If you lose your faith…

it is not my fault. It is not your bishop’s, your parents’, your friends’, or your teachers’ fault. It isn’t because of a book you read, a study you studied, an article you perused, a blog post you questioned, or a scripture you examined. It isn’t because you have been lied to your whole life, you were abused as a child, God gave your mom cancer, or Bill Clinton became president. It isn’t because of blacks and the priesthood, women and the priesthood, the priesthood, tithing on gross vs. net income, porn, sex, boy scouts, homosexuality, or double standards. It isn’t because the church is imperfect, the church members are imperfect, the church is on average worse than other churchs, the church believes itself to be the “only true and living” church, or your mission.

You lost your faith because you lost your faith. That’s all. You made a choice. You can choose one thing or choose another. This you chose. You are not a victim in this; you are where you are. That I (or another) have made different choices doesn’t really matter in this. I cannot give you faith just as I cannot take it away. My blogging, such as it is, is an expression of my testimony, such as it is. As such, it may inspire, disgust, baffle, enlighten, or bloviate. It may or may not work for you; it always works for me. C’est la vie.

So, to recap, your testimony is a product of your interactions with and expectations of God. I don’t have control over it. What you do with it is your decision. And that’s just fine.

Comments

  1. You know, sometimes we forget it is just that simple.

  2. Ooh! I want to know what prompted this post. I agree with it completely; I’m just curious as to what brought it on…

  3. Yes, we are all totally responsible for our personal decisions.

    Yet, I feel that we often expect too little of God, and because of our limited expectations we miss all the magnificence our Heavenly Father so lovingly longs to give us.

    Blessings!

  4. Mark Brown says:

    Your blogging, such as it is, and your testimony, such as it is, are of great value to me, John C.

  5. Exactly.

  6. Mixed feelings on this. On one level very true. But the hyper-focus on individualism denies the complex reality of our inter-connectedness as well. You are right and you are wrong. We are responsible for ourselves, but we are also inextricably linked to each other and are our brother’s keeper. Where’s the balance between those two? I don’t know.

  7. Name (required) says:

    What on Earth are you talking about? “You lost your faith because you lost your faith”???

    If you find out that something that you believed in isn’t true, then losing faith in that thing is good. We don’t have to talk of victims and blame when we learn truth.

    You made a choice. You can choose one thing or choose another. This you chose.

    If you find evidence that something that you believed is not really true, then you must accept that it isn’t true–if you choose to be a rational being. We can’t choose to be rational and also choose to believe things that are completely contrary to all the evidence that we have.

  8. Reminds me of what a former bishop used to say:
    “We’re all in this together alone.”

  9. Name (required) – you are presuming these are matters of pure fact. No religion ever is or was. For that matter, no philosophy of life, religious or otherwise, ever is or was.

  10. John – good quote. Not sure it gets me any closer to figuring out what the answer is, but it sure does encapsulate the point well :)

  11. John, I feel you. But I don’t know if it really works this way. There’s some good evidence from experimental psychology work that the senses of conviction, persuasion, and certainty aren’t under our own voluntary control (see this fun recent Salon article for some relevant material). To say that losing faith is a “choice” may thus be incorrect. It can look that way from the outside, and some people may even be convinced that they made a choice themselves, but it’s probably not in fact a consciously controlled process. Belief and disbelief are probably, at least in substantial part, consequences of emotional and biochemical processes that we don’t control. That is to say, there’s some reason to think of a loss of faith as an event that happens to a person, more than a choice made by that person.

    Seeing loss of faith as an event rather than a choice opens the door, I think, for us faithful folks to offer greater empathy, love, and support to those who have lost faith. I do think they often need it. And we’re called to follow the good shepherd, who surely would have offered nurture, love, and understanding.

  12. John C., despite the internal logic of this stance, I think it is safe to say that for some decades now the Brethren have — at least implicitly — been taking the position that we should not do or say things that would make others lose faith. This is likely not a result of an explicit policy to that effect but rather stems from a sincere desire to try to help everyone down the straight and narrow path to the extent one can help another on that path — and to avoid pushing or pulling others away from that path into the mists of darkness.

  13. I am with you on this, I think.

    How does this mesh with GBH on retention?

  14. Name (required) says:

    There are some external things that could reasonably make us lose our faith. If the president of the church came out and said that its all a big fraud, then I would argue that you could say that, “He caused me to lose my faith in the church.”

    Even in this case, you aren’t dealing with ‘pure fact’, but ‘pure fact’ is very hard to come by.

  15. Well said, and while I believe it to be true, it doesn’t lessen the anguish over friends and loved ones who have gone astray. But sometimes, we may need to do less apologizing, and point out the obvious.

    My oldest son is currently not active. He and I have both read pretty much all the same stuff, heard all the same stories, and dealt with a lot of the same problems. While there are certainly differences in experiences, the end result is that he is outside the circle of the church’s influence, while I remain active, faithful, and serving to the best of my ability.

    I had some friends divorce a few years back, and it was pretty much a similar story. They chose to no longer love each other. It was that simple.

