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On homosexuality and the Church

A smattering of thoughts on homosexuality and the Church (previously posted on Facebook).

  1. First, I fully support the policy change. I believe that it is from God and is not a mistake. (Maybe this is where I should start keeping a tally of how many friends I lose over this post.)

  2. Aslan is not a tame lion. What I mean is this: God does things his own way. I believe it is important to find the will of God and change ourselves to align with him; I likewise believe that it is futile to try to mold God in our own image, to fit him into our mental, preconceived God box.

  3. God’s ways often do not align with current popular opinion. Sometimes they do, and that’s a wonderful thing, but God is often unpopular, for a variety of reasons. God is not progressive—at least not in the way the world would like him to be.

  4. Current popular opinion is that homosexuality is good, healthy, and normal. God’s prophets, however, have repeatedly warned that while same-sex attraction is not a sin, active homosexual behavior breaks the law of chastity and is a grievous, serious sin, and as such it is not good, it is not healthy, and it is not normal (where we redefine “normal” to mean meeting the standards the Lord has set, because society’s “normal” is of course at odds with the Lord’s).

  5. Restating point #4, God does not approve of homosexual behavior or same-sex marriage. People seem to mistakenly think he’s okay with it, but the prophets have made it clear (repeatedly) that this is incorrect. This is of course an increasingly unpopular position, one that a lot of people nowadays have a hard time going along with because homosexuality looks harmless.

  6. As is somewhat obvious, these conclusions are dependent on a single point: whether the prophets accurately represent the will of God. It’s a serious issue, at least to those in the Church. (I’m not entirely sure why people outside the Church care one way or the other.)

  7. Mosiah 13:4 comes to mind: “But I must fulfil the commandments wherewith God has commanded me; and because I have told you the truth ye are angry with me. And again, because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad.”

  8. People who believe that the Church will eventually accept active homosexual behavior as good — unsin the sin, as it were — are mistaken in their belief and will be deeply disappointed (and already are, in most cases).

  9. As far as has been revealed, homosexuality is not part of the order of heaven. It appears to be a temporary artifact of mortal embodiment, not something essential or inherent from an eternal perspective.

  10. The Church does not hate gay people. If you redefine “hate” to mean “disagree with,” however, then sure, but that kind of linguistic tampering is immature. Leave the language alone, people.

  11. Some members seem a little too eager to take anything in the Church they disagree with and label it a mistake, apparently without considering that it could actually be the will of God. Not everyone who disagrees with the prophets does this, of course, but I do see it a lot in the bloggernacle.

  12. People clearly are hurting because of this. This is sad and unfortunate, but keep in mind that their hurt feelings do not mean that this is not from God. God does not prioritize our comfort over truth. Likewise, the number of people who fall away from the Church because of this, no matter how many, is not evidence against the policy being divinely inspired.

  13. Before some of you start calling me an empathy-lacking monster (not that this will stop you): as disciples of Christ we are commanded to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, even if (perhaps especially if) we disagree with those people. Christ commands us to accept everyone. He does not command us to accept everything.

  14. I am glad that the brethren do not fall prey to the currently popular (and incorrect) idea that people should get whatever they want.

  15. The issue of homosexuality is a good case study in why prophets are important: they can see truth from a higher perspective, piercing through whatever incorrect ideas happen to be blinding people at the moment.

  16. This is a really, really hard issue on all sides, and the difficulty isn’t going away.

Why I believe: Heavenly Father

This essay is part of a series called Why I Believe.

First, what I believe: that there is a God, a kind, loving Heavenly Father who created the universe and who is the father of our spirit bodies. Further, I believe that he cares about us and that we can have a personal relationship with him, for before we were born we lived with him in heaven, and we’re now on Earth in a mortal probation for the purpose of becoming more like him. And, most importantly, I believe that someday we will return to him.

This post won’t cover all of that, but I’ll talk about some of the rational reasons I have for believing these things — arguments that provide enough plausibility to persuade the logical side of my brain that I’m not completely irrational for believing in a hyperintelligent extraterrestrial.

Who is God?

To clarify terms, when we ask whether God is real, we mean an intelligent, all-powerful, all-knowing being who created the universe, and beyond that we mean the particular God who talks to Judeo-Christian prophets, according to said prophets. In other words, we’re asking whether our particular conception of God is real.

First, could a God exist? There doesn’t seem to be any reason why not. It’s easy to imagine that there are other living, sentient creatures that we can’t see right now. Seeing the power spectrum among us, it’s also not hard to conceive of beings more powerful than we are. Given how much we don’t know about the universe, both in structure and in other solar systems and galaxies, I don’t see how anyone can rule out the possibility of a God, at least in theory.

The traits of God

If God does exist, what would he be like? A concept or abstraction? A cloud? Spacetime itself? In theory, God could be anything.

While I don’t discount the possibility of finding sentient life in forms wholly foreign to us — like an intelligent comet or galaxy cluster or a lifeform that only achieves sentience near black holes — I have to say that based on what we can observe, namely that the only sentient thing around is humans, it follows that if there is an intelligent, all-powerful being that created something as complex as the universe, it’s not unreasonable to think that such a being could also be humanlike. It’s not mandatory, but it’s not impossible, either.

