Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why do I believe what I believe?

A friend from another church sincerely asked me about my faith. Many people say that there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon while much does exist for the Bible. How have I reconciled with that? This is my response.

"Yes, if a Mormon feels that they are being challenged, many will often start "bearing testimony" of what they believe from their own personal experiences. I see pros and cons to this, but I won't get into that.

Why this doesn't bother me (the afore mentioned evidence issue), because obviously I've had to reconcile it. How do we know the Bible is true? It contains facts about battles, places, etc. Basically, history and culture back up a lot of facts. BUT, what backs up any of the miracles? What backs up anything that says God is in this book? While there are tons upon tons of apologetics resources that try to prove with science or logic or whatever that it was possible for the Red Sea to be parted or for Jesus to have risen in 3 days, there are tons upon tons of resources that try to prove other wise also using logic and science. Basically, you choose what to believe. It is a debate without end. BUT, does it really matter if someone can prove scientifically that the Red Sea was parted? That is wasn't? So, although I can believe that the Bible is historically and culturally accurate, what is there to make me believe that the fantastical things within the book are also true? Are there not religious stories, legends, and fairy tales from other cultures that also contain real places, people and events that can be backed up by history and culture? If one's argument that the fantastical stories in the Bible are true just because they can be backed up by history and culture, then why not believe that the religious stories of the Aztecs or the Incas or the Maya or any other civilization are also true? Do they not contain historical and cultural evidence of real societies? But hasn't science disproved them? Hasn't science disproved that snakes and donkey's can't talk, though? Should I not believe that these legends are true because there are no apologetics for them? The thing is, in these areas where Catholicism has invaded and dominated, there are few believers left, and nobody to actually defend them. If I am only to believe a book is true because of historical and cultural evidence, then sure, the Book of Mormon is hugely lacking (that being said, please to not quote me out of context on that last sentence, especially without relating what I am about to say).

BUT, the thing is, historical and cultural evidence alone is not enough. That stuff is easy to believe. I mean, I believe what I learned from my history and social studies text books. And the point of religious scripture, at least in Christianity, is to relate the story of God, strengthen belief in Him, and to learn to live in a way that is appeasing to Him. So, what is there that proves the existence of God? Science? Science has also claimed to disprove His existence. I can't trust another man to tell me that God is real. I can believe Joseph Smith is a prophet, but just because he or any other man tells me God is real, that doesn't make it so. I can't trust books. I can't trust science. I can't trust man. How am I supposed to know that God is real?

Mormonism addresses this issue by more than telling me to look at nature and think how it's impossible for it's intricacy can be an accident. Mormonism asks people to pray to know truth. Mormonism asks people to ask God to tell them what nobody else can: That He exists. That the scriptures are real. Yes, feelings can be misleading. Yes, not everybody literally feels something. Yes, people who believe in God but pray to know that the Book of Mormon is true may not get an answer. I cannot tell you why. I can tell you that I have. I can tell you that because I was trained to think very logically in the church of Christ it took me a very long time to iron out a lot of details. I rejected a lot of the cliché answers that Mormons gave me, and I still do. What I can tell you about the LDS Church that I love, is that it presents its case, then asks people to pray to know for themselves, because an answer from God, cannot be explained by science, just as Christ's ability to rise from the grave cannot be explained by science. It was spiritual. It was a miracle.

So, while there is a lack of cultural and historical evidence for the events of the Book of Mormon, I see no reason why I should believe in it any less than the Bible, or the Q'ran, or the Popol Vuh, or atheistic literature. The thing is, if there is a God, I will rely on Him and not on the explanations of man (also do not take that last phrase out of context without reading further). I am not saying that "evidence" from any party that tries to disprove my belief in the Bible or the Book of Mormon should be pushed aside just because I have received an answer from God otherwise. I think that is a fault in a lot of mainstream Mormon dogma. What I am saying, is that after having considered everything, if a belief has not been disproved, continue seeking secular and spiritual evidence (secular: from history, man, culture, science, spiritual: from God).

I have heard it said that the Book of Mormon is not true because the animals mentioned have not been found in the Americas. I have heard other such arguments, but I maintain that a lack of evidence does not prove that something didn't happen. If my only evidence that God reached down and took a rib from Adam and some dust and made a woman comes from the Bible, then what other evidence is there that supports this? I choose to believe the Book of Mormon 1. Because I have yet to read anything that makes me think that it is false and 2. Because I have asked God about it, and He has reassured me of its truth.

I hope this has been insightful. I hope it makes sense, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden's Death, Turning the Other Cheek, and Justice

Another terrorist bites the dust. Another man is dead. Another father is lost. Another family feels justified. Another flag is waved in celebration. Another Facebook status is updated.

I am an amateur religious philosopher. An amateur political idealist. An amateur adult. But I do know that although a man who has done almost unimaginable evil has been assassinated, I feel a pinch of unease as I see people cheering about his death specifically. No, I certainly have not been affected quite like the families of the 9/11 victims and the many more who have been victimized in the Middle East (whom we often forget) as a direct result of his actions. I hope to never have to feel that degree of grief and loss. But there is something about taking pleasure in the death of a man that reminds me of the victory that Al Qaida expressed when the World Trade Centers were hit. When the Westboro Baptist Church protests at a soldier's funeral. That I sense in the Facebook statuses of this fast-paced world.

Here are a few Facebook statuses that I have seen on Facebook in the past few hours:

1. "No better place to celebrate Bin Laden's death than AT THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!"
2. "not to be redundant or anything...but heck yes!! Osama is dead!! It took is ten years, but we finally did it :)"
3. "Osama is dead!!"
4. "that guy is in for a big surprise... sorry homie, no virgins. Just a bunch of other guys that you promised virgins waiting for you."
5. "we got that piece of s***, f*** yea!"
6. "Ding dong Bin Laden's dead!"
and the ever popular nationalistic saying:
7. "greatest country in the world, proud to be an American"

Now, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on some Bible verses that come to mind that I have seen on Facebook statuses in the past few hours. Thanks to all those Lipscomb students who have been putting them up:

Matthew 5:38-48
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Now, I am by no means suggesting that turning the cheek should be interpreted as not seeking justice for those who attack innocent people or not trying to protect the innocent. BUT I do think these versus teach us that there is a respect for humanity that is to be understood for all people, and perhaps that means not rejoicing at the death OF ANYONE. While bin Laden did many terrible things that he will have to answer for, and while I am no judge as to whether or not his life needed to be ended (I have seen that many of you question the necessity of spending so much time and money on killing a man who likely has little influence anymore on Al Qaida's actions and whose assassination is more likely to cause harmful retaliations), let us not forget that God created him. That there are people hurting right now in his absence, and we are not going to improve our relationships with those who have been wounded by taking pride or pleasure in their loss. That is not the higher law.

I'm writing this, not just because I believe in it, but because I struggle with it. To all those who have read this, I ask you, how should we react to the news of a man who has been killed in ANY situation. How do we react to the news of the death of a man who has committed horrible atrocities towards other human beings? How do we as good Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists avoid desiring our personal ideas of justice over compassion?