What is faith?

By: Andrew S
August 22, 2012

Around a year ago, chanson from Main Street Plaza asked this question: what is faith? Her discussion seemed to approach the question from a matter of: what kind of belief is faith. Is it a rational belief? An irrational one? Is it backed with proof? Or is in absence of proof? Must faith include or preclude doubt?

I feel like this discussion begs a more fundamental question about the nature of faith — so many of the definitions chanson mentioned in her post started from the presumption that faith is belief. Like so:

From About.com Christianity: “Faith is belief with strong conviction; firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof; complete trust; opposite of doubt.”

Or like so:

According to these two faith is any belief that is strongly held and inspires action —regardless of how you came upon that belief.

But is faith primarily about belief at all? Why couldn’t it be about action?

Hold to the Rod

Last week, I was thinking a lot about action and activism. As I had quoted then from our very own Bonnie:

And the gospel cannot be understood without living it. That’s what I mean by reductionist. You can’t debate yourself to God or to faith or to understanding. You are talking apples and oranges with someone who is doing the Alma 32 experiment. And there is reason that Alma did not waste any time with the rameumptomites; they were not humble.

Think about that. You can’t debate yourself to God or to faith or to understanding. You are talking apples and oranges with someone who is doing the Alma 32 experiment.

When I posted last week’s article around on various Facebook groups, I found that it was very different to discuss actions…people kept wanting to bring it down to beliefs. Because I don’t believe in LDS truth claims, now my Mormon friends and family members do not see me in the same way. But the curious thing that popped up again and again was that with a loss of belief (or a realization that they never had belief) did come a change in behavior…even if that change was merely not attending church, not tithing, etc.,

(I’m not saying that anyone should attend or tithe or whatever, and I’m also not saying that disbelieving members or former members will go down a slippery slope to immorality. Just that it was difficult to tease out the source of social backlash — was it the lack of belief, or was it related changes in actions?)

Jacob Wrestling an AngelThink about it like this. Take someone who struggles to believe in God. He struggles to believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet. Perhaps it’s not a struggle at all — perhaps this person flat out does not believe in these things. But what if the person is striving to follow LDS commandments? What if he strives to follow the Alma 32 experiment? What if he engages in his ward, attends his meetings, magnifies whatever callings he may have, and live the various commandments, and so on…even though he has doubts or disbeliefs?

Would we say that person is faithful? Would we say that person has faith?

Let’s take another person. Take a person who believes in God fully. He accepts Joseph Smith as a prophet. But this person does not follow LDS commandments. He doesn’t read scriptures, pray, experiment upon the word.

Would we say that this person is faithful? Does this person have faith?

Can we choose to believe? To have faith?

The question of whether belief can be chosen is one that I address over and over again. I’ve probably written far more posts than ever needed to be written on the subject, but I guess the reason why is because the Mormon perspective, with its emphasis on agency, asserts that beliefs are a choice.

Unfortunately, my lived experience doesn’t seem to agree with that.

And when I read others’ stories — stories that they may even frame as their choosing to believe — I keep finding instances where it wasn’t necessarily belief they choose at all, but a pattern of actions. To illustrate this point, I’ll link to John Lynch’s FAIR Blog post Why I Still Choose to Believe.

…my belief is a choice. It is a deliberate action borne of faith. While I am aware of those things that might challenge faith, I have decided to believe! I don’t do it by ignoring some questions that for me may remain unanswered, but I believe despite the fact that I do not, as yet, have all the answers!

What does this look like? Well, later on, Lynch describes what this looks like in certain instances:

When the Church initiated its support for Proposition 8, my personal experience with my older brother (who was among the first 500 individuals in the Unites States to die of AIDS) caused me to want to shrink. I did not want to step into the controversy, and would that the Lord would take such a cup from me. But He did not. I was therefore forced to confront my loyalties, and to work through my thoughts and feelings. My answer did not come from reason. It did not come from an angelic visit, or some religious conviction that allowed me to lay aside my fears. In the end, I simply chose to follow the counsel of the 15 prophets, seers and revelators who asked me for my efforts. Through that submission of faith, I received personal revelation that assured me that my actions were correct. My heart filled with compassion for all individuals involved, and despite my support for Proposition 8, my compassion for those who sought to legalize same sex marriage was actually heightened greatly! No, it wasn’t that I got some great answer that convinced me to change my views.Rather, I chose to believe! And the answer came after my choice.

The funny thing here is that the phenomenon that is described as having “chosen to believe” is really choosing…to follow the counsel of the general authorities. (As an aside, without getting too clinical, I would just note that in this passage, there are undertones of “escalation of commitment,” but that’s probably just a coincidence how similar it reads.)

Later on, John continues:

But it does not stop there. No, I have continuously tried the Lord through my obedience, and experienced affirmation after affirmation that my choices to believe are good. I have had rich experiences that transcend emotion, that reach beyond coincidence and defy nature, which testify to me that it is good for me to believe. So, I choose to believe!

Yes, I know all the reasons to not believe. I have even been put off by the actions of leaders, had my feelings hurt by a member or two, and had the world try to drag me into practices that seem enticing. I have read all the secular teachings that challenge belief in God, and all the criticisms that challenge belief in the restoration. I am aware of probably every reason that exists to abandon my faith, and yet none of that has the power to dissuade me. No, I have seen too much, I have persisted too long, I have experienced too much change, too much affirmation, and too much personal development from the simple act of submission by choosing to believe.

He speaks of trying the Lord through…obedience…he speaks about persisting too long to change. These statements would seem to indicate to me that things get rolling from action, yet he describes his simple act of submission as choosing to believe.

Conflating belief with chosen actions

It seems to me that what’s happening is that “belief” and “faith” aren’t always spelled out, and there’s a lot of conflation between various things. I’m wondering if that leads to a lot of miscommunication — that many people are so primed to understand thing in terms of mentally assenting to certain propositions, when for other people, it was about action and choosing to act certain ways.

But distinguishing beliefs from actions doesn’t solve the underlying issue. As I mentioned this in discussions, some folks pointed out that our actions are impacted by our beliefs. From a Facebook comment:

…to continue with your line of thought, once a set of Mormons “choose” to believe, meaning to act on a commitment to various commandments, and another set of Mormons “choose” to NOT believe, meaning to act by DISregarding those commandments, the two sides come in direct conflict (in a weird, Mormon passive/aggressive way). That conflict will not harmonize. If I “choose” to sit in the pews on Sunday and refuse the sacrament because of my non-belief, I am directly contradicting the most important ACT of the Sabbath day. So essentially, because I “no longer believe,” you are saying I am actually choosing to no longer act on beliefs I don’t have any more. Back to logos. The actions are a direct result of our belief (or non-belief) and to contradict them would actually be discreditable and immoral and unworthy of credit (cred). The cred I have lost is based on their beliefs, not my unbelief. This burden and fault is not mine, but the believer who takes my credibility because I don’t believe (act the way they want me to).

Emphasis added.

What I find interesting is the idea that this person believes that the contradiction of belief and action is discreditable…whereas I would imagine that many other folks would see it as admirable — that is the idea of “not casting out the seed with one’s disbelief,” is it not?

Anyway, I hope that have expressed this point to some acceptable standard…really, I just wanted to ask as many as people as possible: what is faith? (Baby, don’t hurt me. Review our comment policy if you haven’t yet.) Is faith about action or belief? Is faith, action, or belief chosen? Are some actions that would be faithful inconsistent without having certain beliefs first?

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92 Responses to What is faith?

  1. Jenn on August 22, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    I’m curious to see people’s responses. I’ve never found faith to be something I had much choice in- when I believed, I believed because it made sense. My experiences and evidences dictated belief. Now those have changed, and it dictates non-belief. I can’t WILL myself to believe something that makes no sense to me.
    I can, however, control my actions. And while I’ve never been a fan of the “fake it til you make it” approach in mormonism (if you don’t believe yet, act like you do until you really do… you have to act like you believe first for the witness to be given to you), I can still live a mormon lifestyle without any of the gospel belief behind it- being christlike and compassionate, taking care of myself and my family- these things which are big goals in mormonism do not actually rely on belief in mormonism or religion whatsoever.

    I’ll admit it has been very frustrating, knowing that my non-belief is causing pain to my family. If I still act the exact same- I’m a fairly charitable and good person, a good mom, flawed but making progress… why doesn’t the fact that I’m a good person override her fears about my faith. Because of HER faith- I may be a happy, good person now, but without the belief, she fears/knows that I won’t be happy/good in the long run without the doctrinal foundation. *sigh*

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  2. Bonnie on August 22, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    IMO, the reason faith is a conflation of belief, choice, and action, is that faith includes a cycling process of all three. That’s the essence of Alma’s beautiful discourse to the poor Zoramites who had been kicked out of their churches because they didn’t have the right clothes or houses or friends or culture. I love that Alma’s discourse refocuses the discussion on their personal relationship of experiment and experience with God, not on the attitudes or opinions of others or the culture in which they live. God has always said he would have a peculiar people, or a people who were different from their culture.

    Much of what I hear of pain in discussions of Mormonism is founded on culture and the opinions of others. True faith is independent of all that. When we pare away the culture, we have a path of covenants (actions and affirmation of relationship with God that includes promises, demonstrating trust in God and a willingness to accept a path he lays out for the individual). The church could disappear and that path would not if there were some other way to participate in the covenants and learn the doctrine. The church exists as a vehicle to provide the covenants, to harbor the priesthood that administers them and the doctrines that enliven them, and to encourage individuals on the path. That’s it.

    Keep in mind that Alma is speaking from a really unique point in history. For nearly 450 years the monarchy has been conflated with the priesthood and office of prophet. There WAS NO church until Alma. His experience with King Noah and Abinadi was so formative, and King Mosiah’s intense concerns about his sons and his people was precisely parallel, that they separated the doctrine and covenants from government and formed a church for the first time that we really have in the records of covenant history. Previous to this time, we largely have offices of leadership and priesthood handed down in patriarchal lines. Alma and Mosiah set up a system based on the voice of the people. We really don’t have much record of that ever happening before.

    It is fascinating to me that in this environment of shift we have a church set up. I can and have drawn all kinds of conclusions about this that aren’t pertinent to this discussion, but I find it very, very interesting that he spends so much time discoursing about faith as separate from public action, about faith as a relationship that includes but is not wholly defined by action. One of the great drawbacks to the law of Moses was the ability to live it and have no clue why – to diminish the doctrine and covenants to a culture. It’s the great danger of dividing thought and experience and action from one another. Alma clearly points to a different path, one of measured building of action and thought and choice in extremely small quantities of each and evaluating the results before continuing.

    Overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others (either attending with empty belief or not attending because one thinks everyone else is a hypocrite or because one is offended or whatever) hijacks a path of faith. The experiment has ended and culture has superseded faith. So, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your path of faith and responding with pushback to someone else’s judgments is a senseless, wasteful activity. Still, we’re all Zoramites, and we see the relationships around us as much more present than the one with God, so we let the culture guide us more than we ought.

    In this view, faith is about both action and belief, but if we include the experiences of anyone outside of ourselves, if we let the culture be an actor in our experiment, we’ve polluted the results. Worship is a choice to trust God and to listen, to apply his counsel in a myriad of situations (either received from a prophet, a law, a covenant, or personally) and to evaluate the results. It’s a choice to test the covenants.

    Ideally, IMO, we look at the church as the vehicle in this place and time for something so much bigger – the doctrine and covenants that God has placed on earth to enliven and protect his family of children. If we let the culture of the church alter our relationship at the altar, we are not experimenting on faith but on something else altogether.

    Still, there’s a lot of time to get ourselves straightened out in our thinking and actually conduct a real experiment. It’s why we’re here. Otherwise we could have just skipped the whole mortal experience and debated it out in heaven. Answers come by experiment.

