One of the challenges of being a writer is having something to write about. For that reason, I welcome comments and questions like this one. “Blackout” wrote the following comment on my article Science and the leap of faith:
Blackout – Hi Greg. Your “dangerous bacterium in the glass of water” scenario has some problems. The biggest one is that like most words, “faith” has more than one defintion. Faith can mean “confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability,” or it can mean “belief that is not based on proof.” In the context of a debate on the validity of “faith” in science versus “faith in religion,” the scientific world view relies on the former definition, while the religious world view relies on the latter. The KEY to understanding the difference can be found in something that you said, i.e. “the only way to really know is to experience what the scientist experiences.” The FUNDAMENTAL difference between science and religion is that you acutally CAN go back and objectively verify whether or not what the scientist said is true. It might be a lot of work to do it, but unlike the claims of religion you ultimately you don’t HAVE to just take the scientist’s word for it.
First of all I appreciate having Blackout as a reader. Second, I appreciate his point of view because it was my opinion as well many years ago. In my article Empathy for atheists–my spiritual journey I documented my journey from being a sincere seeker, to becoming agnostic, and a declared atheist at one time. I felt the same exact way that Blackout did. Many atheists make a profound mistake in surveying the religious world and lumping all religions into the same category. Logically, one must assume that one religion must be true or else all of them are false. Certainly there cannot be two “true” religions whose teachings are in opposition to one another. The atheist arrives at the latter conclusion after sampling a number of religions who cannot provide what they consider evidence or proof.
It’s kind of like having the task of finding a single live electrical outlet in a huge room with a thousand outlets. Only one of the outlets is connected to a live source of light and power, but all the others look at least superficially like it. It’s easy to succumb to discouragement and abandon the whole exercise as a pointless exercise. One might even rationalize that none of the outlets are really connected and the whole thing is just a cruel, fateful joke for the easily duped.
When I began reading the Book of Mormon for the first time, I was extremely skeptical. I had studied many religions and found them to have internal errors and inconsistencies within their own philosophical base. They told me that actually knowing that God exists is impossible. Faith was merely a wish, a fantasy, an acceptance of something you can never know. That is consistent with John’s statement. Like John, I identified a circular argument. I’d ask, “How can I know what you teach is true?” The various religionists would answer, “It’s in the Bible!” Again, I’d ask, “How do I know the Bible is true?” They’d reply, “Because God’s said it’s true!” My next question would be, “Then how can I know God is real?” The answer was inevitably, “Because it’s in the Bible!”
To me, faith was no more than choosing to believe a man with a book, who had a different interpretation of the book from some other guy, who also had the same book, who said it meant something altogether different! Whew! Blackout, I know exactly where you’re coming from.
When I began to study Mormonism, I hadn’t met any missionaries yet. I only knew one guy who was a Mormon. I had never set foot in a Mormon Church. I had never attended one service of the Church. The guy gave me a Book of Mormon and showed me the passage cited below. He said if I did what it suggested, I could know for myself that it was true and that I didn’t have to believe what any other person had to say about it. He really didn’t elaborate much more about it. I can’t begin to tell you how startling that was for me. Out of all the religions I had studied, out of all the pastors and priests I had queried for answers, this one statement struck me profoundly. The guy told me that God would make himself known to me and that I didn’t have to just go on blind faith. It was possible to KNOW.
The reason I am a latter-day saint today is because of this promise, which was engraved onto metallic plates by an ancient prophet, some 1600 years ago.
“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. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:3-5)
Before you dismiss me as another scripture-quoting nutjob, I want you to put on your “free-thinker cap.” A truly free thinker will not dismiss a possibility out-of-hand. He will consider the merits of the premise and give consideration to the details. Let’s parse what was written by Moroni.
Moroni said that a person could know for himself that the Book of Mormon was true. He said that this knowledge comes through the Holy Ghost. He said that the Holy Ghost can teach an individual all truth. There are some conditions to obtain access to this knowledge. It involves suspending disbelief for just a short period. That doesn’t mean blindly believing. It means turning down the skepticism just enough to approach the possibility that God exists and that he can speak to you. Consider it an experiment.
The conditions of the experiment are simple. You’re testing a hypothesis here. You make an assumption and then test it. That means for a time, you act on the assumption that it is true. When you read the book, be aware of the thoughts that pop into your mind and the feelings that enter your heart. Is there beauty in the book? Does it teach things that are good? During the day, when you’re not reading, do the words of the book come to mind. Do they impact your behavior. Are you slower to lose your temper? Do you feel more kindly disposed towards others? Do you feel more peaceful inside, even in the midst of a really crummy day?
Be conscious of your dreams. Be mindful of what you think about when your mind wanders. You might be surprised to discover that a dirty joke, foul language, or a vulgar scene in a movie will disturb a growing peace in your heart. There is a refining influence that comes from the Spirit of God and it comes subtly sometimes.
In large measure, how fast this process works depends on your level of commitment to knowing. You might ponder, “If I find out this is true, how will it change my life?” You may wonder if it would cost you some friendships, because you know some people won’t accept you anymore if you were to become “religious.” You may find that some people will tease you good naturedly and others not-so-good-naturedly. There is always a personal cost for truth.
You might consider peripheral issues that are indirectly related to the knowledge you’re seeking. You might wonder if you could make the lifestyle changes–give up drinking, or smoking, or coffee, or tea. Perhaps there are some issues with moral cleanliness that trouble you. You might doubt that you could live up to the expectation of paying 10 percent of your income in tithing as well as fasting once a month and donating the cost of two meals to help the needy. You might wonder what you would do with a whole Sunday devoted to sabbath-day activities. And going to Church for three hours every week–“What’s up with that?”
