, or Matthew 26. We can therefore reasonably recognize a presumption that if something is hurtful to human beings, God disfavors it. Like legal presumptions, it may be that this presumption can be overcome, such as by an unambiguous revelation of the reasons why an apparently harmful commandment may ultimately be for our good. But it should take truly extraordinary evidence to rebut this basic presumption.

    In short, I, who profess belief in God, am not at all reluctant to commit to strong fixed beliefs about God’s obligation to act morally. If God’s ways are so thoroughly not my ways that I have no hope of telling ultimate right from wrong, then I really have no hope of approaching him. Is the Light of Christ really so useless, that our basic conceptions of justice, honesty, righteousness, and compassion are nothing, and should be discarded altogether if that’s what it takes to maintain belief in the infallibility of a purported divine mouthpiece?

    You speak of “selling out” one’s “heart.” Who’s truly selling out here?

  18. #15: “I’m pretty sure everyone who cares about Susan Powell, including Susan Powell, are pretty disappointed in how her exercise of faith in god has turned out. Again, I understand the concept that all will be somehow put right eventually by god, but I don’t see how that excepts those with faith in god from disappointment.”

    This may come across as cheap special pleading, but of course “the concept that all will somehow be put right eventually” is an integral part of faith in God. There is plenty of support in Scripture for the concept that relying on God for things to go right in the short run is not the way to go; God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Big-picture faith in God will never be disappointed — because about the only way it can be conclusively rebutted is if death results in oblivion. In which case you won’t care anyway.

    And it may be equally cheap to say that Susan Powell just may not have been doing faith right. (Cf. the silly argument by socialists that despite their ideology’s catastrophic record, those failures are just a function of the Russians, Chinese, Cambodians, Germans, etc. not doing it right.) But why must faith, as a general principle, stand or fall based on one person’s decision to interpret whatever mystical promptings she believed she experienced, as divine instructions to stay with her flawed spouse? My experience is that Mormons, perhaps more than most people, are inclined to over-recognize spiritual experiences. I don’t believe God told Susan Powell to stay with her husband, and if she chose to have faith that she was hearing a divine instruction to do so, I believe she was mistaken — just like I believe that the lady in testimony meeting a few months back was mistaken in believing she’d had a spiritual witness connecting the Fall River skeleton to the Book of Mormon.

    In other words, people’s misapplication of faith to details does not discredit Big Picture faith.

  19. #10: “If it is true that we are not to have faith in specific religious institutions, then where does the admonition to “Follow the Prophet” come into play? Is it not “faith” that we are being asked to have in a man?”

    Maybe. “Put not your trust in princes,” whether secular Caesars or princes of the Church.

    I do believe that one can properly have faith that feelings of assurance that one’s membership in a particular religious institution is acceptable to God, are divine communications of the truth of that proposition. That does not necessarily mean that the tradition in question has all religious truth, is the one true church, or even that all of its doctrines are true. It simply means that the religion will work for that person to keep him on the path to God.

  20. Thomas

    I do believe that one can properly have faith that feelings of assurance that one’s membership in a particular religious institution is acceptable to God, are divine communications of the truth of that proposition. That does not necessarily mean that the tradition in question has all religious truth, is the one true church, or even that all of its doctrines are true. It simply means that the religion will work for that person to keep him on the path to God.

    I agree with this statement 100%.

  21. #19 – “I don’t believe God told Susan Powell to stay with her husband, and if she chose to have faith that she was hearing a divine instruction to do so, I believe she was mistaken.”

    Thomas, I appreciate your honesty. My experience has been that most believers will claim that what happened was an answer from god that just can’t be understood by our mortal understanding. I agree with you that god didn’t tell her to stay with her husband. The difference between you and me may be that when someone feels prompted to do something that turns out well, I also don’t believe that god prompted them to do it.

  22. Thomas, what good is all this faith and prayer if Susan (or anyone else) can so easily be mistaken. You are arguing on the side of atheists here. We all agree that prayers are mistaken. That is the whole problem. God’s will is in the head of the person claiming to know it. Answers to prayers are also simply a function of the individual mind. Just as everyone’s consciousness is singular and distinct, so too is everyone’s view on what God’s will is.

  23. #22: “The difference between you and me may be that when someone feels prompted to do something that turns out well, I also don’t believe that god prompted them to do it.”

    I’m not sure there’s much difference between us there, either.

  24. #24 – This is an interesting conversation. Obviously I don’t know what your religious beliefs are, Thomas, but can I assume that you have a belief in god? Do you believe in a god that is involved in our lives? Your comments make it sound as if you possibly don’t believe that.

  25. #23: I am not arguing “on the side of the atheists.” I am arguing (at the outside) for a kind of not-quite-deistic faith, where we pray to God for assurance that our living our lives unto Him will have enduring consequences for our good, but do not expect much more detailed guidance than that — because, as we agree, we can be too easily mistaken in trying to sort out any spiritual signal from the naturalistic noise. (Sorry — my apostolic alliteration habit is kicking in.)

  26. I see. If prayer is so potentially dangerous, or so rife with potential misinterpretations, could it be a safer bet to simply avoid prayer (and thereby avoid being mistaken) and rely on judgment using all available evidence? I would obviously support this view.

    I would appreciate if you could explain to me the value of prayer if you don’t feel god will provide detailed guidance.

  27. #25: (1) Yes and (2) Yes, but not anywhere as much as traditional religionists often believe. Divine assistance in finding car keys is right out.

  28. #27: The overused response (not that it can help being overused) is “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.”

    Relying on judgment using all available evidence is what you do for plumbing, medicine, law, genetics, history, geology, and pretty much everything else involving the natural world. Rational thinking is the appropriate tool for those things, and only a fool makes the decision about when it’s safe to start a handcart journey based on anything but the best evidence of reason.

    But clearly there is no evidence available, from the ordinary channels of sense and deduction therefrom, to bear on questions that are posited to lie beyond the reach of those channels. With respect to those matters, not only is faith the best evidence (“the evidence of things not seen”), it is the only possible evidence.

    If I’m not looking for “detailed guidance” (i.e., revelation of the location of my car keys, which have been missing for two weeks now, which wouldn’t be too bad except for the 5GB flash drive on my key chain having some important documents on it), I’m not disappointed when I don’t get it. On the other hand, if I’m looking for an assurance that my general purpose in life is acceptable to God, then prayer and what I trust to be confirming revelations in answer thereto are the best available evidence. If I’m mistaken, I’ll be too dead to care; in any event, living with that purpose (basically, treating life with reverence and loving others as myself) won’t have been a life poorly spent.

  29. Thomas said, “Relying on judgment using all available evidence is what you do for plumbing, medicine, law, genetics, history, geology, and pretty much everything else involving the natural world. Rational thinking is the appropriate tool for those things, and only a fool makes the decision about when it’s safe to start a handcart journey based on anything but the best evidence of reason.”

    I would simply say that judgment based on available evidence should be used for ALL things.

    The things that lie beyond those channels, is beautiful to me, for it allows the mind to attempt to solve these issues, but again relying on reason.

    And in response to your last paragraph, one can live with that same purpose without a belief in god. Treating life with reverence and loving others does not require god, and frankly, I think life is more deserving of respect if it evolved from millions of years than if it were a test of whether you would be good or bad from some creator.