    And while I understand the power of sunk costs or escalation of commitment, that phenomenon never has the power to hold someone for long. If there is something missing in our foundation, or if we’ve skipped a step in our choice/belief/action cycle, we’ll eventually reject the whole thing and start over. When we do, we’ll do just what Alma suggests: we’ll try a thought, experiment on it, and then evaluate. It’s not just a path to faith; it’s the reality of human exploration.

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  3. ji on August 22, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    Andrew,

    I wonder if you’re making all of this way too hard. You frame the question to force either an ACTION answer or a BELIEF answer, but whichever answer one will choose, you have examples to challenge the answer. Is this honest inquiry?

    Perhaps one’s faith is sometimes visible to another by his or her belief. And perhaps sometimes the same or another person’s faith is visible by his or her action. But all that is seen is the outside. I can critique it and challenge it and question it and so forth, but I cannot judge whether his or her faith is valid.

    What I can do, however, is to purposefully choose a course that tends to help build up and strengthen the other person’s faith, or a course that tends to tear it down. I want to choose the former. I want to life up the arms that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. I want to sustain. I want to build faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and loyalty to the Church he re-established in myself and to be a help to others. If your question had been framed within this sort of context, it would be easier for me to answer.

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  4. Will on August 22, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    Faith does not equal belief. It never has and never will. What’s more, the primary song is wrong. Faith is not the seed; the Word of God is the seed as properly taught by Alma. Most importantly, Faith is a ‘hope of things that are not seen, WHICH ARE TRUE’. In other words, it is impossible to have true Faith in a false idea. Here’s why:

    Getting back to Alma’s discourse on the Word (Alma 32 is just that, his discourse on the Word), Amuleck continued on what Alma said about the Word being the seed in 33 and 34. Alma taught the Word swells and sprouts and begins to grow as we ponder the Word; and, we can know it is good (or true) if it enlarges the soul and enlightens the mind. He further taught, and Amuleck reinforced it, that the seed that has grown by reading the Word needs to be nourished by FAITH. This is where faith comes into the equation. When we read, for instance, in Malachi “Will a man rob God,….” and we exercise Faith in what we have read by APPLYING the concept or law the seed will grow. This may take a while, but if we nourish the Word by applying it, our faith or desire to apply God’s Word will grow. If we do not exercise Faith, or do not apply God’s Word, the seed in us will die.

    It is important to note, we WILL have a trial of our faith. Meaning, we will not see the consequences (good or bad) immediately. We will not have a trial of knowledge, or a trial of the Word, we will have trial of our faith.

    It can be best summarized in an old proverb taught by the Navajo Indians about the wolf. A chief was teaching his tribe that a good wolf and a bad wolf are constantly fighting within us. A member of his tribe asked “which one will win” and the chief responded by saying, ‘the one that we feed’. This is so true. It is not one that we choose (God or Lucifer) that will determine our destiny, but the one that we feed (or live). Faith is feeding the good wolf, or applying God’s word.

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  5. Jenn on August 22, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    This is what confuses me: “APPLYING the concept or law the seed will grow” I understand to have faith in tithing, I can apply the law and the seed will grow. This I have done. Which is why I continue living those principals even when my faith is gone- I have seen the good they have done and can see why God would want me to do them.

    But how do I apply the concept of Joseph Smith’s first vision in my life to give it a chance to grow? How do I grow faith in an idea that I can’t necessarily put into practice?
    And what do you do when you do act on the seeds of faith, with real intent and a pure heart and all that, and you never get your witness or testimony? For instance, my whole life I believed the Book of Mormon was true. I even verged on being apologetic about it. I didn’t doubt it. I could not have acted on my faith more strongly. But even then I never once had a spiritual confirmation of it, despite many attempts. It was true because it made sense for it to be true.
    So when it no longer makes sense for it to be true (because the evidence has changed), and I can’t rely on the evidence/logic anymore, how do I get the spiritual witness, when for 28 years I’ve already done everything I know how to grow the seed of faith in it and my actions and choices reflect that?

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  6. Geoff B on August 22, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    Andrew, I really admire the way you are continuing to address these subjects. For some people, faith is easy, for others it is very difficult, and for others it is not important. I cannot address all of your points. I would just like to say that for me faith was very difficult — until I had an experience with the Spirit and saw it for what it was. But that experience could have dissipated and become nothing without action. My action was to pick up the Book of Mormon and read it and then ask God what it was all about. I did not get strong confirmation at first, but I got the *feeling* that I was on the right path. And as I continued going to Church and keeping the word of wisdom and paying tithing, my faith grew. That was 13 years ago, and I feel more and more every year that I have made the right decision. I pay tithing, do my home teaching, read the scriptures every day, do my calling, have family prayer, FHE, go to the temple regularly and hand out books of Mormon regularly. I feel at peace, and my family is happy, and there is not chaos in my life (there was a lot before). I can only share that this worked for me. Every person is different and has different paths and different experiences. I wish you much joy on your personal path to discovery.

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  7. Howard on August 22, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    Mormon Stories offers The Psychology of Religion podcasts that discuss several psychological studies explaining the high compliance that results from social peer pressure to comply to something you actually know is wrong and that uncertainty plus importance equals even greater conformance! It goes on to explain why “a testimony is found in the bearing of it”.

    My belief is beyond faith and therefore no longer fragile, it is based on skepticism, reasoning and questioning supported by spiritual confirmation even gnosis resulting from contemplation, prayer and meditation. I can generally explain both my testimony and lack of it topic by topic. Steps to faith like the Alma 32 experiment are valid ways to eventually acquire belief in the gospel and may be good advice when coupled with a connection to God and clearly vetted questions and clearly parsed spiritual confirmation. I’m far less confident when they are coupled to the church or the correlated gospel or what the leaders of the church tell us and depend on a single spiritual confirmation or two applied generally to all of it. I think the peer pressure compliance aspect of this and blanket spiritual confirmation is why some arch orthodox Mormon bloggers don’t want their testimonies discussed, second guessed, examined or logically questioned instead demanding a safe space of like minded people for discussion or they won’t participate.

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  8. Bonnie on August 22, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Jenn, you have faith in tithing. You may not have faith in Joseph Smith. That’s okay. We sometimes conflate all the things we have faith in into one faith. Faith is more a tossed salad than a smoothie.

    And it’s the ultimate science. When you hit a brick wall with an investigation in one area, you go back to square one. You try other hypotheses. You continue to experiment. We can’t come to knowledge unless we experiment, however. This is where a lot of people get hung up in the culture, because this experimentation can seem very risky.

    I’ll give a personal experience from this morning. My #3 child is a limits-pusher. I actually have several, but he’s the one who made me crazy this morning. He’s a senior in HS and very into construction – advanced classes in both furniture construction and welding. I never thought I’d be worried about someone passing English, but he’s a credit and a half behind in order to graduate. It’s been a study in redefining my cultural expectations of him to be inclusive and open and not demean his choice to not do homework that actually comes very easy to him because he wants to make a statement about its usefulness. Whatever. He gets to live that consequence, and has suddenly developed an interest in graduating, so he’s doing online classes. I can ALWAYS count on him when I need something, and he has many very endearing and life-preserving traits.

    Today he went to school with a construction utility knife in his pocket. He knows that’s against the rules. He thinks the rules don’t apply to him because he’s not going to go postal. He thinks his other character traits supersede a need to conform and be obedient to a community rule. I can make conformity to the social rule the issue (which I did, and he went to school mad), or I can work with his reasons for obedience or disregarding rules and challenge him to be consistent. If the guidelines don’t apply to him, what flexibility is he willing to offer every other person who doesn’t think they apply to them? I want him to CHOOSE, not simply resist or see himself as above the culture. I want him to experiment.

    There are ways to test Joseph Smith, just as there are ways to test tithing. I’ve done it. Make certain assumptions, study them out, and then test how you feel. Peace comes when you find a truth, and it comes in extremely small bites. To be honest, my understanding of Joseph Smith was solidified by reading Bushman’s bio. How crazy (and uncommon) is that. Ignore everyone else around you and do your own experiment, you and God. Evidence doesn’t change; your perspective on it does.

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  9. Jenn on August 22, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    So that’s what I tried- I studied it out, hypothesized, tested… and every single step I took, I ended up with less belief and less faith. The results of my experiments have ended with me essentially out of the church.
    And no, evidence itself does not change, but our exposure to it does. I had a very small sample of the full evidence out there- just what the church had provided me with. When I saw new evidence, I had to re-evaluate, re-experiment- but the experiment didn’t end the way I thought it would. I feel like God and I are on pretty good terms, he hasn’t been silent on the matter… but the answers he is giving me based on my experimentation don’t inspire faith in the mormon Truth.

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  10. SilverRain on August 22, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    I’m probably echoing others here, but I think the reason action and belief are conflated is because they are connected.

    Some people think actions come from belief, but I think that belief comes from actions just as much. We learn to love that which we work for. We love our children or our spouses because we have sacrificed for them. Any other kind of love is fragile, easily broken.

    I choose to believe because I choose to act, and my belief is strengthened by those actions.

    And I agree, faith is not the seed, faith is the planting. Faith comes from belief and action together. Belief without action is dead, having no purpose or meaning. It isn’t really belief at all. But beliefs that we are willing to act upon—those are real. Those change us.

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  11. Jenn on August 22, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    Sorry, I don’t want to make this all about me, but I guess what I’m getting at is: how do you explain people doing the same experiments on faith, getting different results?

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  12. Will on August 22, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    Jenn,

    “Which is why I continue living those principals even when my faith is gone”

    If you are living the principles, then your faith is NOT gone. This was Amuleck’s point.

    “I have seen the good they have done and can see why God would want me to do them.”

    Then you are on the right track.

    “But how do I apply the concept of Joseph Smith’s first vision in my life to give it a chance to grow’

    You don’t. it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t.

    This is why the Savior said, ‘by their fruits shall ye know them” If Alma and Amuleck’s (the Book of Mormon in general) teachings enlarge your soul and enlighten your mind, then you know it is of God and if it is of God the Joseph Smith was a true prophet in SPITE of his weaknesses. He was a man. Just like you and me he had his strengths and weaknesses. I, for instance, have a huge problem with polygamy, but I know what I read in the Book of Mormon enlarges my soul and enlightens my mind. I know the church and its teachings best reflect what is in the Bible. I know if I apply them it makes me a better person. This is how I reconcile the current church with stupid things that Joseph and Brigham did and said. They did. They did and said stupid things. Both of them.

    “And what do you do when you do act on the seeds of faith, with real intent and a pure heart and all that, and you never get your witness or testimony”

    Again, it is not the one that you choose, but the one that you feed that will determine your destiny. Living God’s laws as taught by the LDS church make you happy. You know this. You have stated this. You have seen the blessings of living the commandments. Things have happened for your good. I read your bio. This is your testimony and your challenge. Keep feeding the good wolf, this is faith.

    “I’ve already done everything I know how to grow the seed of faith in it and my actions and choices reflect that?”

    Good. You are on the right path. Keep pressing forward. This is faith. This is what Amuleck taught.

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  13. SilverRain on August 22, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    Jenn—for me, the seed of J.S.’s vision was that it stood as a testimony that God was literal, that He was real, that I was His child, that He cared personally about me and my struggles, that He worked through men to accomplish His great works, that the BoM was just such a work, and that it is brought here to bring me to Christ.

    Those are the truths that can be planted, tested, and faith in.

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  14. Jenn on August 22, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    OK, I should probably clarify: I had lived the principals. I still follow many of them (don’t drink, don’t shop on sunday, give to charity…) But I am essentially not a mormon anymore (don’t go to church, don’t wear Gs, don’t pay tithing to the lds church), because living the principles and going through the motions without the faith in the core of the gospel was just too hard, the cognitive dissonance was just too much.