I call these peripheral issues because they are distractions. They obscure the real issue–finding God. For if you find him, your perspective on all the peripheral issues will change drastically. If you had the opportunity to take a “master class” or seminar with an expert in your field or profession, what would it cost you? I’m an avid guitarist. If I wanted to sign up to take a “Guitar Craft” course with my favorite guitarist, Robert Fripp, it would cost me several hundred dollars for a week. How much would it cost you to go to Harvard or MIT to study with the greatest minds in your field? I would be substantial–and it would be worth it. So how much is it worth for you to touch the mind of God?
If you dismiss the possibility outright, you’ll never know. If all you give is a half-baked effort, you’ll not get a conclusive result. Ask yourself, for the period of this experiment, if God truly does exist, how valuable would that discovery be? You’d have to admit that such a discovery would be life-transforming. Give it a try. Let go of your pride. After all, if he doesn’t exist, all you’ve lost is a couple of weeks to an experiment that just didn’t pan out. No big deal, unless–
In my experience, many people find out very quickly that the Book of Mormon is true. They feel the Spirit of God from it almost immediately, but two things can happen that delay the realization of this fact. The first is that they don’t know how the Spirit of God will manifest itself to them. They feel it, but don’t know how to identify it. This is where our missionaries are very useful. They are not theologians. They teach simple, basic truths and help identify the Spirit of God when it’s present. You see, they already know how to identify it. When they are sensing it’s presence during a lesson or discussion, chances are that you are feeling it also. It’s not anything weird or “supernatural.” It’s not creepy like attending a seance or channeling spirits. When the Spirit of God is present, there is an edifying, uplifting influence that elevates and enlightens. It’s not “showy” or “spectacular.” It is sometimes called “the still, small, voice.” It is often barely more than a whisper that you can feel. It is Spirit communicating to spirit.
In addition to not knowing how to identify the Spirit’s voice, the second thing is fear. Many people are startled by the clarity of the Spirit’s voice. They know from it that the Book of Mormon is true. This leads to a realization of connected truths. If the Book of Mormon is true, it is of God. If it is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet–he really saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. It means that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He died as an atonement for our sins. He was resurrected from the dead and lives today. If Joseph was a prophet, he received authority, just as he said he did. He entertained angels, just as he said he did. God is real. His Son is real. There is a true Church. It is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
You just know, deep inside, that this is going to complicate your life. You begin the personal inventory, counting the cost. Even after you know, it’s still your decision to make. Heavenly Father respects your decision, but you will never “un-know” it. You can go your way carrying the knowledge, evading the truth that God has given you. You see the commitment it will take to follow that knowledge and it can scare you away. God takes commitments very seriously. There are even some former members of the Church who could not live up to the commitments they made to God. Rather than face the disappointment and admit a profound, personal failure, they chose to turn against him and fight against his Church. They are the most unfortunate of all: miserable, unable to forget, unwilling to accept the invitation to return.
If you undergo this process, you should not approach it with a flippant or casual attitude. You must accept that, regardless of the answer you get, this is the most important choice any person can make. There is nothing greater than God. There’s not a “Plan B” or a generic substitute.
If you are sincere, there will come a moment when you have to ask God for the knowledge. If you have honored the terms of the experiment, to read, to ponder, and to assume there is a God to answer, then you may ask, expecting to receive. Again, just suspend the cynicism for a time. Open your mind and truly be a “free-thinker.” Imagine that God is what we say he is–what the Book of Mormon says he is. There is nothing more powerful, nothing more glorious, and nothing more significant in all of the universe. If you had the chance to meet a president or a king, you would feel the magnitude of the event. Would you treat the moment with disregard or with a sense of awe and respect? We call that reverence.
Be mindful of the smallness of each of us before an Infinite and Eternal Being. Be mindful, as Moroni suggests, that this Being has been kind to us and merciful. He has given us life and preserved us. He has created a glorious earth with astounding beauty for us to enjoy. He is our Father and he loves us. With that attitude, ask. Ask your Heavenly Father, “In the name of Jesus, tell me if this is true.” It doesn’t have to be any more wordy or elaborate than that.
I promise you that if you will approach God in this fashion, having shown a willingness to humble yourself, suspend disbelief for the duration of the “experiment,” with a real intent to honor any reply that comes, the answer will come in a way that is unmistakable and personal. You will know. The answer will come to YOU. It is YOUR answer. You own it. It is a gift from your Father to you. It will astound you. It is almost indescribable. When you try to explain the experience to someone else, you’ll just say, “I know that it’s true.” And that will be the truth.
Returning to “Blackout’s” comment:
“The FUNDAMENTAL difference between science and religion is that you acutally CAN go back and objectively verify whether or not what the scientist said is true. It might be a lot of work to do it, but unlike the claims of religion you ultimately you don’t HAVE to just take the scientist’s word for it.”
This is where Mormons part company with every other religion. You don’t have to take my word for any of this, or any other man’s. The Lord prepared the way for the coming forth of the the Book of Mormon in our day. The book is an invitation to approach God directly. It provides a “vector” by which you can make that approach and find him for yourself. It is a “repeatable” experiment. Nearly 300,000 people discover this every year. They follow Moroni’s promise and invitation. God will answer those who truly seek him through reading the Book of Mormon. I know this process works. I went from being an atheist to knowing that God is real and that he responds to personal queries about the Book of Mormon. I obtained this knowledge in 1978 and it has been a blessing to me ever since.