  30. #29 – I understand what you’re saying, Thomas. I guess my response would be that the fact that there is no evidence available from the ordinary channels of sense and reason, regarding things supernatural or beyond the mortal realm, does not necessarily mean that we have to look for/find/invent a different kind of evidence. Isn’t it possible that there isn’t any evidence because there isn’t anything that requires support? It sounds like you adhere to Pascal’s line of reasoning. Is that fair to say?

  31. Thomas, you have made great strides. It seems you came to the cliff and decided, well, even though god won’t help me with small matters, he must be there for more important matters like the purpose of life. So you backed away. Take the plunge! The water is fine.

  32. #31 — Kind of a modified Pascal’s wager, yes. My hypothesis is a God whose blessing I can hope for, because it is his nature to bless me. Since I have no grounds for considering myself more worthy of divine blessing than another person, I have to expand that into belief in a God who blesses humanity because it is his nature to desire human happiness. It follows that if there are any discoverable preconditions to my obtaining such blessing (and there may not be), they would involve my also pursuing human happiness. In other words, basically Matthew 26.

    That, I think, gets us around the objection to Pascal’s Wager that one could just as easily wager on the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s existence as Jehovah’s. There would be no point in speculating about the FSM’s existence, because any conditions to the FSM’s favor would be random, and therefore undiscoverable. The existence or nonexistence of the FSM is therefore as irrelevant to me as the number of cats in Zanzibar, according to Kierkegaard’s idea that only knowledge that bears on existence is essential knowledge. I have no way of guessing what I would have to do to get on the FSM’s good side.

    So I’m left with essentially a binary choice: Does there exist a God from whose existence I can reasonably hope to benefit, if he exists? Since I can’t hope to benefit from the existence of a capricious deity, whose preferences I can never guess sufficiently to bargain with, the only God worth hypothetizing is an ethical monotheist deity something like the God of the New Testament, minus sectarian decorations. If God is hypothetized to transcend the ordinary physical universe, it follows that I can’t calculate the odds for this wager using ordinary sensory and rational tools. So I’m left with basically a coin flip.

    Any mystical sensations I may experience in connection with faith, I can either choose to believe originate from my biological mind alone, or that they are triggered by an external reality. Again, this is almost certainly beyond the ability of science to prove or disprove. (Showing that “religious” experiences can be artificially induced only shows the existence of the physical mechanism by which they are expressed; it doesn’t rule out a possible external source that triggers the same mechanism the experimenter’s electrode does.)

    Ultimately, I choose to have faith because the world is not enough for me. I suppose I could reconcile myself to injustice prevailing as much as it does, despite our best efforts to fight it. I prefer not to.

    If nothing else, that preference saves me from the insidious idea that the human condition can be perfected (as opposed to improved, which is absolutely our job) on earth, with all the evil that secular utopianism (the means by which many non-religious avoid the repellent notion that injustice will prevail) inevitably carries with it.

  33. #32 — Substitute “may” for “must” in line 2.

    And as for your invitation in closing — backatcha. 🙂 We’ve even got real water involved….

  34. I disagree that it is a coin toss and that there is insufficient evidence or ability to reason and determine that god could be more or less than 50% likely to exist. Further, the god you seem to be discribing (who doesn’t fret details) seems to me to be one that would not be influenced one iota by your prayers.

    I also find it very interesting that you would say “the world is not enough.” James Bond is here!

    I also disagree with your comment that “I suppose I could reconcile myself to injustice prevailing” as if a lack of belief in god leaves you stuck with that mindset. It seems reason has taken you on a journey to dismiss many religious notions but when you get to the crossroads of belief or unbelief you abondon reason and make a choice to believe based on emotion, which is fine, but you can’t claim you got there through reason.

  35. James Bond came with Bartleby the Scrivener in the left seat of the Vanquish.

    “Further, the god you seem to be discribing (who doesn’t fret details) seems to me to be one that would not be influenced one iota by your prayers.”

    And here we are back at the gates of the Temple of Baal, setting a goat on fire in the hopes of making it rain. I’m not trying to influence God by my prayers. I’m trying to learn — to influence me.

    “It seems reason has taken you on a journey to dismiss many religious notions but when you get to the crossroads of belief or unbelief you abondon reason and make a choice to believe based on emotion…”

    Not “abandon,” Sir. Step beyond. Fully conscious of what’s going on.

    “I also disagree with your comment that “I suppose I could reconcile myself to injustice prevailing” as if a lack of belief in god leaves you stuck with that mindset.”

    Please elaborate. To my thinking, injustice, unfairness, and suffering will continue — in some quantity or other — as long as the world lasts, no matter how hard people try to combat them. Moreover, there are already floods of injustice gone under the bridge that we can’t do anything to remedy whatsoever. That can either be accepted as as good as things get (and there’s much that’s noble about Stoicism, properly applied), or you can hope for some kind of cosmic justice to set the balance right. You cannot hope for that without something that transcends the world.

  36. Your choice to believe is based on emotion. If you wish to ride the rails of reason, it has but one destination, the reasonable one, the true one.

    Simply believing a god will cure injustice at some future point doesn’t make the world a better place. I would rather accept the truth of the world, then believe in some fairy tale. Who will be more motivated to strive to make the world a better place? He who thinks only god can save us, or he who thinks only WE HUMANS can make it better?

  37. “Who will be more motivated to strive to make the world a better place? He who thinks only god can save us, or he who thinks only WE HUMANS can make it better?”

    Objectively, I don’t see compelling evidence that atheists are any better at improving the world than theists are. I would stack my own diligence in that respect up against a similarly-situated atheist any day.

    Frankly, I would say that the majority of improvements to the human condition have arisen from technology, whose advances were overwhelmingly driven by bright men and women who wanted to get rich. Their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) generally have little to do with any of it.

    One thing I do notice about many militant secularists, is that they often really do place themselves in God’s chair, as the sole agents responsible for “making the world a better place.” Recognizing no authority higher than theirs, those who seek to perfect the human condition on earth have been the authors of outrageous suffering — comparable to the Inquisition on its best day, or better. “Those who torment us for our own good do so without end, because they do so with the approval of their own consciences.”

    You may have been blessed by biology and conditioning with moral preferences that more or less reflect our present moral consensus, for which religious thinking is significantly responsible. Bully for you. Another man may have other preferences, and you have no objective basis for deeming his preference less noble than yours. You like making the world a better place; Jeff down the street likes torturing kittens. Tomatoes, to-mah-toes.

    “I would rather accept the truth of the world, then believe in some fairy tale.”

    You take the position that it is a certainty that what can’t be demonstrated by ordinary rational processes, does not exist. That is an irrational conclusion. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence only when the circumstances are such that evidence ought to be expected. That is not the case here.

    It is an absolutely rational conclusion that if I do not posit some entity that transcends the world, I must accept the injustice the world contains. At first impression, there is no compelling evidence that demands a conclusion either way.

  38. Thomas, once again, I commend you for your honesty. As I understand it, you are essentially stating that you choose to believe in god because the alternative is something in which you just can’t bring yourself to believe. I think this rationale is behind most religious belief, but most people either don’t recognize it working in their lives, or they refuse to acknowledge it.