    When my disaffection began, various people told me to read Alma 32. I did (many times), and you know which verse stood out the most? “32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.”
    My LDS church seed did not grow, I cast it away… Why does the same seed grow for some and not for others?

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  15. Howard on August 22, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    Jenn,
    How is your gospel seed doing compared to your LDS church seed?

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  16. Jenn on August 22, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    Depends on what you consider “the gospel” :)
    My seed is growing, rather quickly, into something personal and unique to me that only very loosely resembles the gospel you hear about in LDS scriptures or testimony meetings.

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  17. Bonnie on August 22, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    Jenn, I don’t think you’re making it all about you at all. That’s the essence of faith: it’s personal – we get different answers! But it’s also not some end point. We keep experimenting and adding to our knowledge.

    To respond to your #9, it’s not that you don’t have faith; you have faith in a different result than others do. You would find that true among most people who have faith in anything. Everyone is on the cafeteria plan, from Mormonism to global warming to parenting. We pick and choose the things we have experience with and though we might agree on some things, we disagree on others. If God is involved in your life, providing answers, then you have faith in him to do that and will continue to reach out to him for more answers because your faith is growing in that area. You have faith in God. I really don’t know what you mean, or anyone would mean, by “the Mormon Truth” outside of individual doctrines. We are often on large circles of experimentation with individual truths. I would never say that I’ve “arrived” at the truth because I keep tweaking my understandings as new observations come in. I’ve changed my mind. My previous observations are still in there. A good scientist (and the pursuit of faith is the ultimate science challenge) has no preconceived notions about the results and is willing to entertain many hypotheses without getting overly emotional about the results. That allows that scientist to return to the data and the hypotheses with a broad mind.

    The advantage for many people who embrace doctrines in their pursuit of increasing faith is that once they’ve developed faith in enough elements of the doctrinal or covenant structure, they are more willing to try the hypotheses those structures present first. The word, as Will outlines. A streamlined path of exploration. Perhaps it seems a bit smug for people who have a laticework of faith already developed in related covenants and doctrines. It isn’t meant to be.

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  18. Will on August 22, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    Jenn,

    I hate to sound like a broken record, but it is not the one you choose that will determine your destiny, but the one that you feed. If you do not nourish the word (live the commandments) then the seed will die. As taught by Alma in 38 & 39:

    “But if ye aneglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

    Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your aground is bbarren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.”

    Have patience. Again, it is a trial of your faith, not of your knowledge. It will come.
    It did for me.

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  19. Jenn on August 22, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    You’re getting the order wrong: I stopped living all the mormon-specific commandments many many months AFTER the seed had died, not the other way around. The seed “died” when I was a fully active, believing

    How long does one need to wait? Do I stifle other seeds that are growing to give the mormon Truth seed a chance to grow?

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  20. Becca on August 22, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    This was an excellent post. Well-written and very thought provoking.

    What is faith?

    This whole discussion had me thinking about the scripture “Faith without works is dead.” But on the flip side of that, I believe that we cannot judge the works or faith of another. Period.

    We can be confident that what we are doing is pleasing – the fruits of the Spirit, which some have mentioned.

    But when it comes to judging the works (or faith) of others, that is something you and I cannot do.

    What looks like faith without works for one person my actually be faith with works for another. The works that give life to one person’s faith may look different than the works that give life to another’s.

    How do you “hope” for something? If I am “hoping” to get a job at a certain company, do I just sit around and say “I hope I get this job!” No. I submit my resume, and application, maybe get invited to an interview – these things are manifestations of the hope that I have that I will be offered a job. If I had no hope that I would be offered a job, I wouldn’t waste my time applying and interviewing.

    In the same way, we don’t simply have faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ by saying “I hope it’s true.” If we truly hope it’s true, then we will be living it (to the best of our abilities – which, like I said, looks different depending on who we are).

    I would never presume to say someone does or doesn’t have faith. That’s between them and the Lord. I have known several people who I am sure had faith, even though many other Mormons would question their faith due to that person’s actions.

    I think that a person’s actions not lining up with their faith is more a matter of ignorance (they don’t know how to act according to their faith) rather than a matter of discord (choosing not to act according to their faith). If they are choosing not to act according to their faith, I would suggest that they do not, in fact, have faith. But if their actions don’t seem (to me) to line up with their professed faith, then who I am to judge that they aren’t at least trying to act according to their faith.

    I know for a fact that to some people my actions don’t seem to line up with my professed faith.

    I’m not sure any of this was useful or coherent…

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  21. Marsha Keller on August 22, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    I’ve always thought about faith as more a DESIRE. A working, moving, (sometimes frustrating) entity of a direction. Faith would give me the courage to start a course that I felt was beyond my abilities, thinking that if I just dived in, eventually I’d rise to the level I needed to be at to finish.

    Faith would propel me towards a belief I didn’t yet fully embrace, but wanted to. I’d then study, look for and search for that which would buoy up that faith and strengthen it into belief or knowledge.

    I think it is definitely action. Definitely a choice. A beginning. It is stronger than knowledge, for once you ‘know’ something, it is tucked away in some corner and mostly forgotten. It is an outer confirmation. Faith is an inner conviction and desire that moves, nudges, whispers (sometimes pricks) and won’t leave you alone for long.

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  22. Mike S on August 22, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Andrew:

    Nice post about a difficult subject. For me, this is the crux of the issue: …my belief is a choice. It is a deliberate action borne of faith.

    I disagree with this concept and think it represents imprecision of words. We cannot CHOOSE our beliefs and have them be true. If that were the case, I could choose to have 2+2=5, and if I chose hard enough, it would be so.

    What we CAN do is choose our actions. We can choose to read scripture and pray and go to church and fulfill callings and everything else. For many people, this leads into a belief that this is true, but not everyone.

    We are told this in D&C 46 where we read:

    13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

    14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

    So, some people will never KNOW that any of this is true – it’s not their gift. We can’t choose belief. We can’t choose faith. We can only choose action.

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  23. Bonnie on August 22, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    Mike, I agree, and this is what I think Will was saying. Our understanding of the word doesn’t change the word. Faith is our growth in the ability to let the word change us. I think the words sometimes trip us up – because faith is a process that yields power and I think hope is the desire that some speak of that motivates us in that process. I’ve thought a lot about this because I think hope is the most powerful force in the universe. It motivates incredibly illogical behaviors to great ends, like moving a mountain. Pretty amazing.

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  24. dba.brotherp on August 22, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    To me, faith is like a hunch, a gut feeling, or hypothesis. You try it out and if it works, it’s good. If it doesn’t work, you try something else. However, I think that faith needs to come with a disclaimer that says, “Your individual results may vary.” This means that two people can have faith in the same thing but come to different conclusions, actions, or beliefs.

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  25. Bonnie on August 22, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    But on the other hand, while faith might be a gift, it is also a choice. It can be nurtured, or it can be killed. We can give place for hope, or choose not to. They all contain an element of choice, so we can’t simply claim that it isn’t our gift.

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  26. SilverRain on August 22, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Jenn—in the end, you are responsible to the Savior for what you do and what you feel, and He is responsible to you to give you confirmation of where you go. No other paths have any bearing on that, only insomuch as you can learn from them.

    I have gone through what you describe, as near as I can tell. Sometimes you plant the seeds and they just don’t grow when you think they should.

    The Savior taught in the parable of the sower that the ground effects whether or not the word of God will grow in our hearts. The different grounds symbolize different things that might keep us from feeling the word; cares of the world, resistance to the ramifications and difficulties of belief, or the temptations and efforts of Satan and his followers. Even those with soft ground, without those problems, don’t all see the same amount of fruit.

    If you fight against all those things, and still don’t feel it, then trust the Lord. Work on your relationship with Him to the best of your abilities. Then, let Him do the rest when and how He will. He loves you, and will guide you eventually. Just not always when you think He should.

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  27. SilverRain on August 22, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    *affects whether or not.

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  28. Jenn on August 22, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    Thanks Silverrain, and everyone else who weighed in on my personal situation. I really do appreciate it. While I feel quite happy with where I am and what I am doing, I do find myself wondering “where did I go wrong, that my life took such a big departure from my plan” and then I realize that doesn’t necessarily mean I DID go wrong… I guess it all circles back to that faith thing again:)

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  29. Mike S on August 22, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    #26 SilverRain:

    Great comment. Didn’t just want to push “like”.

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  30. Henry on August 22, 2012 at 6:32 PM

    Faith is a real power. For example, you cannot say that you have faith in a snake god. There is no snake god, therefore, you cannot have faith in something false.

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  31. Troth Everyman on August 22, 2012 at 7:29 PM

    Becca in comment 20 brought up the “faith without works” scripture. This scripture beautifully captures the dichotomy presented by Andrew in the OP. Faith being the belief and works being the action. If belief without action is dead, is the converse also true? Is action without belief dead?

    Some of the comments thus far have contended that it isn’t, that continued action without the belief is actually still faith.

    To frame it differently: some contend that acting contrary to ones belief is hypocrisy…essentially making faith dead. Doesn’t this beg the question about the converse? Does acting as though you believe even though you don’t still a form of hypocrisy? essentially making faith dead?

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  32. Stephen Marsh on August 22, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    I’m reminded of some of the things C. S. Lewis said. Which made me think of this play about him:

    the play tells the story of how C.S. Lewis (author of the popular The Chronicles of Narnia series, as well as religious classics as the The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity) journeyed from an ardent atheist to one of the 20th century’s most famous champions for Christianity. Starting around his entry as a young soldier in World War I, to some pivotal relationships which changed his spiritual outlook in the 1930s (including his pivotal friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit), it tells the story of Jack’s shift in worldview and spiritual outlook.

    http://www.motleyvision.org/2012/press-release-zion-theatre-companys-swallow-the-sun-recounts-c-s-lewis-early-life/

    There is a point to this, since C. S. Lewis had a journey from complete doubt through to faith, and wrote a great deal about it.

    There has been a resurgence in interest in his journey, as a sort of everyman’s journey available to each of us.

    I’m still thinking on how that intersects with the comments on faith here, but it made me think.

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  33. Lucy on August 22, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/faith?lang=eng&letter=f

    “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
    “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:14,17)

    “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2 )

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  34. Danny on August 22, 2012 at 10:24 PM

    I tried to comment earlier, perhaps it was too long and got rejected. It was in response to Jenn, and it kind of picks up on the point made in #31 that “works without faith” is perhaps also dead.

    I certainly don’t know all the reasons why people like Jenn pray and try and do everything they can for years….and yet still don’t get an answer. I don’t know your heart Jenn, and I hope you or anyone else won’t take what I say as judgement. My observations may not apply to you in the least…or they might and perhaps it will help you along.

    Here’s what I saw in my father who had a journey like many have described…he paid tithing, served in callings, read and prayed about the Book of Mormon, served in a bishopric as a young father, has been a great home teacher and mentor to youth…and yet never had a testimony. Didn’t feel like God had ever really connected with him in any significant manner, and certainly didn’t feel like He’d revealed to him the truthfulness or not of the Church.

    He felt this way until he was 55 and I was preparing to serve a mission (I actually didn’t know the seriousness of his struggles with faith, he didn’t make them a matter of discussion and was insistent on bringing us up in a good environment, which he thought the church was). It was at that time that he told me something that he hadn’t ever said to me…he said he was confident that the reason he didn’t have the testimony and spirituality that he saw among his peers was because he never served a mission. Vietnam was going on when he was 19, they weren’t really asking…no one even encouraged him to serve. And so he didn’t.

    Now, I’ll bet most of us realize that serving or not serving a mission is not what determines worthiness of a testimony. But it is how he’d felt about it all his life. He often imagined that God’s lack of communication to him was because he hadn’t fulfilled that “duty of every worthy young man”. Things have finally turned around for him while I was serving a mission cause I wrote him and told him to stop complaining about how he missed out on that unique opportunity of serving a mission and go out and grab hold of what he wanted and actually expect that he was going to get it…and he finally did.

