Friday, December 23, 2011

Faith, the Spirit World, and Tolerance

Occasionally I've heard a Mormon ask, “Why is so much faith required of us?” Generally he or she means “Why isn’t there more evidence?” The usual answer is that if more evidence was given, it would diminish our free agency, because then everybody would believe and be good. I think that’s a great answer for why such little evidence is given, but not a great answer for the harder question: “Why are we judged by our faith?” Judgment by faith is comforting to those who find it easier to believe than to follow all the commandments, but seems terribly unfair to someone like me. It’s hard to see how believing something without solid evidence is even a good thing, let only why it’s a qualifier for getting into heaven. If I live my life as a good person, and try and help other people not for an eternal reward but rather out of compassion, but am honestly skeptical about the gospel, then why should I be condemned for it? My good friend Gavin Jensen recently wrote a blog post that has a potential answer: maybe faith is really belief based on evidence, rather than belief without evidence. He observes that a willingness to believe without evidence disconnects the believer from reality, and decreases the chance of having correct beliefs. That concept of faith makes a lot more sense to me.

There’s still a problem, in my opinion: I don’t think there is enough evidence given to justify belief in the church. And that’s where the Mormon belief in a spirit world comes in handy. That’s not a criticism, it’s praise. An immediate judgment based on faith right after this life would definitely be very unfair, and the idea of a spirit world makes a lot more sense. The very fact that I’d still be alive as a spirit after my death would be sufficient evidence for me to change my mind about God. I think the belief in a spirit world should make Mormons much more tolerant of skepticism and dissent. So when Mormons are overly zealous about keeping people in the church, I don’t think that’s a necessary consequence of their doctrine, I think it’s a culturally-influenced attitude. I suggest that embracing the doctrine of the spirit world and the tolerance that it enables would be a much better idea.


JulienSpencer said...

There is a big difference between knowing something and believing it. What you want is the knowledge of something without believing its there first. Members of the church try to keep members in it because they have strong testimonies of what they believe and or know. Otherwise, why would they care? If they do it for any other reason besides this or love, it would be wrong in my opinion. It sounds like you have a belief that people are not out to help you or others but that people are just innately selfish and don't care about others in general. That sounds like the direction your belief is taking you. You cannot say "I will believe there is more to biology but I won't believe what is said about it until I see it in the microscope myself." You have to go find it! Don't wait around for truth, its right in front of you and all around you that God lives. He created genetics, he created biology, cells are programmed by him to die just as we are for a reason, not by random. Just as you are ALIVE for a reason.

Bennion said...

I know that's why members try to keep me in, and I kind of miss that sense of community. I definitely think people are altruistic, not just selfish, and their efforts at keeping people in are sincere. I just think they go a bit too far sometimes.

In my opinion, there is very little around me that isn't explained well by science. If it's already explained well by science, then I don't consider it evidence of God. And I choose my own reasons to live :)

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