What I Believe

I have wanted for a long time to say something to my friends and loved ones about my religious worldview. I understand that many prefer to avoid such topics; I won’t be offended if you tune me out rather than continuing to read. But I hope you’ll give me a few minutes.

Motivation

My goal in sharing isn’t to debate, to convince, or to criticize. Rather, I want to put my beliefs on record because they matter to me. They are part of who I am, and you can’t truly know me without understanding how–or why–I feel about this topic. I also find that perspectives like mine, where faith is central, are caricaturized in public discourse. This might lead some to think that nobody rational would feel the way I do. I disagree. If people dislike or reject what I believe, that’s their privilege, of course–but I wish such disagreement could proceed from real understanding, rather than flawed assumptions. So many unfortunate outcomes start with the false premise that we understand another person without listening to them…

I hope my thoughts offer encouragement to folks with a similar perspective, and provide fodder for pondering, for my friends who see things differently. I am happy to engage in kind and sincere dialog about what I say here, if you like. Just drop me a line on the “Contact” page, or leave a comment.

What Unites Us

Let me start by acknowledging common ground. How we make sense of the world, and how we frame our ethical choices, is a delicate subject. We all have different life circumstances, and we filter them through unique personalities. I know people whose morality and aspirations resemble my own in important ways, but whose lenses differ. Many espouse a strain of Christianity. Some are atheist or agnostic; a few are Hindu, Muslim, Wiccan, Buddhist, Jewish, undecided… It is remarkable to me how congruent our ethical principles can be, given the diversity of our backgrounds; I consider such harmony an important evidence of undergirding Truth. The imperative to love our neighbor, for example, isn’t just a nifty moral aphorism–it expresses a truth about human nature and what you might call a “resonance” to which our universe is attuned. We all feel it, as the #KindnessBoomerang clip so beautifully demonstrates:

I honor all people who seek to do good, live their ideals, and put their their faith to work making the world a better place. The world is full of them. I am grateful that we get to rub shoulders.

Beginnings

As with many others, my story of faith starts in childhood. I was raised by parents who have strong convictions about God. They are intelligent people, well educated and curious. They are deeply kind. They have integrity, which they have maintained through hard, hard experiences. Both of them would be quick to agree that they are also flawed, which puts them in the same camp as the rest of us. :-) I don’t believe that their faith makes them more worthwhile or special than anybody else, and they don’t, either. However, from the dawn of memory, I observed that my parents’ core beliefs gave them hope; stretched them to serve and sacrifice beyond their comfort zone; and exposed, compensated for, and partially corrected many of their foibles and mistakes. Because of this, I have never doubted the value of faith. Long and intimate experience makes me certain that, when held and followed with sincerity, faith blesses lives.

One Competing View

Of course, my parents’ perspective isn’t the only one I know. I was raised with full access to popular culture, with its cacophony of opinions. I’ve pondered alternative attitudes to faith almost as long as I’ve pondered the one my parents encouraged, so I’d like to mention some of those ideas in passing.

One perspective says that religion is a net negative–the “opiate of the masses,” or worse. Self-deluding, Bible-thumping hypocrites are an archetype in popular media. Bigots are (rightfully) decried. It’s fashionable to point to crusades, jihads, holocausts, pogroms, and wars of papal succession as evidence that religion does more harm than good.

I don’t disagree with the lament that organized religion–or even just “faith”–can be intertwined with unhappy situations. However, I find these types of critique uninsightful. They proceed from the assumption that there are essential differences between faith and all other deeply held worldviews, as if only religion depends on axioms. And they focus on belief rather than ethically repugnant decision-making as the seed of evil.

Yes, hypocrisy is a problem. However, its preconditions are satisfied by any situation where power is vested in humans; politics and parenting and the legal arena furnish lots of obvious examples.

Yes, some bigotry and narrow-mindedness is cloaked in religion. But its wardrobe also includes ethnic groups, social classes, academia, and any other strata where willful ignorance and enmity can flourish. I find it significant that great champions of tolerance–Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama come to mind–seem to be people both driven and enabled by their faith.