    I would only take issue with a couple of your statements:

    “One thing I do notice about many militant secularists, is that they often really do place themselves in God’s chair, as the sole agents responsible for “making the world a better place.” Recognizing no authority higher than theirs, those who seek to perfect the human condition on earth have been the authors of outrageous suffering — comparable to the Inquisition on its best day, or better. “Those who torment us for our own good do so without end, because they do so with the approval of their own consciences.”

    I don’t really have a problem with this argument, except to clarify that secularism (at least as I understand it) elevates EVERY person to the chair of god, but does not seek to elevate any one person over any other. I don’t think there is any being or entity higher or more noble than the human being. All human beings have the right and the ability to define their morals, to decide their priorities, and then do what they can or want with their lives to make those things happen. There is nothing above that, in my opinion, and adding a 2000 year old book or stone cathedrals or ornate temples to the equation to add gravitas, does nothing to make those goals more noble or laudable. I also think that there’s no real difference between pagans and believers when it comes to your last sentence. Believers torment us without end because they do so with the approval of their god, while securalists may do it with approval of their own conscience. Tomato, tomahto, as you say. I would argue that the difference is that if I want to stop tormenting my neighbor or my spouse or my children, I only need clear such a change with my conscience. The believer must make appeal to a litany of scripture, guilt, dogma and, worst of all, other men, to gain such approval. I would argue this is a substantial difference.

    “Another man may have other preferences, and you have no objective basis for deeming his preference less noble than yours. You like making the world a better place; Jeff down the street likes torturing kittens. Tomatoes, to-mah-toes.”

    I have no real problem with this statement, and I am perfectly willing to live by it. I think there are few, if any, moral absolutes in this world, so I don’t feel the need to pass any deep moral judgment on anyone else due to their proclivities, for the most part. That said, I believe completely that we are subject to social authority, as we are part of the social contract. Fortunately, in my mind, secular authority has established, and continues to establish and evolve, rules and laws that govern what is and is not socially acceptable and allowable. Things like murder, rape, abuse, and even torturing kittens, have been deemed to be socially unacceptable. Thus, I don’t think my neighbor is a sinner for torturing kittens, but I do think he’s a criminal, and I am glad to see him punished and prevented from perpetuating his harmful behavior. Morals have little, if anything, to do with it. I think that’s a fairly consistent position.

  39. On a personal level, I simply know that there have been at least three times in my life when I have tapped into something (or, more accurately, had it tap into me) that literally is unexplainable by ANY conclusion other than “there is something out there beyond my comprehension” – and I use “out there” carefully and consciously. I choose to place those experiences into the category of confirmation in the existence of God, thus setting the border parameters of my own personal faith – but I am fine with someone else positing a different meaning in her own experiences for herself. What someone else decides really isn’t important to me; what those experiences mean to ME is vitally important to me.

  40. I am currently of the mind that I don’t know whether there is a “god,” but I do think that there is an afterlife and that there is something bigger than “me”. I am not sure what that means or where that places me. I have had spiritually moving experiences that I feel go beyond myself. It may be that they can be explained psychophysiologically, but I don’t really care to determine the cause.

    Its the uncertainty of what exactly I believe that leads to confusion towards the idea of “faith”.

  41. #40 – Ray, I don’t have any argument with this statement. I would never argue that I know there is nothing more out there beyond our human consciousness. I haven’t personally had any such experiences that would require me to categorize or define such “things,” but I also think there is sufficient evidence that there is something going on besides what is on the surface. I choose to define such things differently than you, but as you say, each of us only has to decide for him or herself what those things mean, and I don’t really have a problem with people defining those things in a way that is different than mine.

  42. #41 – “It may be that they can be explained psychophysiologically, but I don’t really care to determine the cause.”

    Are you saying that you don’t care to go through the time and effort to determine the cause, or that if it’s something other than something supernatural you’d rather not know?

  43. Dexter, fwiw, you are exercising your own “faith” in your comments every bit as much as Thomas is. Thomas recognizes things he can’t see and explain; he then reaches a conclusion based on those things that resonates with him and gives meaning to his life that he wants in his life. Iow, he applies FAITH that his conclusion about those things is correct (at least for him), and he acts accordingly. You also recognize things you can’t see and explain; you then reach a conclusion based on those things that resonates with you and gives meaning to your life that you want in your life. Iow, you apply FAITH that your conclusion about those things is correct, and you act accordingly.

    This is true of everyone who thinks actively about this issue – and most who don’t. Faith of this kind (the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen) is what drives every achievement and discovery and innovation, since nobody would pursue something they couldn’t imagine. Imagination is the foundation of growth and progress of ALL kinds, and humanity would stagnate if imagination died. Imagination is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom – and it is seen most easily in science and religion (in trying to understand the “what” and the “why”). Faith is nothing more than applied imagination, and I’m not addressing absolute Truth in using that word. When faith dies, hope dies; when hope dies, dreams die; when dreams die, humanity dies; when humanity dies . . .

    “We are desperate to discover what is just beyond our reach. Maybe that’s what heaven is for.”

    Ultimately, whether True or False, faith in what we can’t see is critical to mankind. We simply MUST reach conclusions about what is just beyond our view. Without faith, we cease to be special in any cosmic way – and I think it’s important we believe we are special in a cosmic way, even as that belief is misapplied and bastardized on a regular basis within EVERY organization and ideology throughout the world.

  44. # 43 – Are you saying that you don’t care to go through the time and effort to determine the cause, or that if it’s something other than something supernatural you’d rather not know?

    That’s a good question. I had meant the first, but I am not sure how I would answer the second. The idea of their being a “spiritual” has been a driving force in my life for as long as I can remember. Its so much a part of my personal narrative that I would feel lost without it. It may be that I am frightened to consider the personal implications of its not being there. You’ve definitely given me something to consider.

  45. #39:

    “Believers torment us without end because they do so with the approval of their god, while securalists may do it with approval of their own conscience.”

    Fair enough. Although I wonder if “Jesuits without Jesus” (as Churchill called Communists) aren’t potentially worse than the actual Jesuits, even as Protestants portrayed them. A wise believer recognizes that his choice to believe in God is ultimately a subjective choice, and therefore makes allowances for the unbelief of others. A secular Puritan out to make the world a better place, on the other hand, may entertain the illusion that he is justified in breaking as many human eggs as are necessary to make his utopian omelette — whose benefits are obviously demonstrated by clear reason.

    Needless to say, in the civilized world, the secular Puritans have had a rather better run of it over the last century than the inquisitors. (Nobody expects them these days.)

    “As I understand it, you are essentially stating that you choose to believe in god because the alternative is something in which you just can’t bring yourself to believe.”

    Oh, I’m sure I could believe in nihilism if I really set my mind to it. Why should I?

    “All human beings have the right and the ability to define their morals, to decide their priorities, and then do what they can or want with their lives to make those things happen….Morals have little, if anything, to do with it.”

    Doesn’t the whole language of “rights” imply a moral standard? Is consensual government really preferable to tyranny only because it supposedly works better? And are you really saying that there is nothing objectively to choose between rape (if you can get away with it) and love, such that while you would be happy to see the rapist punished (to ensure your own security), you wouldn’t dare to judge him?

