Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

…the hell is Mormonism, anyway? Part 1:Questions

Part two

Recently, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend. A lot of people I look up to —  smart, intelligent, capable people whose opinions I put in high regard and with whom I usually identify in regard to most subjects — have, one by one, started falling away from the LDS Church (the most recent example being someone who was my first counselor when I was Elders’ Quorum President a few years back). While some (not all) of the most stalwart members I know are also the most ignorant and naive in other areas of life. And with the recent spotlight of Mormonism in pop culture, what with Mitt Romney and the Book of Mormon musical and even things like Prop. 8 from a few years ago, even Internet personalities and/or famous people whose opinion I also respect have begun to weigh in on the topic of what Mormonism is and how it works. And with all this scrutiny, I’ve come to realize one important thing: I have to figure out where I stand on the issue. Gone are the days when I could just say, “I know the Church is true,” because I was standing at a pulpit during a testimony meeting. Gone are the days when I could just sorta believe, ’cause, you know, the Church does a lot of good charity work and teaches uplifting life lessons and hey, everyone else around is doing it. As I’ve made fairly clear on a few occasions, there is a lot of LDS culture that I am not a big fan of, so I don’t have the culture to tether me into the faith.

So how will I, a self-proclaimed intellectual, find the fortitude to stay within the LDS fold, when so many others of my ilk are falling away?

To begin, let’s look at the reasons people give for leaving the church. One thing I’ve found interesting is that most of the people I know who’ve left the church have fairly disparate reasons for doing so. For example, this popped up on my Facebook feed recently. It is basically a list of grievances brought forth by some members of the Church who are unsatisfied with the way it is run now and want to bring about some changes, mostly in regard to the role of women. Some of the grievances are more sins of the culture rather than the church (such as the equality in the budget and focuses of the Young Men/Young Women programs, which I’m fairly certain is more up to local leaders), others are basically never going to happen (most of the “women should have the priesthood too”-related ones), and still others are legitimate grievances that should be addressed (and in fact, one already has: one of the points is that sisters should be able to serve at age 19, which, thanks to last week’s General Conference, they now can!). Some of the points I feel are a little naive themselves. I’d argue that there are a lot of things in the Church that are way more women-friendly, and if you compare, say, the mainstream LDS view of single women to single men, you’ll find that single women come out on top, especially in recent years, where the view for women seems to be “It’s OK; do your best and you’ll be blessed anyway,” but for men it’s “Find a wife, you sinful moron!”

My point in bringing this up, though, isn’t to discuss its finer points, but to say that a lot of these ideas and similar ones are what some people seem to fixate upon. Once someone has a persecution complex, it’s easy to put on blinders and focus on only those issues in the Church, to the point that as long as that one thing isn’t addressed, then the Church isn’t worth it. I could very easily point out the disparity between the way the Church treats its single men and its single women, or between singles and married people, or between childless couples and families. I could use that as an excuse to say, “Until single men have the opportunity to serve in bishoprics, I don’t believe in the Church anymore! I can do just as well as any other married guy! With the added bonus that I wouldn’t have to leave a family home while I go to all these meetings!” This argument applies to nearly any “persecuted” minority in the church: women, gays, people who like to swear, intellectuals — the list goes on.

But is it valid? Is it right to say that, since we claim that God created the Church, and it is the only true and living Church on the face of the earth, any flaw in its policies disproves that claim? Or any part of the doctrine that doesn’t make sense with our worldview? Is the excuse that “the people in the church aren’t perfect, even though the church is,” a valid defense, or just a cop-out designed to deflect criticism?

Let’s take another angle. Matt, the author of the blog post I brought up at the beginning of this one (if I understand him correctly), grew up believing in the Mormonism of ideas. That is to say, putting Alma’s and Moroni’s promise to the test: faith was good to start, but it was possible to come to a knowledge of the precepts of the gospel; not just of the simple things like “serve your fellow man and you will be blessed” but complex things about intelligences and how spiritual matter is organized and other things hinted at by Joseph Smith that forms some of the deeper doctrine of the Church. In addition, there are a lot of differing accounts of how some things happened in Church history, many painting a different picture than the common one accepted in Sunday School classes. And while it’s easy to say that, “oh, the deeper doctrine isn’t necessary for salvation,” or “oh, some of those accounts are either fraudulent or biased or influenced by Satan or whatever” (I honestly haven’t done the research myself or I would cite examples), at some point the suspension of disbelief may begin to crack. One can debate the validity of using spiritual experiences to prove objective truth, but the point is, for him, there were too many discrepancies and/or too much vagueness on these points that it was impossible for him to form that solid foundation upon which to build a concrete belief system. (I suggest you actually go read that post, as it is quite well-written and obviously he puts forth his argument better than I have.)

Must one have blind faith to overcome these seemingly small obstacles that build up? Is it enough to say, “I believe in the Church because I’ve felt good about it, which has gotta be the Spirit,” even if it’s hard to get the objective evidence to line up? How can a serious, analytical thinker, whose core being thirsts for knowledge and understanding, weave together a perfect gospel and/or Church from so much vagueness and uncertainty? Is it enough to apply Bellisario’s Maxim (“Don’t examine this too closely”) and go around thinking that all the stuff that doesn’t quite make sense will be explained in the afterlife or something, or is that too much to swallow for a rational person? Must we go around all 1984 and employ doublethink just to keep our lives simple?