Yes, history is replete with events where religion is used to frame horrific choices. However, this is evidence of the depths to which human nature can sink, and of the insidiousness of the lies we tell ourselves–not of fundamental flaws in a humble religious compass. Who was the authentic devotee–the cardinal who reveled in his wealth, or Hugo’s Bishop Myriel, cheerfully trading candlesticks to rescue a lost soul? Who were the sincere Christians–Nazis, or Corrie and Betsie ten Boom?

Female prisoners at Ravensbrück, where Betsie ten Boom died. Image credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv (Wikimedia Commons)
Female prisoners at Ravensbrück, where Betsie ten Boom died. Image credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Not Believing By Default

Having defended religious faith in the abstract, and lauded my parents in particular, I don’t want you to think that I believe what I do, just because I had a strong and mostly happy upbringing where religion mattered. I did not thoughtlessly adopt the beliefs that my parents offered me, simply on the grounds that their path seemed praiseworthy. I am on my own journey, and I have a higher bar for faith than that. It is vital to me that I arrive at my beliefs honestly, without self-deception or narrow-mindedness.

I read the Bible all the way through for the first time at about age 14. I soon followed this with a serious exploration of The Book of Mormon and other scriptures associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I have also read the entire Tao Te Ching, and dabbled in the Koran and Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata. I’ve poked at the Popol Vuh and Book of the Dead, formally studied Greek and Norse mythology, and read more casually about other sacred traditions. I devoured C.S. Lewis and took summer school classes from Catholic nuns. I have attended Catholic mass, some charismatic Christian churches, and an African Methodist Episcopal service–and have positive things to say about all of them. I have spent hours discussing beliefs with Baptists, atheists, Native Americans, Muslims, and others.

I don’t claim that this makes me an expert on religious topics–not even close. My point is simply that I haven’t been insular, and I have tried to learn.

Besides the “religion is evil” attitude that I already mentioned, I have encountered many other schools of thought that directly or indirectly challenge faith: nihilism and existentialism, psychology, amateur rock-and-roll philosophers. :-) I love science; in addition to a heavy dose in college, I bought a copy of Origin of Species, watched all of Cosmos, and thoroughly enjoyed A Brief History of Time. I’ve read Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, plus other scholarly texts on anthropology and linguistics. About the same time I finished the Bible, I read a thick paperback published by anti-Mormon authors who were anxious that I not believe a bunch of hokum. Since then, I’ve read Rough Stone Rolling (an exhaustive history of Joseph Smith by a professor of history at Columbia), as well as other texts that explicitly challenge my own worldview.

First-Hand Experience

Out of this chaotic tapestry of ideas and philosophies, faith is my choice. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I intend to stay there. I find this choice to be a source of peace and joy, and I find that my faith harmonizes profoundly with the truths that I perceive in science and in other philosophical or religious traditions. Interpreting life through my faith doesn’t answer every question; indeed, it raises some important ones that I might otherwise ignore. However, the answers that I get are genuine and incredibly satisfying, and the questions that remain are ones I am content to patiently ponder.

Of the many experiences that led me to a faith in God, the one that initially made the most impact, and that has remained pivotal in intervening years, happened when I was a teenager. I was saying a prayer at bedtime, and I had an overwhelming and unexpected sense that my prayer was receiving the full attention, and tender response, of a person–a Father–who loved me and understood me perfectly. I could spend hours trying to put more about that experience into words, but I’m certain the result would not do the event justice, and perhaps such sacred moments are intended to be highly personal anyway.

The context of this experience is important. I was a busy and self-centered fifteen-year-old, preoccupied with tomorrow’s load of homework and a part-time job that I was neglecting. I was not a bad kid, but I was no paragon, either. I approached the prayer as the last item on a to-do list. It was what I had to finish before I could finally drift off to sleep. I don’t remember what I said to begin my prayer; I probably mumbled and rushed, and what I said was probably formulaic. I was not seeking anything. I wasn’t planning to pour out my heart. I was simply satisfying a habit that seemed worthwhile.