So we have a God who could be humanlike, albeit much advanced. If God is a person, the next question is this: is God good? Bad? Something in between?

If God is evil, selfishly bent on causing pain and getting gain — if an insanely powerful, demented, corrupt being had created this earth and is manipulating everything — wouldn’t things be far worse than what we see? In spite of all the darkness in the world, we still see rampant love, hope, friendship, kindness, compassion, service, and more. If God were a dark god, I don’t think he’d allow much of that.

If God is a mixture of good and evil, like all of us, then we’d expect to see both kindness and capriciousness, love and jealousy, sacrifice and selfishness. It wouldn’t be hard to interpret things this way (especially the Old Testament), and I think it’s a possible scenario.

If God is good, then we’d expect to see lots of good in the world, and we do. I think we would also expect to see pain and suffering, and in a moment I’ll explain why. God being good means God is kind, loving, full of compassion, building things up rather than tearing them down. This is the kind of God I naturally want to believe in, because things are too bleak otherwise. It also matches with what I see around me.

The children of God

If God is a living creature, it stands to reason that he, like almost all living things we’re aware of, would procreate. It’s possible that superintelligent beings are all sterile, but it’s more likely that they do reproduce.

Procreation perpetuates species — horses give birth to horses, not cows; apple seeds make trees that make apples, not monkeys or daytime television; humans give birth to humans, not mountains or stars or dolphins. (Sidenote: are there any biological examples of creatures that don’t follow this pattern? I’m curious. It wouldn’t negate what I’m saying here, but it would certainly be intriguing.)

So, based on what we saw all around us, it makes sense for the offspring of God to be of the same kind as God, and to start as infants in godhood, eventually growing up to be adult gods.

For the children of God, are the godlike powers innate, like breathing and sleeping, or are they learned, like walking and doing calculus and building a house? Given what I see here on Earth, I’m led to believe that the children of God — us — inherit a small amount of godlike power (love, procreation, etc.), but must learn or earn the rest.

Now, if God is good, and if he wants us to become like him, it stands to reason that he would only want us to gain full powers of godhood if we too are good and wise. If he were to give these incredible powers to irresponsible, wicked, selfish people, they would naturally become evil forces of destruction, wreaking war across the universes (Hitler + omniscience + omnipotence = bad), and God would be complicit — he would be their enabler. So it makes sense to me for God to vet us thoroughly, limiting these powers to those of his children who prove that they really are truly good and not just putting on a show.

The plan of salvation

A good way for God to vet us seems to be to put us in a sandbox and give us lots of opportunities to choose between good and evil, to make choices that matter. To be worthy of godhood, people have to love goodness — it has to be who they are at heart, something that won’t change once they’re uplifted (to use science fiction terminology) to godhood. Otherwise you end up with cruel gods creating worlds and populating them with children just so they can watch them suffer.

So we’re here on Earth in the middle of the vetting. I don’t know why a test like this requires that we don’t remember what came before, or why we have to relearn everything about God and goodness, relying on faith and belief. I suspect it’s partly because of God’s compassion and mercy — if we know full well that God is there and that good and evil exist, and if we then choose evil, we’re far more culpable. At that point it’s more likely that we’d keep choosing evil, stuck on a track that ends up being irredeemable almost from the beginning (cf. Satan and his angels). If we can’t see God, however, then there are more opportunities for us to repent and decide to start choosing good. Less damning, more hope.

The problem of pain

This is often seen as a reason to think God isn’t there, because how could a loving God allow bad things to happen? But given the reasons for the test — to see if we’ll stay true to God and righteousness no matter what — I don’t see how it could be any other way. Bad things have to happen. Otherwise our loyalty to good can’t be fully tested, and we can’t be trusted with those powers of godhood. We have to be tested and tried through a wide variety of experiences.

People ask why God doesn’t prevent more bad things from happening (because it’s clear that he does, from time to time). But I wonder why God ever interferes at all. Don’t get me wrong — I’m very grateful for answered prayers and averted danger. But we talk about pain and suffering as a refining fire, and it’s true: the really hard trials are the things that push us most toward godhood, strengthening and clarifying our loyalties. Since that’s the whole point, it would make sense for life to be one massive trial after another. And yet for most people it’s not that way — it’s an alternating flow of good and bad, blessings and sorrow. I suppose if life were a continual flow of bad, after a certain point in the barrage we’d just give up. Whatever the case, God often lets wickedness and natural disasters and disease and death run their course. It’s all part of the test.

Also, suffering provides more opportunities for people around the sufferer to have love and compassion and to serve. Our family has been on the receiving end of that with our daughter’s cardiomyopathy. While I certainly wish she didn’t have this heart problem, I can see how God uses it to bring about more good in the world, and to test not only me and my family but also those around us.

Prayer

I have too many answered prayers on a regular basis to chalk it up to placebo effects or wishful thinking or even chance.