I do have my own responses to many of these claims, and with a lot of them I’ll try to go somewhat deeper, somewhat more intellectual. But first I’d like to hear what people think, especially from both those who have left the Church and those who consider themselves intellectuals and/or don’t really fit in the Mormon culture, but still stay active in the Church.

Part two


14 responses

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Jeff.

    The post in question wasn’t so much to explain the factors that caused me to lose my faith in the mainstream instantiation of Mormonism — the blog has an audience that trends either post-belief or post-literalism w.r.t. Mormonism. It was more an exploration of why, after having lost that faith, I didn’t grab hold of some of the alternate instantiations of Mormonism that are common in the circles I run in. Regardless, thanks for the thoughtful and respectful treatment.

    I haven’t written tons about the actual process of losing faith, since (a) there are a million blog posts that tell similar stories, and (b) I’m not interested in dismantling someone else’s faith. But if you want to read a bit more of a comprehensive look at things, here’s a talk I gave at a conference earlier this year:

    October 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm

  2. I personally take the image of “Children of God” and use that to put myself (and the rest of humanity) in proper perspective. I work with small kids a lot, so it is an easy metaphor for me.

    Kids, even the smart ones, make dumb decisions, don’t listen when you warn them about stupid things, are mean to each other, are sneaky, mis-hear directions, mis-repeat directions, try to boss each other around, and sometimes do horrible things. Humanity as a whole is like this, even in the church. I believe the church leaders are inspired, but I do also believe they color revelations received with their own biases experiences before passing them along. They are the ones that “Dad” uses to relay information – the spiritual equivalent of a sibling running in and saying: “dinner is done,” or “stop duct-taping your brother to that chair,” or “go finish your homework.” I think that’s also the reason we’ve been told to pray for confirmation of revelation, so we can find out the truth for ourselves.

    Parents are supposed to “lead, guide, [and] walk beside” their children, helping them to progress and become better and get us all back to heaven. Sometimes we have to be “mean” and not give the child everything they ask for when they ask for it, even when it is within our ability, for one reason or another, but usually because we want to encourage the child to grow personally – not because we want to deny them a gift. I believe blessings are the same – if they are withheld, it is because of reasons beyond my understanding. What I am asking for may not be good for me, or there may be something better coming, or it may be something I need to earn, or I may need to check my motivations and attitudes about said blessing.

    About doctrinal concepts: sometimes I come up with explanations for my daughter that, while true, are not completely accurate. If I try to give the full explanation for whatever I ask her to do, it goes right over her head, her eyes glaze over, and she goes on with life not understanding (and frequently not applying the change in behavior I requested), so I usually end up giving the closest approximate explanation that I think she will understand, then answer questions or give instructions beyond that as she shows understanding. I have a specific example about how I got my 2.5-year-old daughter to stop using poop as an artistic medium, but it’s a long story and I don’t think you want it here (for the record, poop is the body cleaning out it’s trash – which is a good thing, so please poop! – but we don’t play with trash, so we don’t play with poop).

    I believe that for many more complicated doctrines, God gives simple explanations, then gives us more advanced information as we are able to accept it. No matter how smart we are, though, we are still children in relation to God and unable to deal with many of the issues and ideas that our Father in Heaven handles regularly. When we’re All Grown Up with our Father, we’ll look back and smile at how “cute” some of our ideas were, and laugh a little at our naievety, or rue our stupidity, and shake heads over the dumb things we pursued relentlessly, but then move on with the important things that will occupy us in Eternal Life that are as much over our heads now as what Daddy does at work is to my toddler.

    I think that frequently when looking at objective evidence and trying to line things up, like my daughter with a puzzle, we often put pieces in the wrong places – even though we have the big picture, we still get things wrong and have trouble figuring it out. So, we do our best, we work hard, we get excited when we finally “get” something, and don’t give up. We’ll get it some day.

    (Sorry for the wall of text, and hope that wasn’t too full of “mom” for you.) 🙂

    October 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm

  3. First of all… I’m pretty sure that swearing is not a minority but a majority in the church… (Jake swore the other day… and I actually rarely do…except hell and damn, but who counts those words?… but that has nothing to do with my beliefs…)

    Secondly, I can’t write what I feel and think about this. I tried and I ramble.
    Short version: Ever since Ian passed away… the gospel has been seriously lacking in answering where he is and what my relationship is to him. I’ve looked…

    There is sooo much more to my story but let’s just say I was not comforted by the talk given last conference about losing a child… and I’m tired of being the swine that the pearls are cast before.

    October 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

  4. As an addendum… I do believe that God loves me and in fact, feel closer to him now than I ever have in the past. The gospel no longer holds me back.

    October 11, 2012 at 10:38 pm

  5. Nate von Winder

    I think you’re absolutely right, Jeff, about these most latter of latter days being a time when our faith is challenged and when many of us are forced to take a good hard look at what we believe and why we believe it.

