Tag Archive | belief

Why I Believe

Tonight I had a dream. It was of little consequence other than the opportunity I was given within the dream to say why I believe in God, in Jesus, and in the Mormon Church. In my dream, I was very eloquent. I have gotten out of bed, hoping that some of that eloquence will remain with me, as I feel that it is something that needs to be said persuasively.

I get it. There is a lot to be cynical about with religion today. There are plenty of bad actors out there, who want to use religion as a tool of control. It is a very effective tool for that purpose. But, just like technology, it can be used for both evil and good.

Nobody can prove the existence of God through science. It is one of, I daresay the most important of, a whole class of questions that can neither be proven nor disproven. Science generally considers these questions useless, as they don’t fit into the framework of the scientific method, where knowledge is gained by repeatable experiment. So, some scientists ignore the question, or worse, assume the proposition false, and refuse further consideration. There is no question more important.

So then, we have a choice. What do we choose to believe? Do we choose to believe that life is random, that the only purpose in life is what we make of it? Or do we choose to have hope that a loving God gave us life, that we have been sent to this world for a purpose, known to Him, and that He can guide us through to find peace and joy amid this otherwise chaotic world? I chose the latter long ago.

Something interesting happens when you choose to believe — you find reasons to believe. Some would dismiss this as confirmation bias. Undoubtedly, much of it is that, maybe even most — at first. However, as you learn about Jesus, you will discover that He is goodness incarnate. Philosophers may argue semantics and methods and perspectives all they like, but when you see the life Jesus lived, you will understand what goodness is. I want to be like that. There is no bias there.

I am trying to follow Jesus. It’s very hard; I fail frequently. I need to read the scriptures — particularly the New Testament and the “newer” testament, the Book of Mormon — daily. They remind me of the things I need to do to follow Him. I need to pray daily, as it gives me an opportunity to assess myself and consider who I want to be.

I also need to go to church every week. I need the support system of others who are doing their best to follow Jesus. I need the opportunities to serve them that arise through that community. I also need an outside, friendly perspective, on occasion, to break me out of the ruts I so easily sink into. They need me, too.

Through my experiences with these things: studying the life of Jesus and the Scriptures, prayer, service to others, and church attendance I have learned and grown as a follower of Jesus. I no longer hope that God exists. I know that God exists. I know Jesus.

While not a repeatable experiment in the traditional scientific sense, my experiences have been repeatable to me, and are evidence enough to me. I know many others who have gotten the similar evidence. I do not know why some people don’t seem to find the evidence convincing. Maybe they are doing the experiment wrong. I can only speak to my experiences, and God has proven His existence to me.

Jesus lives. I know this not because of a single spiritual experience. I know this because He is part of my life every day. He lives in my life. He lives in the lives of so many other good Christians out there. I know this. I also know this is not the literal life that we usually talk about when we say someone lives, but there is an undeniable power in the life of Jesus that exists in my life, and connects me with my family, friends and community.

I also know that Jesus really lives — that He is God, and hears my silent prayers. Yes, this brings me back to that un-provable question. However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has provided additional doctrine to that found in the Bible. Through the combined doctrine, I have been able to construct a viable and consistent mental model of reality that both matches reality as understood by modern scientists and which allows for miracles to be real. This may not sound like a big deal, but for me, it is.

Reality is what is. If my religion could not be consistent with it, I might be a member, but not a follower. There is a powerful motivation that comes from having a consistent perspective on reality, life and who I am in relation to God, and it helps me maintain both my sanity and my efforts to follow Jesus.

This modern world is hostile to religion in many ways. To disregard God and religion because they are misunderstood and misused by many is unwise. To assume that all those who “cling” to religion are doing so blindly is plain wrong. My faith is what it is because I see. I understand what goodness is. I understand my own failings. That knowledge is because of religion, not despite it.

I am grateful for the path of my life that has lead me to where I am today. I am fully aware of how fortunate I am to have had the privilege and opportunity to learn of Jesus and follow Him. I don’t expect I would have come to this religion if I had not grown up in it. There is too much of it to understand before it makes sense in the way that I have needed it to make sense. At this point, to me, it is my reality. To abandon it would be to abandon everything that I am.

Through believing in God, I have found peace. Through following Jesus I have found joy. Through membership in the Mormon church I have found hope. These things are real. They are not delusions or bias. They are the natural consequences of the laws of the universe, and of the laws of God. They are available to everyone, but they are not free. They require that we choose them and work toward them.

My hope is that by sharing this perspective, I might open some few hearts and minds that are currently shut to faith. Please see that there is value in faith. Please understand that un-belief is a choice, and so is hope. I chose hope. I hope you will too.

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Logic and Truth are Insufficient

As a follow up to my post on truth seeking,  I want to offer some thoughts connecting my post to an article in the New Yorker recently. The New Yorker article details the work of Brendan Nyhan who has studied the effect of media campaigns on the perception of political issues and policies. He has found that political beliefs — and, indeed, deeply-held beliefs of any kind — are almost impossible to change via marketing, discussion, logic or even broadly accepted facts!

To me this seems obviously related to our evolutionary bias for tribalism, which specifically helps us define ourselves as members of a group for protection. Of necessity, this bias also results in a desire to create “us” and “them” identifiers, which we use to maintain the integrity of the “tribe.” This is also the basis for a whole lot of nasty human tendencies: racism, sexism, religious tensions, extreme nationalism, etc. So, this bias is/was evolutionarily beneficial, but is highly problematic in a modern world.

Groups of all sorts are defined by their set of beliefs, from political parties to religions to social clubs to nations to families. Members of those groups often use shared beliefs to define their membership in those groups. So, as we are biologically biased to preserve our membership in groups, it makes sense that beliefs that tie us to those groups would be difficult to let go of. This is what Nyhan found in his research, and what I indicated was challenging in my previous post.

In discussing Nyhan’s findings with a friend, it reminded me of something I learned from my mother, who has a master’s degree in educational psychology, which was that people don’t really change as a general rule, but there are few things that can prompt substantial change in an individual:

  1. A near-death experience
  2. A life-threatening illness
  3. Cognative restructring, often achieved through psychological counseling
  4. A dramatic change of heart, often associated with a religious conversion

Perhaps this means that next time you run into someone with whom you have a deep fundamental disagreement, rather than trying to convince them that you’re right, you either need to guide them through therapy on the subject or convert them to your belief. Or you could just agree to disagree.

On the Nature of Belief

Nathaniel Givens is rapidly becoming one of my favorite fellow logical Mormons. He wrote a post today in response to a question posed to him that asked, “What would it take to convince you that (in as much as you know anything) propositions such as God exists or the BoM is historical are false? Or do you consider such propositions unfalsifiable?” His response on the nature of belief is an excellent explanation of why questions like that are so hard to answer.

What It Would Take to Not Believe