Evidences of God

In general, it strikes me as exceedingly unlikely that all of this — the universe, Earth, etc. — happened on its own. Even with an infinity of universes where probability dictates that something like this must happen, I have a hard time believing that what I see around me is merely the result of billions of years of iteration and blind evolution. If any of this is real in any way, it’s far easier to believe that there is an Architect behind it.

A sample of other evidences:

  • Our universe just happens to have all the right parameters so life can exist.
  • Gravity. Not only does it make it so galaxies and stars and planets can form, but simpler things like the fact that we can walk and run and jump with relative ease, and the fact that there’s a ground for us to do those things on, and that the atmosphere is there so we can breathe.
  • The sun happens to be at the right distance to give us just enough heat and light. And the photons that stream from the sun at such a high speed, bouncing off things in such a way that it not only lights our world (which is a miracle) but also gives us colors (which is a second miracle). And by the way, we just happen to have these rods and cones and eyes to receive all that data, and we just happen to have brains that can interpret it. Ditto for sound waves and ears. This is crazy. (Sure, there are still real things we can’t see or hear, but the fact that we can see or hear at all is amazing.)
  • The complexity of human physiology. Considering how many things can go wrong at any point, it’s a miracle that anyone ever stays alive at all, period.
  • The way we can eat and digest a vast variety of food, enabling us to live all over the planet. And to have delight and joy in our daily sustenance. And the fact that things like delight and joy exist as emotions.
  • The relative lack of accidents on freeways.
  • Consciousness and thought, which is why we’re able to talk about all this in the first place.
  • The arts.
  • Love and friendship.

Conclusion

It’s entirely possible to look at all the things I’ve listed and interpret them as natural phenomena, as odd facets of human neurology. In the end, I choose to see it as God. I don’t yet understand everything about him or why he set things up the way he did, but I know that believing in God and living his laws makes me happier (I know this because the periods of doubt and sin have unquestionably been the least happy parts of my life). And I’m okay with not having all the answers yet.

In defense of the prophets

My friend Scott asked on Facebook for my response to two posts by J. Max Wilson, one on rejecting living prophets by following future prophets and the other on the limits of prophetic fallibility. I’ve been meaning to blog something along these lines anyway, so here’s my response.

We were always a peculiar people, but the culture of the world seems to be diverging more and more from the doctrines the prophets teach, which means those doctrines (and those prophets) will keep growing more embarrassing and unpopular and awkward.

And yet I think this is good for the Church. It helps people with lukewarm beliefs decide whether they really do believe that God speaks to prophets today and that we can trust both the prophets and their message. It’s all about the prophets.

As for the fallibility card, I’d rather play it safe and follow the current prophets, because assuming that they’re wrong and that future prophets will correct them is, as Max said, a shaky, dangerous path. Yes, continuing revelation means some things have changed since Joseph Smith’s time. But a lot of things haven’t. Yes, future revelation may allow same-sex marriage and ordination of women and even a lesbian, female prophet. But it may not. To my understanding, God has told us to live by the revelation we’ve actually received, not the revelation we hope we’ll receive someday.

The question, then, is whether God wants us as a people to urge the prophets to try to receive new revelation on these matters. Yes, revelation usually comes in response to questions, and God does want us to ask questions. But people are acting as if the prophets haven’t already been asking these questions of God all along. Considering that God seems to believe they have good judgment (since he called them as prophets in the first place), I think we can safely assume they’ve asked.

(Sidenote: I don’t feel comfortable demanding transparency from the prophets as to whether they’ve asked God about these matters, etc. Suits notwithstanding, this is the church of God, not a public corporation or a secular government. If we believe they’re prophets, we should trust them to do what God called them to do.)

We obviously need to treat each other with Christlike love and respect in all of this, but some ideas are in fact wrong and dangerous (whether blatantly or subtly so) and need to be spoken against, especially in this day of calling good evil and evil good. In a way it feels like we’ve entered a new(ish) war against the prophets, and that’s no good. God does call prophets and we can in fact trust them. And when what they’re saying is very unpopular, we should then trust them all the more, because it’s far more likely that the world has strayed than that the prophets have fallen.

Why I believe: Good and evil

This essay is part of a series called Why I Believe.

I initially thought I could knock this essay off in half an hour or so, but it has proven to be somewhat more knotty than that, mostly in figuring out what I actually think since I haven’t spent as much time pondering this as I have with the other topics.

I’m starting this series off with good and evil — morality — because these principles are foundational. If they don’t exist, everything else crumbles.

The meaning of morality

As humans, we have this thing called behavior: we think, we speak, we do. We make choices, hundreds or more each day. We make things happen, on a dizzyingly wide spectrum from very small things to massive, world-changing things. Now, things happen in the natural world as well — the sun rises, water flows, gravity pulls, trees grow, animals eat and mate and die. The difference is that we humans classify our behavior on a scale of good and evil. We have consciences.