    First of all, my faith is anchored in hope for something better than what I know here (Ether 12:4, FTW!) That hope moves me to action to try and live as I would if I were already a member of that better world. The better world, for me, is framed by the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I have not found any other doctrine as satisfying to my intellect and my soul as this.

    But a key distinction should be made between what is doctrine and what is not. For example, in the Church the doctrine is the Standard Works. Period. It isn’t what Brigham Young said about blacks or the moon, it isn’t about ear-piercings or a dress code, it doesn’t even include the King Follett discourse. Now, that’s not to say that some of these things can’t be true and wise, but they are not doctrine. Elder Anderson spoke of this quite clearly last weekend that the doctrines of the church are not obscure; they are spoken about repeatedly in the conferences and meetings of the Church. With that in mind, if one of these “deeper doctrines” (which, as I’ve just pointed out aren’t necessarily doctrine) doesn’t gel with something intellectually, Fine. It simply means to me that my understanding or the world’s understanding or even the prophet’s understanding of one or the other sides of the conflicting argument are incomplete.

    The historical stuff doesn’t bother me much. History is not science and one can make the history fit one side of the story or the other because there are so many variables involved, especially with regards to the context of an event or a remark. So I wouldn’t base my faith in the historicity of anything really. It’s interesting stuff, and it can help to support a premise but it’s pretty flimsy as foundational proof of anything as complex as the veracity of the Church’s divine claims.

    As for the practices and policies of the Church, I think they are structured around the ideal situation: a married couple, man and women, with children. This is the general ideal biologically, psychologically, and spiritually. Because so many of us don’t fit that ideal it can make us feel bad and make the Church seem cruel or inconsiderate. I think the Church has done a better job in recent years of trying to accommodate those who don’t fit in that ideal but it can only go so far before its commitment to the original ideal becomes distorted. I think this is a feature not a bug. The Church is made of imperfect people trying to do their best and that imperfection sometimes creates conflict and challenges to faith, which is exactly the kind of sandpaper we’ve come here to rub up against.

    “I believe in the Church because I’ve felt good about it, which has gotta be the Spirit,”

    YES! Absolutely, but there’s more to it than that. In my experience “I’ve felt good about it,” goes far beyond emotion. What I would describe as the Spirit in my experience has been spiritual encounters of unconditional intelligent love. Usually it’s pretty still and small but there have been instances where I have felt overwhelmed by it. For me this is as real as anything I see or touch or smell, and in some ways more so. This love speaks to my heart (for lack of a better bodily location to use symbolically) as well as to my mind as clarity and certitude. You only have my word on this, but I am reasonably sure it is not autosuggestion or the result of some wishful thinking. Like I say, it feels intelligent, it feels independent of me, and yet more familiar than anything else I know. I would even say that the verb “feel” is inadequate.

    So for me, any intellectual argument plays second fiddle to my first hand experience because I trust my experience even more than my ability to reason through some of the more complex issues.

    My testimony is enough for me to say, “I know the Church is true,” but you’ll never hear me say something like “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Church is true.” First because it’s an awful cliché and second because I believe that, for most of us, there will still always be uncertainty in this life. There will always be challenges to our faith. If it were not so then our mortal probation would be a waste. What would be the point of the veil?

    I think this also means that to develop faith takes a degree of intellectual humility. For me that means recognizing the limitations of human understanding and reason. You know the classic seminary analogy of this life being the second act of a four-act play. It might be cute but I think it’s also very apt. We have anything but a grand perspective of true reality. We’re only here for 70 or 90 years on this planet with these funny imperfect bodies and brains of ours. We do our best but it would be in our best interest to have a good measure of respect for The Thing Not Considered–that thing we haven’t thought of before that changes the way we view everything else, that which lies beyond our bodies and brains and our 90 years.

    Ok, now I’m probably getting too philosophical and I really don’t mean to. In the end, I don’t feel like you need to suspend disbelief as an intellectual member of the Church any more than you have to with a lot of things in life that don’t make sense. That said, if our faith isn’t being challenged from time to time then we’re sort of wasting our time here.

    October 12, 2012 at 7:46 am

  6. Haley Smedley

    My faith is simply this:

    I can’t understand or explain everything about the “church” and why things happen the way they do.

    But, I equally can’t explain away my experiences, my moments of feeling truth as pure as I’ve ever felt (Nate’s right… the word “feel” is insufficient), and my levels of lasting happiness, life satisfaction, and clarity having a significant correlation with my efforts to be a better person by following the principles and doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through “the church”. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, but it’s mine.

    An opponent might try to explain to me that my “happiness” is merely the sensation of not forcing conflict in my mind by demanding answers to my uncertainties or going against the flow. So be it. All I have is my own perception of reality. I’m not here to question anyone else’s perception either.

    October 12, 2012 at 9:40 am

  7. Tom

    Wow, great discussion. I just want to say I identify with Nate von Winder’s comment. My intellectual musings are always tempered by 2 Ne 9:28-29, which has always resonated with me. Basically, if God is real, he must possess wisdom greater than mine.

    October 12, 2012 at 10:28 am

  8. So… am I to trust my feelings when they say something isn’t quite right? Because there are definite moments that testify that things being said in church don’t ring true. And definite times when I need a better and more satisfying answer. Here is my recent experience with the talk given this conference by Elder Shayne M. Bowen. First off, I didn’t hear it the first time around as I was helping Ben move so I read it online a bit later after my Mom told my husband that it could help me and my friend who is going through a very rough time of it himself (divorce) thought it could help me answer some of my questions.

