Jul 22

Respecting the Legitimacy of Experiences Foreign to Us

One of the most vexing problems for any religious tradition which asserts exclusivity claims is the problem of sincere believers in other faiths. Evangelicals are confronted by Mormons with firm convictions that the Book of Mormon is authentic scripture. Mormons must grapple with situations in which people report a witness that the Catholic church is the true one. Christians who hold that Christ is the only way to know God are posed with the problem of people who report encountering God in Islam. And so forth. Continue reading

Jul 19

Help Thou Mine Unbelief

As I’ve journeyed through my faith transition these past few years, I’ve pondered much on the importance of belief. Some things I no longer believe (e.g., polygamy was given by God), and some other things I believe differently from most orthodox Mormons (e.g., the Brethren get some important things wrong). And with most of my beliefs, my level of certainty is not anywhere near what it once was (e.g., I hope and long for a heaven that, in my darker moments, I fear does not exist). I feel this loss acutely, yet I do not regret who I have become. Continue reading

Feb 27

Why I Want to Be Persecuted

This guest post comes to us from Jonathan Cannon, who blogs regularly at Rational Faiths and Exploring Sainthood.

A recent speaker in my local Sunday services quoted a recent reminder from one of our Twelve Apostles: We Latter-day Saints haven’t been persecuted for many years, but scripture foretells the day will return when we again will be. Of course, I believe we might yet avoid this, and both we and the rest of humanity could repent of our various evils and avoid destruction–as Nineveh did after Jonah’s call to repentence–but if this is true (and I don’t doubt it is a possibility) then I want to say what I hope we will be persecuted for. Continue reading

Dec 02

Does the Church Have Room for Doubters?

A few weeks ago I was on a plane to India, visiting the subcontinent for the first time, excited for this grand adventure but a bit anxious about the success of our business meeting and the possibility of acquiring a nasty bout of Delhi belly. Arriving in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, I turned on my phone and saw a text message from my daughter saying that my wife, Lilian, had been struck by a drunk driver, sending her car spinning down the interstate.

Before continuing, let me explain that for several months I haven’t felt like blogging (I know–there was much rejoicing), my feelings too raw from Kate Kelly’s excommunication and its implications for members like me. Frankly, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to care as much anymore about the Church and my relationship to it. Deep inside me something has been broken, like the shattering of an intricate vase whose rebuilding completely confounds me, and my hope that the institution will repent and evolve–becoming something that is less hurtful to some (e.g., women, LGBT, singles, people of color, non-Americans) and more welcoming to all–sometimes feels like a foolish dream. Continue reading

Jul 10

Taking Ally Isom at Her Word

On Sunday I decided to bear my testimony in sacrament meeting and talk about my involvement with Ordain Women. I’ve transcribed below approximately what I said. In case you were wondering, in my opinion it was only the third strangest testimony of the meeting. Yay for Mormon weirdness!

Next post I’ll share the response so far from my local leaders and fellow ward members. I think you’ll find it to be generally good news.

This past year I taught Book of Mormon in seminary and I absolutely loved it. I loved the kids, even when they were half-asleep or all-the-way asleep, or even when my son was making smart remarks. What I especially loved, though, was the opportunity to help the kids develop a personal relationship with God.

I love the Book of Mormon and am deeply moved by many of its teachings. One of my favorites is when Nephi teaches us that all are alike unto God. Over the years this scripture and other Church teachings have led me along a path of life that may be different from yours, and that is what I’d like to talk about even though it is hard for me. I feel very vulnerable baring my soul like this so I hope you’ll bear with me. Continue reading

Apr 20

An Angry Birds Easter

While sitting in sacrament meeting today singing, “O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown”, I had an epiphany. It was all clear to me–I could finally see the connection between Angry Birds and the Gospel. Who says sacrament meeting isn’t inspirational?

 

Before I explain, let me step back and give some necessary background about my faith transition. I have written about this before, but the past couple of years have been difficult as I’ve processed my changing beliefs and sought for a new place within my faith community. Continue reading

Mar 27

Why Faith Transitions Need to Be Less Frequentist and More Bayesian

I know. You are probably despairing to think that such a disputed area of statistical dogma could have anything to contribute to such a disputed area of religious experience. (If you are despairing about this post for other reasons, I apologize). I mean, not even Martin Luther would have had the nerve to nail 95 non-informative priors on R.A. Fisher’s door.