    What’s interesting is when he looks back on what made the difference, he admits that although he believed in God and even “exercised faith” by putting the seed to the test and living a Mormon/Gospel life for 30+ years…he also didn’t believe. Yes he believed that God answered other people’s prayers…but he had long ago convinced himself that God wouldn’t answer his, that he didn’t deserve it (because he hadn’t served like he was “supposed to”). As much as he believed and kept hoping that all of his actions would finally result in God revealing Himself, he also feared intensely that he wasn’t worthy, that he was the exception, and that this was his punishment. His fear, for most of his life, was just as strong, if not stronger than his faith. He believes that is what kept the answers from coming all that time.

    It wasn’t until he cast aside those fears, believed that God was no respecter of persons, and if God could tell some guy in the jungle that his son was teaching that the Book of Mormon was true, then why couldn’t God tell him. Before he was always comparing himself against others and perceived of himself as less than. Finally his faith became strong enough to consider that it didn’t matter what he had done compared to others.

    Not that callings are automatically a sign of anything…but 10 years after letting go of his fears and pursuing the Gospel with new hope and new faith, actually believing that he would receive an answer, he is happily serving as a Bishop, and he is full of testimony of God, of the Church, the Temple, and of the Book of Mormon.

    I like the scripture in Mark 9:24 – where the father says to Jesus “Lord I believe….help thou mine unbelief”. I think often we don’t understand how easy it is for our fears to out weigh our faith, and that fear has the very real possibility of stopping the revelation of God. I’ve become much more aware of how deadly powerful my own fears are, and how more often than not, it is my own fear and doubt and insecurity that stops me from feeling the love, presence, and power of God.

    Henry Ford says “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”. For 55 years my dad didn’t think he could (even though he gave all the efforts normally required of it), and indeed he couldn’t. Then he changed his tune and decided he could…and it didn’t take long for the process described by Alma 32 to take place in his life.

    Hope that helps.

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  35. Stephen Marsh on August 23, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    Danny, I liked how you tied “It wasn’t until he cast aside those fears” into the narrative of your father’s experience.

    Thank you for sharing.

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  36. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    To everyone,

    Thanks so much for commenting…I was totally swamped at work all day, and I planned to make some responses after work, but I fell asleep at my computer, so this is my first time seeing all of the discussion…it will definitely take me some time to get through these comments, but let’s begin…

    re 1

    Jenn,

    I feel pretty similarly…I feel that I have a level of choice over my actions, but I don’t feel that I choose my beliefs…I believe what I do because it makes sense to me — and if things stop making sense, then that’s when my beliefs change…but I don’t choose for things to either make sense to me or not make sense to me.

    re 2

    Bonnie,

    I wanted to ask a question about this line

    Overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others (either attending with empty belief or not attending because one thinks everyone else is a hypocrite or because one is offended or whatever) hijacks a path of faith.

    So I can see how “not attending because one thinks everyone else is a hypocrite or because one is offended or whatever”) could be “overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others,” but could you clarify on how “attending with empty belief” would be?

    In this view, faith is about both action and belief, but if we include the experiences of anyone outside of ourselves, if we let the culture be an actor in our experiment, we’ve polluted the results. Worship is a choice to trust God and to listen, to apply his counsel in a myriad of situations (either received from a prophet, a law, a covenant, or personally) and to evaluate the results. It’s a choice to test the covenants.

    Why is it important to go to church and be in fellowship with others if “includ[ing] the experiences of anyone outside of ourselves” pollutes the results? How is applying counsel received from a prophet NOT “includ[ing] the experiences of anyone outside of ourselves” (especially when personal revelation doesn’t agree with institutional revelation?

    re 3,

    ji,

    I can critique it and challenge it and question it and so forth, but I cannot judge whether his or her faith is valid.

    It just seems to me that so many people do think they can judge whether someone’s faith is valid based on what they believe or based on what they do. I mean, isn’t that essentially part of what a worthiness interview is about?

    If you think that things cannot be framed in belief or action alone, then say that…I’m guessing that’s going to happen in a lot of responses. But then I guess it would be helpful to understand a general process.

    re 4

    Will

    Here you have said:

    …it is impossible to have true Faith in a false idea.

    What would you call the same process that you would describe “faith” as, but which is in a false idea? Because the funny thing is I’ve read plenty of other people who will insist that *everyone* has faith in *something*. That doesn’t mean that everyone has it for true ideas…but that’s the thing, maybe different people are defining faith differently?

    re 5,

    Jenn,

    Another great comment!

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  37. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    re 6

    Geoff,

    I would just like to say that for me faith was very difficult — until I had an experience with the Spirit and saw it for what it was. But that experience could have dissipated and become nothing without action. My action was to pick up the Book of Mormon and read it and then ask God what it was all about.

    Thanks for sharing this. I always think that the stories people tell of having experiences with the Spirit are really interesting…Because these experiences represent a wild card — it’s not something that any individual chooses, but it becomes really significant.

    You say faith was very difficult, but that after your experience with the Spirit it was not. What does this mean? You say that that experience could have dissipated and become nothing without action — what does that mean, especially in the context of faith being difficult before and not as difficult after?

    I did not get strong confirmation at first, but I got the *feeling* that I was on the right path. And as I continued going to Church and keeping the word of wisdom and paying tithing, my faith grew.

    So, I understand that you have said that you did not get a strong confirmation at first, but what if you didn’t even get the *feeling* that you were on the right track? And when you say that your faith grew, what was it that was growing? The feeling that you were on the right path, confirmations, or something else?

    These may be hypothetical questions for you, but I’m asking them because they aren’t hypothetical for other people.

    re 7

    Howard,

    What do you think about Bonnie’s comment earlier (well, before comment 7) about not emphasizing the attitudes and responses of others?

    re 8 (with respect to 9),

    Is it OK if people get different answers to the same test? I mean, the experiment analogy is supposed to suggest that truth is repeatable, but some people get different responses…

    re 10:

    SilverRain,

    I love the line:

    I choose to believe because I choose to act, and my belief is strengthened by those actions.

    The main thing that still gets me is that a particular action doesn’t necessarily lead to the same resulting or consequential beliefs…

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  38. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    re 12,

    Will,

    While I like the general idea of the things you have said in this comment, it feels like you are separating too much. So, Alma and Amuleck’s (the Book of Mormon in general) teachings represent the primary thing we are looking for soul enlargement, and polygamy (or Joseph Smith’s life, or etc.,) is not.

    But…polygamy isn’t just something shunted to the past. Polygamy represents a pattern that is inherent to the church — that we have prophets, and that they reveal things (commandments, covenants, and so on) that continue to be relevant to us. I mean, imagine that you were living in the time of polygamy. Polygamy might be one of the things you would have had to live *as* part of covenant relationship. It would be part of the things along with reading the scriptures, tithing, attending church meetings, and so on.

    I mean, if you think of people who have problems with *current* church issues, I think it’s similar. Would you say they should just rely on their testimony of the BoM or of the Bible (if they have testimonies of those) and ignore the more “modern” revelations as being nonessential?

    re 17,

    Bonnie,

    Faith in a different result..? What does that mean in context of the church say it is the one true church?

    re 19,

    Jenn,

    How long does one need to wait? Do I stifle other seeds that are growing to give the mormon Truth seed a chance to grow?

    This is not really an answer to your question, but the whole plant analogy and your question really gave me what I feel is an insightful question.

    So, if you have multiple seeds for multiple plants…different seeds have different soil and nutrient requirements. Some seeds may be able to thrive more easily, while others will need to be tended more carefully, kept away from competitor plants that are more easily able to absorb the nutrients in the soil, and so on.

    I can appreciate that there are different seeds, but like you, I wonder if I should stifle the other seeds that are growing to give the Mormon truth seed more time and attention to grow.

    If I do…then it seems to be a rough process. I have to kill all of my current plants, many of which are already bearing very sweet fruit to me, and then I have to wait (potentially a long time, potentially forever…it doesn’t seem like my soil is really all that good for the Mormon truth seed to grow) for the Mormon truth plant to sprout…it’ll be years and years before it’s mature enough to bear fruit is what I feel.

    If anyone has any thoughts on that, please feel free to comment.

    re 20

    Becca,

    How do you “hope” for something? If I am “hoping” to get a job at a certain company, do I just sit around and say “I hope I get this job!” No. I submit my resume, and application, maybe get invited to an interview – these things are manifestations of the hope that I have that I will be offered a job. If I had no hope that I would be offered a job, I wouldn’t waste my time applying and interviewing.

    Thanks for this…I see hope differently, but with this, I can kinda translate.

    Hope for me is a feeling. If I am hoping to get a job in a certain company, that says nothing about what actions I might take. But just as well, the actions that I take don’t impact on whether I do have hope or not. I can submit my resume, application, etc., without having hope (in fact, I see — and have written in the past about — hope as working AGAINST action…if i hope to get the job, then I may have a false sense of security. If I don’t have hope, then I have to work that much harder to try to pull off something that I feel is impossible.)

    Is that a strange way of looking at things? Think about it in terms of something like Sisyphus – he rolls the stone up the mountain every day, and then it rolls down again…does he have hope that his fate will end? Well, I don’t really think so. I don’t think it matters. What matters is that every day, he rolls the stone up the hill.

    I guess the question for me is…where does hope come from? Why would I apply to a given job? I feel that when you say you hope for a job (and if you did not hope to get that job, you wouldn’t apply), that you’re saying something like, “You want to have that job, and if you did not want to have that job, you would not apply.” I think that those could be different (I want this job, but I feel hopeless about it.) When those things differ — desire, hope, maybe something else as well, then what?

    When you say:

    In the same way, we don’t simply have faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ by saying “I hope it’s true.” If we truly hope it’s true, then we will be living it (to the best of our abilities – which, like I said, looks different depending on who we are).

    I see a lot of different scenarios, based on differing levels of desire, hope, etc.,

    it’s a lot to think about.

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  39. Bonnie on August 23, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    Andrew, re: your question about my comment

    Overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others (either attending with empty belief or not attending because one thinks everyone else is a hypocrite or because one is offended or whatever) hijacks a path of faith.

    YES! Empty action-only faith is not faith and as damaging to the church and gospel as antagonists. You are surprised I feel this way?

    regarding the second quote, you say

    Why is it important to go to church and be in fellowship with others if “includ[ing] the experiences of anyone outside of ourselves” pollutes the results? How is applying counsel received from a prophet NOT “includ[ing] the experiences of anyone outside of ourselves” (especially when personal revelation doesn’t agree with institutional revelation?

    I knew that would cause a hangup. All of life gives us opportunities to engage or pushback experience, and interactions at church are no exception. I think the value of the fellowship is the institutionalized opportunity for service, but that’a personal opinion. Regarding a prophet, we still feel that relationship out. I wasn’t suggesting that we completely divest ourselves of influence from any quarter other than our own mind or God; I was suggesting that when we choose our behavior and path of belief we choose from inner forces, not outer.

    Faith in a result …

    To claim that the church alone is the repository for true authority and saving ordinances is merely a statement of what we collectively understand. The Catholic church makes a similar claim. People still act with independence in how they evaluate those claims. My point is that we can’t cede control to some other mortal force outside our own without disastrous consequences. I choose to align with LDS truth claims, but I CHOSE.

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  40. ji on August 23, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    I also choose to be a Latter=day Saint, and I choose to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church he restored. Yes, it is a choice.

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  41. SilverRain on August 23, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    “The main thing that still gets me is that a particular action doesn’t necessarily lead to the same resulting or consequential beliefs…”

    Andrew, it seems to me that you are trying to apply a scientific paradigm to something that isn’t purely scientific. Which I can’t blame you. Our western culture is so steeped in science, we have lost the ability to address things in a mystical sense.