    Name (required), you obviously are struggling with things, if you are the same name (required) from the tithing discussion last week. Take this post in the spirit of which it is intended. The essence of faith is not having all the answers, and even having to deal with answers that sometimes are the wrong answers. But as Joseph Smith said, by proving contraries, truth is made manifest. Doubt can be the beginnings of faith, if it prompts you to look for good answers, which is what faith is all about.

  16. JNS, I’m not sure I’m following you on a practical level.

    Seeing loss of faith as an event rather than a choice opens the door, I think, for us faithful folks to offer greater empathy, love, and support to those who have lost faith. I do think they often need it. And we’re called to follow the good shepherd, who surely would have offered nurture, love, and understanding.

    Do we really want to espouse the notion that we are not responsible for what we choose to believe or not? Of course I agree that environment, biology, and even genetics influence our beliefs and faith, but I think one must conclude that the individual chooses what to believe in the ultimate analysis.

    It is true that viewing those who have chosen to leave the body of the Saints as victims of something outside of themselves could lead to empathy for them in the sense that most people feel sorry for a victim. But I’m not sure this is such an attractive option. I think a better approach would be working with the Saints to help them accept the choice that the person rejecting our faith has made as that person’s honest conclusion about the subject matter. It might not be empathy but it could be an outpouring of love and strengthen the person’s confidence that we respect their choice as their own even if we don’t agree with and, in fact, believe that it could be ultimately very detrimental to them in their eternal progression.

  17. John F., I don’t think we do choose what we believe. We choose how to deal with what we believe, we choose what information to seek out, and many other such things. But belief is, I think, a psychological state that happens outside of our control. As I noted in my earlier comment, there seems to be a good deal of research pointing in this direction from evolutionary, experimental, and neurological research in psychology. This doesn’t mean that belief or disbelief is always a result of something outside of ourselves — but there are lots of parts of ourselves that we don’t control. Do you feel that you have the choice to believe that I’m a goat? I don’t feel that I have such a choice; I could claim such a belief, but I’d be lying.

    From a theological perspective, I think the idea of choosing our beliefs is also hard to justify. The scriptures teach that faith is a gift of the spirit.

  18. Josh Smith says:

    This post has to be one of the least thoughtful posts I’ve read, ever.

    My personal experience is that I can’t will my convictions into existence. My faith consists of my hopes that have born fruit. My faith, my testimony, is a nugget of beliefs that have proven consistent over time–that have been validated in the face of conflicting evidence. There are beliefs that I wish I could hold that I don’t. I simply cannot accept some things as true based on the evidence I’ve been forced to accept. For example, I once held the belief that God would give me whatever I asked for if I only asked with enough faith. I wish this were true; I would love to believe this, but my experiences show that this belief is false.

    That my actions affect another’s faith is obvious to me. I can do or say things that challenge another’s faith. Period.

    Maybe you wish to absolve yourself from moral culpability for challenging another’s faith. That is a different post than what you have written. That post would go something like, “even though what I’m about to say (or do) challenges your faith, I’m morally justified in presenting it.”

  19. I love the principle of agency that I think is well captured here. I think too often, it’s easy to get into victim mode, whether in the issue of faith or being offended or angry or any other host of choices we make in our lives.

    But I’m also with those who think that it’s not as simple as you have stated. There is a huge measure of interconnectedness in this life and in our gospel responsibilities. We have a duty to each other. We have covenanted to take upon ourselves Christ’s name and be representatives of Him. How we choose to do these things can and does affect others, either for good or for ill, and that is not all about them and their choices.

    As such, I don’t believe the measure of whether we are doing enough in this regard should be “if this works for me, then it is enough.” I think we need to always be open to changing our approaches (in blogging, in “real-life” interactions, in teaching, in how we live, whatever) so that it works for God’s work and glory.

    Else why would the scriptures talk about our light, the principle of example, those who ‘lead others astray’ etc.? If it’s all just on the head of the person responding to external stimuli, I don’t think we would have scriptural concepts such as these to consider.

    Of course, this should all be about seeking for God’s guidance on where change might be necessary and not necessarily playing the game of only trying to keep those around us happy, because invariably, someone will not like who we are or how we approach things. But isn’t it sometimes the reactions of others that get us to examine ourselves and take that process to God? Even poorly chosen reactions of others can sometimes allow God to show us our need for change and improvement, if we will allow that to happen.

  20. JNS, I have the choice whether to believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in the First Vision or not. It could go either way, right now at this moment. I choose to believe. I believe I will always choose this. But it will always be my choice.

    I understand some aspect of faith can be attributed to environment, etc. But I am not ready to believe that belief is something that happens to us outside our control and I don’t think there is research that can make that case convincingly either.

  21. I understand that faith is a gift of the Spirit. We choose to want to believe and pray to ask God to give us greater faith, and He either does so or gives us another Gift of the Spirit, which is to believe in the words of others who have been given a stronger faith.

  22. The scriptures teach that faith is a gift of the spirit.

    But it is our choices that determine whether or not we can access gifts such as these, no?