  46. #46 – I’m not suggesting that you should set your mind to believing anything. I think deciding to believe something doesn’t make a lot of sense. It seems more sensible to use your best efforts to determine what is and isn’t true, to the degree we can, and then work within that framework. I don’t personally believe in determining what would be the best reality and then choosing to “believe” in it. If there isn’t a god, then we shouldn’t believe in one, regardless of how good it may make us feel.

    With respect to rights, I should probably change my statement to “humans have the ABILITY” to determine their morals and priorities. I do believe in rights, but I believe they are granted by our fellow men (in the form of society), not god or any other innate force. If this were not so, rights would be more uniform from culture to culture.

    I absolutely would not hesitate to judge a rapist. I think rapists are pigs, and should be removed from society. I just don’t believe that they are pigs because they violated god’s eternal law. Our culture has decided that rape and similar crimes that harm others are repugnant and offensive. That is also a value I personally hold. I also have some values that are not completely in line with majority societal values, and I have no problem being in disagreement with society, because I have determined my own values. So while my personal values are largely in line with societal values, I would be intellectually dishonest if I failed to admit the strong possibility that if I lived in a different culture my values would be different.

  47. “From a scientist’s perspective, faith is about the worst thing you can have…” I stopped reading your article when I came to this sentence. As a scientist myself, it did not ring true to me.

  48. Thomas’ perspective resonates for me. Ray’s pushes me outside of my own head.

    When Bushman speaks of a believing heart, I view this as just an open-mindedness to spiritualism – a willingness to act on Pascal’s wager, a good feeling about God and human nature. Faith, to me, refers to motive for action. When it is unconscious, it is assumption. When it is deliberate, it is faith – we are willing to act on our hope rather than our knowing. However, I don’t believe it is faith when the following conditions exist: 1) it contradicts conscience without being reconciled, 2) it is an attempt to find spiritual “proof”, or 3) it is an attempt to control external events. I think #1 is moral abdication(either to man or a conceptual God), not faith. I think #2 is sign-seeking. And #3 is a derivative of #2 with a self-validation component.

    Frankly, one can have a believing heart and not have it dictate their actions, so I see it as distinct from faith.

  49. JDD (#48) – “From a scientist’s perspective, faith is about the worst thing you can have…” I stopped reading your article when I came to this sentence. As a scientist myself, it did not ring true to me.

    Sorry that you felt that way. If you had read further, you may have realized that I wasn’t saying that being religious and a scientist don’t mix. I was saying that in terms of a scientific hypothesis and testing it in the lab, you don’t want to have strong, preconceived notions of what the results should be… If you are convinced of a scientific hypothesis’ being true, it may make it difficult for you to look at it subjectively.

  50. I don’t mean to be pedantic here but Read Alma 32. There’s you answer. Proper faith has internal and hopefully external rewards. Unfortunately, it’s not measurable or testable in a Descartian way, but it is empirical to the self, and maybe that’s the point. It can be tested true but not measured against anything, which may help us develop something in our brains that is higher than our five senses. Thus, I don’t think that a “believing heart” without any testing is a good thing. There needs to be some testing.

  51. #51 – I think this is a good point, Peter, and I certainly agree with you. The problem I think you’re going to run into is that when you tie faith, and the fruits thereof, to testable, measurable results, even if those results are subjective to each individual, at some point you have to allow for the possibility that some people are not getting any results, or are at least getting different results than others. I think that’s a tough position for most believers to swallow, because it destroys the perception that everyone who prays WILL get the same answer from god. I think that’s a very comforting position for people, and I don’t think they’re going to easily give it up.

  52. brjones-

    “you have to allow for the possibility that some people are not getting any results, or are at least getting different results than others.”

    The problem with this is that just because one person doesn’t get results as quickly as another, it doesn’t mean that they won’t eventually. If a person decides to give up on the process, who is to say they didn’t give up too soon? Is 15 years long enough? 20? The Lord did say to endure to the end after all, so really, if one gives up before their end what does that mean?

  53. #53 – I understand your point, Jen. I do think it’s a little self-serving (not to you personally, but to the position generally). Obviously this kind of thinking allows believers to never, under any circumstance, have their belief structure questioned in any meaningful way. I think this is where we come back around to the original issue of choosing to believe or not, since there’s no way to prove or disprove anything.

    Here’s a twist on Peter’s comment about testing and measurable results: what if we’re not talking about a person who feels like he or she is just not getting an answer, but we’re now talking about a person who feels like he or she has gotten an objective, measurable answer to their pursuits, and that answer is not what they thought or were promised it would be. What do you do with that person? I guess you could fall back on the same answer – keep trying because the lord promised you would get answer A in his time, so ignore everything other than that answer. If that’s how someone is approaching it, then I think they probably disagree with the premise of tying faith to testing methods and measurable results. Again, I think once you tie faith to tests and results, you have to allow for the possibility that there will be results that deviate from the norm, or the expected result.

  54. Jen:

    I think that is the question. How reasonable is God if he expects an a person to persist in unsatisfied “faith” for twenty years, where the person has given reasonable devotion? What use is it for God to even do that, what exactly does it prove about the person who does this? Abraham had a manifestation of God, and appears to have been directly commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham was not questioning God’s very existence, rather his faith was that God was good and ultimately had the greater good in mind. So often, Abrahams trial used to typify any trial of faith that someone may be going through, but I find this unfortunate. How might the story differ if Abraham had the doubt in his mind that God even existed, or that he was actually following God’s command? What if he wasn’t sure (by the way, I know you did not say anything about Abraham, this is just a thought I have been having)? I can’t percieve of any virtue where God would go out of his away, obscuring any evidence of his existence, hiding himself in effect, only to then expect his Children to believe in him. It really doesn’t make any sense. The 15 – 20 year scenario may be appropriate as a general guideline, but the real problem with Pascal’s wager is that I am not sure how it applies anything beyond a belief in God, ie, specific religions. How does one apply the binary wager to the famous Joseph Smith dillema? “…Which of all these Church’s is right, or are they all wrong together”.

  55. brjones-

    I personally have questioned my belief structure and I think that as many people mature and live life they do as well. Also, I don’t have any problem with people receiving different results or answers, I don’t think God gives everyone the same answers about everything. I’m talking about just giving up on God completely and saying that it didn’t work or no answer ever came. I don’t think we can put a time frame on God and that is my main point.

  56. Jen (#53) – The problem with this is that just because one person doesn’t get results as quickly as another, it doesn’t mean that they won’t eventually. If a person decides to give up on the process, who is to say they didn’t give up too soon? Is 15 years long enough? 20? The Lord did say to endure to the end after all, so really, if one gives up before their end what does that mean?

    Another problem with this approach is that it can be applied to any church. Say someone is raised Catholic/Islam/Protestant/Jewish/etc. and is told that they should just endure to the end without ever receiving a witness of their faith. What makes one’s blind belief in any of these religions different from blind belief in Mormonism? Many, many churches teach that they are the only path to God. Your logic could be applied to any of them equally. How is blind faith really a positive attribute?