The response that I received was infinitely out of proportion to my request. What I learned in those moments of connection is that God is real. He has an incredibly personal interest in each of us as individuals. He is not an artifact of wishful thinking, and He is not just a cosmic ideal or an impersonal beneficence of some sort.

A skeptic would have many questions about this experience. How could I “know” anything, just from some feelings? Was I just willing myself into an emotional frenzy? Was I hallucinating? Was I just projecting a childhood imagination of God onto random firing of neurons in my brain–neurons that I carried because my distant ancestors got some evolutionary advantage from magical thinking and superstition? Why would God allow me such an experience, when others having a sincere desire report no parallel? How could God be the kind of being I describe, if life is so full of misery for so many?

These are perfectly reasonable questions, and I have spent nearly 30 years thinking about them. I have some tentative answers. But I am not the slightest bit tentative on this much: the experience was real. I know God exists. The love and intimate connection I felt from Him are essential aspects of His character.

Knowing

Before I get more specific about what else I believe in, I feel like I need to take a detour to talk about the word “know.” I have heard some who don’t like the way I just used it, when I said “I know God exists.” They want all such statements to be backed by careful epistimology, by independently verifiable experiments.

I get that. I agree that the scientific method matters, and I have no love for sloppy thinking.

However, if we asked a philosopher or scientist how they “know” that their mother loved them, truthful answers would show that we human beings don’t always work quite so simply. Sometimes we arrive at knowledge through first-hand personal experience, and that is as it should be. Dismissing such knowledge as “anecdotal” or “subjective” is a dangerous and disingenuous trivialization.

We also reason from what we know–and when our reasoning feels particularly strong, we say we “know” our conclusions. I “know” that the Great Red Spot exists on Jupiter, though I have never personally observed it. I “know” that the dodo bird once existed, even though no first-hand evidence is available to me. I “know” that the sun will come up tomorrow. No experiment can prove this; I suppose it’s conceivable that a horrific weapon from some undiscovered alien enemy could cause Sol to nova while I’m sleeping tonight. But I still “know.”

This leads me to Occam’s Razor. So-called rationalists love to talk about this principle (which I would loosely characterize as: the simplest explanation that fits all the facts, or the explanation that posits the fewest new assumptions, is usually the correct one). Some say that Occam’s Razor requires them to discard superstition–by which they mean ideas like sin, a creator, prophets, life after death, and angels–as pure nonsense.

I think Occam’s Razor is a useful insight–but it is not an iron-clad law. Sometimes, we need to make new assumptions because our existing mental model is inadequate. The leap from Newtonian physics to relativity, and the leap from relativity to quantum mechanics, come to mind…

Occam’s Razor cuts both ways. The simplest explanation for billions of human beings claiming to have had important experiences with deity is that they’re reporting a reality. The simplest explanation for five loaves and two fishes feeding five thousand people is that it really happened. That we don’t understand how seems much more likely to me than the idea that a carpenter from Nazareth was a consummate magician, or that such a huge crowd suffered a mass delusion, or that apostles invented the story and inserted it in the historical record with no contradicting witnesses.

What Occam’s Razor Teaches Us

Importantly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody wrestle with why Occam’s Razor should be such a good guideline. Why should it? There is no law that says it must be so. I work with computers for a living, and I see software get more and more complicated as it tries to correctly model more of what goes on in the systems it regulates. So why should human thought work the opposite way–where simpler is more likely to be right?

