As most religious believers have probably experienced, from time to time other’s have questioned or mocked my beliefs (or belief in God in general) with asserting their ever-increasingly popular opinion that anyone who believes in anything remotely religious must either be uneducated, illogical, or in some sort of denial as to established scientific fact. While I have no established percentages of my own supporting what I’m about to say, I would say that in my experience, a significant percentage of these individuals I’ve seen making this claim have been uneducated or ignorant themselves to a significant degree (or so I am left to assume based on the demeanor of their communications).
Now, so that I’m not accused of blanket statements or false generalizations that I hate being applied to me or belief systems that I subscribe to, I will readily admit that there are many very educated and brilliant minds in the world who, based on the evidence they’ve accumulated, form a rational and logical opinion that “God does not exist.” Many of these well-respected atheists, are respectful to religious believers and don’t necessarily pursue or endorse any sort of agenda to ridicule or “convert” believers.
Unfortunately, I feel that I have seen far too many individuals – usually the young and impressionable – fall away from their religious beliefs because the argument that “belief religion is illogical” eventually convinced them or ashamed them or otherwise caused them to be alienated from the beliefs of their youth.
Goals of This Post
The goal of this post is to show and explain how my religious belief are not “irrational” or “anti-scientific”; and that they are not the product of brainwashing or purely wishful thinking. I have a few purposes for writing this post:
1) First, I’ve been wanting to sit down and write this out in my personal journal for a while now, and this seemed like a better place to do it;
2) Second, to help combat the notion that my beliefs are a product of “brainwashing” or “irrationality”;
3) To help believers of all ages or points in their spiritual progression to feel strengthened by recognize the scientific evidences they may have experiences in their own beliefs.
Arguments Against Belief
Obviously the context of this post will have a Mormon/LDS spin as that is the religious belief system that I subscribe to, but I realize that many of these thoughts can be generalized to other religious beliefs.
First, I would like to point out that the argument against the rationality of religious belief is nothing new. Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, exclaimed that it was illogical to believe in God, on the grounds that either God was unwilling or unable to prevent evil in the world. By his reasoning, this disqualified any all powerful being from being a God. In the Book of Mormon, Korihor, a self-proclaimed atheist living around 75 BC, went about preaching in society that belief in God was caused by “the effects of a frenzied mind” which only came because of superstitious traditions being passed down from generation to generation.
As someone who values the importance and need for rational thought, I can see the logical paths that lead many individuals (both today and anciently) to the conclude that God does not exist. While I obviously don’t agree with their conclusions, and often find what I believe to be logical fallacies in rationales, I can completely understand why they’ve reached their conclusion and wouldn’t resort to accusing them of being irrational” as I know that they, like me, are just doing the best they know how to piece all of the information together.
One of the biggest weaknesses in Atheism, however, is that it can no more prove it’s claims than can it disprove the claims of any other belief system on Earth. Apostle Elder Jeffery R Holland, recently addressed this point in an address he gave speaking to an interfaith congregation at Chapman College in California. Speaking of the topic at hand he said:“… [atheism] is really the ultimate untenable position. Simply because it would take someone with God’s omniscience and omnipresence to be sure that nowhere in the universe was there such an omniscient and omnipresent being.”
The strongest argument for there being no God, and by extension the idea that it is irrational to believe in a religion that teaches of one, is not a matter of there being proof to support such an idea. Rather it is a matter of claiming that there is a lack of evidence for such a belief.
Lack of Evidence?
It is by this same idea that I would like to submit and give evidences for my rationale for belief. Contrary to how many opposed to my belief would paint me, I am a strong believer in the scientific method. Far from being an uneducated yokel clinging to religion as a superior alternative to science, I embrace scientific scholarship with open arms. Though I am no scholar, most of the classes needed for my college degree required me to fully understand the scientific method, and implement it multiple times.
Alma 32: Experiment upon my word
Paul: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen
What I know beyond a shadow of a doubt (the gospel means both knowing and following the gospel to the best of my abilities):
1) Living The Restored Gospel Brings Happiness In My Life
Like many of you, I have often found myself on different points on the “Wickedness to Righteousness Spectrum.” I have consistently found that during the times when I am striving to live by the commandments and principles taught by the prophets (both past and present) that I am significantly more happy, more capable and more confident. This is true independent of what problems I’m dealing with in my life, or what stage of life I’m in. Some of my hardest trials have occurred while I’ve been living more righteously, while on the other hand many of my easy-breezy periods of life were during times where I was living less righteously. It’s curious that regardless of the trials, the periods of following the gospel more closely always correspond with the times where I have had greater life satisfaction and meaning.
When striving to live further on the Righteous side of the spectrum that I’ve mentioned, I’ve found that teachings of the Holy Bible and Book of Mormon give me a great baseline to start with. However, following later-day revelations and teachings (from Joseph Smith onward) ALWAYS takes my understanding of life and capacity for happiness to a level I’ve never been able to achieve by any other means. All of this is independent of the amazing physical benefits that I could also discuss which would come from following the revelation in the Doctrine & Covenants call the Word of Wisdom.
2) Not Following The Gospel Proceeds Unhappiness
As I mentioned above, during times when I’m neglecting to follow Gospel instructions, life is NEVER great. In the past, it hasn’t mattered whether this negligence has been accidental or willful, unhappiness surely follows. Let me define what I mean by unhappiness. During these times, I often experience stress, hopelessness, cynicism, lack of purpose, lack of motivation, anger, numbness, just to name of few of the feelings I associate with unhappiness. That isn’t to say that I am completely immune from such feelings when I am trying my best, but such experiences with these are mild, infrequent, and always fleeting. In contrast, I’m speaking about moderate to severe, frequent, and consistent encounters with these feelings. I’ll also mention that I am often ignorant of such feelings until I look back in retrospection and am no longer spell-bound by such negativity. When I am being completely truthful with myself, it’s clear that I was indeed being plagued by the symptoms described above.