  57. #56 – I think this is a fair point, Jen. And from my interactions with you I don’t consider you to be one who would view such things very narrowly or close-mindedly. Again, I think that gets us back to the question of whether or not to choose to believe, especially for those who feel they have nothing objective (or even subjective) upon which to justify such a decision. I’m not sure what that person does with that when all the factors that encourage him or her to believe are based in things they haven’t personally experienced. It’s a pickle.

  58. #53 and 56: I believe it’s absolutely proper to “put a time frame on God” if the Alma 32 process is to be considered anything like an actual “experiment.” The problem with your suggestion that the experiment has to be open-ended — that even if the experiment fails to produce the promised results within 15 or 20 years (25, in my case), that doesn’t falsify the premise — is that as far as we know, we only have threescore and ten years, more or less, to do the experiment. If we spend all 70 years banging our heads against the Mormon wall, that means we can’t spend those years performing the same experiment on Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Orthodoxy, or Buddhism.

    The practical result of the experiment, under your prescription, would be to lock a person for life into whatever religious tradition he first commenced this “experiment” upon. A Mormon will stay Mormon to the bitter end; likewise a Catholic, Muslim, or Methodist. Believe it or not, the “gain faith by practicing your faith” doctrine isn’t exclusive to Mormonism; you’ll find it in many other traditions, or even in the secular world under the tag “fake it until you make it.”

    (I just read #57, which says essentially the same thing.)

    Now, if you’re talking about faith in God generally, and not in a particular religious tradition (it seems that this is what you’re saying in #56), then I think you have a point. By remaining open to the possibility of a personal revelation of God, who either is, or isn’t, you’re not foreclosing the possibility of an experiment on any particular sectarian tradition, and so “enduring to the end” in that experiment is reasonable.

  59. #55: “…but the real problem with Pascal’s wager is that I am not sure how it applies anything beyond a belief in God, ie, specific religions. How does one apply the binary wager to the famous Joseph Smith dillema? ‘…Which of all these Church’s is right, or are they all wrong together’.”

    It doesn’t. Which is why I’m not sure “faith” is an appropriate tool for determining the superiority of one sectarian tradition over another. I believe that you can have by faith at most an assurance that your practice of a particular religious tradition is acceptable to God. That may or may not be because it is literally, comprehensively true.

  60. Thomas-

    I am talking of faith in God in general, not in a particular religious tradition. My belief is that God loves ALL his children and that ANY who approach Him should expect to receive results. One of my biggest issues with God has been His timing and learning to accept it. I don’t like it any better than anyone else, but I have found that my complaining and whining doesn’t seem to speed it up or change it. 🙂

    I have had my faith severely tried over the past several years and yet, as much as I would like to tell God to get lost, I can’t. It annoys me at times that I have such a believing heart, but a huge part of me knows that He is there and I am unable to deny it no matter how much it would be nice to sometimes. The truth is, with all my difficult days, I have days where I feel such an overwhelming peace and feelings of joy and contentment, that I know without a doubt there is a God who loves me and cares for me. In those few moments that come it is enough to give me strength to deal with all the challenges the surely come within days or even hours from those moments.

    To all those who responded to my comments-

    I have to leave for a bit, but I will get back to the comments I haven’t responded to yet. Thanks for helping me to see different perspectives, it is important to me to have an open mind and to understand how others feel, especially when it differs from my own feelings.

  61. #47: “So while my personal values are largely in line with societal values, I would be intellectually dishonest if I failed to admit the strong possibility that if I lived in a different culture my values would be different.”

    I admit that my reluctance to see distaste for rape as a mere personal preference (different only in degree, not in kind, from my preference for Swedish Fish over brussels sprouts) may be more intuitive than rational (although it does rationally flow from my positing a source of ethics that transcends mere human preferences). To that extent, you may be right that I believe in a transcendent moral order “because the alternative is something in which [I] just can’t bring [myself] to believe.” That alternative just feels absurd. My mind rebels at it. That is an objective fact, and I cannot conclusively rule out the possibility that my mind is configured this way for other than naturalistic reasons.

    The possibility that if I lived in a different culture (say, Viking — skal, til bardaga og naudgunnar!), my values would be different, doesn’t necessarily mean that there cannot possibly be any transcendent substance to those values. Differing moral consensuses among different societies are only proof that discerning true morality isn’t easy, and that there’s no guarantee of getting it infallibly right. That doesn’t excuse us from trying to discern it as conscientiously as we can.

  62. #62 – “Differing moral consensuses among different societies are only proof that discerning true morality isn’t easy, and that there’s no guarantee of getting it infallibly right. That doesn’t excuse us from trying to discern it as conscientiously as we can.”

    I don’t have any real qualms with this statement, apart from the implication that societies don’t establish morals, but rather seek to discern them. I don’t want to give the impression, though, that I’m somehow in favor of “immmoral” behavior, or that I believe people should be free to do whatever they personally think is moral. I definitely do not. I also don’t want to give the impression that I’m not as repulsed by behavior such as rape as anyone else. I just don’t believe that my repulsion is imbued in my subconscious by another person, even if that person is god. I think any reasonably rational, sensitive person would find rape, and similar behaviors, completely repugnant, and frankly, I find offensive the idea that I couldn’t come to that conclusion on my own, but have to have it whispered to me or hardwired on my subconscious or written in an ancient book in order to know better. If that’s the case, then what is the point of having an intellect or a conscience or the ability to reason? If we’re just going to be told everything that is right or wrong, we’re reduced to a higher class of monkeys who need to be spoon fed what’s best for us. I can’t accept that.

    All that said, I wouldn’t argue that there definitely is not some source of higher moral or ethical consciousness at work. I just don’t believe it’s an omniscient person who is directing and commanding his idiot children who can’t figure things out on their own. Although I am ignorant about such things, I’m intrigued by the possibility that there is an inter-connectedness between human beings generally that transcends the conscious realm. As I said, I’m no expert on such things, but I would never argue that there’s nothing going on besides what we can see in front of us. There are some things I think are NOT the explanation of such phenomena, but I certainly don’t pretend to know exactly what IS going on.

  63. I’ve tended to admire people in the different LDS units that I have been involved with who:

    1. Have testimonies, but only occasionally share them.
    2. Have witnesses of the truthfulness of the church, but recognize them in private, subtle manifestations.
    3. Demonstrate their testimonies by the way the live their lives and how they support their local church unit/community.
    4. Introspectively question aspects of faith and wait patiently for resolution.
    5. Have a willingness to forgive faults and frailties of leaders, and acknowledge strengths of individual leaders and more particularly, strength of the organization when a leader is supported.

    I had always considered such individuals to have a “believing heart”, but after reading this post, I would say that their heart may not necessarily be “believing” in the category of having faith for faith’s sake. I can apply the term “faithful heart” to them, in the sense that they are faithful in their diligence and perseverance.