    If you read Alma 32 carefully, he makes it very clear that we can choose to cast out unbelief. That to me means that we can also choose to believe, and to do the things that can allow faith to grow. He says if that seed doesn’t grow, it was because we didn’t do what was necessary for that to happen. It really seems to me to be about choice.

    And if for some reason that gift still doesn’t come as we would like or hope, we can choose to believe in the faith and testimony of others, which is also a gift. In any case, we choose what we ‘give place’ for in our hearts.

  23. Josh Smith says:

    john f.

    No, it couldn’t go either way. You believe what you do because you’ve had experiences that validate your beliefs. Could you choose to believe in Santa? Could it go either way?

  24. I think there is certainly something we can do in terms of opening ourselves to gifts of the Spirit, so I agree on that, John and M&M. But we don’t blame people for not, e.g., receiving the gift of tongues. God’s ways, and God’s timing, aren’t under our control.

    John F., there is indeed research that says belief is out of our conscious control. If you don’t like the research, that’s fine. I’m not in a position to debate the fine details, since I’m not an expert. But if you haven’t read the research, forgive me for not taking your evaluation of it seriously.

    Regarding your belief that you believe freely, I understand. But it’s not really evidence. Our self-perceptions aren’t particularly reliable, especially when it comes to understanding our own cognition.

  25. Josh wrote

    No, it couldn’t go either way. You believe what you do because you’ve had experiences that validate your beliefs. Could you choose to believe in Santa? Could it go either way?

    Josh, JNS isn’t arguing this. But for what it’s worth, despite my experiences that validate my beliefs, I could still choose to reinterpret those experiences and stop believing if I choose to do so. I know many people who have. It could truly go either way, right now. I could walk away from work tonight and say to myself — forget all this Mormon stuff. I won’t do so because I choose to believe that the Gospel is true. Of course feelings are a part of it, but I choose how to interpret those.

    As you will see from # 24, as opposed to what you wrote in # 23, JNS argues as follows:

    John F., there is indeed research that says belief is out of our conscious control. If you don’t like the research, that’s fine. I’m not in a position to debate the fine details, since I’m not an expert. But if you haven’t read the research, forgive me for not taking your evaluation of it seriously.

    This strikes me as very different than the position you are taking.

    JNS, you may take my evaluation any way you choose. I am no expert in the research you reference; you also say you are not. I am skeptical that it could make a persuasive case that my beliefs are beyond my control. You take the opposite position. But, after all, neither of us are experts on it.

  26. At least some of the brethern disagree.

    N. Eldon Tanner “Let none of us be guilty of offending or destroying the faith of any of God’s children”

    Jeffrey R. Holland “They were very cunning and very successful, later confessing that they were the “vilest of sinners” in their efforts to destroy the faith of other members of the church”

    M. Russell Ballard “As Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is our duty to be watchmen on the tower, warning Church members to beware of false prophets and false teachers who lie in wait to ensnare and destroy faith and testimony”

    Marion D. Hanks “Alma, son of a prophet, and his friends, sons of a righteous king, partook of the spirit of rebellion and used their special gifts and talents to destroy faith”

    Thomas S. Monson “Unfortunately, there are those few teachers who delight to destroy faith, rather than build bridges to the good life”

  27. John F., indeed. At the very least, though, from our position neither of us has any persuasive basis for definitively concluding that belief is indeed fully a matter of conscious choice. Since this is probably an unsettled matter, I think it’s worth thinking about the consequences of proclaiming that belief is a choice. Those consequences seem basically bad. Seeing belief as a choice seems to justify blaming people for disbelief, and often ostracism as well. Obviously, we mortals have no justification for either behavior. Judgment isn’t ours, and ostracism is anti-Christian.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the claim that belief is a choice doesn’t always or universally fit with the reported subjective experience of those who have lost faith. In my experience, such people often or even mostly describe the loss of belief as a painful thing that happened to them, and that they never would have chosen. This doesn’t mean they’re right; their self-reports could easily be misleading. But what John C. is telling them in the original post is something that may conflict with their personal experience. My point is that there’s some scientific evidence to back up that experience.

  28. Aaron Brown says:

    Count me as somewhat bewildered by this post, and much of the comments that follow. I don’t even know what it means to simply “choose to believe” something. I ask myself all the time, “Aaron, do you really, honestly believe X or not?” It’s an evaluative process that doesn’t make any sense if I’m just “choosing” my beliefs.

    If you want to argue that whatever shocking historical factoids one learns, or tramatic life experiences one has, these don’t NECESSARILY lead to losses of faith, fine. That’s certainly true. Different people react to different types of new information or experiences in all sorts of different ways. Why we come to believe or disbelieve something is probably due to all sorts of factors, and the process of how we get to where we are is probably more complicated than what any of us would say about it, or even admit to ourselves. But simply saying “it’s all a choice”, as you do, seems to discount any (maybe all) the experiences we have and things we learn as being at all formative in the beliefs that we hold. I find it hard to believe you (or anyone) really believe this John, so I wonder if I’m actually understanding your point. Perhaps I’ve just missed it.

