Both during my days of questioning my religion and during my time as an atheist, I needed to find The Truth. I wanted to know, with absolute certainty, whether God existed and in what way He influenced things.
Last week, I wrote about the similarities between religious faith and scientific faith (theist vs. atheist). I realized they were the same and that my issue had more to do with approval from others -AKA social anxiety.
In discussing and clarifying with friends since, I understand that I need to outline another realization I had:
Faith does not need to mean the absence of logic.
Although Mirriam-Webster defines faith as:
It also allows for:
And, even, fidelity of one’s promises and sincerity of intentions.
In my youth and pre-atheist days, I often felt I had optimism of God’s existence and acted by fear. Like the hasty driver who is late to work, I worried more about whether a policeman would pull me over than about whether my reckless driving might endanger another driver.
Furthermore, what I knew of faith disturbed me. I assumed my accepting God would, by necessity, fit M-W’s “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” How could believing in God be correct? There is no proof; only over-zealous people’s claims and fantastical scriptural stories. Right?
Wrong. As I said, I came to understand another option: faith AND logic.
I have come to understand God not as a magician with mythical powers but as an advanced being following the same universal laws we humans discover, prove mathematically, and name after ourselves. This perspective is not original nor is it unique; it does seem to surprise those I’ve discussed it with. Why choose a bipolar perspective when everything in life exists on a spectrum of options? Why not consider the possibilities?
And again, why not take these musings and ask God if they be true? Such was my thinking, and such was what I did.
Both during my days of questioning my religion and during my time as an atheist, a great point of anxiety for me was finding The Truth. I wanted to know, with absolute certainty, whether God existed and in what way He influenced things.
Whilst on the faithful side (aka, amongst believers), I squirmed at odd expressions that often seemed optimistically ignorant. The experience reminded me of when I sought a good school for my oldest child to attend. I toured several charter schools and a handful of private ones; without fail, the phrase, “the best school” dropped from the lips of those attending. No, the one I ultimately chose was not #1. Yet, parents and staff loved claiming superiority.
Insisting that God exists or proposing that I live as if He does isn’t real. That isn’t faith and belief. It’s fake it till you make it behavior.
I thought, therefore, that my admitting there is no God was a refreshing reset to my thinking and my life; a blank slate upon which to write my own opinions and testimony. From there, I could learn answers without bias or influence.
Instead, the opinions I heard and scornful pride I felt from atheists were similar to theists’ claims of accepting Christ and being saved. The experience reminded me of a section in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Man discovers the highly-improbable Babel Fish, a naturally-occurring creature that can translate languages for the user and live off the user’s thought waves in symbiotic repayment for that service:
The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’ ‘But,’ says Man, ‘the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’ ‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. ‘Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
I am aware that Adams did not believe in God. It’s clearly a poke at pursuing logic as religiously as zealots pursue faith.
I was not finding truth, because I was finding the same dandelions on the supposedly-greener side of the fence! So, what was I doing precisely? While I did (and do) receive answers to my probing questions about life, the most important realization in my journey of faith was that I was not seeking truth in an unbiased fashion. I was, in fact, seeking the approval of others. What made me uncomfortable and anxious was the embarrassment of being wrong.
This realization brings to mind a scripture story found in the Book of Mormon, referred to as Lehi’s Dream. Lehi, a prophet around the time of the biblical prophets Huldah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (Footnote 3), has a vision in which he finds some amazing fruit and wants his wife and children to eat it with him.
So, Lehi looks around and sees his family. They look a bit lost, even though Lehi’s standing at a fantastic, glowing beacon of nature. This makes Lehi notice other things, like that there are mists obscuring the way. There’s water and a strait path. There’s a rod of iron that leads up the path, through the dark, and straight to the amazing fruit. There are more people who wander in, and some make it to the tree and eat the fruit.
Then, there is a “great and spacious building:”
And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
I wasn’t ready to accept God as my savior and be eternally saved, nor was I ready to trust Him enough to blindly walk across any chasms. I was, however, ready to stop worrying so much about everyone else and instead worry about what God, Himself, told me was true.
Or, to accept His non-existence if no one answered me.
I’m a Mormon, so I believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God; to be scripture as true and from as valid a foundation as the other standard works, like the Holy Bible. I also believe the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants to be scripture with the same validity.
The Book of Mormon contains sacred writings from followers of Jesus. Just like God spoke to Moses and Noah in the Bible, He also spoke to people in the Americas. These men, called prophets, wrote down God’s word. Their writings were eventually gathered into one book by a prophet named Mormon.
The Book of Mormon begins with the story of a young man named Nephi who lived in Jerusalem with his father, the prophet Lehi, and their family. Nephi is the third son; after Laman, Lemuel, and Sam. His faith earns him greater authority than his elder, less-obedient brothers. They leave Jerusalem after Lehi receives a vision foretelling the city’s destruction, travel across the ocean, and settle in “the promised land” (the Americas). The accounts afterward concern the generations that follow: they are known as Nephites (descendants of Nephi/Sam and usually faithful) and Lamanites (descendants of Laman/Lemuel and usually sinful). Also included is a record Nephites discover, about a people who fled the Tower of Babel (the Jaredites); and when Jesus Christ died, was resurrected, and then visited the Americas.
The Book of Mormon ends with the writings of Moroni, the last faithful Nephite and the son of Mormon. He lives a dangerous and solitary life, watching the remaining faithful be hunted down and killed by Lamanites. LDS historians estimate Nephi’s writings to be around 600 B.C. and Moroni’s writings to be around A.D. 421.
This book of scripture was translated by Joseph Smith, jr. during his early adult years, from gold plates revealed to him as being buried in a hill near his house in Manchester, New York. Smith wrote about his learning of the plates, his acquisition of them, and their miraculous translation and transcription in writings -some released as Joseph Smith-History and parts of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Much of the book’s origins are covered in Saints, Volume I as well, a cultural biography of early LDS church history.
The history and validity of the Book of Mormon is often questioned; the best test is to follow the advice of Moroni himself. In Moroni, chapter ten, verses four and five, he says:
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. 5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
We Mormons are officially members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and are to drop any name but that. Since many recognize the nickname of ‘Mormon’ and it works with the alliteration so well, however, I will use the term.
My other note is that I will keep to official doctrinal practices. I will add my own application of them, especially in response to comments.
My final note is that I LOVE discussing anything I write. Don’t be rude, obviously, but any and all queries or responses are welcome.
My final note beyond the final note is that I do not seek to convert anyone. I am motivated by forming connections, answering curiosity, and straightening pictures. So, you’re safe.