    He said (about his young son dying), “However, tormenting thoughts continued to plague me, and I soon began to feel anger. “This isn’t fair! How could God do this to me? Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” I even felt myself get angry with people who were just trying to comfort us. I remember friends saying, “I know how you feel.” I would think to myself, “You have no idea how I feel. Just leave me alone.” I soon found that self-pity can also be very debilitating. I was ashamed of myself for having unkind thoughts about dear friends who were only trying to help.”

    So, first of all… I never felt angry at God for the death of my baby. I felt sadness and a despair about missing him but from the start of him dying, I knew that he was still very close to me but my intellectual mind wasn’t (and still isn’t) satisfied with the non answer. People (with kind intentions) would tell me that I would get to raise him in the eternities (and by all means if any of you can find this doctrine that I am seeking for… let me know!) as a little child. Well, that is not a comforting thought to a mother who has just lost her young child. If he is being saved for me to raise then where is he now? Just sitting in some kind of limbo state, frozen with no one taking care of him? And if that isn’t so, and some other relative (my husbands mother perhaps) is taking care of him… then she is the one raising him… not I. Another comment I got was that my son is now a man who has the ability to look after me and my family. I am slightly better with this view but it still means that I will never get the opportunity to teach and raise him. Does this mean that when I die that he will revert back into the state of a baby?

    For almost 2 years (he would have turned two this next November), I have been searching for some kind of satisfactory answer for my concerns. I have prayed fervently to God to know his state of being and I do feel comfort. I also (whether it is imaginary or self soothing or what) feel that my son is near me at times… but to be honest, there has never been a miraculous sign or vision or anything to confirm my coping mechanism.

    Here is the next snippet from that same talk, “As I felt the guilt, anger, and self-pity trying to consume me, I prayed that my heart could change. Through very personal sacred experiences, the Lord gave me a new heart, and even though it was still lonely and painful, my whole outlook changed. I was given to know that I had not been robbed but rather that there was a great blessing awaiting me if I would prove faithful.”

    Please take note of the last sentence… “great blessing awaiting me if I would prove faithful.” There was a similar sentiment expressed by my bishop at Ian’s funeral services. He said that now the Murphy family had a reason to follow the gospel.

    Both times it made me feel affronted. God would only allow me to be his mother if I proved that I was faithful? So, now the pressure is REALLY on…

    And how faithful is faithful? 100% Visiting teaching (which by the way, I find insulting… friends with an agenda… no thanks, I’d rather be friends because we want to be friends…), put on a happy face (no wonder that Utah is one of the most medicated (depression) states in America, bake those cookies, stay at home (naughty me… running my own business), be conventional. Look the other way when others in the church are damaging others because their calling was given to them for the purpose of teaching them. (Can you imagine a kindergarten teacher teaching the kids without any training as she attempts to learn on the fly?)

    Hell… I am NOT a conventional women and God made me like this and loves me like this and is proud of me for who I am and what I am. I’m an awesome mother who answers my kids questions with the most factual answers that I can give them… even if they may be too young to understand because they deserve to know the truth as I know it and I believe that as they grow up and their minds develop that they will begin to understand the truth as it has been told to them since they were young. I know that this belief kinda flies in the face of what Jen Wilson expressed, but I think that always telling your kids the facts is important. My kids get stuff and I get stuff and I don’t believe that God thinks I am a dummy. I hate being treated like I can’t get stuff.

    Here’s the bottom line for me:
    I have the best relationship with God that I have ever had and I’m happier and my life is successful and I really fell like myself. My husband had a very different experience than I did growing up in the church and he has no qualms about it what-so-ever. He loves me and I love him and I love him MORE because he hasn’t tried to convince me that I am wrong in my reasoning. I just don’t feel that the church has the cornerstone on the truth. I’m not secretly sinning and trying to justify it. I have had amazing transcendental experience at both church and non church events that I feel were from God himself and not the LDS only God.

    Ok, look… the church teaches that the spirit testifies the truth. That is good enough for most members because you can’t argue with that. When (rarely these days) I try to express how I feel about something that doesn’t quite fit into what the church says I am stopped in my tracks because members say… “The Spirit testified to me that it is true… I cannot deny that.” I would like to say that this immediately stops any kind of rational discussion that may be be beneficial to us as human beings trying to get any kind of questions answered. Does this immediately invalidate my spiritual feelings that have given me red flags about things that leaders and church officials say? Does this mean that all of my prayers and concerns that left me with the ability to question AND decide that some things don’t really do it for me, don’t count? I could say that the Spirit testified that there is more to this puzzle than what Mormonism has to offer. At least the watered down version that is handed to us over the pulpit.