    Aaron B

  29. I believe that people can choose to be offended or not. I also believe that people can choose whom to associate with. A few things I believe can’t be chosen. Whom we fall in love with is a rare and curious thing. I think that choice can play a role, but not a complete one. I bring this up to show that not everything is as black and white as the parent post suggests.

    I think that faith is a two-part creature… part choice, part external influence. On a basic level if I grow up in a Mormon household, my faith will be greatly influenced by my upbringing. Up to that point my faith is influenced more by external events. If the faith of someone is not based a testimony born of the Spirit, but rather social, family, or other ties, then I think external factors are incredibly significant in helping to sustain or diminish one’s faith. The wrong people can ruin another in this state given time.

    Once our faith is more than just happenstance and environment, but something born of the Spirit, we are at a point that we can then choose to ignore the sun while we see it shining, or continue on our way. We may allow for spiritual blinders to sidetrack us, or have our eyes grow dim because we have made other choices detrimental to our testimony, but eventually it does come down to choice. I haven’t read the study that JNS refers to, but I’d wager it doesn’t take the above into account. My £2…

  30. John C,

    Your platitude is less than illuminating.

    On the one hand,we are to believe that

    You made a choice.

    which sounds great, ’cause no one hates a victim like a middle class American, but on the other hand, what are you supposed to do about it? After all,

    You lost your faith because you lost your faith.

    and your fate is apparently sealed because

    C’est la vie.

    Regarding the notion that whatever you do always works for you, allow me to appeal to JNS’s authority:

    Our self-perceptions aren’t particularly reliable

  31. Josh Smith says:

    John f.,

    I was only responding to your comment in #20. You said you could choose to believe Joseph Smith’s First Vision or you could choose not to believe–it could go either way.

    I think this is nonsense. I think the suggestion in the original post that we choose our beliefs is nonsense. At one point in my life I believed in Santa. I no longer entertain that belief because I put presents under the tree without his help. I would love to choose to believe in Santa, but I can’t. I assume you’d agree.

    You believe in Joseph Smith’s First Vision not because you woke up this morning and willed the belief into your head–you believe because you’ve had experiences that validate your belief. It can’t go either way.

  32. Wanting to believe is part of having faith.

  33. The relation between conscious and unconscious is an interesting thought. Though belief may be decided largely by the unconscious we can make conscious decisions to put ourselves in situations where our unconscious will be effected one way or another.

  34. Josh, it can go either way because despite experiences I’ve had that validate my belief in the First Vision, I can choose to reinterpret those experiences to mean something other than a validation of my beliefs, should I not want to believe anymore.

  35. JNS, your approach seems to turn people in their religious lives into things that are acted upon rather than things that act for themselves.

  36. Trevor, I’m on board with that. Even so, we are sometimes in situations we don’t choose, and those situations can obviously also affect our beliefs.

    John F., really? Can you make that choice? What’s your evidence? I understand that you feel that you could make the choice not to believe, but we all feel a lot of things.

    Honestly, I think that beliefs we can choose to abandon aren’t even beliefs, but something else. I can’t find the right word. “Postures” sounds too negative, while “hypotheses” sounds too rationalist. But it seems to me that we’re talking about something other than belief when we discuss ideas that are held freely, without a subjective sense of inalterable conviction.

  37. John F., nice. Nope, I don’t think so at all. (Although it’s worth pointing out that we’re all acted upon all the time.) We’re free to believe whatever it is that we will believe; there’s no external coercion, which is what the Book of Mormon is about. But that doesn’t mean that we’re free from ourselves. Our subconscious processes that we can’t control are nonetheless part of us. There are things we do but don’t choose.

  38. AB: “I don’t even know what it means to simply “choose to believe” something. I ask myself all the time, “Aaron, do you really, honestly believe X or not?” It’s an evaluative process that doesn’t make any sense if I’m just “choosing” my beliefs.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I don’t think that faith is as individual and independent as John c. lays it out to be, but I also have trouble laying the blame for broken testimonies at the feet of anyone but the testimony holder. It’s nebulous and difficult, which is (I think) partly what both John F. and JNS are getting at, from different perspectives. See that? Peacemaking in action, people.

  39. I do have a sense of inalterable conviction about the truth of the Gospel — I have been known to use the standard “I know” in my testimony and am not particularly bothered when other people do so as well.

    I agree with you that religious belief, especially when it is in something that is actually true, is something “other”, and I acknowledge that faith is a gift of God. It is perhaps poetic to speak of ourselves of being victims of the faith God has given us (Paul says he is a slave of Christ — kind of similar, I guess) but it does not seem to fit with 2 Nephi 2 or with the concept of wanting to believe as a first step to obtaining faith.

  40. “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”

  41. JNS, your approach seems to turn people in their religious lives into things that are acted upon rather than things that act for themselves.

    Reality, we are told, is a complex amalgamation of both, not a set of mutually exclusive agentive spheres.