  64. #63 — Can you avoid concluding that to the extent you have an inclination to have more concern for your fellow beings than you do for, say, a chicken or a peach — as just one more material object to be manipulated or consumed, if you can, and if it will give you pleasure or sustenance — that inclination came from somewhere.? It’s either an artifact of evolution, or a “conscience” — something placed there by a Creator, or something inherent in your fundamental, uncreated consciousness (if Mormon pre-existence theology has it right). You can extrapolate a good personal morality of compassion and non-aggression from a premise that every individual human being is a categorical moral imperative, entitled to respect and good treatment — but what is the basis of that premise? We eat peaches, don’t we? Why not people? (Metaphorically, that is.) Why shouldn’t the strong prey on the weak, if they can be confident of avoiding negative consequences?

    I agree that we shouldn’t need to be spoon-fed our morality; in fact, I think depending solely on an “ancient book” (or a not-so-ancient one) to inform our conscience is imprudent, given the spotty moral and intellectual record of people who do. We are capable of “figuring things out on our own” — so long as we have some fundamental axioms to reason from. Where we may part company, is that I believe many moral atheists and agnostics are operating without acknowledgment on a moral capital stock accumulated in large part by religiously-informed moral thinking.

  65. #65 – “I believe many moral atheists and agnostics are operating without acknowledgment on a moral capital stock accumulated in large part by religiously-informed moral thinking.”

    I think this is a very fair point. If I’m going to argue that I believe in letting society largely define morals, then I would certainly be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that the majority of individuals within that society are ostensibly deriving their morals from religious sources. I just don’t think religion is a necessary part of the process. That said, it’s obviously a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, because there’s no way to know where religion’s influence in human morality truly begins and where it ends. In other words, I firmly believe that if religion were removed from the equation, most human beings would come up with more or less the same morals (at least the big things) that religion provides. But there’s absolutely no way to prove that. I can even acknowledge that in my own life I can’t separate the two. I was raised by religious parents, and was active in the church most of my life. I was taught many things as absolute morals. Now that I’m out of the church, there are many things on which I disagree with the church and my parents, but on those things we agree, I would be a fool to argue that I came up with those completely on my own, with no influence from religion. And so it goes.

    With respect to your first point, about how to determine how to differentiate the treatments of a human and a peach, I have a couple of thoughts. One is the golden rule, which is not inherently religious. I think people should, and largely do, act in a way in which they would hope to be treated in return. This is simple logic. With respect to animals or peaches or inanimate objects, the same rule can apply. I don’t expect to be treated humanely, or in any other way, by a plant or an inanimate object. Hence, I don’t think I owe them anything, except to the extent I want to enjoy their beauty or food supply. In other words, I am free to use them as I please. With respect to animals, they’re higher up on the food chain, if you will, and they receive a higher commensurate degree of respect and humane treatment. I don’t think there’s any great mystery in this. Human beings are the highest form of life, and are “entitled” to respect and dignity only in the sense that human beings are of an equal class. That said, human beings only receive respect from more powerful human beings out of the internal restraint of the more powerful, or through external constraint exercised as part of the social contract. I think history shows this to be the case.

  66. Cowboy-

    “I can’t percieve of any virtue where God would go out of his away, obscuring any evidence of his existence, hiding himself in effect, only to then expect his Children to believe in him. It really doesn’t make any sense.”

    I agree. So, can we assume that if a person has been taught that they are a child of God, that God is their Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, is their Saviour and the Holy Ghost is there to help guide them in their lives, that God is hiding himself from that person? Isn’t the very fact that they have been taught these truths God’s way of helping them to know of his existence? Could it be possible that it is the way God delivers the information to us that we don’t like and not necessarily that we haven’t ever had an “experience” to tell us that He exists?

  67. I don’t think so, Jen (I realize that your question wasn’t directed to me), because we’re not promised that we will have god’s word through second-hand sources and we should trust them. We’re promised that we won’t have to rely on anyone else, but that god will give us a first-hand manifestation of his existence. These are god’s rules. No one is trying to make him do something he doesn’t want to do. If the scriptures really are his words, then this is something he promised to do. We’re only holding him to his word. So, since clearly god can’t do anything wrong, this only leaves one possible explanation for why someone doesn’t get the promised answer, and that is…wait for it…it’s the fault of the person doing the asking. I see this as inescapable.

  68. Here’s a couple of things that I have thought about recently. Who does a believing heart benefit? I have seen people I love who believe without whining, people who believe with lots of whining, people who don’t believe and don’t whine and people who don’t believe with lots of whining. The two people I have known long enough to know very well that believe without whining are the most stable, loving, compassionate, well tempered, patient and forgiving people I know. If I had to pick who I would want to be in a crisis with, it would be one of these two people.

    My point is that being believing benefits the believer significantly, especially when they are grateful and don’t complain about their life circumstances. I think it is important to add that the two people I speak of have had to deal with ridiculously long difficult circumstances in their lives, in other words, they haven’t had it easy by any means. When they have chosen to forgive, most people would find it very difficult to let go of the anger associated with their circumstances. I believe that being a believer and not whining are significant components to helping us attain attributes that bring us happiness and joy, contentment and peace. Does it benefit God for us to believe? I suppose, if He desires for us to fulfill His work on the earth, but I am sure He can find someone else to replace us if we aren’t willing. So, really the people that I have seen that have chosen to believe, even in ridiculous circumstances, are also the happiest and the most well adjusted, loving, forgiving people I know. There has to be something to that.

  69. brjones-

    What is the difference between a person who hears for the first time the true nature of God, or that He even exists and feels that it is true and right and are grateful for that knowledge AND someone who hears it from the time they are two years old and up? As a child did you believe in God? and if so, what changed your mind as an adult? Can you honestly say that you have always not believed in God?

  70. Jen (#67)- I agree. So, can we assume that if a person has been taught that they are a child of God, that God is their Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, is their Saviour and the Holy Ghost is there to help guide them in their lives, that God is hiding himself from that person? Isn’t the very fact that they have been taught these truths God’s way of helping them to know of his existence?

    But what of those who are taught differing ideas of what or who God is? Your comment indicates that the idea of God as represented from a Mormon perspective is the only concept of God. If a Jew is raised without the concept of Christ as Savior, and “god” never tells him or her otherwise, then is the god revealed through that child’s parents’ Judaism really God revealing himself to the child? Or if a child is raised Muslim, and is taught of Allah, is that still God revealing Himself?

    I just don’t think its that easy to separate religious affiliation from theism when it comes to faith, particularly when we consider that many religions teach their God is the only God and that all should understand His attributes from their perspective.

  71. Jen (#70)- As a child did you believe in God? and if so, what changed your mind as an adult? Can you honestly say that you have always not believed in God?

    I would argue that the faith of a child in God and that of an adult are entirely different things. That child also believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or that Bugs Bunny was a real person.

  72. No, of course not. But I also used to believe in Santa Clause, and that doesn’t make him any more real. There are many things I believed that my parents or other authority figures told me, that have turned out to be either non-existent, or fundamentally different from what was presented to me. I’m not sure what the variable is in the example you gave. Perhaps it has to do with what each person is already bringing to the table, through natural temperment and/or based on people’s life experiences.

  73. Madam Curie- #71

    I already thought about this and I believe that what we are given in life is what we are accountable for in relation to knowledge or lack thereof concerning God. I take accountability for what I have been taught and approach God with that belief system. God cannot expect anything more from His children but their best with what He has given them. So, when I refer to my concept of God, it is the same one that all of us here at Mormon Matters have been exposed to and taught so that is my reference point. My responsibility lies within what I am given and I leave the rest to God.