    October 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

  9. Annelise, I’ve actually talked with Elder Bowen about this very subject, back when he was President Bowen of the Spain Barcelona mission, the very day that I found out that Dad had died. We also talked about it a few times since; even after the mission when I was going to a monthly FHE at his house, since he’s from Idaho Falls and I was living in Rexburg. At the time I wasn’t sure how to process what he said, since our dad dying was a unique situation for several reasons, and almost completely non-analogous to losing a child. But maybe that happened nine years ago so that I can talk about it to you. And let me say this: no matter what you think of his talk, and no matter what you believe with regards to its applicability to you, President Bowen is one of the kindest, humblest, most spiritual men that I’ve ever known and probably ever will know. He was a wonderful leader, and one who I truly believe tries to emulate Christ in everything he does. He has been through at least as much hell as you have. Please do not put him in the same category as ignorant bishops. Just. Don’t. Do. That.

    I do have more to say about all this, but like I said, I want to wait until I’ve made all my points in my blog posts before I reply to most of these comments. But I will. And it probably won’t fix everything, but I’m just hoping that people on both sides of this main issue take a second look at their own worldview (including myself), even if they don’t change it.

    October 12, 2012 at 7:58 pm

  10. I appreciate what you said, Annelise. Especially that last line: “I could say that the Spirit testified that there is more to this puzzle than what Mormonism has to offer. At least the watered down version that is handed to us over the pulpit.” Many times I’ve heard things handed over the pulpit that I know aren’t true, or at least aren’t the full truth. At other times, I’ve heard things that I know apply to my life and that I know are completely true handed over the pulpit. I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and that the Church is an essential (if imperfect) extension of that gospel, as Elder Donald L. Hallstrom alluded to in his recent talk:

    However, most of what keeps me believing and moving forward has been very personal experiences to me. They’ve happened at church, they’ve happened at home, at the movies, with friends, when I’m alone, or wherever, but I recognize that they were God speaking to me.

    Speaking of death, I can truly say that I have no idea how you feel, Annelise, in losing a child. I’ve lost loved ones. I even lost my dad a few years ago, but I don’t pretend to compare my losses to yours. However, thinking about my father’s afterlife predicament recently, and coincidentally coming across a talk on BYU radio has given me some more insights about the Spirit World. I don’t know if this will give you any insights, answer any of your questions, or give you any comfort, Annelise, but it was useful information to me about the hereafter, so I thought you might want to check it out:

    What is this Thing That Men Call Death?
    by Brent Top

    At the very least, it might be some food for thought.

    Going back to the overall reason for this whole belief post, I’m glad that Jeff brought up this discussion, as I’ve been mulling over my own reasons for faith for last year or so. I believe now is a good a time as any to share them.

    I’ve always believed in God. More specifically, I’ve always believed in the Lord, Jesus Christ. I never had any doubt of his existence in my young life. What has changed in my life, and what I believe is essential to any person’s faith, is my personal relationship with God. I don’t mean to say that doubts haven’t come into my mind, but that I have never fully turned away from him, even when I did what I knew or felt was wrong. For about 5 years of my adult life, I guess you could say I “questioned” God. There was a very specific week when I was so angry at him that I refused to believe in him (this was my own choice, based on the emotions going thru me at the time). Remember that I said I’ve never doubted his existence. I really haven’t, but I doubted his love for me, and I doubted that he had my best interests in mind. To be more specific, I was having trouble understanding the way God communicated to me. Let’s call them “mixed signals,” if you will.

    To be brief (if possible):

    I met a girl. I fell in love with this girl. I thought God was telling me that I was “going to marry” said girl. I explained my feelings to the girl. The girl, for obvious reasons, was repulsed and didn’t want anything to do with me. I was devastated. I was hurt. I was angry at God for “telling” me something that didn’t work out, or that “wasn’t true.” I started to doubt any of my feelings, especially anything that I categorized as a “prompting from the Spirit.”

    For five years, I more or less felt this way. It was more anger than doubt. Anger at someone that I trusted so completely, who I felt had betrayed my trust. It took a lot of experience and time to overcome this anger, mostly because I was sick of it. I knew I wasn’t happy and didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I wanted to be happy like I once was. I wanted to trust my infallible God as I once had. I just didn’t know how.

    Well, one way or another, it happened. I had moved home (I actually was living with my mom and grandma) after dropping out of college, and had gone completely broke. I was living with people I didn’t want to live with, I had to leave all my friends at college, I had no prospects for dating that I knew of, I was in a state (Idaho) that I had never wanted to live in, I got a job, but I hated it, and I was still upset about that girl from 5 years ago!

    I had had it, so I got down on my knees one day and let God have it. I told him I hated him. I told him I hated the situation I was in. I don’t remember all I said, but I probably told him I hated a lot more things too. I was a bit upset, you see.

    I didn’t have any big revelation or startling experience that I can remember from that prayer. No real comforting thoughts. No exceptional feeling of peace. No “First Vision.” One thing I did know, and felt (yes, I’m going to use the word, “felt,” because I still believe feeling has a lot to do with communication from God), was that God was listening to me, and that even though I was angry with Him and I hated Him, He wasn’t angry with me and He didn’t hate me. He wanted me to talk to him. He wanted me to let it all out. He wanted me to tell Him that I hated Him, because He wanted me to communicate with Him. After all, if I couldn’t bring myself to be honest with Him, how could I recognize when He was being honest with me? How could I trust anything that came from a Being that I wasn’t willing to trust with my own feelings?

