I’ve been thinking a lot the past few weeks about mental frames, ever since reading Greg Hamblin’s post about John Dehlin. The more I study about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, the more clearly I see that there’s persuasive evidence on both sides, each convincing enough that evidential analysis alone results in a draw. It thus becomes a matter of faith: I must make a decision, entering a mental frame of either belief or doubt.
If I choose doubt, I decide that the positive evidences must be wrong or misinterpreted; if I choose belief, I decide that the negative evidences must be likewise wrong or misinterpreted.
I hope it’s obvious that I’ve chosen belief. There are many things I don’t understand about church history or the gospel, but I’ve chosen to believe, and so the positive evidences — the goodness I see in the doctrines of the Church and the lives of its members, the brilliant testimony of Christ in the Book of Mormon, the way I feel when I try to follow the Mormon path to discipleship — now outweigh and overwhelm the negative evidences. When I occasionally come across those negative evidences, I remind myself that I’ve made the choice to believe, and the confusing darkness then fades away and I can see clearly again.
I know that it’s not this way for everyone, and that choosing belief often comes hard. Life is messy. But while there are many grey areas and complicating factors, some things do in fact have simple yes/no answers. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, or he was not. He may or may not have acted the way we expect a prophet of God to act, but that doesn’t change the truth that it has to be one or the other. Joseph cannot be a prophet of God while not being a prophet of God at the same time.
Same with the Book of Mormon — either it’s of God and is what it says it is, or it’s not. Historical/literary/anthropological/etc. evidence on either side can’t change that.
And so I continue to believe, partly because I’ve felt the Spirit tell me in my bones that this is real and good and true, partly because I can easily see the good fruits of the gospel, and partly because belief is the path I’ve chosen to commit to.
I’m currently serving as elders quorum president in my ward, which means home teaching changes every couple months or so. I’ve been bad about printing out slips because it took too long to make them (I don’t really like the default MLS style, so I was doing it by hand in Excel), but I finally buckled down and wrote a PlotDevice script that takes the assignments in easy-to-write YAML and outputs PDFs, one page per file (because I haven’t been able to get it to output to just a single PDF).
Here’s what it looks like, with dummy data:
The code is on GitHub. The code is somewhat messy right now, but it works.
In the last post he talks about the NSYR’s concept of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which he explains in more detail, but this gets the basic idea across (and the quote here is from Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching, cited in Gee’s original post):
[Moralistic Therapeutic Deism] is “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents. This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, … etc. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”
Yes, men are that they might have joy, and the gospel is certainly meant to be a source of comfort to us, and all those things listed are in fact good. But this weak and watered-down philosophy misses out on the way we actually get those good things — by sacrificing, by repenting, by doing everything God asks us to do, even and especially when it’s difficult or embarrassing or unpopular or boring.
I’m reminded of this quote from C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (at the end of Book I, chapter 5):
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
After a ten-year break, I’ve started writing music again. The new piece is called “One Quiet Night” and is a song about Christ that I wrote for a family Christmas party (I played piano, my wife played viola, and two of my wife’s siblings sang). At some point I’m hoping to record it, but until then, the sheet music will have to do. (It’s available in PDF, and the MusicXML is also available.)