I think it’s because the human mind is particularly analogous to, or congruent with, the natural order of the universe. Speaking of the idea that logic should be capable of explaining natural phenomena, Harvard philosophy professor Charles Sanders Peirce said:

I hear you say, ‘This smacks too much of an anthropomorphic conception.’ I reply that every scientific explanation of a natural phenomenon is a hypothesis that there is something in nature to which the human reason is analogous; and that it really is so, all the successes of science in its applications to human convenience are witnesses. They proclaim that truth over the length and breadth of the modern world. (1.316)

In other words, science is founded on the idea that the human mind is analogous to nature, and science progresses by revealing new ways that this is true. (By the way, this explains another profound question, which is why, in the scientific method, we should be so astonishingly good at forming a hypothesis. The scientific method calls for observation, a hypothesis to explain it, and experimentation to prove or disprove the hypothesis, but says nothing useful about how to form a hypothesis. That part of the process is pure magic, yet it works surprisingly well!)

In all of nature, why should the human mind, specifically, exhibit this congruence? Chimpanzees and cockroaches and killer whales and Escherichia coli have all been evolving just as long as human beings, yet do not have minds that hypothesize as correctly, with nearly the scope of the human mind, about the universe–so you can’t claim that time induces evolution into resonance with predictive power. You can’t claim that evolutionary success explains it; cockroaches had a winning design long before we did.

For me, an interesting answer is suggested by the Bible’s assertion that humanity was created in God’s image. If the universe manifests His handiwork, and we are in some limited sense like the Creator–more so than other creations–then it would make sense for mental models that demand less mental gymnastics from human beings to have greater predictive power, on the whole. The rightness of Occam’s Razor itself is thus suggested by theology–but I see no satisfying explanation otherwise. Again quoting Peirce:

In the light of the success of science to my mind there is a degree of baseness in denying our birthright as children of god and shamefacedly slinking away from anthropomorphic conceptions of the universe.” (ibid)

I don’t want to make too much of this. I’m not claiming this is any kind of proof of anything. I just think it’s worth pondering.

There are certainly sincere and intelligent people who are agnostics or atheists or believers of other stripes, and I concede the rationality of many. However, I don’t concede that rationality and intellectual courage is any group’s exclusive territory–as if the rest of us are necessarily foolish or stupid or self-deluded. All of us arrive at our beliefs influenced by a combination of reason, experience, and desires. Note “all” and “desires” in that sentence; omitting either word is dishonest.

Therefore, I don’t accept the claim that science or philosophy or Occam’s Razor forces me to discount God if I’m rational. I have compelling reasons to believe in Him–the experience I previously described, plus many others that are less dramatic. I conclude from the evidence that I know He is real. Could I explain the evidence in other ways? I suppose I could try. But doing so would not be an act of honesty or courage; instead, it would be a betrayal of something beautiful and personal and real, and it would be motivated by desires (pride and convenience, perhaps) that my better self rejects.

I’m not condemning anybody who takes a different approach. I will never know enough to judge the equations that drive other people. But I do think that if we prefer to conceptualize with ideas like faith, repentance, and moral absolutes, we can–and we can end up with a coherent system that jives with science. If we begin with different axioms, such as the idea that life and intelligence can spontaneously arise where it did not exist before, and that natural law derives from chance, we can also construct a certain sort of harmony. The main difference between these approaches is not rationality–it’s how the systems explain our meaning and moral imperatives as human beings. In the end, belief is more of a moral choice than an intellectual status.

What Else I Know

Since the day of my intensely personal encounter with God, I have had many other spiritual experiences. I have felt answers to simple prayers arrive as feelings of reassurance, courage, hope, and comfort. I have had good ideas flow into my mind. I have been reminded of the value of others–if God loves them, how can I treat them with anything less than respect? I have seen, clearly, how I need to change my life to do a better job of fulfilling God’s plans for me. I have been prompted to repent.

These things feed my faith.