    So, that was a big thing that reopened my personal relationship with God. There were other prayers, and talks, and friends, and experiences, and scriptures, also. But to me, it all boiled down to God communicating with me, and me communicating with God: honestly and openly. He would always listen to whatever I had to say, and therefore, I needed to listen to him, and especially listen more closely, and especially analyze the feelings and communications I felt I was receiving from the Spirit. I had to be sure what was coming from God, and what was coming from my own overactive imagination (or overactive hormones, as the case may have been).

    I realized, to paraphrase Nate Von Winder, that “I believed…because I’d felt good about it, which has gotta be the Spirit!” But I was wrong, as I pointed out earlier. Good feelings about some things didn’t always come from God (otherwise, so many people wouldn’t be doing so many drugs, which I hear give you some “good feelings” at least until the hangover, or the overdose).

    To attempt to be concise (fat chance):

    I analyzed the feelings I had felt for that girl. I realized, “Of course I felt good about her, she was spiritual, fun, beautiful, cute, a dancer, and most of all: DROP DEAD GORGEOUS!” And she had also liked me at the start, before I freaked her out with that whole “I know you’re destined to be my Eternal Bride” nonsense. But that feeling didn’t necessarily mean what I thought it had. The Spirit could have been telling me many things about her, coupled with the physiological and psychological and hormonal reactions I was having by just being around her. The Lord could have been telling me that she was a good person, that perhaps, with patience, I could date her eventually. He could have just been telling me that she was just a nice girl who I could make friends with. He could even have been telling me what I thought originally: that I would someday marry her. Who knows? I’m still single. She’s still single. We still have mutual friends on Facebook! Anything’s possible, but the point of the matter is that I had focused on only one possible outcome of this “inspiration/revelation,” and that was that she and I were “meant to be.” I hadn’t considered any other option, and when that “one and only” possible option fell through, I blamed God for misleading me. It seems pretty foolish for me to look back now and blame God (for the sake of argument: a perfect, infallible, omniscient, all-knowing and loving Being) for having screwed up, rather than pointing the finger back at myself (an immature, fallible, ignorant, imperfect, hormonal 22 year-old).

    Some of you may be wondering what the point of this story is (I know, ’cause I’m having some trouble myself), but it all leads back to that personal relationship with a loving God. That is my foundation for belief. I know God lives because I have spoken to Him, and He has answered me. Period. Even when I didn’t get what he was trying to say, he was patient with me, and I eventually began to realize the way he speaks to me, and it is very personal.

    This is my affirmation for anyone who wants to know. I know God exists because He speaks to me in a way I can understand. The way I understand isn’t the same way that everyone else understands. God will speak to any person in a way they can understand. He will speak to them in His own time, and in His own way, but it will be a way that they can recognize Him, even if they don’t get it. If we don’t get it, many times it’s because of imperfection on our part. We’re mortal beings. We don’t listen. We drown God out. We deny His influence and His existence. He wants us to hear him, but He speaks in His own time and His own way. Sometimes, we don’t get it because of our own misunderstandings (like me with that girl I liked), and sometimes, we don’t get what he’s trying to say because we haven’t reached a stage where we can understand (aka “immaturity,” like me with that girl I liked). All in all, God speaks to us in his own chosen time and His own way, but when He does, He does it in a way that is personal to each one of us. It’s our responsibility first to listen (ponder, meditate, etc.) and next to do our best with the message we receive, even with our shortcomings and occasional misunderstandings.

    If all that sounds like a big jumble, it only proves my point even more that I am an infallible, unclear, imperfect, and occasionally incomprehensible human being, still striving to develop and understand my personal relationship with The Supreme Being.

    To be short (yeah, right):

    My personal relationship with God defines my faith. It defines why I believe in Jesus Christ and why I believe in His gospel, and why I belong to His church. I believe and know that church to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You can call it the “Mormon Church” if you like, it makes no difference to me. You can even call me a “Mormon,” or a follower of “Mormonism,” but I personally define myself as a disciple of Christ.

    The whole point of the Lord’s gospel (in essence: the Atonement of Jesus Christ plus the extra stuff) and His church (His kingdom on the earth, or “one of the things that helps us live and understand His gospel”) are to help each one of us with our personal relationship with God, and to eventually become like God.

    Become like God = Eternal Happiness

    Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

    That is the purpose of life – to know God. A personal relationship with God. That is the only way we can know God exists, and knowing Him is the only way to become like Him.

    As to this whole “Mormonism” thing:

    Once we know God, we know that He wants to hear from us, and that He wants to speak to us. He speaks in a variety of ways, thru His own voice: thru the Holy Ghost, or thru heavenly messengers (angels and such), and thru earthly messengers. The most prominent of these we call “Prophets.” I’d cite a few examples, but you’re all probably familiar with them.

    One prophet that is necessary to dwell on, however, is Joseph Smith. Having a knowledge and witness (a “testimony” if you will) of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith is necessary to being a member of the Lord’s church (Aka: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or “Mormon Church”).


    Because God Himself and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph and reestablished the Lord’s church thru Joseph.

    Why is that important?

