Keeping the Faith

March 29, 2004 | 20 comments
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I’ve been thinking recently of people I met in my twenties. Where we are now—that memory thing. A post a few weeks back by your own Jim Faulconer sent me on this most recent tour down memory lane. Jim was a person I met in my twenties—in the honors program reading room at BYU. At BYU I also met Mike Quinn, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Janice and David Allred. . . . . We were all idealistic, faithful, bookish Mormons, beginning our adult lives. From what I know, I believe that we’ve all “kept” the faith.

By that I mean, it’s still with us all, held very close. Mormonism matters to us in a way that has structured the plot of our lives. We’ve all expended a prolifigate cache of psychic energy on Joseph Smith and Mormonism, on The Church. We’ve all striven to keep our intellectual lives (remember we’re all bookish) in synch with our moral lives, with our religious inclinations. We love our familiest (etc. etc.) And I suspect we’d all say we’ve won a certain congruence in our lives that keeps us striving after truth, good, life—God?

And of course we’ve ended up (variously) on either side of what is easily imagined as a gaping divide. In the fold. Without. Faithful, lapsed. Members, excommunicants. Increasingly, I find that relying on this self-evident gap to tell me anything very important about people—and faith–is quite simply lazy, obtuse.

Jim talked in his blog about how he used to struggle more. How he now finds peace at where he’s landed. It feels congruent, peaceful. I can identify with that feeling. You take it a day at a time. Confront what you see. Check deep inside. And go where your heart, your integrity, your life, your past, leads you. You keep the faith. There is something so very mysterious about this to me. . . . .

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20 Responses to Keeping the Faith

  1. MDS on March 29, 2004 at 7:36 pm

    bump to fix link.

  2. Kaimi on March 29, 2004 at 8:01 pm

    It’s an interesting idea. Is one’s “Mormon-ness” defined by a record kept in Salt Lake, or by a calling in one’s ward? Or is it a matter of who one talks to, what one reads, what one thinks about?

    There’s a certain amount of hesitancy in the heirarchy of church membership to accept anything other than fully active members as equals in Mormon-ness.

    And yet, sometimes I wonder. Even the most “faithful” Mormon cannot claim not to be lapsed in some sense. Our theology is that no one is without sin. And if we’re all lapsed, then why wonder about who is where?

  3. Dave on March 29, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    Susan,

    Keeping in mind that I find the term “bookish” to be fairly complimentary, your post makes me think that the whole bookish orientation of the Sunstone generation to Mormon Studies explains some things. Whether the practitioners are faithful or “unfaithful,” that bookish approach (writing an article or going to Sunstone and orally delivering an article) endures.

    I think the whole interest group/media style has changed the last few years–people with an axe to grind are much more vocal and aggressive in making their case, and quite openly use the media (which is quite happy to be used) to further their efforts. Abortion advocates at both extremes come to mind, for example. But “bookish Mormons,” even the unfaithful ones, wouldn’t be caught dead parading around SLC with signs or placards.

    Quinn is a good example. One would expect him to have a higher profile presence, to use his notoriety to make more headlines. But he is quite low key, on the whole. He’s kind of bookish, with hardly a trace of Murphy’s keen sense of grandstanding. Maybe we could use more bookish Mormons.

  4. lyle on March 29, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    at the other end of the scale: one of the posts here at T&S said that other religions & mormonisn are likely to converge in belief/doctrine towards the end of time…and that authority would be the defining issue.

    if this is true…then it becomes even more, not less, important to belong to the Church that is keeping your Record in the Book of the Lamb.

  5. Jim F. on March 29, 2004 at 8:42 pm

    Susan, thanks for provoking me to reminisce about life more than thirty years ago.

    I find it interesting that the peace of which Susan speaks is so tangible now and was so elusive when we were in our twenties. I not only struggled with all kinds of spiritual questions then, I was frightened to death by people like Susan, Mike, Lavina, John Tanner, Nanette Poll, the Allreds, the Toscanos, and everyone else I met in the reading room. It was obvious that they were head-and-shoulders brighter than I: better read, more native intelligence, more wit. I knew that if I started talking I would make a fool of myself, so I said as little as possible. Some of that hasn’t changed. I’m still neurotic about being found out, waiting for people to point out how derivative my ideas are or that I’ve made some obvious and foolish error, worried that no one will enroll in my next seminar, frightened that my conference presentation will be incoherent because I speak French like a barbarian, or that it will do no more than repeat the obvious—and I’m sure that my neuroses sometimes account for my combativeness in academic situations.