But English statistician Thomas Bayes was also a Presbyterian minister, so it is only natural that his statistical insight would have religious implications as well. And his insight is, in my view, the key to healthier faith transitions. Continue reading

Mar 11

Is There a Way to Find Common Ground?

Last year I was on a long car ride with my parents, who were visiting from out of state. My mom and I ended up having a discussion about gay marriage, and it was then that I started thinking about this problem of finding common ground–that is, the problem of Mormons like me and Mormons like my mom being able to rejoice and be edified together as we discuss difficult gospel topics–rather than starting a cage match that ends in tears (probably mine, since my mom is a tough cookie), recrimination, the silent treatment, and (God forbid!) unfriending on Facebook. (I’m happy to say that so far none of these things have happened, at least as far as I know.)

I realize that saying that my mom and I represent two types of Mormons is a vast oversimplification, one that does not fully capture our similarities, and one that does not fully acknowledge that there are lots of types of Mormons–probably as many types as there are Mormons. Even so, I think it is useful to place us in two broad categories that are familiar to Mormons who frequent the Bloggernacle. Continue reading

Feb 11

The Confessions of Saint Andrew

This guest post is brought to us by my brother, Andrew C.

I tell a story about my grandparents that may be completely made up.

They were looking forward to a fireside about marriage, and the morning before the presentation, their bishop told everyone in the congregation that, if they didn’t have a perfect marriage, he wanted them to attend.

Grandma and Grandpa looked at each other, and they didn’t go.

I saw Grandma after Grandpa died. “Getting old is not for wimps,” she said, and she looked very sad, gray hair, gray skin, a droop to her like she couldn’t think of a reason to sit up straight. Half of her was missing, and because I saw my grandma in that state, I think the story I just told you might actually be true. It is possible that it could be.

I desperately want it to be. Continue reading

Nov 30

Making Space for Myself as an Uncorrelated Mormon–Part 3: Try This One Weird Trick

(Previous posts about making space can be found here, here, and here.)

A while back I listened to a podcast where Fiona Givens discussed the lovely book she and her husband co-wrote called “The God Who Weeps”. I highly recommend it–the God they describe is compelling, one worth seeking after, connecting with, and emulating. Anyway, I was struck by her confidence in her Mormon-ness, her self-assurance that her way of being Mormon was completely valid, even though it sounded quite different from much of the Mormonism that I experience in my ward and during General Conference.

Continue reading

Jul 12

Free to Be…You and Me

The big toe on my left foot is purple and the nail, like the hair on my head, is starting to fall out. I wish I could say this was an unusual state of affairs, but ever since I took up soccer again, I find my body perpetually suffering from minor traumas.

While limping around the house last week I thought about why I do this to myself. It seemed easier years ago. As Paul Simon sheepishly laments, “And all my friends stand up and cheer and say, ‘Man, you’re old.’ Getting old.” But stubbornly in my middle age (can 42 really be middle age?!), I still do it to myself, cursing as I play, that the 22 year-old I know I am inside has mistakenly woken up, through a tragic, Freaky Fridayesque accident, in an over-the-hill body. Now, the easy solution to this discouraging reality would be to stop playing. A less drastic measure might be to not play so hard—less recklessness, lower risk of injury. More brain, less pain.

Continue reading

Jan 03

“What is God really like?”

When Beatrice and I were serving together as missionaries, we were lucky enough to be in a district that included the mission offices.  The APs and office Elders were in our district, so more often than not we held district meetings in a cozy conference room in the main mission office building, giving us frequent occasion to see the Mission President and his wife.

Throughout our companionship, Beatrice mentioned to me that she had questions about the role of women as depicted in the temple endowment. We discussed it a few times in companionship study, and then – taking advantage of our proximity to the mission leaders – one day we decided to take the issue to the wife of the MP. To be clear, we didn’t openly dissect elements of the endowment that are considered private or sacred. We talked about the sorts of things that are commonly parsed on fMh, Exponent II, and here at ZD: the hearken covenant; women veiling their faces; the almost complete silence of Eve and lack of other female characters in the pre-mortal realm; and other, similar issues. Continue reading

Aug 14

Crises of Faith

A topic that came up several times at Sunstone this year, and generated some thought-provoking discussion, was that of crises of faith.  This got me thinking about the kind of standard “crisis of faith” narrative.  Such a crisis might be set off by any number of things–disturbing information about Church history, prayers that remain unanswered or blessings that go unfulfilled, troubling experiences in sacred spaces, negative encounters with Church leaders, and so forth.  Whatever the catalyst, it causes a person to re-evaluate and question her or his previous beliefs.  She or he wrestles with these demons until finally reaching a resolution of some kind.  Some find a way to stay in the Church as believers; others find a way to stay in the Church despite their doubts; others opt to leave altogether. Continue reading

Feb 29

To Some It Is Given: Knowledge, Doubt, Mercy

Today’s thread over at BCC arguing that the loss of faith is ultimately a choice included a comment that wrenched my heart.