    Because it teaches us two important things:

    1. Joseph’s Vision shows us that God speaks to man personally. (See James 1:5-6)

    2. Joseph was told not to join any church of his day, and that the Lord’s true church would be reestablished thru him.

    What does that mean to me?

    1. God either exists or He doesn’t. How do I know? See James 1:5-6.

    2. The Atonement of Jesus Christ either works, or it doesn’t. How do I know? See James 1:5-6.

    3. Joseph Smith was either a true prophet, or he wasn’t. How do I know? See James 1:5-6.

    4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is either the Lord’s true church, or it isn’t. How do I know? See James 1:5-6.

    5. The Bible is the word of God, or it isn’t. How do I know? See James 1:5-6 and Alma 32.

    6. The Book of Mormon is either also true scripture, or it isn’t. How do I know? See James 1:5-6 and Moroni 10: 3-5.

    7. Thomas S. Monson is either the Lord’s true mouthpiece and leader of His church on earth, or he is a fraud. See James 1:5-6.

    8. Anything else I want to know that is true, or that isn’t true. See James 1:5-6 and Alma 32.

    This is my personal method of faith. It’s why I still consider myself a disciple of Christ, even after the heartbreaks and misunderstandings I’ve gone thru (See above). Doing so would be casting away the “seed of faith,” instead of nourishing it thru study and prayer, and letting it grow (See Alma 32).

    At the core is a personal relationship with God – a being who will lead me to truth and eternal happiness, past all the strife, boredom, misunderstandings, philosophies of men, and frailties of mortal life.

    Knowing God is my basis for living. It is an eternal pursuit of truth from the infallible source of all truth. Giving up, “letting go,” denying what I’ve felt and seen and know to be true as just “a product of my subconscious” (see – see comments) would just be a cop out for me. I know that God can speak to us through the conscious and the subconscious mind. He spoke to the prophets thru dreams and visions, and he has spoken to me personally thru dreams. He has also spoken thru feelings, and words, and scriptures, and friends, and family, and answers to prayers, and miracles, and prophets, ad infinitum…

    Matthew, I apologize that I don’t remember you that well from college, even though I lived at Bountiful Court at the same time as you and Jeff (in my defense, I was still really upset about that girl at that time in my life, and probably wasn’t paying as much attention to the needs of others). I hope I’m not sounding like a jerk with being bold in my beliefs. I would give you the same advice that I would give to anyone seeking the truth: Go to the source. God speaks to everyone in their own language (see Doctrine and Covenants 90:11, and Ether 12:39). My own personal experience tells me that doesn’t just apply to English or Spanish or Russian, but to each individual’s understanding. Come back. I can’t see any honest truth seeker not ending up at the source of all truth. Tell God about your doubts. Tell Him how you feel. He wants to hear from you, and He will answer (if you’re willing to listen to what He has to say 🙂

    October 12, 2012 at 10:03 pm

  11. Sorry, everyone (especially Jeff), about the length of that last comment. It takes me a lot of lines to get out an idea in type, particularly an idea I feel strongly about. It’s a bad habit I get from my mom. The first transfer of my mission, she sent me a 15 page letter. 15. Pages. Seriously. I felt like Ross from “Friends.”

    October 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm

  12. Annelise Murphy

    Jonathan… so, I don’t have an issue with God. Do you remember when Pres. Hinckley said in conference a couple of years ago either God appeared to Joseph Smith or he didn’t? Either the church is true or it isn’t? I feel as if he didn’t and it isn’t. God and I are good. I’m sure Pres. Hinckley said that to build people up so they would think… of course it is true… if it wasn’t he wouldn’t even mention it. Well, I took the challenge. Everyone says to question but only with the condition that you will eventually realize that the church is true. Well, what if you don’t? Am I not allowed to accept how I feel because it isn’t the right answer?

    October 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm

  13. Annelise, thank you for asking that question. After my long post, I thought about it for awhile, and realized that what I said may have been a little unfair and unclear. My initial intent was not to attack your feelings or point of view, but to respond to Jeff’s post with my own reasons for believing in the church and the gospel. However, since my testimony and my relationship to God and the church is so personal to me, I sometimes feel that opposing ideas are an attack on that testimony, and they bring out a strong emotional reaction to fight back against opposing ideas. (The whole “Fight or Flight” response.) Like I said, my post was very emotionally charged, and while I still believe that the method of faith I followed has led me to a state of peace and an understanding of truth, I made the mistake of assuming that this same method would work for everyone. I apologize to you for that, and to Matt, if I attacked your points of view in any way. (By the way, Matt, I do remember you now, after talking to Jeff. I just wasn’t sure which Matt you were at the time of the post, because there were a few Matts at the BC 🙂 You’re right, Annelise, in pointing out to me that I was not allowing you or Matt to accept how you feel. I’m glad that you pointed that out. I can’t tell you how to feel. I can’t even tell you how God will speak to you, because I don’t know how he will. One of my character flaws is that, although I feel I have come to a knowledge of the truth, it’s very difficult for me to understand that others don’t understand in the same way/don’t feel the Spirit in the same way I do. It’s something I struggled with on the mission, and I guess my long post proves that It’s still something I need to work on. It’s also something that bugs me, when others tell me how I should feel, or that their method will work for everyone. Please forgive me for doing that to you. Please forgive my overzealous attempt to share how I feel. I still believe that God will confirm the truth of all things to those that seek him, but that doesn’t make it right for me to tell other people how they will come to that knowledge. I can’t tell you or Matt how God will speak to you, or whether or not your feelings (conscious or subconscious) were real, because I haven’t experienced the same things that you two have. I do know what I’ve experienced, and I can tell people how I’ve come to that knowledge, but you’re right: your own experiences and feelings are between you and the Lord. If you get a different answer than I do, then I can’t say it’s wrong. It’s your answer and your feelings, not mine.

