So a theme I’ve been reading about lately is the crisis of faith phenomena in Mormon circles. It seems that there are endless numbers of people who 1) have been brought up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) by parents, who have taught the gospel at home and have strongly supported their childrens’ activity; 2) have also “found out” something they think is compromising to the Mormon faith/worldview/idea of God; 3) they have felt that they can’t be honest to their values with issues they think are irreconcilable (and some issues are that, but not often the way they think); 4) which has caused a crisis of faith, leading them either to become stronger in their faith commitment, or eventually leave the LDS Church.
I think I’m biting off a bigger chunk than I can chew, but here, let me try. I’ll address very briefly each point I emphasized.
- Often people, who are brought up in a religion by devout parents, are taught not to question/criticize the religion, or then, if the parents have fostered an intellectual climate in the home, the children are not aware of the kinds of crises of faith their parents have gone through. The children seldom are very curious about esoterica, so they grow up with Primary and the youth program with an “EFY” outlook that is perhaps just a little sunnier than the whole picture of warts-and-all history. Also it is likely that many converts go back to where they came from during their crises, although I never did.
If we compare this to what kind of a picture an average high-school kid has about American history, we can say, that few know all about the ugliness of the genocidal wars fought against the American Indians or the Jim Crow South with its lynchings and the whole ugliness of slavery. They think Civil War was fought to end slavery etc.. The same goes for any nationality.
- Quite often people run into the less Sunday School -like stories of LDS Church history by running into the Church’s detractors, but it could also be, that they read such books as Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, which engage in the kind of history that the recent efforts by Church history dept. has put out about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Joseph Smith Papers project.
To be sure, people in the Church have done and said some things along the way that make me cringe when I read about them, but I try to give them the benefit of doubt for one thing, plus I do not expect them to be more than mortal humans, just like you and me.
- People often say things like, “my integrity required me to exit the Church” after they heard about Joseph Smith’s polygamy. I refer to #1. The only way they could have avoided the subject is by not having any intellectual curiosity. But let’s just say that if that issue is so big, then out goes all of Judeo-Christian tradition, because it comes through Abraham, who had several wives (and who lied to Pharaoh about Sarah being his sister, letting him take Sarah into the palace–it’s safe to assume she became a concubine, Institute manuals notwithstanding–until the LORD troubled Pharaoh in his sleep about Sarah). So none of the Western religion and culture gets off scot-free.
- A crisis [of faith] is always an opportunity. It beckons us to examine our assumptions and question our worldview. We can always come out of it stronger than we were, but we cannot always predict beforehand where it will lead us. Besides, I believe strongly in “cogito, ergo sum” and the “unobserved life is not worth living” which bring me to a major point about the usefulness of crises in our lives.
In a crisis we are forced to work harder than we normally do, and just like our muscles become stronger when exercise, we become intellectually stronger by being forced to consider our positions, and our faith also grows, unless we give up on it, and let it die and fizzle out.
We come to two things that living faith is about: it is about Choice and Commitment.
Choice is something that many religious people don’t get right. We are given our agency, and we are completely free to exercise it. Nephi makes it a choice between choosing to follow the Spirit of God and receive Eternal Life or follow the enticings of the Devil and receive eternal damnation. But first we must choose to believe in God–and, in a Mormon setting, that God speaks to us both personally and through Prophets.
Why is faith in God a Choice we must make? Because God is to us an Unknown, Unknowable, until we have made a Choice. In the lectures of Cyril, the Bishop of Jerusalem, we see that like any other mythos, Christian doctrine was not imparted to people, who were unprepared; they had participated in rituals, which were more important than theory, which had prepared them for the ceremony in the small hours of Easter Sunday in the Basilica of Resurrection. First the candidates were lined up outside, facing west–sunset and death–then, after renouncing Satan, they were turned around (what “conversion” means) to face east–sunrise and the innocence of Paradise. In a procession they entered the Basilica, shedding their clothes as a ritualized way of shedding their entire old lives or selves.
So then they were immersed, not once, but three times, as a symbol of Christ’s death, only a very short distance from the traditional site of the Empty Grave. Before each immmersion, they were asked a question: “Do you have faith (pistis) a) in the Father, b) the Son and c) the Holy Spirit?” Each time the candidate would answer: “Pisteuo!”
Now, this word itself is worth a few words. It was translated as “credo” (first person singular or “I believe”) in Vulgate (Latin translation of the Hebrew/Greek Bible by Hieronymus), which actually is a mistranslation. It means “I give him my heart, my loyalty and my commitment.” So, it does not mean just to “believe” something–actually nothing of the sort–but to choose to wholeheartedly commit to something. (Full disclosure: I’m relying on experts of ancient Greek for this, as I don’t know enough to translate it myself.)
First of all, the “mysteries of Godliness” are never given to anyone without wholehearted effort and commitment. That is what “mystery” actually is: It’s not something that is “hidden” as we understand it now, it is something that is “revealed” after you have shown enough commitment that you can be trusted to appreciate the revelation, and live your life accordingly. Also, this is, I assume, what “real intent” means in Moroni’s famous promise in Moroni 10:4-5. And it means we need to work for a living faith, it cannot be given to us for the asking (D&C 9:8).
(The stuff about Cyril’s lectures can be found, for example, in Karen Armstrong’s The case for God, which is for a modern Anglo-Saxon reader the most reachable book.)
So no, I don’t mean you need to commit to something before you know what it is. But just think that ritual observation can be a major part of religious experience, and it is experience we are seeking, not “empirical” knowledge about God in the sense that we could take him to a lab like a lab rat and test him. Such empiricism is not and never in mortal life will be available to Humans, so we must live with some ambiguity and doubt. There is always room for doubting our narratives.
How can I say I “know” that Christ was resurrected? I can’t explain it to you so that it would become the similar kind of knowledge to you, because you have not had my experiences, but I just know it just as I know that reading about gross social injustice makes me mad as Hell, and that when I immerse myself in scriptures and prayer, I find the kind of peace and happiness I couldn’t even imagine before I found it. But it didn’t come easy. My crises and struggles have been different than others’ but there are patterns, too (see for example Sunstone
#154 #155 (sorry for the cock-up), Painful but Necessary, from p. 32 by Matt Connelly. Here’s a link to download Sunstone #154 #155 )
And as far as answering the troubling questions about some things in the past or present, I could probably deal with whatever. I’m a fairly frequent reader of UTLM and other such sites, along with some exMo sites, plus MormonStories.org, which deserves a nod for creating a community for struggling Saints. I know about the problems and the stories people tell. And I am saddened sometimes at how people toss out generations of doing good and trying to follow Christ by serving others. I don’t want to explain anything away by this post. Adults are expected to deal with some ambiguity and conflict in their lives. Nobody is Disney-perfect.
Now, that word Doubt is worth another post. Peace. (Ha! fourteen hundred something words…)