    But imagine that all of us have been abandoned in different places in a wilderness. We all have been given a map of the area and a personal compass that works only for us, but otherwise, we have all different tools and abilities, and are supposed to try to reach a specific point, “home.” We can help each other, but ultimately it is up to each of us to find our way home. Because of our disparate abilities, some of us may be guided one way or another, but if we wish, we will all be lead home.

    You can look at what someone else is feeling and how they are being guided and use that information to make sense of your own particular map and compass, but you can’t look at the directions they are being led and assume that you must go the same direction. You have different things to learn in this life than others do. That is why your relationship with God via the Spirit is so vital. You can only answer to Him for your actions, and you can only ultimately trust Him to guide you where you need to be.

    It isn’t a perfect analogy, but hopefully it helps illustrate why a purely scientific (objective) approach fails when it comes to matters of faith.

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  42. Jenn on August 23, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    To be fair, it’s not just our scientific perspective: it’s what we hear each week in Mormon services and even scriptures. “If you do ____ you will have ____ result”.
    There isn’t a lot of a room for varying results- perhaps the only area with flexibility is how long it will take for the results to come.
    A non-member friend asked me why I’m not an active mormon anymore, and I told her it was too rigid for me. She responded, “ah yeah, there are a lot of rules”… and I responded “oh no, that wasn’t the problem at all- I don’t mind the rules one bit, in truth they make a lot of sense to me. it is too rigid in what you must BELIEVE.”

    Heck, the correlation initiative has taken great pains to make sure we all have uniform teachings and experiences, with the expectation that it will yield generally the same results for each member- and it works for the vast majority.
    For the rest, you are allowed to believe differently, but please don’t bring it up to other members. Oh, and please hand your temple recommend back over. (I lost my recommend long before I departed from any of the commandments, solely because I couldn’t answer the testimony questions to my bishop’s satisfaction. Fortunately for me, the temple was not a part of the religion that really spoke to me.)

    I’ve been attending a Unitarian church with the oh-so-fuzzy-and-mushy motto of “We don’t have to think the same to love the same”. It’s a huge fluffy shade of grey, but frankly it’s a bit of a breathe of fresh air. There are no expectations around what results I will get out of my personal faith journey.

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  43. JSG on August 23, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    I think another issue with applying the scientific method to matters of faith is that there are a bunch of confounding and hidden variables involved. This makes duplication of experiment and result very difficult.

    If a chemist tells you to bake chemical A at 500 K for 10 minutes it is easy to duplicate his work. But you can never duplicate the exact study habits, life experiences, inner thoughts and prayer patterns of another person. So two people may both read the Book of Mormon and offer similarly worded prayers but have radically different experiences because of hidden variables. Did they both have the same real intent? How would you even measure that? Are they both equally responsive to spiritual promptings? Do they have the same spiritual gifts? Are they living the same lifestyles? Are they both in the same mood and state of health? Do they both have the same spiritual needs? There’s really no way to pin down the exact circumstances in which a spiritual experiment takes place.

    Which is too bad because I’m not particularly spiritually sensitive and it would be great to know exactly why not. Living life based off of circumstantial evidence and best guesses is nerve wracking.

    But that’s life. You make the best decisions you can with the information you have and then see what happens.

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  44. SilverRain on August 23, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    Yes, but most of that culture you mention, Jenn, is a direct result of Western scientific objectivity and desire to understand everything.

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  45. Jenn on August 23, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    Are you saying that the gospel as we are taught it is colored by modern western thinking?! I thought it was universal, eternal truth;)

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  46. SilverRain on August 23, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    :) Ah, and there you are, thinking in absolutes again. Can it not be both?

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  47. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    re 21

    Marsha,

    Hah, I had not read your comment in 21 when i was writing my thoughts to Becca, but…great thoughts.

    As I mentioned before, I can see the desire thing (e.g., “If you can only desire to believe…”) but I think there are complications there. Some things in the church are not desirable (I mean, your mileage may vary.)

    re 22

    Mike S,

    This comment kinda sums up where I started from…but it seems to me that faith is linked between the several different concepts (like belief and action)…although, interestingly, even in this discussion, it appears there’s a lot of imprecision in the use of terms…I am just getting a *feel* for what people mean.

    I mean, I think I can understand that if you act a certain way, then you are more likely to have the possibility (although it’s not certain) to come to particular beliefs. And beliefs can reinforce actions, or hinder you from attempting certain actions in the first place.

    I think the math example is interesting…see, it’s one thing to use 2+2 = 5…but here’s the thing. There are unintuitive mathematical truths. And even for mathematical truths, it’s difficult for many folks to “grasp” math easily…I know because I am one such person.

    So for me, I agree that I can’t just “choose” to believe a particular mathematical claim…but this is true for 2+2=5 as well as for actually true, but conceptually difficult statements like 0.9999~ = 1. (that is just an example. I actually get that .9999~ = 1)

    I mean, there are tons of things we could do this too…I wrote about this in a post on the Monty Hall problem…something like, “Should truth be easy to comprehend.” Statistics is notorious “unintuitive,” because our brains are naturally wired to use approximative heuristics, and statistics is something different…

    So, with math, I have to practice at it. I have to listen to people explain it over and over and over. I have to do drills…practice problems…homework…exercises…and maybe, after hours and days and weeks, something will stick.

    I guess the question is…what motivates me to practice math? Well, I don’t. I studied in school because it was mandatory, but I really don’t practice math that much. I don’t like it. I know that there are benefits to knowing math, but I don’t really care about those benefits enough. I hate the process of practicing. I hate the process of getting a bunch of stuff wrong, and feeling inadequate as a result. The process might be worth bearing if I found being a mathematical genius to be something that would be really worthwhile…but I don’t see that.

    I could see the “faith/action/belief” “triangle” as potentially working similarly.

    re 24

    dba.brotherp,

    Good thoughts…I think one of the variables in the equation though is…how long do you try it out before concluding that it doesn’t work?

    re 25

    Bonnie,

    It seems like this is a problem with conflating different ideas…Maybe the “gift” is a specifically different thing than the “choice”? In other words, your actions are the choice, but the gift is belief and/or knowledge. To use my math knowledge (which i really like, and maybe someone can say whether they feel that’s on the right track)…I can be gifted to easily “understand” math…and I might not have that gift. I can choose to study and do my math homework, though, and I can choose not to study or not to do my math homework. Studying math and doing math homework “nurtures” whatever potential I have to better understand math, but in the end, it is a gift whenever I finally “get” a mathematical fact…I never choose when the moment, or even *if* the moment comes.

    Does this sound about right?

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  48. Troth Everyman on August 23, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    - Just an aside – not meant to threadjack -

    I wasn’t sure I was going to “like” not having a dislike button when that decision was made awhile back. It has grown on me and I think it was a good choice. While there are still periodically discussions which devolve into personal attacks…I think overall the tenor of the discussions on W&T has improved since the button was removed. Not sure why…just an observation.

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  49. Howard on August 23, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    Andrew regarding your #37 question I assume you mean this line by Bonnie: Overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others (either attending with empty belief or not attending because one thinks everyone else is a hypocrite or because one is offended or whatever) hijacks a path of faith. I think this statement is true because attending with empty belief according to psychological studies results in high compliance due to peer pressure and not attending due to bias is perhaps opportunity lost. But attending with empty belief and much more such as saying you believe before you do is exactly what the church encourages! Does this behavior alone result in belief or gnosis? I don’t think so, I think it results in compliance that may be mistaken as belief.

    I think it is okay that people get different answers to the same test. It is what I would expect because there are a lot of variables that are not controlled in these “same tests” and beyond that in my experience the Spirit uses our own individual frame of reference to advance our knowledge toward his. So ultimate universal truths are not revealed one by one, instead our knowledge is raised in a series of stair steps paradigms. Different people will be at different places in this. What I believe is important is obtaining some kind of spiritual confirmation and following that spiritual signal with practice over time to a more sophisticated and intelligent spiritual communication. The simple question: “Is church or BoM true?” is a complete waste of time except to home in on the signal because the question is way too broad, unvetted and unparsed. Yet this is what the church encourages because it quickly binds newcomers to it albeit with a weak testimony and this is apparently where many members believing stop or slow. The church doesn’t mind, it’s good for business because they then broker the member’s relationship with God building buildings with the tithing money instead of teaching the member to cultivate their own relationship with God.

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  50. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    re 30,

    Henry,

    I have heard this idea expressed a lot (Will expressed something similar in comment 4, in this discussion), but it appears to be very different than what most folks in this conversation have been discussing…and it seems to be really different than one idea in particular that may have been mentioned in passing, but which was more fully fleshed out in an email I got.

    If I trust in the snake god, and I follow the snake god’s commands, and it enlargens my soul and enlightens my mind, etc., then what would we call that, even if the snake god isn’t real?

    re 31,

    Troth,

    Well, here’s the funny thing about the faith without works is dead scriptures…isn’t there a scripture that says, “I’ll show you my faith BY my works”?

    You have said that faith is the belief and works is the action…but what if that’s not exactly true. “I’ll show you my faith by my works” would suggest that whatever faith is, it can be demonstrated by works. So, if I do not believe, but I act in a certain way, that shows my faith…but in what?

    Does action ALWAYS imply some sort of belief (think about the commenters who have written about belief or desire…I’m thinking of the job-seeking analogy mentioned earlier. The commenter had said, “If I didn’t have any hope that I would get that job, I wouldn’t do any work to try.” So, may what this means is that action (applying, etc.,) is indicative of some level of hope or belief.

    re 32,

    Stephen,

    one of these days, I’ll have to get around to reading C.S. Lewis.

    re 33,

    Lucy,

    These are really good links…especially the Bible Dictionary entry on faith…have you ever read something multiple times, but you didn’t get a whole lot of stuff out of it the first several times you’ve read it…but then, after months or years or whatever, you read it again and then, it just is so different to you?

    That’s how this feels.

    re 34,

    Danny,

    That’s strange…I will check the filter for your earlier message…

    Very interesting story…thanks for sharing…where do you think that your father developed those fears? And do you think that if you hadn’t gone on a mission and told him to stop letting that hold him back that he would’ve been able to move past?

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  51. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    re 39,

    Bonnie,

    Empty action-only faith is not faith and as damaging to the church and gospel as antagonists. You are surprised I feel this way?

    I’m not surprised that you think empty action-only faith hijacks faith…rather, I don’t know why you classified it thusly:

    Overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others (either attending with empty belief or not attending because one thinks everyone else is a hypocrite or because one is offended or whatever) hijacks a path of faith.

    Emphasis added.

    I don’t see how attending with empty belief is an example of overemphasizing the attitudes and responses of others.

    Regarding a prophet, we still feel that relationship out. I wasn’t suggesting that we completely divest ourselves of influence from any quarter other than our own mind or God; I was suggesting that when we choose our behavior and path of belief we choose from inner forces, not outer.

    I don’t think i get what you mean by “inner forces” vs. “outer forces.” If it’s what I think, it seems like a lot of time there is a conflict between what outer forces (e.g., scriptures, general authorities, etc.,) say and what inner forces (e.g., desires, personal feelings, etc.,) say…

    Faith in a result …

    To claim that the church alone is the repository for true authority and saving ordinances is merely a statement of what we collectively understand. The Catholic church makes a similar claim. People still act with independence in how they evaluate those claims. My point is that we can’t cede control to some other mortal force outside our own without disastrous consequences. I choose to align with LDS truth claims, but I CHOSE.