Much human behavior is neutral — choosing between two brands of bread at the grocery store, to pick a mundane example — and the actions of both animal and nature also seem to be neutral. Is it good when a rock falls down a cliff? Is it evil when the wind blows the leaves off a tree? It seems to me that the closer animals get to humans in behavior and form, the more we project our morality onto them — a chimpanzee beheading and eating its offspring strikes me as far more horrifying than an ant doing the same — and yet it all appears to be just projection, anthropomorphizing as we tend to do. Animal behavior isn’t good or evil. Those classifications are reserved for humans alone.

What, then, are good and evil? They are the two halves of a scale upon which we measure our thoughts, words, and actions. Intriguingly, you need both for either to make any sense; without good, there is no evil, and vice versa. (Lehi said this more eloquently.)

So, we have this concept of morality. It leads to a number of other questions: whether the definition of the scale is up to us, for example, and whether such a scale should inform our behavior.

The definition of the scale

Are we making this stuff up? That’s the question. I wrestled with this for a while and I don’t know that I have a solid answer yet, but I find that it’s easier for me to look at it from the inverse: does moral relativism make sense?

First, some terms kifed from Wikipedia: descriptive moral relativism is the idea that people see morality differently. Next, meta-ethical relativists believe that “good” and “evil” are relative to the traditions or beliefs of an individual or group. Finally, normative relativists go a step further and believe that we ought to tolerate others’ behavior regardless of whether it falls under our “evil” or not.

Descriptive relativism is of course quite true — there is, to understate it, a difference of opinion on what is good and what is not, across cultures and time. But then again is there really as much of a difference as we might think? Most religious traditions generally agree on what is good — helping others, being kind, etc. — and what is evil — lying, stealing, hurting, killing, etc.

Because of that (among other things), meta-ethical relativism doesn’t ring true to me. There does seem to be an underlying foundation of morality that is universal. Interpretations of it may differ, and we almost always stack our own extra cultural made-up rules on top of it, but there’s something there, something beyond our making. More on that in a moment.

Normative relativism is just ridiculous (and its minions are thankfully few). By its standard, we should tolerate an individual raping, murdering, and eating a child. But that “should” is problematic by their own standards because it attempts to prescribe the normative relativists’ standard of good (toleration of all behavior) onto other people whose standards of good are different (toleration of only some behavior).

The next question is whether this universal morality is just a byproduct of evolution. To my understanding, this would mean that being “good” would help you live longer and make more posterity (life must go on). “Good” would mean maintaining a healthy relationship with those around you — knitting societies together — for greater protection against danger and for a greater chance at reproductive success. A lot of the human behavior we classify as good makes sense under this rubric, but some of it doesn’t — for example, it doesn’t explain why we consider it good and noble for someone to lose their life saving that of a perfect stranger.

So, as I’ve found moral relativism lacking in substance, and as evolution doesn’t quite explain morality to my satisfaction, I find it easier to believe that this universal morality comes from outside of us humans, namely from God.

Whether it matters

If there is in fact a standard of good and evil, and if it’s something real outside ourselves and not just whatever we want it to be to suit our convenience, then yes, of course morality matters. Some ramifications:

First, we ought to know what the standard is — what is good and what is evil. This requires going to the source of the standard, rather than relying on flawed, distorted human interpretations of it.

Second, we ought to listen to our consciences. We all seem to have one (the exceptions are rare enough that we won’t consider them here), and that conscience urges us to choose good over the evil that we naturally tend to choose.

Third, we ought to relentlessly strive to ensure that all our behavior is good and not evil, for our own sake and for the good of those around us (because it’s good to care about others’ needs above our own). When we do think, say, or do evil things, whether small or large, we ought to stop and never do it again, and fix whatever mess we’ve made.

Conclusion

This wasn’t quite as personal as I’d hoped it would be, but I suppose that’s part of talking about things this way, aiming for objectivity instead of subjectivity (if that’s at all possible). Let me just say that beyond all this, the idea of good and evil resonates with me, especially as I look at my thoughts, words, and actions. I can see how what I do has an effect for good or ill on myself and on those around me. It makes sense.

With that foundation, we can now move on to the source of this standard of good and evil: God.

Some thoughts on prayer

I don’t know why it never occurred to me before (because it’s rather obvious in retrospect), but this morning I realized that closing our eyes when we pray has a purpose beyond just showing respect for God and being the way we’ve always done it, a purpose I’d forgotten till today: focus.

Closing our eyes shuts out visual signals, getting rid of most external distractions. With the visuals out of the way, our ability to listen — physically, but hopefully spiritually as well — seems to get amplified. And then we can work on clearing our minds of internal distractions as well.

Without my noticing, I’ve recently been subconsciously discounting the physical aspects of prayer — closing your eyes, kneeling, folding your arms or clasping your hands — as being less necessary, but I see now that I’ve been wrong. These physicalities of prayer are in fact essential to good praying — to communing with God in a meaningful, sustaining way and not just mentally dictating a quick memo to him. (And yes, in some situations the physical aspects aren’t possible — closing your eyes and kneeling while driving a car would fall under the “Not Very Wise” category of things to do. I suppose you would get to meet God face to face fairly quickly, though…)

Also, creating this meditative environment for prayer, along with staying on your knees afterward to listen, is a great antidote for Internet ADD.

