If I Didn’t Believe, Part II: God, Jesus, and Other Religions

 

God: I feel like the belief in God is one of those almost congenital predispositions; you either believe or you don’t. Empirically, based on fine tuning and the complexity of the origin of life, I would lean towards there being an organizational force, even in the absence of a belief in the Church. 

Additionally, my sense that 1) moral truth, goodness, and other abstract concepts are real, and 2) you can’t get to an “ought” from an “is,” leans me towards the idea that metaphysics is built into the universe, that there is “writing in the sky,” as the philosopher Richard Rorty puts it, something beyond the raw math and matter. And yes, I know that each of those two premises is highly arguable among philosophers. However, the counter arguments seem like a desperate attempt to wrest meaning from the void, because we can’t live on math and matter alone, but neither can some people explicitly recognize the validity of anything outside the laboratory or logic formula. Even people who claim to only believe in math and matter almost always have some “magic morality” embedded in their outlook whether they recognize it or not.

Jesus: I feel that the Gospels have a power that is unique among other religious texts. However, a lot of the power comes from the subtle but powerful and explicit divine aspect of the Savior portrayed in the gospels. Frankly, the social teachings in the New Testament aren’t that unique–you can find them in many other religions and texts. Consequently, if we take this exercise in hypothetical disbelief further and extend it to Christ not being divine, I have a hard time seeing a non-believing me engage in Christianity without the divinity. If He’s not divine and was basically one of many moral teachers, then I’d just cut out the middleman and save myself a trip on Sunday. 

However, if I did believe in His divinity without the Church, I’d have a hard time knowing what exactly to make of it. As Joseph Smith stated, “the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” So the Bible is out as some precise how-to guide. You can grasp His divinity in its pages, but how all that relates to 21st century expectations is harder to discern via exegesis.  Maybe I’ve been spoiled as a Latter-day Saint, but if He wanted me to be a particular kind of Christian and was going to hold me to that I’d expect a clearer guide.

Other Faiths

I’ve often met people who have seemed very Latter-day Saint and later found out that they were devout religionists from another faith. For me it is patently clear that devout, true, devout religious believers in general have a particular light to them, and this would be crystal clear to me even in the absence of the Church. 

However, this is about the believers, not the theology or institution, and maybe I’ve been spoiled, but none of the alternatives really sit well with me (I’m not going to go into details here, since it would be taken as anti-whatever), even if I see the fruits of those belief systems in the light carried by their adherents.

So to summarize, I’d have the vague sense that a personal God was there and operating in the lives of believers in concrete religion, but I myself probably wouldn’t be concrete enough to be a true believer in any one system. 

4 comments for “If I Didn’t Believe, Part II: God, Jesus, and Other Religions

  1. I appreciate your thoughts Stephen.

    As a life-long member with my many revelations, miracles, blessings, etc…combined with my Pentecostal, seared into my soul once in a lifetime devine experience, coupled with my extensive research into church history = There is a God, there is a Jesus, and Joseph was the prophet of the restoration. What happened after Joseph until today with the “church” and its policies, procedures, programs and traditions I dont give much thought to or stock in. To summarize, the gospel is everything to me, the church and its culture I try to tolerate. I try my best to focus on the pearl and not the box.

  2. I appreciate the attempts you have made in this post to put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t believe.

    I am not sure that a belief in god is a congenital predisposition though. I certainly felt firm in my faith at times even though now I do not.

    If you follow the link to my blog you can see some of my thoughts as I have grappled with that growing unbelief.

  3. Thanks for your comment @Brian. I enjoyed reading your blog! I think that the questions you’ve grappled with are important questions for religionists to grapple with in the Information Age. I will say as a convert of 3 years and one who studied all possible reasons not to join before doing so, I have always felt some sort of “predisposition” towards God– my parents are irreligious and yet, I always found myself grappling with my own mortality and striving to find some God to believe in. I was having a talk with my brother-in-law who is on his way out of the church the other week and he expressed that same sentiment– some, like me and his wife, were just “born to believe”, and he was not.

    I appreciate you sharing your perspective in a respectful way. Hope you have a great holiday this week.

    Helaman

  4. I too enjoyed reading your thoughts. I like your imagery of “downstream beliefs.” I think sometimes people take a while to unpack and deconstruct all the different ways in which a shift in faith moves all the other pieces.

    I do think belief in God or not is dispositional for a lot of people, although I do think it can shift across time. You see this with New Atheist types that think it’s laughable that anyone would believe in a fairy in the sky, while some religionists similarly think that belief is a no-brainer (According to the GSS, about 50% of Americans say they “know God exists and have no doubt,” https://gssdataexplorer.norc.org/variables/1076/vshow)–and both people are incredibly smart, so there’s clearly something else going on besides raw computational or reasoning power.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.