The question of whether church teachings “make sense” (and to what extent it matters whether or not they do) has come up in a couple of places lately, and I’ve been mulling over my own views on the subject. I’ve always been a bit fascinated when I’ve heard people assert that they find the LDS church appealing because it makes so much more sense than any other religious system. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but my own experience has been rather different.
Sometimes when other church members find out that I study theology, I get the impression that they are imagining that I’m learning about a bunch of bizarre and clearly apostate doctrines which simply don’t hold up in comparison with the truths of the restored gospel. But if that were in fact my perspective on things, I’m not sure why I would even bother with this field. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from seriously engaging the theology of other traditions; my academic work has pushed me to think about issues in new ways, raised provocative questions, suggested alternate possibilities. I do have moments when I’m acutely conscious of just how Mormon is the lens through which I see the world, when having considered other options I still prefer the LDS theological angle– but I have to also admit that I sometimes find the arguments of other Christians to be more compelling than ours. It’s a mixed bag. They have problems and contradictions and things that are hard to explain, and so do we. They have some really cool stuff, and so do we.
And yet I remain a Mormon (albeit a rather conflicted and confused one). I’m not sure I can entirely unpack the reasons for that, but I can say it’s not because I think the LDS approach clearly makes more sense than that of anyone else. Over the years, in fact, I’ve become a lot more skeptical about a variety of fairly basic LDS teachings. I think that what has nonetheless kept me at least semi-active is my profound belief that I’ve authentically encountered God in the context of the church.
That, however, leaves me with the question: if my commitment (such as it is) is primarily based on experiential knowledge, does it really matter if things don’t make sense? There are actually a large number of dilemmas about which I can say okay, this is an intellectually interesting problem, but it’s not going to shake my faith if I can’t figure it out. However, I find that there are some crucial issues which have more serious consequences. Joseph Smith famously said in the Lectures on Faith that we are unable to exercise faith in God without a correct understanding of his attributes. For me, the heart of the matter is the simple question: can I trust God? And when I encounter problems (such as evidence which suggests that God values women less, or that church leaders have felt divinely authorized to lie) which have the potential to erode that trust, I don’t know that I can simply “have faith” and put those questions on the shelf, as such problems threaten to bring the entire shelf crashing down.
Does any of this make sense?