Why I believe: Introduction

At the request of one of my friends, I’ve been writing down the reasons I believe in the Church from a rational, intellectual perspective. I’ve decided to post those reasons here as a series of short essays, mostly to help me clarify my thoughts.

First, a disclaimer: these are not rigorous mathematical proofs. They are crutches I use to think things through when I’m not as spiritually in tune as I ought to be, a way to silence the occasional doubts so that I can see clearly again. They work for me, but they won’t be convincing for everyone. It’s also possible that they are convincing only to me. Keep in mind, too, that my main reason for belief is feeling the touch of God upon my mind and heart — numinous, spiritual experiences throughout my life. Aesthetics are also part of it, and I hope to touch on that as well. Logic is very much a part of my thought patterns and my beliefs, but it’s not the backbone of my testimony.

Disclaimer about the disclaimer: I’m not saying that doubts come about because of being spiritually out of tune. It does seem to be the case in my own life (usually when my scripture study gets too casual and skimpy), but I don’t think I can generalize beyond that.

With that introduction, then, here is the tentative outline for the series (I’ll update this page with links to the essays as I post them):

  1. Good and evil
  2. Heavenly Father
  3. Christ
  4. Prophets
  5. Joseph Smith
  6. Book of Mormon
  7. The modern Church

If any of you have specific topics or issues you’d like me to cover, let me know.

The refreshing light of truth

Watching general conference today, I was reminded again how absolutely critical it is to stay immersed in the word of God.

See, the world is seductive. The world is persuasive. And, in a lot of things, the world is dead wrong. But of course that’s not kosher to say these days (one of Satan’s victories, sadly), and in our tendency to try to fit in and be “normal,” we sometimes forget who we are and what’s actually true.

The solution — the only reliable solution, really — is to study the word of the Lord every day. I’ve found that the longer I go without being in the scriptures (or conference talks), the less real the gospel seems and the more rational and acceptable the world’s perspective starts looking. And that’s dangerous. Really, really dangerous.

And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (2 Nephi 28:22)

If you don’t believe in a real, unseen devil who is (insanely) trying to dethrone God and, as part of his plan, trying to pull you down and turn you into an agent of evil, then yeah, scriptures and conference and commandments and covenants and all the rest don’t seem to matter that much. Try to be a good person and not hurt others and you’re good to go, right?

But the words of the prophets and apostles are clear and have always been clear: there is an adversary, a cunning, ruthless mastermind who wants to destroy everything good in this world and who will use any tactic he can to get what he wants. He’s not folklore or myth. He’s not the invention of campfire storytellers or the concoction of priests trying to control congregations. He’s real. And he’s deadly.

The thing is, it’s not cool anymore to believe in Satan — which, of course, is exactly what he wants.

I’m not saying we need to fixate on the devil and keep him in our thoughts continually. That’s ridiculous. But if we forget that there’s a devil, it’s not very hard to also forget that we desperately need a Christ to save us. Without a real evil, real good means nothing. It becomes watered down, diluted to the point where it makes no visible difference in our lives. And if there’s anything the gospel is meant for, it’s to make a difference in our lives. God gave us the gospel to change us, to raise us up and transform us from earthy mortals into gods and goddesses.

Getting back to the beginning of this post, the more we study and live by the word of God, the more clearly we see the difference between good and the fool’s good Satan tries to pawn off on us. Distractions and deceptions don’t work on people who truly live by the Spirit. And it’s not just defense — resisting Satan is merely the baseline, and God is certainly not defined as “not Satan.” He’s far more than that. If we’re living by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God, strengthened by daily infusions of light, we’re filled with power to do good, to build the kingdom and make our home here a far better place in a lasting, eternal way.

If we want to stay true to the Lord — and that’s the only sane thing to do, honestly — then we have to make the word of God a part of us every single day. And if we don’t do that, it’s all too easy to be carried away by the winds of the world, tumbled down off the mountain of the Lord, over the foothills and through the valleys and out far into the wastelands till we finally forget who that God fellow was and why he even mattered.

Why I’m a Mormon

I don’t know that I’ve ever talked on here about why I’m a Mormon. There’s a brief paragraph on my Mormon.org profile, but I want to go into a little more depth, since being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a huge part of who I am (if, you know, you couldn’t tell by all the Mormon-related projects I do).

So, why am I a Mormon? (P. S. This will be one of my longer posts, because there are many, many reasons for my faith.)

Sense and happiness

I’m a Mormon because the gospel and the Church make sense to me. The core elements of the gospel make a congruent, consistent whole that resonates with me and feels right — family, love, sacrifice, purpose, hard work, integrity, service, etc. It has God’s signature all over it.

The gospel feels good to me. It tastes good to my soul. And it’s clear, lightful, piercing, alive. This becomes all too apparent to me when compared to the philosophies of the world, which muddy my mind and usually leave confusion in their wake.