    I think it is a stretch to compare belief in God to Santa Claus. God is someone that many of us were taught of daily and we prayed to Him in reverence daily as well. We learned about talking to Him about our problems and that through the Savior we can return to live with our Father in Heaven. I was taught that Santa, on the other hand, comes out once a year after fattening up to bring us gifts to celebrate the birth of the Savior. I don’t remember ever being taught to pray to him or being taught that he was anything more than that and it certainly wasn’t someone I thought of on a daily basis.

  74. brjones-

    “There are many things I believed that my parents or other authority figures told me, that have turned out to be either non-existent, or fundamentally different from what was presented to me.”

    I’m just curious, besides belief in Santa and God, what else are you referring to?

  75. brjones-

    My computer is having issues because it is installing updates. I wrote this earlier and it wouldn’t submit so I am submitting it now.

    This is one thing I am trying to teach my children. They are being given so much that they have to be careful not to take it for granted. There are people that join the church as adults that would have treasured knowing that God is their Father and that they are a child of God as a child or youth. Those of us who have been handed all this knowledge on a silver platter sometimes feel we need God to make Himself known to us in a way that is undeniable or else we won’t believe, yet we have been surrounded by His teachings our entire life. My point is that I think we can easily talk ourselves into a state of disbelief because we take for granted all the knowledge we have and expect grander things, when God is giving us more than we can possibly imagine already

  76. Jen (#75)- I’m just curious, besides belief in Santa and God, what else are you referring to? and #74 I think it is a stretch to compare belief in God to Santa Claus. God is someone that many of us were taught of daily and we prayed to Him in reverence daily as well. We learned about talking to Him about our problems and that through the Savior we can return to live with our Father in Heaven. I was taught that Santa, on the other hand, comes out once a year after fattening up to bring us gifts to celebrate the birth of the Savior. I don’t remember ever being taught to pray to him or being taught that he was anything more than that and it certainly wasn’t someone I thought of on a daily basis.

    I was raised Roman Catholic, and was taught to pray to St. Anthony whenever something went missing and to believe that he would help me find it. I prayed to him multiple times a day.

    I was taught to place a statue of Mary in my window to keep the rain away.

    I was taught to pray to Mary, because she could intercede for me to Christ. I was taught that it was common to receive visions and visitations from Mary the Mother of God.

    I was taught that my dead ancestors were in purgatory watching over my every action, and that they could also intercede on my behalf to God, so I should be good and be aware that they were watching me always (Imagine how I felt as an adolescent when my grandfather died. Everytime I got undressed, I was worried grandpa could see me!!!)

    My parents and grandparents and great-grandparents ad nauseum believed all of these things strongly and taught them to me as a child. I don’t necessarily think their teaching them to me was God revealing Himself to me, or that I should have persisted in belief in them when things continued un-found, it rained, or I didn’t receive visitations from Mary.

  77. #74 – I think santa and god are comparable in this context in the sense that, regardless of the frequency or reverence with which one may be taught about god, as compared to santa, they’re both beings that as a child I believed in SOLELY because my parents told me they existed. For me that’s the point. Obviously at some point ideally one will gain his or her own testimony that god truly does live, and to that point I feel I can honestly answer that I have never believed that god existed or had anything to do with me, independent of the teachings and exhortations of others.

    #74 – Just as an example, my father was always very interested in politics, and he presented everything in very black and white terms. Well when I got old enough to think about issues for myself I realized that things he presented as absolute fact, were actually very skewed by his personal opinions. Nothing wrong with that, but he never made a point of letting us know that this was just his opinion. His opinion was often presented as fact. I think this is very analogous to religion. As a child, when I’m told that god absolutely lives and the LDS church is absolutely his church, why would I question? When I get old enough to think about things for myself, I may realize that that was just someone’s opinion, and I want to find out for myself. To me, everything that I “knew” prior to that point is not really knowledge.

    #76 – I agree that we can easily talk ourselves into a state of disbelief, just as we can easily talk ourselves into a state of belief. I agree that we have been given many things such as the scriptures, the gospel teachings, the guidance of the brethren, community, fellowship, etc. At the end of the day, though, those things don’t make the church true and they don’t make god exist. I’m not saying it’s not or that he doesn’t, I’m just saying that knowledge of or belief in god or the church must come independently of the trappings thereof. This is a beef I have with the system that religion uses to perpetuate its existence and truthfulness. In essence it says “look at all these wonderful things. How could we have all these wonderful things if god weren’t really with us?” I do not find this to be compelling in the least. It’s circular logic. All the knowledge and teachings in the world are not worth anything if they’re not from god. Giving your kids a silver platterful of teachings and then telling them not to be too ungrateful as to seek for a personal sign from god seems to me to be putting the cart WAY in front of the horse.

    I hope my comments don’t seem flippant or critical of you, Jen. I’m addressing these things to myself much more than you.

  78. #77 Madam Curie-

    My parents were raised very similar to you, except I don’t know if you had to go through the hell of dealing with nuns in Catholic school. I have heard many stories about that for sure!

    So, my question to you is how did you get to the Mormon faith then? Why are you here if you were raised Roman Catholic?

    brjones-

    I have read enough of your comments to understand you pretty well. I know that going into discussions with you always leads us back to the same place….agreeing to disagree. I think it is important that we all live what we believe or don’t believe. It is important to you not to believe in God and for me it is important to acknowledge Him in all I do. Our fundamental differences don’t allow too much discussion because it always comes back to that. I believe and you don’t and no matter how many different ways you try to discuss it, that is the bottom line for both of us and we aren’t changing our minds. Hey, at least we can say that we stick to our convictions! 🙂

  79. #80 – Agreed, Jen. And I appreciate that regardless of the fact that we both know going in where it’s going to end up, we can still have an interesting and lively debate. I would hate to think that anyone would feel like I’m not worth talking to just because they already know what I think. Talking about HOW you came to believe what you believe is just as interesting to me as knowing what you actually believe.

  80. #74)

    Jen:

    I can accept this idea, in fact it tends make a lot of sense that God could only hold us responsible for beliefs and actions we were fairly taught. The problem I have with this notion Jen, is that it works against the notion of a single true Church, with necessary ordinances, etc. If God is going to teach us as you suggest, through the belief systems we were born into, what then is the purpose behind having a true Church? More to the point, if he is going to lead us in different directions, how can we know that we belong to the true Church, and not just the convenient Church for his purposes. I think your suggestion is good for spirituality but bad for religion.

  81. #81-I agree completely brjones. If it wasn’t interesting to discuss these things I wouldn’t keep coming back for more! 🙂

    #82-Well, I don’t necessarily agree that it works against the single true church notion ONLY because of our belief in the life after and the work that can and will be done there for those who didn’t come to know the full truth here. I really think God is a lot more relaxed and liberal than we think and that His plan is working out just fine. If He was so uptight and worried about everyone getting the truth in mortality, He would have done things a lot differently. I believe we will be pleasantly surprised out how well God has planned for His children to receive what they need to be happy. Maybe that sounds polyannish, but that is the God I have come to know through prayer and many different life experiences. I believe He is a good Father and that more than anything He wants us to love one another and serve one another. When we do this, it changes people and lives for the better.