    How do we distinguish between the Catholic church’s claim and the LDS church’s claim? For a lot of us, the main reason why we pick one or the other is because the LDS church got to us first (e.g., we were raised in the church…or the missionaries got us, etc.,)

    I think I get your final statement about choosing to align with LDS truth claims, but I don’t get the “inner” vs “outer” force distinction. I mean, I don’t see what “ceding control to some mortal force outside of our own” would even look like — like, how is that possible. Even if someone put a gun to my head and demanded that I do x, I always have a choice to do or not to x.

    So, I don’t know how to visualize the difference.

    re 40

    ji,

    I think when you say it like this, it makes sense. “I choose *to be faithful* to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church he restored.”

    But what drives that choice? Why not be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church he established (referring to Catholicism or Orthodoxy) or why not be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church he reformed (referring to some protestant denomination)?

    Why one and not the other?

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  52. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    re 41

    SilverRain,

    I’d like to echo what Jenn, says in 42…it’s not just western culture that echos it…it’s many people within the church. I mean, Bonnie has stated at several times that the pursuit of faith is the “ultimate science”, the “ultimate science challenge,” and so on.

    But imagine that all of us have been abandoned in different places in a wilderness. We all have been given a map of the area and a personal compass that works only for us, but otherwise, we have all different tools and abilities, and are supposed to try to reach a specific point, “home.” We can help each other, but ultimately it is up to each of us to find our way home. Because of our disparate abilities, some of us may be guided one way or another, but if we wish, we will all be lead home.

    I don’t know if this analogy maps well to the LDS example. So, we have all been abandoned in different places in a wilderness. What does the church vs. other churches represent? Is it the “personal compass”? In which case, can other churches and other religions be the “personal compass”? What does that means for the LDS church claiming to be the one true church?

    What are the different tools and abilities?

    It seems like your analogy would work in a more ecumenically-minded theological system, but I don’t know how it works for Mormonism.

    re 43,

    JSG,

    I agree.

    I have heard people say that’s the beauty of the “plant” analogy…yeah, botany is a science, but biology in general has a lot of surprises.

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  53. SilverRain on August 23, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Andrew, yes. But those people who echo that are products of Western culture. That analogy, that approach, works for some, but not all.

    Don’t let others’ attempts to explain their path determine your relationship with deity, which is what faith is, after all. Your questions are trying to get me to answer something that I can only answer for myself, not for you. By seeking for the details, you are missing the point; that there is only one Source, ultimately, for answers. Others’ experiences tapping into that Source may help you, but if they don’t, it’s time to look in a different way.

    Yes, other churches can bring us to Christ to a point. The “way, the truth, and the life” is Christ. The Church is the one true Church because it is the only one authorized to administer His ordinances, and those ordinances must be stepped through in order to get to Him. They are checkpoints, if you will. But I have seen people who need to go through some very twisty paths, some of them not even Christian, in order to learn the understanding they need to come to Him, to reach those checkpoints.

    Trust Him over all others. Trust in His arm over the arm of flesh, the opinions of others. You don’t answer to them for the decisions you make, only to Him. You will account to Him for the light that you have been willing to receive. But follow the light, wherever it leads, and it will eventually lead back to God after taking you through whatever experiences you need to become like Him.

    That is according to my understanding, anyways.

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  54. SilverRain on August 23, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    And Mormonism is far more ecumenical than you think. I have lived many places, seen many people walk along their paths to God from many different cultures and backgrounds. The truths in Mormonism are not limited to western culture, not by a long shot. The wise come to see that.

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  55. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    re 48,

    Troth,,

    That, and because we relentlessly email people behind the scenes if they have comments that aren’t in the spirit that we are trying to achieve. It’s work, but I think that people are really willing to work things through.

    re 49,

    Howard,

    That was the line I was referring to. But I was thinking about that line (and the rest of her comment) with respect to what you had written:

    I’m far less confident when they are coupled to the church or the correlated gospel or what the leaders of the church tell us and depend on a single spiritual confirmation or two applied generally to all of it.

    So, here Bonnie is, someone who is a churchgoing member, who listens to what the leaders say…but she ALSO points out that it’s not about overemphasizing the attitudes and response of others…

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  56. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    (yay, I’m almost caught up!)

    re 53, 54,

    SilverRain,

    Thanks for this. I guess the reason why I ask people like in this discussion to explain how things work for them is because I can get answers that way. My issue is that I can’t really ‘tap into the Source’ that freely (or at all). At least, that has been my experience…

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  57. SilverRain on August 23, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    I have been there, Andrew. Most of the time, when I have trouble, it has been because I am dictating the way and when the Lord should speak to me, or I am already in possession of the answer, and I don’t accept that.

    But explaining my analogy in the details only breaks it down and confuses the issue. As I said, it is imperfect.

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  58. ji on August 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    Andrew (no. 51)–

    I think when you say it like this, it makes sense. “I choose *to be faithful* to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church he restored.”

    But what drives that choice? Why not be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church he established (referring to Catholicism or Orthodoxy) or why not be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church he reformed (referring to some protestant denomination)?

    Why one and not the other?

    I make the choice to be faithful because the power of Godliness is made manifest to man in the flesh only in the ordinances of the priesthood. See D&C 84:20-21 (but read 1-22). I want to see the power of Godliness in my life. I was faithful to the other until I learned more, learned about the restoration.

    There’s an old song we don’t sing much,but I used to sing it and still love it–

    When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound,
    and time shall be no more,
    and the morning breaks eternal bright and fair;
    When the saved of earth are gathered on the other shore,
    and the roll is call up yonder,
    I’ll be there.

    I want to make covenenants with and to be faithful to the Most High God. I want to be his son. And I want everyone else to be his son or daughter, too.

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  59. Jenn on August 23, 2012 at 2:46 PM

    I don’t want this to sound negative-at all, but does that seem cyclical to you?
    You believe in the gospel because you feel that the priesthood ordinances are necessary, but don’t you feel priesthood ordinances are necessary because of your belief in the gospel? If you didn’t believe yet, then you wouldn’t know of the necessity of ordinances, so that necessity wouldn’t drive you to believe in the rest…

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  60. Howard on August 23, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    Andrew,
    I dunno, since she generally supports the church I suspect it comes down to what she means by overemphasizing.

    If the church taught a spiritual path rather than a behavioral path and it actually approached oneness with God while members are still in mortal life, I would have no problem with advising people to attend with empty belief because it would tend to hook them via. peer pressure but by spiritual fruits it would also be obvious where they and others were on the spiritual continuum so they could gauge their progress or lack of it. But the church discourages sharing much about one’s profound spiritual experiences, so some maybe most are left floundering and guessing. They may retain the authority but the power of God was slowly lost after Joseph’s death during the early days of the church. Today many things in the church are deliberately conflated by those on top and through the weakness of those men other things have become pharisaical rather than prophetically clear and spiritually efficient.

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  61. Bonnie on August 23, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    Andrew, you are remarkable about keeping up with these comments.

    I classified empty action faith as an overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others because that’s the biggest reason I see people continuing to engage in the church when they aren’t engaging in the gospel. I’m not suggesting that anyone is doing this maliciously, but that they do not feel free to make a public choice. That’s sad.

    Inner forces and outer forces are simply my definition of the attitudes and judgments we make or others make. I don’t think a prophet’s opinion or a church “standard” exerts nearly as much force as the attitude of a friend, neighbor or family member does by communicating pleasure or disdain. That’s probably because I’m driven by relationships. I don’t think we can make solid progress in our faith until we have pared away the forces outside of ourselves and focused on the relationship with God.

    How do we distinguish between the Catholic church’s claim and the LDS church’s claim? For a lot of us, the main reason why we pick one or the other is because the LDS church got to us first (e.g., we were raised in the church…or the missionaries got us, etc.,)

    That is EXACTLY what I’m saying cannot define faith. If this is the reason one identifies with Mormonism, it has nothing to do with faith but is cultural (and in all fairness, that’s how you describe yourself.)

    I think I get your final statement about choosing to align with LDS truth claims, but I don’t get the “inner” vs “outer” force distinction. I mean, I don’t see what “ceding control to some mortal force outside of our own” would even look like — like, how is that possible. Even if someone put a gun to my head and demanded that I do x, I always have a choice to do or not to x.

    But someone didn’t need to put a gun to your head. You only had to have close relationships exerting an outside force on you and VOILA you self-identify as a Mormon instead of a Catholic. See how powerful those forces are? You know you have the choice, and you still choose Mormonism, in your own special, weird way. ;)

    I’m saying that faith cannot be about those forces. It has to be something within. But I think I understand why social and cultural forces are sufficient if you feel that those inner connections are out of reach.

    What I’m probably doing quite badly is to say that that is what Alma 32 is all about. The poor Zoramites thought it was all about the external. Alma corrected them to understand that it’s all about the internal, and that it’s accessible to anyone.

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  62. Andrew S on August 23, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    re 54

    SilverRain,

    Man, I totally meant to read and respond to this comment, but I forgot!

    I would like to believe you on the point of ecumenism in the church. I think that a lot of blogs have helped me to see that this can be a possibility — But it just doesn’t appear that way all across the board. It definitely does not appear that way in many wards.

    57,

    Well, I guess the interesting thing is that you could have an answer and utterly not recognize it. That adds a complication to it as well…

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  63. Nephi on August 23, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    Howard,

    Long time lurker here. You often leave the most interesting, resonant comments. I deeply relate to your general outlook, and I’d like to talk with you more about your perspective and experiences. Is there a way for me to contact you via email or something?

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  64. Howard on August 23, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Thank you Nephi. Sure, contact me using Dirkbike@LIVE.com

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  65. Lucy on August 23, 2012 at 7:10 PM

    #50 “have you ever read something multiple times, but you didn’t get a whole lot of stuff out of it the first several times you’ve read it…but then, after months or years or whatever, you read it again and then, it just is so different to you?”

    Yes. Eternal principles like faith in Christ are unchanging, so as we draw closer to God we begin to see things more clearly and in a brighter light than before… or in a different light because of our circumstances. We see with new eyes, we see with the eye of faith, or the eyes of our understanding are opened.

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  66. LDS Anarchist on August 23, 2012 at 10:07 PM

    Andrew, have you read any of the essays that have been published about faith on the LDS Anarchy blog? Specifically, have you read the 13 part Faith of God series? Or any of the following posts: The role of angels in Nephite preaching; The Will of God and Faith; New thoughts on prayer; Various recent insights; The seeds of the powers of godliness; The Strength of the Lord; “…and the labor which they had to perform was to look…”; etc.?

    I’m not saying that we’ve got faith figured out over there, but faith has been taken up as a topic many times and treated in quite some depth, with some fairly unique perspectives. You might want to check some of that stuff out.

    To find articles on faith, just click the Faith category link, which will bring up only those articles whose author tagged them with Faith as a category. You can also use the blog’s search engine using “faith” as the term to pull up every post that mentions faith.

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  67. Hedgehog on August 24, 2012 at 2:14 AM

    This is a subject I think about a lot, but have no firm conclusions. Thoroughly enjoyed reading the discussion.

    Silver Rain, Andrew (#53, #54, #62)
    Tying in with this part of the discussion, we had a good talk from a member of the Stake Presidency on Sunday about how we are all (members and non-members) on a path to return to God, and that being a baptised etc. member doesn’t make us better than anyone else. Indeed many non-members may well be further down the path than we are. All that baptism & ordinance stuff can be dealt with posthumously if necessary. We need to concentrate on being better people ourselves, being more Christlike…
    It isn’t an angle I’ve often heard at church, but have to say I am liking my stake and ward rather more at the moment because of that kind of open attitude.

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  68. Julia on August 24, 2012 at 3:09 AM

    I don’t know that I could explain faith and works any better than anyone else, and quite a few of the comments resonate with various parts of my life. For me, the basic arc of my testimony has come through a lot of experiences within the church that easily could have given me legitimate reasons to leave the church, but in the end left me with a stronger testimony of Christ and His gospel, but not necessarily the church.