It’s not just that the principles appeal to me in some abstract way, in theory, in my head. The more I live the gospel, the happier I am. Always. Without fail. I’ve tested this over and over again throughout my life, and it’s real. And on the other hand, whenever I choose to go against a commandment of God, I noticeably feel the loss of the Spirit, the darkening (slight or great) of my soul, and a kind of spiritual listlessness that harries my mind and heart until I repent and move back into the light. (Thank heaven for repentance and the atonement.)

Meaning

I’m a Mormon because the gospel makes everything meaningful. We’re here on the earth to become like God, in the pursuit of the unimaginable happiness that comes from living a Godlike life. And the only way for that kind of lifestyle to stick, to really become part of who we are, is for us to come to the earth and see if we’ll choose goodness and God no matter what obstacles we run into, no matter how hard it may be. Everything is part of the test, proving us herewith. Every single instant of our waking lives matters. Every thought. Every word. Every action. Every reaction. Everything is either moving us Godward or turning our hearts from him.

That meaningfulness appeals to me. The world wants to believe that cumulative chance is our sole creator, that nothing we do really matters, that there’s no grand, overarching purpose to life. I can see where they’re coming from, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s a reaction to the intimidating nature of meaning. If life truly is meaningful and everything really does matter, then we’ve got a daunting burden of responsibility and accountability on our backs. And for some it’s easier to pretend it isn’t there. It would certainly be easier to live life if nothing mattered, because then there would be no need for standards of any kind, and we could do whatever we wanted. But would that kind of an empty life be satisfying?

Personal revelation

I’m a Mormon because I crave and receive personal revelation. If things do matter in this life, and if there’s a real good and a real evil, then I want to make sure I’m on the side of good. And the gift of the Holy Ghost is how I do that — context-sensitive guidance every day of my life. It’s way better than Google. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sought inspiration or revelation in pretty much every area of my life, and I’ve always received answers.

Sometimes the answer has been to continue along the path I’m on. Sometimes it’s been to back up and change direction. (Even when that’s the last thing I want to do.) Sometimes the answer is that this is something I can decide for myself, with the promise of a safety-net warning if I choose unwisely. And I’ve found that the answer is always right — it’s always what’s best for me, even if I couldn’t see it at first.

I can’t imagine living my life without daily personal revelation — too crippling.

Questions and answers

I’m a Mormon in spite of not knowing the answer to every question. There are lots of things about the gospel I don’t yet know, and yes, there are some things that seem contradictory or conflicting or that just don’t make sense to me.

But the evidence I do have, both spiritual (those revelations I just mentioned) and physical (in the form of the Book of Mormon, the words of modern prophets, and my own experiences living the commandments, to name a few), is strong enough that I know I can trust God. I know this is his gospel and his church. Like I said earlier, it has his signature, and if there are things God hasn’t revealed yet, I’m fine with waiting till he does.

It’s kind of like science, actually. There are lots of things in the more advanced areas of science that we know are there but don’t yet know why or how they work. And yet we continue to move forward in faith that someday our proven scientific method will give us the answers. It might take a while, and we might need to get a few preliminary answers first to be able to make sense of it all, but we have faith that it will come. Why? Because we’ve seen it work over and over again. We know what we know because of people forging the unknown, doing experiments, recording the results, and sharing their data. That’s how we discovered the structure of the atom and the existence of black holes and how DNA works and the list goes on. And so I’m content to not know everything right now. It’ll come.

Science

Speaking of science, I love that the gospel lives in harmony with it (in spite of what some may think). The gospel welcomes scientific advance and opens its arms to it, because it brings us closer to truth. And we love truth.

We may disagree with some scientists’ conclusions (like the non-existence of God or the historical impossibility of the Book of Mormon), and some scientific findings may not yet make complete sense in context of what we know from the gospel, but the two are wholly compatible. In a way, they’re two sides of the same coin — spiritual truth and physical truth. Our methods for getting to those truths differ somewhat — revelation for spiritual, the scientific method for physical — but at the same time they’re not that different (the way we learn spiritual truth often involves experimenting upon the word before the revelation comes, and both rely on revelatory insights to make true progress).

Zion and the law of consecration

I’m a Mormon because Zion — a society unified in purpose, bound in love, working together without friction — appeals to the deep parts of my heart. Oh man, I love the law of consecration. I live it very imperfectly (I’m far more selfish than I’d like to be), but I love giving of my time and talents to build the kingdom. It feels right. It’s something I can throw my whole heart and mind behind without wondering if I’m making the right choice.

Christ’s Second Coming

I believe that Christ will come again. Soon. For real. (Which also implies that I believe he came the first time.)

His coming doesn’t absolve us of our stewardship toward the earth or toward each other — we need to act as if we’ll be here forever (D&C 51:16–17), even though we know it’s all only temporary. (And yet if the earth is going to be celestialized, then maybe we are going to be here forever after all.)

We’re preparing for the Second Coming by learning how to love unconditionally, how to serve each other when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable, how to work together and rejoice in the differences that make our society stronger. We cannot be saved without each other — both those on the earth with us and those who’ve already finished their testing (see D&C 128:15).