A few of my beliefs are sufficiently strong now that they rise to the level of “knowing” in the same way, and to the same degree, that I know that God is real. I know that Jesus is divine, and that He performed an atonement that made it possible for us to become clean and to live again. I have had repeated experiences–countless numbers of them–that confirm this truth to me. These are not just experiences of religious rapture where the orchestra swells like the soundtrack in a Hollywood movie, and people all around me trumpet about the Spirit. They include quiet moments of loneliness or despair when I have received unlooked-for and undeserved hope from outside myself; moments when I have been taught or sobered or admonished in ways I had been incapable of understanding on my own; moments when I felt peace; moments when things made sense so deeply that I can never forget. This core doctrine of Christianity is called “the gospel,” which means “the good news.” And it is good news–not a minor headline fit for the lifestyle section of the paper, but THE GOOD NEWS! worthy of the boldest front-page headline we can muster. I love the gospel of grace.

"The Road to Bethlehem", by Joseph Brickey; GAB 29; Luke 2:1–5
“The Road to Bethlehem”, by Joseph Brickey; GAB 29; Luke 2:1–5. Used by permission (http://j.mp/1B3oxpx).

Because of what I know about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and because I have spent many hours studying over decades, I know that the scriptures are true as well. They were written, translated, and published by flawed people, and there is undoubtedly evidence of those flaws in the pages–in all scripture, ancient and modern. Moroni anticipated this about his own output, and he was right. Occasionally I’ll stumble across a passage that says X soldiers died in battle, and a later passage that says Y people died–or I’ll read something that reveals a cultural bias against women, or an assumption that the world ends at the edges of the Mediterranean. These sorts of things are unfortunate, but they don’t destroy my faith. I am not a literalist who thinks “six days” means exactly 518,400 seconds. The heart of the scriptures is a fervent testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ, and about that message, scriptures are remarkably consistent with one another and with my own separately acquired knowledge. In particular, I am grateful for the account of Jesus’ ministry that comes to us through the New Testament, and I love the plain, powerful witness of The Book of Mormon.

I also know that Joseph Smith’s account of a vision, and of divine help as he translated The Book of Mormon, are true. Again, I am setting a high bar for using the word “know” here. About this truth I have also had many, many confirming experiences.

I don’t know everything about Joseph’s life and heart. I am familiar with much about his public history, including both good and bad. (Funny how critics only want to discuss the latter…). In private, some of his actions were magnificent–almost breathtakingly courageous and humble and generous. We know a few details from journals and anecdotes. But that’s not the whole story, I suppose. Joseph may have been as flawed as Moses, who not only parted the Red Sea but also killed an Egyptian under complex circumstances and hid him in the sand, and whose wife called him a “bloody husband.” He may have been as flawed as Jonah, who preached to Nineveh, but only after fleeing to avoid offering a hated ethnic group a chance to repent. It is conceivable–though I don’t believe this–that he was as flawed as David, who wrote the psalms but also slept with Bathsheba and then arranged the death of her husband. It is clear that on numerous occasions, he was woefully misunderstood and viciously maligned. Perhaps reality is a mixture of all of the above, and perhaps the Lord hasn’t clarified because his private life isn’t really public business. But whatever else Joseph was, he was most certainly a tool of the Lord, someone who courageously accomplished a vital mandate at the cost of excruciating personal sacrifice. I am grateful. I love him for that.

The attitude of Mormons toward Joseph Smith is often misunderstood or misrepresented, so I want to be very clear about this particular topic: Joseph was a man. I don’t worship him. I have never prayed to him, and I find that idea as ludicrous and offensive as he would. I don’t capitalize pronouns that refer to him. I have no doubt that he made lots of mistakes; he said so himself. Weeks go by when I don’t think of him at all. Occasionally I sing hymns about him; always, the lyrics express gratitude that the work he did draws us more fully and fervently toward Christ. Joseph himself said it best:

The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (TPJS 121)

The church Joseph founded isn’t Joseph’s church, and he isn’t at the center of its doctrine; like all the other supporting details, Joseph is only an appendage to the core Topic-with-a-capital-T.

The same is true of all the other personalities and policies and imperfections in the historical and contemporary church. Do I know about them? Mostly, yes. What do I make of them? Given the flawed material that God has to work with (us humans), I find nothing astonishing in it, except the successes and the goodness. And whatever else may be said about such topics, it is important to remember that they are not the Heart of the matter, either.