    However, in spite of the neuroses that won’t go away, I’m much more at peace with who I have become than I was with who I was. Perhaps that’s because at 23 or 24 I hadn’t become anything yet. Christian theologians sometimes point out that hope (“natural hope” rather than Christian hope) is a function of age: the more of a future one has, the more one can hope for. But the other side of that is that the more of a future one has, the more one can be anxious about the future. I wonder if that lessening of anxiety is at least partly to account for something else that Susan notes, that there is something about being at peace with who one is that makes the “self-evident gap(s)” between us less important.

    I think that a great deal of the peace I’ve found is not in overcoming my neuroses, not in gaining self-confidence, but in seeing the world very differently than I did. For me, having been happily married for 34 years this year, having children and grandchildren in whom I take great pleasure, enjoying the company of my neighbors and fellow ward members, finding immeasurable solace in prayer and scripture, really coming to understand that whatever my standing as a professor, it doesn’t matter in God’s sight—these things give the world a meaning that what I do in philosophy can only supplement, at best. “Who I have become” now means something very different and much more satisfying than I expected it to.

  6. Susan on March 29, 2004 at 10:25 pm

    “I’m much more at peace with who I have become than I was with who I was.”

    Perhaps this is the secret to a good life–not being comfortable with who you are in your teens and twenties. It’s probably good to make it through your thirties feeling that way too.

  7. Nate Oman on March 30, 2004 at 11:18 am

    When I was in law school, I spent a lot of time around very smart, fiendishly productive people. I noticed two things about them. First, they were very, very, very quick and bright. Second, they were enormously insecure. It was the combination of innate ability and insecurity that drove them to get so much done. Interestingly, I also knew people who were much more self-confident and less insecure, equally smart, and not nearly as productive. Then there were a few souls who were both comfortable in their own skins and productive. Their productivity came less from a desperate attempt to prove to the universe that they were not losers and more from a love of what they were doing. To the extent that maintaining insecurity into your thirties provides and impetus to productivity, I suppose that there is some value to it. On the other hand, as the looming weight of thirty approaches, I find that social, intellectual, and spiritual angst both in myself and in others is increasingly exhausting. I liked my smart, insecure friends at HLS, but sometimes I really wanted to wring their necks. I found that the people who were productive for the fun of it were much more fun to be around.

    Hopefully I will nurse my insecurities along for another couple of years, at least until I have produced what is necessary to get the kind of life that I want. (Not one stuck in a big city law firm forever, thank you.) My hope, however, is that there comes a point where angst falls away and you get to live life for the sheer joy of it.

  8. Thom on March 30, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    Susan,

    Your main argument appears to be that because Mormonism is the main structuring element of their lives, people who have lost their membership in the church can be considered to have “kept the faith.”

    Did I understand you correctly? I intend you all the respect in the world, and I don’t want to come off sounding crass or unkind, so please take this question in the honest and straitforward way it is intended:

    How is your argument fundamentally different from that of people who, having lived together in a sexual relationship for many years, claim there is no value in being legally and lawfully married, since their relationship is probably healthier and longer lasting than most marriages?

  9. Susan on March 30, 2004 at 5:06 pm

    Not exactly the same argument, because I wasn’t making any kind of argument about the institutional church. I was talking about the way I think about “faith.” I’m not sure about the marriage argument. I suppose it might depend whether the discussion was about the legal benefits of marriage or about the symbolic benefits.

  10. Ethesis on March 31, 2004 at 12:48 am

    quote:
    Your main argument appears to be that because Mormonism is the main structuring element of their lives, people who have lost their membership in the church can be considered to have “kept the faith.”

    Did I understand you correctly? I intend you all the respect in the world, and I don’t want to come off sounding crass or unkind . . .
    /quote

    Thom, I found myself wondering the same thing, and I’m not sure what the answer “the way I think about ‘faith'” means in the above context.

    Susan, if you could expand what it means to have “the faith” when it is divorced from the institutional church and what it means to you?

    Thanks.

  11. Thom on March 31, 2004 at 9:43 am

    Susan,

    In the context of my question, I am much more concerned with the “benefits” of keeping a commandment of the Lord by legally and lawfully marrying before engaing in procreative acts and having children. In that sense, I am asking for your view on what the realtionship is between “keeping the faith” and keeping a commandment of the Lord by being baptised and maintaining official membership in his church. Thanks.

  12. John H on March 31, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for wonderful comments, Susan. I particularly like your thoughts on “keeping the faith.”