Yes, we live the gospel imperfectly. Yes, people make mistakes, and not everyone is as Christlike as they should be. But that doesn’t make one bit of difference as to whether the gospel is true. What matters is how we treat those mistake-making people — whether we still love them and forgive them anyway. Because, of course, we too are leaving a trail of mistakes in our wake.

The wonderfully mind-bending part, though, is that even when we mess up, we can erase that trail and continue on. The point isn’t to get a perfect score in life (because we can’t). The point is to keep moving Christward, to use the atonement to become better people, to let Christ pick us back up every time we stumble. And that’s doable. His yoke is easy and his burden light. I’m a Mormon because I believe that — I believe that we make mistakes, that we’re fallen, and that only the Savior can save us.

Joseph Smith

I’m a Mormon because I believe Joseph Smith was what he said he was. I’ve read most of his writings, and his words don’t have the taint of a lucre-mad con man. They don’t carry the queasy stench of lust and worldliness that would be there if he weren’t a prophet. Someone who was casually pretending to be a prophet would almost certainly have given up the joke once the tar and the feathers came pouring down. Since Joseph didn’t, he was either insane (based on the evidence, this isn’t a viable conclusion), evil (which isn’t the feeling I get at all), or telling the truth.

I like Joseph. Was he perfect? Absolutely not. But he was a very, very good man, which comes through in his life and his works. Besides, my testimony isn’t of the mortal perfection of Joseph Smith or of any of the prophets. What I do have is a conviction that they were called of God in spite of their weakness, to be a trustworthy conduit for divine knowledge and commandments. That’s a beautiful thing — God uses us even though we’re far from perfect. And if God says I can trust someone (which he does, to me, via the Spirit, about Joseph Smith as well as President Monson), then I have no problem trusting that person.

The Book of Mormon

I’m a Mormon because mmm, I love the Book of Mormon. It’s faithful, utterly loyal to Christ. It’s a beckoning call to become more righteous, more good, by coming unto Christ. And despite the archaic language, it’s clear and understandable, like fresh mountain water. It makes sense. It feels right and good.

As a sometime fiction writer, I’m absolutely certain there is no way Joseph could have made it up. It doesn’t feel like fiction, and the level of complexity and internal consistency in the text would be impossible for Joseph Smith or Martin Harris or Sidney Rigdon or Solomon Spaulding or anyone alive in the 1800s (or now, for that matter) to concoct on their own.

Besides, the Book of Mormon would feel more like an icky MLM pamphlet if Joseph were spinning a tall tale. And it doesn’t. It’s a beautiful, poignant testimony of Christ as our Savior. I’ve read the Book of Mormon around thirty times now and with each reading I feel closer to God, more renewed in my dedication to be a good man, husband, and father. Evil and dishonest books don’t do that.

Temples

I really, really love the temple. The temples are full of light, and not just literally. I feel closer to God when I go to the temple, and I leave feeling more motivated to be better, with inspiration as to what I need to do to change. (Grammatical tangent: I just realized we always say “go to the temple” even though there’s more than one temple, which means we’re referring to it in a more general sense, like “go to church.” But the “the” slips in there somehow. I wonder when that started — maybe when there was only one temple? I also wonder if British Saints say “go to temple.” Ahem.)

I love family history work. It’s hard — sometimes really, really, really hard — but the more I learn about my ancestors, the more I love them. The gospel’s promise that I’ll meet them someday (and that this temple work I’m doing for them can have actual meaning in their lives, can be the gateway to their salvation and exaltation) is beautiful.

That’s one of the witnesses to me of the truthfulness of the gospel, by the way — we’re meant to love and serve all of God’s children, regardless of whether they’re currently on the earth or not. (And since we believe life continues after death, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t love them.)

Arts and industry

I love that one of the principles of the gospel is work. God expects us to be industrious, to make things, to improve the world. Not to be unrealistically busy, but to be proactive and productive. We are to follow in our Creator’s footsteps. I also love the gospel’s endorsement of the arts as a way to help us become more like God. (Thus Mormon Artist.)

Faith

I think it was Terryl Givens who said that there have to be evidences against the truthfulness of the gospel to make it a valid test. Otherwise there’s no need to have faith.

And the test is about learning to choose good for its own sake, learning to obey and stay loyal to God even when it sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense. Do we still remain faithful to God and his prophets even when there seem to be contradictions? Or when they ask us to do really hard things? Or when they ask us not to do things we really want to do?

Family

I’m Mormon because family is core to the gospel, and because I’ve found that having solid, healthy family relationships is the path to happiness in this life. Family really is essential, regardless of the world’s attempts to demolish it. This has become even more clear to me now that I’m married with kids of my own. Family is where it’s at. We as a societies need to be building and healing families, not neglecting them or prying them apart or trying to replace them with fakes.

Christ and the atonement

Finally, I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he is my Savior, my Redeemer, and my Lord. I feel strongly that this church gets me closer to the real Christ than any other church. The Book of Mormon brings me closer to Christ. The prophets bring me closer to Christ. The principles of the gospel bring me closer to Christ. Everything in the church is Christ-centered. Everything. And that’s how it should be, because Christ is our only hope. He is the only way for us to get back to Heavenly Father, and, really, the only way for us to be truly happy and at peace in this life.