  42. John F., this is getting afield. Let me just note that there are a lot of readings of 2 Nephi 2 and the Alma material on faith that make them completely compatible with the idea of not being free to choose everything about ourselves. When we conclude that the texts necessarily imply that we are indeed free to choose everything about ourselves from moment to moment, we’re begging the question; such an interpretation presupposes the idea under discussion.

  43. Josh Smith says:

    Wanting to believe is hope. Hope may be a choice. I think there are things that I hope for because I choose to.

    Choosing to reinterpret experiences–maybe. Yeah, I think I can choose to rationalize; I can choose to reevaluate; I can choose to continue searching; I can continue “as is” until I feel more decided. Yep. I’ll give you that one. We can choose our mental response to the experiences we have, even if that response is “I’m undecided.”

    But I still can’t accept that belief is a choice. Not like we choose our socks. Nope. No Santa for me, no matter how badly I want to believe.

  44. the idea of not being free to choose everything about ourselves. When we conclude that the texts necessarily imply that we are indeed free to choose everything about ourselves from moment to moment, we’re begging the question; such an interpretation presupposes the idea under discussion.

    I certainly never argued this — that we are free to choose everything about ourselves.

  45. Okay, the post matches my experience in some ways, but not others.

    I assume everybody has doubts every now and then about their religious beliefs. I would never say that these doubts are a choice. However, deciding to embrace the doubt does require a choice.

    When I left the church I had gotten myself into a situation, quite independent of any active choice in the matter, where I found myself with no good reason to believe any more. Even then, I still had to make an active choice to embrace that fact and renounce the beliefs which I had always professed before then.

    On the other hand, I am one who refuses to keep his opinions and beliefs hidden from others. If somebody silently keep their creeping agnosticism to themselves for a long I while, I could imagine them not feeling like they ever made a choice in the matter.

  46. Matt Rasmussen says:

    “You made a choice.”

    The choice usually isn’t to stop having faith – the choice is to stop keeping a commandment or stop going to church for one reason or another. Over time you think:
    1) Nothing has changed for the worse …
    2) or that it’s easier not to go to church …
    3) or your new vice is not a problem …
    You ask yourself, “so why go back?” And then another choice is made. And another. It’s a slippery slope. At some point you realize that you don’t have faith. You may even believe you don’t NEED faith.

    I think that’s why there is so much focus by the brethren to keep us connected to the gospel. We can’t exclaim “I’ve accepted Jesus” and go on living the status quo. We have to hold to the rod to stay on the path. Sidney Rigdon, Martin Harris and many others have been an example to us all that no matter how much faith and responsibility or stewardship we have, we are subject having that taken away if we make the wrong choices. Thankfully, Martin Harris also proves that there’s always a way back if we are willing.

  47. I lost my faith. Nobody other than me knows this. I am not a victim, I am not angry and I am not offended. I still attend church every week and fulfill my calling to the best of my ability. I pray and I study my scriptures regularly. I recently read the Book of Mormon for the once again in response to President’s Hinckley’s challenge. I prayed about it many times as I did so.

    I do not believe that God has ever answered any of my prayers. Ever. I want to believe. I really really want to believe. Having put Moroni’s promise to the test many many times, and after many years of spiritual frustration, the time came when the evidence against overwhelmed my hope and professed faith. I am certain about one thing–the idea that I simply “chose” to relinquish my faith is false.

    Those who argue that my loss of faith is a simple choice are forced, by their faith to take that position. People like me aren’t supposed to exist, so they have to invent some theory to explain us away.

    And if faith is as simple as choosing, then there is no special merit in faith. If an arbitrary choice is all that separates believers from unbelievers, then God is a strange god indeed.

  48. Name (required) says:

    The choice usually isn’t to stop having faith – the choice is to stop keeping a commandment or stop going to church for one reason or another.

    Where do you get this idea? The ‘unbelievers are sinners’ line may be true for some, but it is somewhat of a nasty generalization.

  49. I don’t agree with the idea that belief is always a choice. I think it’s only a choice when you have no evidence either way, but when you have evidence for one idea over another your belief will come from your experience. It’s easy to believe God creates rainbows when you have no idea how they’re created. You could also choose to believe that leprechauns create them. However, it’s harder to believe in divine intervention or leprechauns when you know know rainbows are caused by light refracting through water. In which case, if a rainbow appeared in some way unconnected with water, such as spontaneously in the middle of a desert, then you could do some situational thing, such as I believe a leprechaun created that particular rainbow, but how I don’t know. Anyway, I’m going to start rambling on about belief so I’ll just be quite now…

  50. re # 47, your first and second paragraphs seem contradictory.

  51. re # 47 and # 50, I should say that your first paragraph and the last sentence of your second paragraph seem inconsistent with each other.

  52. Name (required) says:

    Lost–I’m lost in the same place that you are. Let me know if you ever become ‘found’.

  53. Matt: That is not the way it always happens. You are making assumptions. Those assumptions are not true. I have first hand knowledge of that.

  54. John F.: Could you elaborate on the inconsistency that you see? I don’t think I understand.

  55. “And if faith is as simple as choosing, then there is no special merit in faith.”

