“I know the church is true.”
— Many Primary children and devout adults.
I’m going to get personal here, and I hope you don’t mind.
Read, meditate and, well, preyshoot, as you want.
When it comes to faith, what do you know and how do you know it? Is religious faith itself antithetical to knowledge? And should faith then be ridiculed for not being knowledge?
There have been all kinds of in-depth treatises centering on faith in God, what it is, what it does (or at least is capable of doing), how to cultivate it. I’ve always found the subject fascinating, especially the idea that God wants humans to grow and depend on faith in this earthly existence. Somehow it is supposed to put everyone in a better position when it comes to important eternal pursuits, remote like most of us from regular divine visitations.
If God appeared before us every morning – eyes blazing, voice ringing like thunder, or perhaps like the deep, deep bass of Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments”, or perhaps the powerful, melodic tones by Maria Callas, we’ve got almost no doubt that…yes, the Almighty is here. Little belief required.
In the absence of that, it is said, we are here, somewhat isolated, removed from the presence of God, requiring faith to get by and religion to help us better understand that faith.
Atheists regard all of the above as wasteful, even stupid.
Believers regard it as fundamental, even essential.
If you haven’t actually seen your God, why do you believe, pray and worship him? Why do you follow and honor or try to follow and honor the tenets of your religion, whatever it is?
Do you know that’s true? Are you sure? How do you know? Is it a family tradition? Did the research and logic convince you? Did the spirit move you? Has answered prayer confirmed it to you?
What I know
Many years ago I attended the same Latter-day Saint ward as Loren Dunn, who was a general authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I considered him a friend (although I’m not sure what he considered me), having had many discussions with him about life, about sports, about journalism, about religion, about perspective.
I loved the guy. He regularly stood in a pulpit and said, with conviction and sincerity, “I know that God lives. I know that God lives. I know that God lives. And I know that I know it too. I never really got to him exactly how he knew he knew. But he said he did.
I heard many others testify that they knew things.
I don’t know if I know anything in this life.
I am sure of some things. I know, OK, if I lay in my driveway and my daughter drives her Jeep on my lap, it’s going to hurt. I know the Utah Jazz have never won an NBA title and their chances of winning one without Rudy Gobert and, if it comes to it, Donovan Mitchell are non-existent in the 2022-23 season. I know the sky is blue and the grass is green, unless the water mandates are met, and then it’s brown.
That’s what I know.
What I believe, on a personal level, is that God is real, that Jesus is the Christ, that the church I attend has many good things, but also that it is imperfect, that it has made mistakes in the past and still make mistakes, but also that the experiences I have had in my faith have helped and moved me in ways that I do not deny.
Perhaps the same can be said for you and your own church, for all believers of all religions.
More than a few, some who know me well and my cynical nature, have asked me over the years: Why are you a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Look at some of the things his prophets and other church leaders have done and said. Look at the summary history. Look at past polygamy. Look at the old priesthood/temple prohibition for black members. Look at the positions taken towards LGBTQ people. Look at the condescending way women are treated.
I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it again, there are things I don’t understand – not just don’t understand, but I disagree with, and in some cases I do not like at all. More on that in a minute.
What do you think of your church? Studies show that a notable number of people renounce their church and formal religion as a whole. I understand their concerns.
Here’s the thing for me, though: there are experiences I’ve had throughout my life that have pushed me into my belief, that have whispered to me that there is truth in important parts from it, significant and strong feelings that God is great, that life is eternal, that the atonement of Christ is genuine, that my faith is leading me in a positive direction. It is difficult to explain these spiritual encounters. It’s like the old missionary analogy of trying to describe the taste of salt. It’s… it’s… it’s… salty.
My religion is far from perfect
Same thing with that. For me, it’s spiritual, it’s personal and it’s real. It’s dirty.
So what am I supposed to do with this? Denying these experiences? Forget them? Ignore them? I believe in them and they make my life better. My faith makes my life better.
My religion is far from perfect. The other religions are also far from it. And their followers too. But my spiritual experiences have been close to perfect.
Many people have spiritual experiences in their religious activities, some of which are very different from mine. It’s all good. We’re all bumping and skidding in this life, trying to find our way.
Non-believers will laugh at these experiments, pointing out and pointing out indiscretions, anachronisms, inconsistencies, errors in logic, calling it all nonsense. It is their experience. That’s what they know… uh, uh, believe.
As the son of a scientist and a disciple of study, I learned the empirical and its pursuit, I also learned the imperfections of these efforts. What is considered the truth today, even in the most logical laboratories, will not always be so in 10 years.
Yet true spirituality looks different; it’s different – for me, anyway. And the spiritual connection is not a simple emotion. It’s deeper than that. This spirit has met me at important times in life, and some less important ones.
He met me the day my father died too young and I prayed for him, for my mother, for my own heavenly connection. It happened when a friend discovered he was dealing with a critical health issue and needed help from those around him and, in particular, from those above him. He did it when I endured a significant personal challenge in my youth. It happened when a brilliant member of the family, plagued by depression, committed suicide and when another handsome member of the family, at the dynamic age of 14, drowned on a trip in a Boy Scout canoe, when we all wept over his casket. It happened in a quiet moment when I sought divine guidance. He did it when I married my fiancée. It happened when I saw my children born, when I saw them laugh and cry and suffer and heal. That’s what my mom lost her sight and hearing, limping through life in the late 90s.
I don’t know to know that my church is true.
I have faith – that’s all I have – that God is out there somewhere, that the truth is in the basic gospel that I have studied, and that the faults of my church – and the yours too – will be corrected, resolved long term, for the longer term, with eternal good hope for the benefit of those who choose to believe and those who do not.
Editor’s note • This story is only available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Please support local journalism.