That’s why I’m a Mormon.

Many miracles

I take a lot of things for granted. Take the sun, for instance. It’s 93 million miles away. Ninety-three million miles. Let’s say you hop in a car and start driving towards the sun at 60 mph (okay, we’ll make it a spacecar) — it’d take you 177 years to get there. And that’s if there aren’t any red lights along the way. So the sun is far, but the thing that blows my mind is this: it’s so bright to us here on earth that if we look straight at it, it temporarily blinds us. And it’s hot. You can burn ants with it (and a magnifying glass). That’s crazy. I mean, I understand the physics of it (the basics, anyway), but isn’t it bonkers that the whole thing actually works? Not to mention its huge role in life on earth and all of that.

Speaking of distance, instant messaging is another thing that’s crazy if you stop to think about it. I can type “lol” on my laptop and have it show up pretty much instantly for someone on the other side of the globe. Which is almost 13,000 miles away. Not as far away as the sun, but still pretty dang far. It’s like magic, except better because, like, it actually works.

There’s more. The stuff we build amazes me. Like cities. And buildings — cathedrals, skyscrapers, football stadiums, airports. Even just ordinary houses are incredible (meaning, hard to believe). The fact that we can stick pieces of wood together into something that (a) stands upright and (b) doesn’t blow down with the wind just blows my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I love animals (or at least I don’t hate them), but you don’t see anything like this in the animal kingdom. Sure, lots of species do some crazy intricate things, but nothing even comes close to what we humans build. Our cities are far more complex than any anthill.

And there’s things like plastics. We can mold plastic into almost any shape we want, which is why my shampoo bottle looks the way it does. And shampoo is amazing, too. To think that we somehow came up with the right types of things to mix together to make our hair (a) clean and (b) smell good (plus the other stuff shampoo does, most of which is beyond me) is a miracle.

And we have zippers and post-it notes and medicines that work (usually) and violins and pianos that actually sound beautiful and microwaves and street lights and the whole earth is chock-full of little miracles.

Street lights remind me of something else that blows my mind: freeways. Streets in general, but freeways in particular. First, you have this crazy massive network of I don’t know how many millions of tons of asphalt laid all over the country (and world, but we’ll stick with the States for this paragraph), flattened out and relatively smooth. They’ve put roads through mountains and (with the help of bridges, which are also incredible) over bays and rivers and lakes. Second, and this is the bigger miracle for me, we have millions of imperfect humans driving at fairly high speeds in all sizes of vehicles on these freeways…and yet accidents are relatively rare. Consider all it takes for an accident to happen: someone’s attention leaves the road for four or five seconds. Or someone accidentally turns their steering wheel a few millimeters too far. It’s an insane miracle that there aren’t a lot more accidents on every road we’ve got. Which is why I believe in traffic angels.

And, actually, all of these miracles are a testimony to me that God loves us, because even as awesome as we are (being the children of God with all sorts of latent superpowers) (no, really), there’s no way we could have gotten as far as we have without his help. Without God inspiring all of these makers and builders and inventors, we’d still be living in caves. (Well, maybe not caves, but you get the point.) At least we’d still have that bright, hot, oh-so-far-away sun.

Revelation every day

I’ve often wondered why we had a lot of “thus saith the Lord” revelations back in Joseph Smith’s day (just look at the Doctrine & Covenants) and don’t get many at all nowadays (“The Proclamation to the World on the Family” and “The Living Christ” are the only ones I can think of, and even then they’re not directly in the Lord’s voice).

Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that the Church nowadays is led by God just as much as it was in 1830, and I likewise fully believe that our modern prophets receive revelation. I was just curious as to why the format seems to have changed over the years.

On Sunday I found my answer.

I was reading Melvin J. Petersen’s February 1985 Ensign article “Preparing Early Revelations for Publication” and came across this passage from John A. Widtsoe:

There is, in view of what has been said, need of continuous revelation. However, we must understand that there are two classes of revelation given by God to man. The first deals with the structure and content of the plan of salvation. Once given it does not need to be given again. Adam received it…. Christ gave the same revelation to man in His dispensation. So did Joseph Smith in his dispensation. The foundation, or platform, once given does not need to be given again unless men forget the truth.

Then there are revelations that fit the changes in our lives, meet our new needs, help us overcome unforeseen conditions—revelations for our daily guidance.

This great country, the United States of America, has found itself in a great depression. We have the Gospel. What did the Lord do? He spoke to his Prophet, and we have what is known as the Welfare Program. It is the application of the eternal principles of the Gospel to present day needs. It is as revelation. We have that type of revelation continuously.

So, when people say: ‘We ought to have revelation now as we did in the day of Joseph,’ we must answer, ‘Open your eyes; we do have revelation every day; such as we need from day to day.’

Revelations have been given to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith and President Heber J. Grant. Every one of them has had revelation whereby the Church has been guided.” (John A. Widtsoe, “Modern Revelation and Modern Questions,” The Deseret News, Church Section, 28 January 1939, p. 6.)

And there you have it.