Subsequent discussion made reference to a passage in D&C 46 that has haunted me for most of my life, particularly these strange words:

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

Oct 23

The Western University and the Secular Compromise: Some Implications for Literature

This afternoon one of my students met with me about his next paper, which he wants to write refuting The Da Vinci Code and defending the divinity of Jesus Christ. I found myself struggling to explain to him why he can’t write such a paper to fulfill a university assignment. I tried to help him think about possible lines of argument he could pursue that would allow him to discuss his beliefs in intellectual and secular terms. It is my pleasant responsibility to help him master the norms of the university, and that means learning to speak, think, and write about religion in terms accessible to public consideration, in the terms of rational argument and empirical analysis. On the one hand, I deeply respect those terms; I’ve chosen with great joy to spend my six-day-a-week life examining the world in them. And learning to think about one’s beliefs in intellectual terms can be a vital and invigorating experience, although there are far too few spaces in the borderlands between the university and the church where believing students can bring the disparate pieces of their lives together; as a believing scholar, I long for more such spaces. But on the other hand, perhaps we secular educators (among whom I must count myself, insofar as I teach a secular subject in a secular context) sometimes rush too quickly over the losses incurred in the secular environment. The most essential expressions of religious belief are generally precluded by secular norms; in an important sense we allow every possible discussion of religion except what it most essentially is. Continue reading

Jun 04

The Gospel of Positive Thinking

If there is a secular religion in contemporary America, it is arguably the Gospel of Positive Thinking. Adherents of this particular sect seek to maintain a positive attitude at all times, and in all things, and in all place. Their canon of sacred texts is an extensive one, comprised of dozens of pop psychology books making the case that positive thinking is the answer to whatever problems you may encounter in your life–the most recent entry being the bestseller, The Secret, which argues that through the “law of attraction,” positive thinking will bring positive things into your life. Continue reading

Dec 01

“You must do what you feel is right, of course.”

The Gospel of Star Wars tells us repeatedly of the importance of trusting your feelings. (If you don’t recognize my title quote, it’s what Obi-Wan says to Luke in A New Hope, when Luke is deciding whether to come to Alderaan). Qui-Gon instructs Anakin at one point, “Feel. Don’t think.” Even those on the Dark Side of the Force recognize feelings as a way of discerning truth; Vader tells Luke that if he will “search his feelings,” he will recognize the truth of what Vader is telling him about his parentage. Continue reading

Nov 28

An Experiential Testimony

I’ve never had the standard testimony experience. You know, the one that the missionaries promise investigators: if you pray about the Book of Mormon (or the church or Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling), the spirit will witness its truth to you. That isn’t to say that I haven’t prayed about all of these things. I’ve prayed about the Book of Mormon, the church, and Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, but the spirit has never “manifested the truth” of it through a burning of the bosom, or a feeling of peace, or a still small voice, or any of the usual standards. Continue reading

Nov 26

Using Happiness to Evaluate Belief

A question which came up in Kiskilili’s latest thread on feminism (and has also arisen in a number of other conversations) is that of the relationship between happiness and belief. Should we believe the things which make us the happiest? Does it make any sense for a person to believe something which leaves her feeling unhappy and frustrated? I think these are interesting questions, and I’d like explore them a little more. Continue reading

Nov 12

Coffee and Doubt

I enjoy the smell of coffee. When I’m studying or hanging out with friends at coffee shops, I sometimes look with curiosity at all the varieties you can order. Though my friends have patiently attempted to explain, I have to confess that I still don’t understand what all the different words mean (espresso, cappuccino, etc.) But some of the flavors and combinations sound rather enticing.

However, not only have I never so much as sampled the stuff, I’ve never really been all that tempted to do so. It’s one of the ways in which my behavior is surprisingly orthopractic. (Surprising to me, I mean, when I think much about it. And sometimes surprising to others as well.) Continue reading