    I have had local leaders make very bad ecclesiastical decisions. Youth in my ward isolated me when a leader broke a confidence that created an atmosphere of humiliation for several years. I had a RS president who refused to help during one of the worst trials a family could go through, because she personally did not share our political views and thought we brought that trial on ourselves. There was a huge amount of judgment when I was accused of a crime, and that judgement continued even after a judge dismissed the charges for a complete lack of evidence.

    Any one of those could have easily led me to the conclusion that I did not belong in the church. At one point I felt that, if we know if something is good or bad by the fruits of their labors, then there was nothing good to find in the church.

    Several times I have chosen a hiatus from church meetings and activities for 6-9 months. I used that time to read the scriptures, pray, visit other churches, and try out other ways of thinking about God. I recognize that if I had left, and not continue to ask questions and look for answers, I most likely would not have the testimony that I have today.

    I see the choice to continue to ask the questions as the primary choice of my testimony. When I received answers, they often were not the answers I wanted. Emotionally it would have been much easier to leave the church and never look back. My road to discipleship has been anything but easy. It took a lot of soul searching, during the last major struggle, to even ask the questions. I didn’t want to “wrestle” with God. I was tired, physically and spiritually drained, and I didn’t know if I had the energy to fight my way to a testimony.

    I believe that because I had been through similar struggles before, that it was easier than it had been previously to find my testimony. Instead of months of searching, it was days of remembering. Each previous choice to struggle through the pain, and the deliciousness of my previous testimony came to me. Each previous choice to ask, meant that I knew the process, I knew what to ask, and I knew what it meant to receive an answer.

    My testimony has oftentimes overcome the actions of church leaders, local and general authorities. I have had witnesses that certain constraints and “rules” apply less to my circumstances. It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in prophets and apostles, or that I question the gospel principles as found in my quad. It means that I have a personal relationship with Christ, that I believe in the power of the Atonement to wash away my sins. More important to me, I believe in the Atonement to heal the wounds that the sins of other people have made in my life.

    I don’t need to have an important calling or to be ostentatious in my discipleship, I just need to follow the promptings of the Spirit when they come to me. Often the promptings don’t make a lot of sense to me, but I have had enough experiences to know that I don’t receive promptings that aren’t important to the Lord. I am willing to follow them (act) on faith, without knowing all of the reasons why it is important to do so. That is a relationship I have between me and Christ. It is very rare that the church is directly involved in those promptings. I may have a prompting to do something for someone I visit teach, but that prompting isn’t a function of church leadership. I am just as likely to be prompted to do something for someone who is not a member of the church, or who lives a few thousand miles away.

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  69. SilverRain on August 24, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    “I guess the interesting thing is that you could have an answer and utterly not recognize it.”

    This is very true. But I have found that as long as you don’t give up looking for an answer, eventually the Lord will give it to you in a way that you will recognize, and He will lead you to accepting it.

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  70. Stephen R. Marsh on August 24, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    SilverRain — amen. Well said.

    Julia “who refused to help during one of the worst trials a family could go through, because she personally did not share our political views and thought we brought that trial on ourselves” — how could she feel you brought it on yourselves?

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  71. hawkgrrrl on August 24, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    I missed most of the preceding discussion, so I’ll just go my own way here. Great, thought provoking post. I think Mormons, overachievers that we are, have had a war with faith for decades. Faith is not good enough – we have to claim knowledge! Our faith has to be of the kind that move mountains if necessary. We have to be unwavering. We have to be valiant and stalwart, willing to do nonsensical things if asked – without questioning. We follow orders or people die, son, it’s as simple as that. You get the point.

    In reality, though, faith and doubt are really just two sides of the same coin. It’s not a two-headed coin, even if it usually comes up heads. Sometimes it comes up tails. We can choose to act as if it always comes up heads (put things on a shelf), and many people do. So, I’m firmly in the faith is action camp. It’s acting because we have a belief or hope at times, and at times it’s acting because we doubt our doubts.

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  72. Andrew S on August 25, 2012 at 2:22 AM

    Everyone,

    Sorry I dropped off the facebook of the earth again (haha, I saw that, and decided not to correct it)…had a bunch of work stuff, so I couldn’t continue responding to comments.

    Picking up where I left off…

    re 58

    ji,

    I have some of the same questions that Jenn has in 59. So you say:

    “I make the choice to be faithful because the power of Godliness is made manifest to man in the flesh only in the ordinances of the priesthood.”

    ^But how is the power of Godliness made manifest to man in the flesh only in the ordinances of the priesthood? I mean, from your perspective, you see that, but from other perspectives, other people might not see that. Like…the D&C scripture doesn’t do anything for someone who doesn’t already believe…

    re 60

    Howard,

    hmm…I’m so disconnected from the conversation that I don’t remember why I had asked the question…so I don’t really know how to respond here…will ahve to think about it.

    re 61

    Bonnie,

    I classified empty action faith as an overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others because that’s the biggest reason I see people continuing to engage in the church when they aren’t engaging in the gospel. I’m not suggesting that anyone is doing this maliciously, but that they do not feel free to make a public choice. That’s sad.

    oh, so like (for example), folks who only stay in the church to preserve relationships (e.g., marriages, friendships, job status, etc.,)? That’s what you mean by overemphasis on the attitudes and responses of others?

    Inner forces and outer forces are simply my definition of the attitudes and judgments we make or others make. I don’t think a prophet’s opinion or a church “standard” exerts nearly as much force as the attitude of a friend, neighbor or family member does by communicating pleasure or disdain. That’s probably because I’m driven by relationships. I don’t think we can make solid progress in our faith until we have pared away the forces outside of ourselves and focused on the relationship with God.

    I don’t know…we are taught from a very early age to “follow the prophet.” Surely, some people may not internalize that, but from the perspective of the people who did, these people were/are not in the right. Some folks learn to play by the “standard,” and it’s not like the church doesn’t encourage this…It seems that “paring away the forces outside of ourselves” would often bring us into conflict with the church as an institution. ala Poelman’s 1984 talk before and after correlating.

    How do we distinguish between the Catholic church’s claim and the LDS church’s claim? For a lot of us, the main reason why we pick one or the other is because the LDS church got to us first (e.g., we were raised in the church…or the missionaries got us, etc.,)

    That is EXACTLY what I’m saying cannot define faith. If this is the reason one identifies with Mormonism, it has nothing to do with faith but is cultural (and in all fairness, that’s how you describe yourself.)

    Right. But if you have ruled this out as not defining faith (and I will buy it…except I will say again that this is the church — and any church’s — problem, since they tend to want to raise people in the church to be de facto Mormons), that doesn’t mean you have yet determined what defines faith to begin with.

    So, there are all of these paths that one could take. Why Mormon over Catholic? Why Mormon over Muslim? I would say that the simple stats suggest that a lot of things just happen to relate to demographics — how you grew up influences your matrix of possibilities.

    I think I get your final statement about choosing to align with LDS truth claims, but I don’t get the “inner” vs “outer” force distinction. I mean, I don’t see what “ceding control to some mortal force outside of our own” would even look like — like, how is that possible. Even if someone put a gun to my head and demanded that I do x, I always have a choice to do or not to x.

    But someone didn’t need to put a gun to your head. You only had to have close relationships exerting an outside force on you and VOILA you self-identify as a Mormon instead of a Catholic. See how powerful those forces are? You know you have the choice, and you still choose Mormonism, in your own special, weird way.

    Very good point. This only makes the “inner” vs. “outer” discussion more confused though. So, no one put a gun to my head. But is it so easy as to define it as “close relationships exerting an outside force on me.”? No man is an island! I do not exist in an island.

    What I mean is — what impacts my inner forces are things like genetics, experience, upbringing. Who I am internally would be immensely different if I grew up differently just the same as I would be different if I had different genetics.

    How can you separate external vs. internal when the two feedback into each other?

    I’m saying that faith cannot be about those forces. It has to be something within. But I think I understand why social and cultural forces are sufficient if you feel that those inner connections are out of reach.

    Would you say that most people do not have faith, then? And even more, that most people who think that they do have faith do not have a similar understanding of faith than you (this is a different question than asking if they do not have faith)? Because it seems to me that 1) you’ll be hard-pressed to define “something within” without referencing some of “those forces and 2) just from a demographic/statistical perspective, most people’s religious choices are very much based on “those forces.”

    What I’m probably doing quite badly is to say that that is what Alma 32 is all about. The poor Zoramites thought it was all about the external. Alma corrected them to understand that it’s all about the internal, and that it’s accessible to anyone.

    Alma was external to them, telling them stuff that was external to them. To understand Alma, the Zoramites had to understand an external language that was given to them by external forces (the society in which they lived), external semantics and semiotics and so on.

    So, what’s internal? You might say: the mind expanding…the soul enlarging…etc., But again, these are ideas and concepts given by the external world. The external world (“Alma”) says, “If you experience this, then this is what that means.”

    re 64:

    Howard,

    did you ever get the email I sent you? I notice that the email address you use to comment is very different than the one you just posted.

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  73. Julia on August 25, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    #70
    I have honestly never quite understood how she thought we had brought a very sick son, who almost died on several times, was our fault. She never explained reasoning beyond, “People who make the political choices that you and your husband make can’t expect to go unpunished.”

    It is part of why we left Utah, as soon as Primary Children’s Hospital gave us the okay to travel. Living “among the Saints” in Utah for four months was enough to last me a lifetime.

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  74. ji on August 25, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    Andrew (no. 72) — “But how is the power of Godliness made manifest to man in the flesh only in the ordinances of the priesthood? I mean, from your perspective, you see that, but from other perspectives, other people might not see that. Like…the D&C scripture doesn’t do anything for someone who doesn’t already believe…

    I can only explain my perspective, and invite others to come and see, too, both inside and outside the Church [not everyone in the Church sees what I see]. Maybe this is a matter where those who have eyes, let them see, and those who have ears, let them hear. One has to want to see before he or she can see, or faith precedes the miracle.

    There’s another old song I like to sing–

    Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine,
    O what a foretaste of glory divine,
    Heir of salvation, purchased of God,
    Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
    This is my story, this is my song,
    Praising my Savior, all the day long.
    This is my story, this is my song,
    Praising my Savior, all the day long.

    Yes, I want to be faithful, I choose to be faithful, I try to be and do better as time goes by. If I just go about my own business, well, the Lord might not come get me with a baseball bat like he did Saul on the road to Damascus. [I've wondered about that, why the Lord went after Saul but most of us have to find our own way.] So I choose to follow the Lord on my own, and for me that following includes active membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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  75. ji on August 25, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwVhTcmDZLc&feature=player_embedded#!

    You can hear the song here…

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  76. Andrew S on August 25, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    re 66,

    LDS Anarchist,

    I don’t think I have read that series, so I’ll have to put that in my list of things to do…one thing I will say is that LDSA posts are reaaaallly long, so I should probably put it on my kindle or something like that or else I will probably never get to them.

    re 67,

    Hedgehog,

    Thanks for sharing that…I don’t hear it that much, but maybe it will be more emphasized in the future.

    re 68:

    Julia,

    I like this entire comment, but I especially liked the following line:

    I see the choice to continue to ask the questions as the primary choice of my testimony.

    Especially with respect to SilverRain’s comment in 69:

    I have found that as long as you don’t give up looking for an answer, eventually the Lord will give it to you in a way that you will recognize, and He will lead you to accepting it.

    re 71

    Hawkgrrrl,

    It’s acting because we have a belief or hope at times, and at times it’s acting because we doubt our doubts.

    I guess the interesting question is…why be so committed thusly? It seems like in this situation, there would be nothing to change our course of action…even if we are doubting everything, we feel miserable, we are hurting ourselves, we ignore all of those things.