The last thing that fits into the “known” and not merely “believed” category for me is the reality of the divine calling of the prophet leading the Church of Jesus Christ today. I met Ezra Taft Benson and spoke to him one-on-one for a minute or two when he was the prophet; I felt an electrifying sense of his mantle. I listened to his counsel for years, and although I didn’t always agree with things he had done and said during his political career, I was always moved by his spiritual counsel. His unforgettable talk about pride is a wonderful example. Here was a man who was carrying out a divine mandate, with God’s whole-hearted approval. I’ve had similar experiences about Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and Russell M. NelsonI know they were/are prophets.

What Else I Believe

So: I’ve identified a few things that I know. You’ll notice that it’s not a long list. That’s accurate. Most of the rest of my religious beliefs are just that–beliefs that I hold fast because they are in harmony with that bedrock; beliefs that I examine and polish from different angles as the years go by; beliefs that I might not understand exactly right, yet.

I believe in a Heavenly Mother who is the peer and partner of God the Father in all respects. I am certain that She is real. I have had glimpses of her influence, I think. But unfortunately I know less about Her than I would like, so my ideas are tentative. I hope that will change.

I believe in moral agency. Every human being who is capable of moral choices is irreversibly free to make choices of import, and we should respect that freedom. How we do so is a gnarly question, at times, given the complexity of competing demands, our imperfect understanding of what people want and need, and our limited capabilities to act as we want. But we should strive to support this value.

I believe in keeping the commandments (the ten, and all the others articulated by ancient and modern prophets), though I’ve come to recognize over the years that I’ve understood them and lived them pretty poorly at times. I believe that obedience and humility are higher values than personal actualization–or rather, that ultimate personal fulfillment is impossible without obedience and submission to Someone who is smarter and wiser and more good than we are. I reject the assertion that such obedience surrenders our freedom and identity; instead, it deliberately channels them in a direction we have chosen based on the values we prize most.

I believe in families, with all their warts and heartaches. I was blessed with a wonderful heritage, and I acknowledge my debt to forebearers. I believe that the values articulated by the church with respect to families are crucial to our happiness, although I am hoping for additional doctrine to clarify some of my questions.

Photo credit: Sylwia Hardman.
Photo credit: Sylwia Hardman.

I believe in life after death, and in a literal resurrection. Each of us will one day receive a body that is free of all worldly flaws, not susceptible to disease or death. This puts a great comma at the end of life stories that look pretty bleak to us mortals. I am so glad. As I said earlier, I have a deep conviction about the divinity of Jesus, including His resurrection. Believing that He can and will raise others as He raised Himself is a corollary that I accept and repeat with awe.

For good measure, let me throw in that I also believe in most of what science and history say about how the world works now, and what’s happened here in the past. That includes the general principles of evolution and cosmology, among others… I think the evidence for this science is compelling. Do I see conflicts between science and some of the other ideas I’ve just espoused? A few, maybe. Far, far less than most debaters in either camp might expect. I could go on all day about why, but I’ll spare you the details. Drop me a note if you’re interested.

You may have noticed my hedge word, “most.” Not all of science is equally solid, of course. Some theories have rough edges or unexplained gaps, and I expect those areas to be refined by honest seekers of truth over time. That’s partly why I hedge.

I also think that science explains less than its fans like to claim. I find little in math or science that encompasses the infinite, and I find lots of assumptions that have no basis other than our own convenience. The true nature of intelligence, an explanation of the mind, a recipe for life, a model that unifies gravity with other fundamental forces, experimental evidence for dark matter, and many other scientific questions continue to elude us; to me, this is indicative of just how limited our views are. I’m not so sure that teleology is always an intellectual sin, and I’m certain that a fully accurate model of the past and present universe would surprise scientists as well as mystics. Just because we haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it’s a crazy superstition.