    I’m not sure that I agree with all the consequences of this sentence. Choice — the decision to be a disciple — seems to me to be the centerpoint of salvation. If I were more of an Evangelical I’d say that faith is just as simple as choosing, and the decision to make Jesus your savior is indeed a simple choice, and the most important one.

  56. Great post: concise and true. Thanks.

  57. Is it possible that both JNS and John are right? I don’t think it’s one way or the other, it’s both.

    I think there are times when we discover truth, either by actively seeking it out, or by stumbling across it. We recognize it as truth (because of logic, the Spirit, what have you..) but then we have to decide if we want to abide by that knowledge or ignore it and leave it behind. I think those of us who have been on missions can relate to this concept. Have you ever taught somebody about the First Vision, the Savior, etc., and the light comes on, they tell you they believe it, but later choose not to take the further steps? This happens in non-gospel contexts as well, I would add.

    In my wife’s conversion experience, she learned about the gospel sitting in with a friend who was taking the discussions, and realized one day she believed it. It was a very “inconvenient truth” so to speak, because her parents had bad experiences with another child joining the church, etc. and it was the last thing she wanted to get involved with. But she chose to follow the newfound truth anyway, when she could have easily turned the other direction. So in this case I would say the truth was made manifest and was recognized as such (external), but she made a conscious choice to follow it.

  58. William James, anyone?

  59. I think that our initial faith experience is different from our abiding faith experience. While we may not have control over our initial faith experience, we do have great control over the abiding one. In other words, my initial decision to believe was based on an experience that I felt (and feel) that I could not recreate and that I found convincing regarding the existence of a loving God. That said, for it to remain significant to me, I need to make a daily choice regarding this significance. I could decide, today or tomorrow, that it was a trick or a self-delusion and that would be that. When I encounter or engage in discussion with people who no longer believe, I often think “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

    I cannot understand abiding faith as anything other than a choice made daily (or more frequently).

  60. I think John C. just put it much more concisely than I did. The initial knowledge is often discovered, but for it to remain of significance to us, we must choose to make it so.

  61. “If you find out that something that you believed in isn’t true, then losing faith in that thing is good. We don’t have to talk of victims and blame when we learn truth.”

    There are questions regarding whether you should have believed in the thing to begin with and why you believed. Further, if you don’t believe that we talk of victims and blame when we learn truth, you haven’t read a lot of exit stories.

  62. Aaron Brown says:

    MattG,

    It seems to me your comment #57 doesn’t establish that “it’s both.” Rather, you describe your wife’s “realization” that she had belief (unchosen, in your account). Then she chose to act in a certain way because of that belief. She could have chosen differently, of course. But now we’re dealing with the choices we make pursuant to our beliefs, not the “choice to believe,” per se.

    Aaron B

  63. Just saw this and thought it was worth passing along (I did not write this, btw…this is Ray’s wife, Michelle)

  64. Lost (47)–It’s true. There are people who do all the “right stuff” and don’t do any of the “wrong stuff” and still feel that if God is there, he is certainly being inconsistent and neglectful.

    In some ways I think being unable to feel the reality of God is one of the biggest burdens a person could be called upon to carry. Perhaps that is what it means in D&C 46:14 when it talks about the gift of the spirit “to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful,” that one doesn’t receive their own testimony but receives instead the opportunity to rely on the testimonies of others who have received the gift of “knowing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.”

    I have seen more than one of my dear friends suffer as they try to work their way through the silent heavens. Some have finally received the testimony they so diligently sought, others still seek and some no longer seek.

    God bless you. Not knowing is not an easy cross to bear.

  65. I mean the author of the post is Ray’s wife, if that wasn’t clear…too many Michelles in this world….

  66. Aaron B,

    I don’t quite follow. So you’re saying because she chose to be in on the missionary discussions pursuant to her believing it, she still in essence chose to believe? I guess the point I was trying to make is that truth makes itself manifest to us on many occasions throughout life, and more often than not it is unlooked for. I would therefore say this is external, i.e. we do not choose to encounter nor believe it. When we recognize truth as such, I don’t think it’s a voluntary choice. I think acting upon that realization is, and that’s where we’re held accountable. Hence the speaking in parables and “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

  67. MikeInWeHo says:

    Upon reading this post, my first thought was “Wow, that’s amazingly harsh.” The assertion that “It’s YOUR fault, Apostate” is barely concealed between the lines of the first paragraph.

    My second thought was, “This guy’s gonna wind up in the DAMU eventually.” There’s something very brittle about his perspective.

    People who find themselves outside the Church have testimonies too. There are things we know to be true. There are things we desperately want to believe are true, but doubt. Sound familiar, oh ye faithful?

    The idea that one can choose faith or disbelief as readily as one can choose whether or not to take a drink flies in the face of most individual’s real-world experience, imo. Lost’s comments capture that well. Add me to the list too. It’s just not so simple.

  68. Steve: I should elaborate on that statement. I think there is a difference between choosing to be a disciple and choosing to believe. I can choose to be a disciple. I don’t think I can choose to believe.