    I’ve recently come to believe that there ought to be a distinction between a “Mormon” and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I see Mormon as a cultural designation. The Church wants to control that term, insisting that there’s no such thing as a “fundamentalist Mormon” and even suing a website in Germany for using the term Mormon. But no matter how hard they try, as the Church grows, I think they’ll lose control of the term and people (like Lavina or Mike, or Judith Freeman) will be able to identify themselves as Mormon, even if they don’t identify themselves as Church members.

    Ironically, the Church has been on the other side of the fence. Evangelical Christians desperately want to control what constitutes a “Christian,” insisting that Mormons are not part of that group. Yet we claim the name for ourselves, telling them they don’t have a right to tell us what we can and can’t identify ourselves as. I think people ought to be able to do the same thing with the term “Mormon.” Polygamists, people like Mike and Lavina, and others ought to be able to claim that word as part of their self-identity without the Church trying to strip it from them.

  13. Adam Greenwood on March 31, 2004 at 2:59 pm

    I’ve seen this argument before, John H., and I think it equates unlike things. We want to call ourselves ‘Christian’ primarily as a matter of undeception. Most people have a core definition of Christianity that applies to us, and it would be misleading for them to be told it didn’t.

    On the other hand, most people don’t have any core idea of what a mormon is, or even that different groups exist, so when they hear about apostates or polygamists they don’t have any mental tools to distinguish this kind of ‘mormon’ from the vast majority of Mormons out there who are LDS. By insisting that these people aren’t Mormon the interests of truth are again being served.

  14. lyle on March 31, 2004 at 3:10 pm

    John,

    I’m with Adam…although somewhat with you in that there is some value in using the term “mormon” (which we aren’t supposed to use in re: the LDS Church anymore anyways) when referring to cultural stuff and something like “Saints” when referring to those that are actively striving to live a Christ-like life in accordance with the dictates of his Church.

  15. Steve Evans on March 31, 2004 at 3:24 pm

    John,

    I’ve seen the cultural use of the term “mormon” come up in the context of Mormon literature, with some interesting results. Prof. Gideon Burton, who chairs the conference for the Association of Mormon Literature, has wrestled with the issue some and wrote a good essay on Mormon Criticism: see http://mldb.byu.edu/gbask.htm. I particularly liked the idea of using “Mormon letters and criticism as means of engaging the world and the Restored Gospel simultaneously.” I think that is how we can use the term — as something expansive and inclusive, as opposed to the term LDS, to refer strictly to Church membership.

  16. John H on March 31, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    Good comments, all on “Mormon” as a cultural reference. I especially agree that as it now stands, there is a difference between the “Mormon” vs. “Christian” analogy I used.

    I suppose I’m just suggesting a term needs to exist so that people can still identify themselves as what they truly are. As a private institution, the LDS Church has every right to no longer keep Lavina Fielding Anderson or Michael Quinn as members (I’m not trying to get into the ethics of this or whether or not these two should have been ex’d – that’s another thread altogether). But nothing can suddenly strip Mike or Lavina of this lifelong cultural identity as Mormons. That will always be a part of them, to one extent or another.

    I know some have used the term “cultural Mormons” to describe some people who are part of the Church for family or other reasons, but reject certain beliefs. I don’t have a problem with this designation, other than it is usually used as a perjorative. I’m not sure why being a cultural Mormon has to be a bad thing, but that’s how it’s usually used.

  17. Adam Greenwood on April 1, 2004 at 1:03 pm

    I think I see where you’re coming from, John. AS has been pointed out, Mormonism is part faith and part ethnicity. Fighting over the term is a way of fighting over which is to prevail. I want ‘em both, so that leaves me somewhat at a loss.

  18. Ethesis (Stephen M) on April 1, 2004 at 9:11 pm

    Guess this thread is over, though I’m not sure that being part of Mormon culture and following your own star regardless of the culture or the church is really “keeping the faith” (does anyone else hear Billie Joel singing when they read that phrase).

  19. Susan on April 2, 2004 at 1:00 am

    I’m not talking about what the church keeps. I’m talking about what I keep.

  20. Ethesis on April 3, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    Susan,

    Forgive me for being dense. When you started your list of people who had “kept the faith” it just seemed kind of strange to me and I found myself wondering what you meant and what was the “faith” that was being kept.

    I’ll just mark myself as confused and pay more attention to the next post.

    quoting “I’m not sure what the answer “the way I think about ‘faith'” means in the above context.” end quote, is what I’m still perplexed about.

    I’ll just read more posts and I’m sure it will make sense.