    So, to sum it up: sorry for being insensitive, hope we can still be friends and agree to disagree 🙂

    October 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm

  14. Jeremy Tuttle

    As I’m sure I’m one of the few, if not the only, atheist friends you have, I’ll weigh in from the “none” category. I’m going to refer to the Three O (3O) god for this argument. (Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent) I understand there are other forms of deities, but this one is the most prevalent in our society.

    I will start with the following questions: “But is it valid? Is it right to say that, since we claim that God created the Church, and it is the only true and living Church on the face of the earth, any flaw in its policies disproves that claim? Or any part of the doctrine that doesn’t make sense with our worldview? Is the excuse that “the people in the church aren’t perfect, even though the church is,” a valid defense, or just a cop-out designed to deflect criticism?”

    If the 3O god created the church, would he correct the flaws of his own church? If he does not fix the flaws, and lets his children stray from his dictated path, he does not care for his children. If the 3O god can fix the flaws, why would he allow them to happen? He could fix the flaw before it would happen. More to the point, he would have seen the flaw at the creation, and altered all of time and all decisions so that particular flaw would not occur. Are those statements against a specific church being “true”? Most certainly not. If there were to be a “One true religion”, it could definitely have its flaws. It could be the most bass-ackwords religion and it would still be “true”.

    When it comes to worldview, are you referring to your personal view, the localized societies view, our nations view, or the global societies view? For a global view, the majority of its doctrines appeared over 500 years ago. The most recent major alteration to this majority worldview, in my opinion, is Mormonism, and it’s supposedly based around volumes of books written over 1000 years ago. At the time of each religions inception, not one took into account the invention of electricity, modern transportation, or the internet (maybe Scientology…but that’s a different discussion). Our modern worldview is miles away from those of the past, and neither view should be forced onto the other.

    “the people in the church aren’t perfect, even though the church is,” Is a very well constructed statement, and leaves the opposing party ripe for a logical fallacy. I would counter with this: if there are no people in the church, is there still a church? A religion is the composed of its members, not its ideas, for it is the members who hold the ideas. All members have different ideas of what the religion is, but the vast majority of the ideas are the same, so the members agree to be categorized as the same. When those ideas diverge, different religions are formed.

    Now I’ll address: “Must one have blind faith to overcome these seemingly small obstacles that build up? Is it enough to say, “I believe in the Church because I’ve felt good about it, which has gotta be the Spirit,” even if it’s hard to get the objective evidence to line up? How can a serious, analytical thinker, whose core being thirsts for knowledge and understanding, weave together a perfect gospel and/or Church from so much vagueness and uncertainty? Is it enough to apply Bellisario’s Maxim (“Don’t examine this too closely”) and go around thinking that all the stuff that doesn’t quite make sense will be explained in the afterlife or something, or is that too much to swallow for a rational person? Must we go around all 1984 and employ doublethink just to keep our lives simple?”

    Blind faith is never a good thing. Lightly observed or critiqued is another thing, but blind is never good. Say you worked at a nuclear power plant, and your job was to watch two dials. You come into work, look at dial one, which looks normal, then you spend the rest of your day looking at dial two hoping that dial one won’t go into the red. If dial one goes into the red, there will be a meltdown. It’s better to look at dial one 5% of the time than 1%. It’s even better if you look at it 50% of the time at equal intervals.

    “How can a serious, analytical thinker, whose core being thirsts for knowledge and understanding, weave together a perfect gospel and/or Church from so much vagueness and uncertainty?” It’s called cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics. Trying to find solid indisputable facts that support a specific aspect of religion is like trying to fill in a bucket with water with your main water source being fog, you’ll gain a little ground, but you’ll never fill the bucket.

    In regards to Bellisario’s Maxim, I can see where this can apply, to aesthetics mainly, but when it comes to something that affects everyone in the world, every last detail counts. Certain details will matter to different people, but they still matter. Take the American pro-gun anti-gun second amendment argument for example. It all comes down to one line in the constitution. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Is it the militia who can bear arms, or the people? I’m not arguing either for or against, but simply pointing out that one punctuation mark could make the difference.

    Lastly, doublethink. The word churns my stomach. 1984 was my favorite book in 9th grade, and is still a top contender. If doublethink actually rises in any culture, it will be a huge step back in the evolutionary timeline. Cognitive dissonance helps to enforce mankind’s moral code. Without it, a person would never think twice about killing another, or stealing, even if they thought it wrong. And, after the deed, they would not regret it. It’s almost as if nothing wrong happened in the first place.

    There are my two cents, or, rather, dollars, as I wrote a lot. I look forward to responding to the other parts!!!

    – Jeremy

    October 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm

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