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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. 

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