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  77. Andrew S on August 25, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    re 74,

    ji,

    I guess the question really is: who has eyes to see; who has ears to hear, and when/how/where did they get them? And who *wants* to have eyes, and where did they get that desire?

    I mean, we could apply it to anything. I don’t have eyes to see Islam, but apparently a billion+ folks do. Even more, I don’t even have the desire to have eyes to see Islam.

    And there are, of course, many other religions than just Mormonism and Islam…

    If I just go about my own business, well, the Lord might not come get me with a baseball bat like he did Saul on the road to Damascus. [I've wondered about that, why the Lord went after Saul but most of us have to find our own way.] So I choose to follow the Lord on my own, and for me that following includes active membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Most interesting…

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  78. ji on August 25, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK_JuaX7SKY

    Here’s a piece that shows faith — it appears at the end of a movie — antagonists come together at the end and worship — I think it’s beautiful — it doesn’t show a Latter-day Saint setting, but it could be if one imagined it that way.

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  79. Julia on August 25, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    While thinking about this conversation last night I wrote a poem, based on the idea of questioning, even when I really wanted to give up, but didn’t.

    http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/08/where-are-we-going.html?m=0

    I don’t think I really said it before, but I don’t think that my experience would be replicated if it was done as an experiment. If you gave the questions I ask to another person, who had a different life experience, I don’t believe that their experience would be the same. They might have an experience that leads them to believe they should believe in Christ and His gospel as taught in the LDS church, but it wouldn’t be the same answer, in the same way.

    Someone who had the same lessons from nursery on, but who didn’t have the same life experiences, might not even receive a testimony just because they asked the questions I did. They may decide that not receiving an answer, or an answer that felt like revelation, was enough reason to not have a testimony.

    Post Mormon Girl had a post that spoke to that issue on her blog. Her believing family interpreted the same exact situation in a totally different context, based on faith and lack of faith. I will see if I can find the link and post it.

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  80. Julia on August 25, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    Here is the link I was talking about:
    http://postmormongirl.blogspot.com/2012/07/lost-wallet.html?m=0

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  81. Julia on August 25, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    #78 ji

    I watched the video, but since I haven’t seen the movie, it didn’t shed any light on the conversation. All I saw was a lot of people taking the sacrament in their own church.

    Maybe you could explain how it applies?

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  82. Bonnie on August 25, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Andrew. I’m not suggesting that any of us is an island. Of course the forces are there. We would not wish a life devoid of external forces, of family, and culture, and friends.

    Of course we say “follow the prophet.” We, as a church and as individuals, are scattering seed. We’ve made a covenant to do that. We believe there is goodness in the word of God, life-changing goodness that is the point of our entire existence. My point is the most important force is the one we exert interally – what we DO with that seed.

    People can choose to continue to attend church or affiliate with the church without a faith reason, and that’s like holding the seed in reserve. They do no damage to the seed, but they also do nothing with it. That’s fine. It can sprout later. We don’t shoo away people who aren’t appropriately working with their seeds. But the fact remains that many aren’t, so we have a GC talk about being converted to the church and the gospel, pointing out that that’s two different things.

    The key is that if we aren’t doing anything with the seed, we can’t fuss about not having fruit. That’s all I mean when I talk about internal forces. I’m talking about choices to do something with the seed.

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  83. ji on August 25, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    Julia (no. 81) — Imagine a community of people, neighbors, who have some antagonisms common to neighbors. They can let those differences divide and separate them, or they can choose to be neighbors and come together to share what they do have in common: their faith. Faith is powerful, faith is beautiful. Faith encourages forgiveness and healing and growth. Faith helps us to be better than we were.

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  84. Julia on August 25, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    #83

    I can see how faith can be something that brings people together. Maybe this would be like the healing that had to happen in a lot of California wards after the Prop 8 battle? Or in wards in and around Washington DC, after almost every presidential election? (I lived through this in northern Virginia when people who worked for Democratic and Republican members of congress could barely stand to be in sacrament meeting together, and Sunday School was a battle zone.)

    I do believe that faith can bring us closer together. It really depends on how faith is perceived by the individual who has that faith, whether it can bring them closer to those who don’t have faith.

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  85. Andrew S on August 26, 2012 at 3:00 PM

    re 78, 83,

    ji,

    I have similar feelings about that video as Julia in comment 81 and 84…but I have a bigger problem.

    If faith is what people share in common, then what about people of different faiths? Are they supposed to remain antagonistic? Does faith encourage forgiveness and healing and growth for everyone, or just for people who share your faith?

    It seems like there are too many stories of people who lose their testimony or who have doubts or who leave the church soon discovering that the people they thought were friends really weren’t…that the people they thought were their significant others are closer to the church than to them, and so on.

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  86. ji on August 26, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    Andrew, You’re right that some people people lose their testimony, but so what? Each person has to choose his or her path. I and some others choose the path of faith in Jesus Christ in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Others choose differing paths.

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  87. Andrew S. on August 26, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    re 82,

    Bonnie,

    My point is the most important force is the one we exert interally – what we DO with that seed.

    People can choose to continue to attend church or affiliate with the church without a faith reason, and that’s like holding the seed in reserve.

    But see…that’s what I don’t get…how could someone choose to continue to attend church or affiliate with the church without a faith reason…when earlier you were saying that faith is a choice to test the covenants (which would presumably include church attendance)?

    We don’t shoo away people who aren’t appropriately working with their seeds.

    But in what way are they not appropriately working with their seeds if they are doing everything they are supposed to (praying, reading scriptures, attending meetings…keeping ENGAGED with the word) just because they don’t get the right “answer” back??? For all Hallstrom (or any GA talks about being converted to the Gospel (as opposed to just the church), he doesn’t really provide a whole lot of guidance.

    Meanwhile, in your discussion on the topic, we had an even more interesting (but perhaps very off-topic) discussion. If I build patience, long-suffering, charity, and all that stuff really effectively outside the church, but the things that the church would tell me to do do nothing for me on these fronts, then which should I do? Which is “appropriately working with their seeds”?

    The key is that if we aren’t doing anything with the seed, we can’t fuss about not having fruit. That’s all I mean when I talk about internal forces. I’m talking about choices to do something with the seed.

    But all of the people fussing are doing precisely what the church would say they should do with the seed. (Remember: the seed is not something internal — the seed…the “word”…comes FROM the church.) But it doesn’t really work for them.

    re 86,

    ji,

    Is a testimony a part of faith? When you say as you did in an earlier comment that

    I want to make covenenants with and to be faithful to the Most High God. I want to be his son. And I want everyone else to be his son or daughter, too.

    does it matter if some folks lose their testimony?

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  88. Julia on August 26, 2012 at 7:28 PM

    Andrew #85

    I guess I thought that inherent in my comment was the question about how it would apply to those not of the same faith. I can see the value in healing rifts in religious communities. I can see the reasons why faith may be stronger after a split or crack has been healed. I can see that overcoming resistance or shifts could strengthen the faith of someone inside that community.

    I am not sure that watching a split and it’s reformation would bring someone to have a faith experience or a desire to join the community whose rift has been burst open and when healed. I know that many of the people who I have worked with on progressive issues will ask about how I see my religion fit with the civil society I actively work for. I am able to help them see that my progressive social stands are not inherently out of line with my faith. I don’t think that understanding how I navigate my faith is particularly faith promoting for someone without a prior claim on faith.

    Does this make sense?

    I don’t want to give the idea that I am opposed to sharing my faith. I am more than willing to answer questions, and oftentimes living my faith on an hourly, daily basis, has led to a lot of conversations, and six baptisms over the last 20 years. I am not sure that many missionaries would be thrilled with only one baptism in a two year time period, but at each subsequent baptism, I have felt a confirmation that quietly living my faith is the most effective way to share it.

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  89. Andrew S on August 26, 2012 at 11:21 PM

    re 88,

    Julia,

    In response to your first paragraph, I can definitely see that. I must not have read your comment closely enough the first time.

    In response to your second paragraph…I guess I can see what you’re saying. So many times, people’s explanations of why they have faith or how their faith works in their lives sound hollow to me — but that’s probably because I haven’t had a “prior claim on faith.”

    At the same time, I feel like this discussion has been REALLY helpful in giving me a bigger picture understanding of things. Like, does it give me a faith experience? No. but does it help me better appreciate how it works for many people? I think that has happened. I think some of my misconceptions, or some of my preconceived notions about faith have been challenged.

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  90. Natsy on August 26, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    I just wanted to say that I’ve loved this whole thread. I haven’t said anything, because most of my thoughts have already been said by someone else. All of Jenn’s questions earlier are similar to the ones I’ve been asking.

    I don’t know what I think about faith anymore. I grew up in the Church and I loved it. I loved seminary, EFY, and reading my scriptures. I felt peace when I read them. I went to Church every week, said my prayers, served others and felt happy. I was an EFY couselor, did a semester in Nauvoo (through BYU) and served as an RS pres. I loved all of these things and they brought joy to my life. I felt the truth of all I learned at Church and testified of it. I loved the gospel with all my heart and never imagined straying from it.

    But suddenly something changed. I was still doing all the things I was supposed too, praying, reading my scriptures, going to church, etc., but I was struggling. I was praying about the temple and if I should get my endowments out, but it was stressing me out and I realized it was because I didn’t want to wear garments. I know that sounds stupid. I thought it was stupid. I knew I was being ridiculous, but I couldn’t work past it. Was I really going to let that stand in the way of my eternal salvation?? I couldn’t believe what I was feeling, but I was not happy. I felt stifled and going to church started making me feel like I couldn’t breathe. (I’m also in a singles ward which is it’s own brand of crazy :)) Nothing felt right anymore. I started thinking of all these other things that were upsetting to me – polygamy, people disparaging other religions, etc. I honestly felt like I was losing my mind trying to sort it all out. I thought that I was having such a hard time because I didn’t have enough FAITH. And that broke my heart. I didn’t have enough faith to be a true disciple. And that’s when I made a decision. I wasn’t going to the temple and I wasn’t even sure if the gospel was true and I wasn’t sure that I even cared.

    And then I felt peaceful. I felt this huge burden lift from my heart. I stopped trying to force faith and answers. I realized that I might not believe anymore and that I didn’t really care. I was fighting against what my heart was telling me.

    So, I guess, I wonder like others on here. Why did I never get that calm reassurance that seems to come to so many? Why did my answers seem to change? Did I never have a testimony to begin with? I could swear I did. Was it because I didn’t have faith, or was my answer different? Mormonism basically teaches there can only be one right answer – and that’s discovering the BOM is true and this is the restored gospel and we have the saving covenants. I believed that my whole life. Now I’m not so sure and I don’t know what that means.

    I still go to church, I still read scriptures and say prayers (not as frequently) but I’m not really searching for answers. Most people don’t realize I’m “different” unless I specifically tell them. I don’t really act any differently, I just don’t participate in Church as much, and when I do, it’s mostly for social reasons. I don’t know if I will ever feel the way I used to. Some days I miss it, having a clear understanding of what truth is, but other days, I don’t really care.

    Andrew – Thanks for this post. It was great.

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  91. Andrew S. on August 27, 2012 at 7:23 PM

    re 90,

    Natsy,

    Thank you for sharing your story…really great questions here:

    So, I guess, I wonder like others on here. Why did I never get that calm reassurance that seems to come to so many? Why did my answers seem to change? Did I never have a testimony to begin with? I could swear I did. Was it because I didn’t have faith, or was my answer different? Mormonism basically teaches there can only be one right answer – and that’s discovering the BOM is true and this is the restored gospel and we have the saving covenants. I believed that my whole life. Now I’m not so sure and I don’t know what that means.

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  92. [...] since my post a few weeks ago at Wheat & Tares asking about faith, I have thought of faith more as a habit of actions than as an assent to particular truth claim [...]

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