    If choosing to believe were as simple as this post seems to suggest, then any rational person would choose to believe. I certainly would.

  69. Lost, it seems that you are doing the right things. Reading the scriptures, praying. Alma says that “even if ye can no more than a desire to believe, let this desire work in you.” It appears that you have that desire because “I continue to still attend church every week and fulfill my calling to the best of my ability. I pray and I study my scriptures regularly.” Why would you do those things if deep down there was not something there? Perhaps you are looking for the wrong type of answers. Some people see burning bushes. Some hear (feel) the still small voice. Perhaps some just get the desire to know or feel or believe and the courage to move on though they do not see the light ahead. Maybe that is their answer. Continue in your desire. Continue in your actions. There will be a reward for all that you are doing.

  70. Eric Russell says:

    This post rocks, John.

    As for the discussion of choice, it appears that the concept of choice is being used much too superficially. Take, for example, a person who is deeply envious of another. They probably can’t just stop being envious on a dime. Part of them may not want to be envious, but they may feel that they can’t help it – and on the surface level, they probably can’t. But if they change their hearts, their fundamental attitudes and desires about the world, they can eventually choose to become the type of person who wouldn’t be envious at all.

    I think it works similarly with belief. Those who say you can’t choose your beliefs the way you choose what to wear in the morning are right. But we can choose the type of people we become. And who we are deeply influences the way we perceive ourselves and the world – and ultimately what we believe.

  71. I love John C., John F., and the others in this thread who think disbelief is simply a choice. But, the more I look at the original post, the harsher and less reasonable it feels to me. I know it speaks for some, but it does not speak for me. I cannot endorse a text that makes universal and categorical judgments regarding matters that are inherently personal and individual.

  72. #51 – Have you never struggled with faith before?

    I don’t know that my own experience is the same extreme as Lost’s in #47, but I have certainly seen my testimony morph radically over the last 5 years or so, to the point where if my current testimony met my old “mission” testimony at a church dance, the mission testimony (the testimony I had while on my mission) would probably say that I had completely apostasized and not talk to the other for fear of contamination.

    My current testimony, however, sees things differently. I also disagree with the original post that it is completely a choice. The choice I do feel I have made is to keep going to church, studying, and trying even though I have some serious doubt about what I believe. I do NOT agree that I have CHOSEN to have these doubts.

    Now, I don’t want to come across as a jerk with the previous bit about my mission testimony meeting my current testimony. I am not trying to argue that I am more spiritually mature than John C. or anyone else here. It’s merely a comment on how my own journey has progressed. Honestly, I mean no offense.

  73. I whole heartedly agree with JNS.

    Consider, for instance, my case. I see no good reason to believe. I can’t simply “choose” to find good reasons to believe. On the other hand, I could choose to believe without any good reason. So in a sense I do have a choice in the matter: I choose not to believe and I think it is the right choice.

    I’m just not sure how this fits in with the original post.

  74. Eric: I agree that the choices we make influence the kind of people we become, and that has some influence on our beliefs. Other things which we do not control also influence our beliefs. All of that is true for the faithful and the doubters. However, we cannot conclude that believers believe because the choices they have made in their lives have made them more virtuous than nonbelievers, and that their virtuousness makes them believers.

  75. For those who see in the original post judgment, it isn’t there. All I am saying is that the reasons one does or does not believe are fundamentally between that person and God. I don’t really have anything to do with it. I may be influential in some sense, but the choice to abide in faith or not is ultimately one’s own. I don’t see that as a positive or negative judgment. As noted, I don’t necessarily see myself as better for the choice I have made (although I may see myself as better off than I otherwise would be, but that is not really a helpful or a realistic observation).

    Nor am I implying that people choose to doubt any more than I would imply people choose to breath. Doubt is a part of being human; it is a part of mortality. I don’t see the point in judging others based on their doubting (to be frank, I don’t see the point in judging others at all (this, of course, doesn’t prevent me from doing it)).

    The purpose of the post is to suggest that if one is looking through the wreckage of one’s own faith for answers regarding what happened, it is more helpful to examine oneself and one’s own relationship and expectations of God than it is to examine someone else and their expectations of God.

    To Lost, Name(withheld), and peetie, I mourn for you and would with you if I knew you and you allowed it. The struggle is, now and always, difficult. To m&m, JNS, and Mike, I didn’t intend to imply that those who struggle are to be abandoned nor that we should be callous to their plight (or anyone else’s). What I was trying to say is that we do make choices regarding our faith (our abiding faith) and that our struggles most often result from those choices.

  76. John C, Do you ever feel like you’ve left a crucial word and perhaps now your meaning could be misconstrued?

    I mourn for you and would with you if I knew you and you allowed it.

  77. Often, Jami :)

  78. Name (required) says:

    John C.

    The implication that you make is that loss of faith is a bad thing. See the comment about “the wreckage of one’s own faith for answers…”

    Some of us don’t see loss of faith as a bad thing. When you stopped believing in Santa Clause, was that a bad thing?