I believe that religion doesn’t answer all of our questions, either. This is not, in my mind, a criticism–rather, it’s an acknowledgement that we see through a glass, darkly, and that expecting a tidy package with no dangling unknowns is not in the cards at present. I am content to walk by faith.

I believe in the value and potential of other human beings.

I believe in tolerance, and I am doing my best to practice this virtue. However, I think society wrests this value well beyond its proper form. Tolerance means an attitude of patience and graciousness about differences, driven by the recognition that what unites us is greater than what divides us. It doesn’t mean we have to abdicate all moral judgment. You can think that someone is making a bad choice, and you can say so–and still be tolerant. You can even publicly disagree, and exert your personal influence to frustrate agendas that you find morally troubling. I find myself in this position in regards to the industry that generates and distributes pornography, for example. I am opposed to what that industry does. I think it’s offensive and misogynous and horribly destructive. I detest words and actions that advance such a cause. My tolerance manifests in my willingness to engage in civil conversation, to not persecute or ridicule people who believe differently about the issue, to abide by lawful constraints, and to genuinely think of opponents on this issue as people worthy of kindness, not as caricatures. It doesn’t require me to say, “whatever you believe and whatever makes you feel good is okay.” Tolerance requires me not to be obnoxious; it doesn’t require me to acquiesce.

As I said at the beginning of this essay, I believe there is much good to be found in other worldviews, and that across all times and all peoples, God has worked through many individuals to further His purposes. I don’t believe Mormons have any special claim on human goodness. People are people, no matter where you look. I believe God looks on the heart, loves all of His children, and will reward us according to our true desires rather than artificial criteria.

Having said that, I do think some choices about belief are better and truer than others, and I believe there is no fuller, more satisfying path than the one offered in The Church of Jesus Christ. It gives us opportunities to serve, to sacrifice, to be fellowshipped, to be held accountable, to learn, and to rub shoulders with others in ways that aren’t easily matched otherwise. I believe it offers a unique opportunity to make binding, authoritative covenants–and that when all is said and done (possibly long after this life), anyone who wants to know God will need to make those covenants, and will in fact be eager to do so. The covenants and the ordinances that embody them are about the most pure and perfect expression of worship and submission to God–and His grace-filled reaching toward us with arms of love–that I can imagine.

I could add hundreds of paragraphs itemizing more stuff in my worldview, but I think the broad sweep of it is apparent now, and I’ve gone on longer than I intended. Thank you for reading through to the end; that’s a tribute to you. :-)

I hope you can sense my sincerity, and my desire to tell the most important truths I know, in the simplest and most straightforward way I can manage. I hope you can relate to some of my feelings. I would be thrilled if something here has kindled feelings in your heart, or has revived memories of your own past that overlap in some way with mine. But regardless, I appreciate your willingness and effort to understand, and I’d be pleased to hear about your beliefs in return, or to explore questions together.

5 thoughts on “What I Believe

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. It has moved me to want to create something like this. I believe it is important that my family and friends understand what I believe.

  2. It was great to read your testimony Dan. Very approachable, insightful, and understanding from other perspectives. I hope you don’t stop here, I hope you do discuss the gaps with unanswered questions (or unfinished answers). I believe that kind of dialogue leaves us vulnerable, but creates a passion for everyone… whether or not an answer can be found, that kind of soul searching is catching, and seems like a good thing. I am glad you went as involved as you did. Usually we just hear what someone believes, and rarely why someone believes what they do including doubt. It seems strange to me the very letter that most consider as proof that Jefferson wasn’t Christian, to me, proves how Christian he was (He was teaching wisdom, not teaching his (nephew?) how to think) “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”
    Very insightful, your train of thought was very fluid… felt like I was reading a good book. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Brett. That quote from Jefferson is really meaty. I agree with the sentiment–that God is not afraid of reason, but rather designs for us to feel after Him and use the reason He gave us to try to understand Him. We can’t understand everything that He can, but that doesn’t mean we should make no efforts.

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