So I know that “wickedness never was happiness,” by extension I know that contention is not of God. It’s not surprising to me that in most of my interaction with those who have chosen to leave the path that the Gospel outlines appear to be bitter towards those who are still striving to follow it. While I don’t like to put words in the mouths of other people, and cannot implicitly know how another person is feeling, the anger, hatred and contention that such individuals tend to exude, especially towards a lifestyle that brings happiness to so many people, make it clear that happiness isn’t “oozing” out of their life. Now keep in mind that I’ve also met many members of my church who aren’t “oozing” happiness and also have significant anger, hatred and contention in their lives aimed at various demographics. I believe this “happiness” and “unhappiness” is completely independent of the technicalities of being on the records of the church or not. This has to do with consciously deciding to follow eternal principles by how we choose to think, act and speak. It is my experience that such happiness comes to anyone regardless of whether they know that such behaviors they are engaging in are being promoted by mine or other religions. I have met people of other religions, both Christian and other, who have a lot of love in their heart and a lot of happiness in their lives. I have no question that it is because of the positive life choices that they are striving to make, and these choices are promoted within the gospel. Learning about the gospel will ensure that we don’t have to happenstance upon each of these principles through trial and error. Learning the gospel also adds to and enlightens the list of principles we already know about and are living.
3) I’ve Never Regretted Any Choice I’ve Made Based on Trying to Follow the Gospel
4) I’ve Never Received Any Consequence From Following the Gospel That hasn’t turned out to be a blessing in the end
5) The Gospel Helps Me Appreciate and Find Meaning In the Past (Both the Good and the Bad)
6) The Gospel Helps Me Look Forward To And Find Hope in the Future (No Matter how bleak at times)
7) I’ve experienced multiple “miracles” in my life that can only either be explained by matters of coincidence that having occurred at astronomical odds and only happening at exact moments in life when any meaning could be assigned to it.
8) Spiritual Experiences when I’ve felt peace and comfort outside of myself when I’ve asked for it
Yes, I am aware that such experiences are subjective and may very well be related to chemical reactions in my brain helping me to feel such emotions. After all aren’t emotions and feelings just occurrences in the brain? I have no problem believing that these feelings of peace or optimism might also be “just occurring in my brain,” for I believe that spirit and body are inseparably tied in this world. I would, however, like to address a couple of points that it would be helpful to consider when analyzing these experiences:
a) Just because the physical effects of feeling happiness or peace might just be chemicals releasing in my brain, does that make the experience any less real? When I was younger there were many times when I sought comfort from my parents. There were times when I had nightmares, was feeling ill or had just had a bad day. When I was in their arms or when I heard love in their voices, I then too would feel peace and optimism. I’m sure back then there were also biological processes occurring in my brain changing my mood and counteracting the fear and pain I felt. Does that mean that comfort or help that I both received and felt was any less real? I would suggest that in the same way, the feelings that I have experienced during these times are no less significant nor can be ruled out as coming from a Heavenly parent just because they may be biological.
b) I know there are those who believe that such “spiritual experiences” are purely cerebral responses inherent in the brain programmed into us through evolution to help us cope, adapt or thrive. Scientific evidence suggests that such feelings or elatedness or transcendence have been programmed into us through evolutionary processes because of the survival benefits such brain responses may provide. As I’ve alluded to in the point above, I am completely open to and have absolutely no problem with these explanations. However, I can say that it’s interesting to me that there is no rhyme or reason to such feelings. Sometimes I have prayed and wanted to feel them so badly and they would not come. Sometimes they have come during times when I didn’t necessarily feel that I need them and come with very random thoughts or at random times. While this may not rule out the scientific explanation for such spiritual experiences, to me this fact strides in the face of the notions of “You are just feeling these things because you were already emotional” or “Your brain just made you feel these things just because you wanted or needed to feel these things.”
9) Despite honest and open-minded questioning I’ve never found evidences numerous or significant enough to disprove the LDS Church, it’s claimed divine origins of the Book of Mormon, or Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Any “substantial evidences” which merit any consideration used to support claims of a lack of divinity in any of these are very sparse in my opinion, and many are circumstantial at best. The most convincing among such evidences still fall light years short of disproving anything or offering another satisfactory alternative explanation as to the origins of the Book of Mormon or the millions of testimonies of it’s divinity found throughout the world. Even in my life, the life of just one member of the LDS church, the evidences against are not as numerous or nearly as convincing as the evidences for it that I’ve both seen and felt (Some of which I’ve detailed above, and more of which that I keep to myself).
10) Living the Gospel makes me a better person
I abhor the idea that those who don’t subscribe to a certain belief or mindset (whether religious, political, scientific or other) are less intelligent, talented, caring, or worthwhile. I strongly believe that there are good people (certainly better than me) to be found in all places who subscribe to all religious or secular beliefs. I don’t believe you have to be Mormon, to be a good person or improve yourself. However, I do believe that those who are striving to be the more loving, compassionate, honorable, educated, responsible, and/or empowered are living certain aspects of their lives in accordance with principles found within the everlasting gospel, though many probably don’t know of this correlation.