  82. Jen,

    I feel like the safety jumping on the pile after the play’s been blown dead, but here’s my $.02:

    What Cowboy (82) said. I’d change his last line to “good for spirituality but bad for sectarianism.”

    Like you (#69), non-whining believers are among the best people I know, probably at or near the absolute top of the list. (Hi, Bjorg M.!) But other NWBs can be royal pains in the okole — arrogant, unreasoning, hostile, and intolerant. When “faith” is harnessed in service of sectarianism, nothing good results.

    It seems to have been different during the 1950s, when my parents grew up, but in the era of Ezra Taft Benson’s Book of Mormon revival, it is the Church itself that raised the possibility of the Church not being true. By exhorting young people to read, ponder, and pray about the Book of Mormon, and obtain a witness of its truth, the Church inescapably presents at least the theoretical possibility that the Church might not be what it claims to be. Most conscientious young Mormons (those who don’t just chuck religion altogether and join the largely unreflective secular youth culture) get Moroni Ten-Foured and live happily ever after. But others don’t. They know it, and they know any God worth caring about knows it. They are not inclined to go the cheap route of just going with the cultural flow. If there truly is anything to be found like “pure intelligence” or the peace that passeth all understanding, that’s what we’re looking for, and we’re not going to pretend that having our emotions manipulated by the LDS Motion Picture Studio is as good as it gets. It’s either the for-real Sacred Grove, or we’ll have to settle for the God of the philosophers.

    I have had too many people tell me “I’ve really known all along.” If what I’ve “known all along” is all they have, then their claims to “know” are useless.

  83. Thomas-

    “Like you (#69), non-whining believers are among the best people I know, probably at or near the absolute top of the list. (Hi, Bjorg M.!) But other NWBs can be royal pains in the okole — arrogant, unreasoning, hostile, and intolerant. When “faith” is harnessed in service of sectarianism, nothing good results.”

    I agree completely with this statement. That is why I believe I only know two people who REALLY don’t whine and REALLY live what they believe. There are a lot of yackers that say they believe but yet have very little to show for it in their daily living. I know a lot more of the NWB’s that are royal pains than those that aren’t.

    I am a seeker of truth and I spent many hours seeking after God when I had an incredible challenge hit me several years ago. For some reason, He answered me and I was able to understand things that I didn’t before. Things that have carried me through this difficult time in my life and things that had I not known, I wouldn’t have been willing to do what I am doing today. I am one of those people who are not willing to go the cheap route of just going with the cultural flow, so I understand what you are saying. Interestingly, I have felt myself more separated from the culture of Mormonism and more bound to God as I have come to know Him better. I do believe that the church is full of truth and I want it a part of my life, but I also see many things that I didn’t see before when I was just floating along. I know without a doubt that God is there and I know that He has answered my prayers. He hasn’t ever necessarily came out and said to me “the LDS church is true” or “this is the place you need to be”, He has just answered me when I have ask questions about my life. I haven’t felt that the church isn’t true, although I have questioned JS and his women issues, etc. But, in my questioning, I have come to a place where I know that all things cannot be answered here and I’m ok with that. I feel like I am a much better person than I was 5 years ago because I have learned to be much more compassionate and loving and I attribute that to my temple attendance and time spent there communing with God, receiving answers pertaining to my life and understanding what I need to do. In other words, the LDS religion has been a vehicle that has brought me closer to God and it works for me. I respect those who can’t rectify the issues they have with it and I try really hard not to judge but to understand. I find myself vacillating between wanting to stand up for the God that I love (yet get angry and frustrated with as well) and just listening and trying to understand those who don’t feel the same about Him.

    Anyway, I have a child who needs me so I better stop yacking! 🙂

  84. #87 — “In other words, the LDS religion has been a vehicle that has brought me closer to God and it works for me.”

    I don’t think there’s any better (written) example of a “believing heart” than that. Amen.

  85. Jen (#80) – I went through 12 years of Catholic school, but I didn’t go to a Catholic college, and ended up joining the LDS church there. I married a faithful LDS man in the temple about 6 years ago, and we since have been dealing with many church-related concerns.

  86. Thomas said:

    What Cowboy (82) said. I’d change his last line to “good for spirituality but bad for sectarianism.”

    I can live with that.

  87. The problem with the quote in 89 is that people don’t say “it works for me.” They say “it works for me and it is the ONLY way and you need to make it work for you too.”

  88. Whether some do or don’t the CHURCH itself says that so it cannot be labeled as an externality of the church or a result of the church culture, that is doctrine.

  89. #94 — I don’t recognize much distinction between church culture and doctrine. The doctrine is part of the culture, and vice versa. What gets labeled “culture” vs. “doctrine” depends mostly on what faction is in charge at the moment.

    I have no doubt that the sectarian aspect of Church culture will either diminish in importance in coming years, or the Church itself will.

  90. #88-

    Thanks, it’s always nice to be appreciated, especially by you. 🙂

    #92-

    Oh Dex, take a valium! 🙂 I think you need to realize that there are people who don’t necessarily feel this way, like me. I don’t feel like the LDS church is for everyone. Everyone doesn’t want the same things in life. What makes me happy doesn’t necessarily make someone else happy. I know people in life who work really hard at everything they do and others who try to slide by and take the easiest possible route in everything they do. I don’t think being a member of the church is easy. It takes a lot of work and sacrifice and to many, the benefits and rewards are worth it, but to others, it is not worth their time or effort or they want to put as little into it as possible. For example, they may do as little as possible to maintain a certain reputation, but their heart isn’t really in it. They may eventually give up on it completely because it just isn’t worth their time. The commitment of a member of the LDS church is monumental and it is daily, not just on Sunday. There are a lot of people who just don’t have any desire to commit to something to that degree and I don’t think it would make them happy if they tried to do so.

    I think agency is critical in this life and I have no problem with the LDS church working for me and not someone else. I don’t automatically assume that I am going someplace better than people who don’t believe in the church or who have left it either. Life is complicated, people are complicated and God is fully aware of all of that. When we die, I think we will be with people who are like us because that is where we are most comfortable and that is what will make us the happiest. I don’t think it is as much about God judging us as it is being where we are comfortable. Will He really need to say anything? I don’t think so, we already know our own thoughts, intentions and what we truly desire and I think it will be more than clear as we recall all the things that we did and wanted in this life where we belong in the next. Also, I think unless we were a horrific monster in this life, it will much better for all of us there, LDS or not.

  91. After reading through things, I still like It means being willing to be taught by the Lord. It means confessing that you are a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth, that there is more to existence than can be known by the ordinary evidences of reason alone, and that God is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.

  92. The point the Lord is trying to convey is simply about faith (or a belief without a perfect knowledge) moving someone to repent of their sins. The Lord in the context of saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen but believe” refers to those who repent of their sins before they have a perfect knowledge of why. Out of that context, the saying could be dangerous. The same doctrine is found in Alma 32. The opposite of this is true as well. Those who have a sure knowledge of the Savior through a vision or visitation and then later fall into transgression are far more condemned than those who have not had such a privilege.

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