    Mourn for me all you want, but I’m happier and more at peace now than when I believed.

  79. Then peace be with you. I’m glad you are in a good place. Peetie and Lost both seemed to be implying that it was a bad thing to struggle for them. Josh Smith (whom I failed to move) seems to believe that lost of belief in Santa is tragic.

    In any case, exit stories are not usually epistles of joy. I was speaking to that experience (or trying to).

  80. MikeInWeHo says:

    FWIW, I choose to believe that this post is the only true Friday Firestorm this week.

  81. The loss of belief in Santa wasn’t tragic, nor was it peaceful–it was infuriating! The lying @#%@&@%s!

  82. First, thanks m&m for the shout-out about my wife’s post. (#63) I married above me.

    Second, I have no idea whatsoever if I chose my beliefs or how much control I have over my choices now. I believe I can choose, because I don’t like the alternative – and because I personally feel like I am choosing. What I feel most strongly is that I have made a conscious choice about HOW I reach conclusions – that I sat down, weighed my options, analyzed what brought me joy and decided to make future decisions that would enhance and build on that joy. Perhaps that wasn’t really a conscious choice; perhaps it simply is part of my inherited, genetic make-up. I don’t worry much about it, since it feels like conscious choice to me.

    Having said that, I also believe that one of the greatest fallacies believed and taught by too many members (NOT by the Church or in the doctrine) is that all people experience the Spirit and construct belief in the same way. We tend to extrapolate the “burning in the bosom and stupor of thought” that was one person’s way of getting spiritual answers to all – which excludes me, since I don’t feel most of my impressions and answers that way. We tend to mis-read Moroni 10:3-5 and assume that ALL investigators and members who read and pray about the Book of Mormon will “know” (generally through a burning in the bosom) that it is true – which excludes many who have a desire to believe and would be wonderful members of the Church but who never join because we tell them they can and should “know” in the same way we know.

    I understand the tendency to see clear black and white. I just don’t like it, because it excludes people like MikeinWeHo and puts unrealistic expectations on people like Lost – people who could find great joy and add great worth to the Church without those expectations. (BTW, that is true of both extremes – the “everyone makes clear and conscious choices” group and the “it’s all just subconscious conditioning” crowd.)

    My own summary: Who cares “how” someone comes to believe and/or accept and/or follow. Who cares if someone can say, “I know” – or just “I believe” – or just “I want to believe; strengthen my unbelief.” I believe it’s much more complicated for myself than I personally understand, so as long as someone is willing to worship with me, I don’t worry how they got there. I just care that they got there. I’ll let the Lord sort out how much control we all have over our choices, believing that such a determination will be merciful in the end.

  83. Steve Evans says:

    Name (required), Jeff G, if you guys don’t believe and don’t want to believe and are confident in your choice, let me ask: what on earth are you doing at BCC?

  84. Man, I forgot to add the most pertinent part of my reaction to the original post:

    I agree that no other person is responsible for our actions – with the caveat that the Atonement as taught in the Church covers those areas where neither are we.

  85. Steve,

    Cause I like discussing these topics. They fascinate me. The same reason we are all here, right?

  86. Steve Evans says:

    Jeff, fair enough — I was just curious. I can’t imagine being interested in a site like BCC (or much of the bloggernacle at all, really) if I didn’t believe in Mormonism. It would just seem like a colossal waste of time (which, let’s face it, it probably is for me anyways).

  87. Eric Russell says:

    Jeff G, you’re not Jeff Gilliam are you?

  88. Yeah, that’s me.

  89. Name (required) says:

    Steve,

    Your assumption #2 isn’t entirely correct for me. I’d like to believe that the church is true. I think that it would be absolutely wonderful if it was true. My honest assessment of the evidence, however, leaves me lacking in belief.

    Also–I’m an active member of the church. I actually believe everything the church teaches–I just don’t believe very much of it literally.

  90. I used to run the blog “Issues in Mormon Doctrine” before I stopped believing. I still have a lot of people in the ‘nacle that I consider friends, and I like to drop in on them from time to time still.

  91. Name req’d, also very fair as a qualification.

  92. Name (required),

    Who says that evidence is the only good reason to believe in something? After all, what evidence do we have for the claim that murder is wrong?

  93. Eric Russell says:

    Holy cow, dude. When did you leave the church? Was it because of something in the ‘nacle? Did it have anything to do with Adam-God?

  94. Hmmm. . . Mourning. For some reason that doesn’t quite sit right with me, though I think that it was said with good intentions. For that, I’m grateful.

    Mourning just feels wrong because it seems to suggest that, as has been pointed out, what has happened is bad, that I’ve fallen, or perhaps that I’m beyond hope or something. Yes, I struggle now more than I used to. Does that make me a bad person, or worthy of pity, or anything other than an individual who struggles? I don’t think so, but rather, as you sort of suggested, simply that the path is more difficult than it used to be. Maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time in the last few minutes.

    Now, that is simply my comment on that word choice. As I mentioned above, I’m fairly confident you didn’t intend it with those connotations, especially since you aren’t too familiar with me and my personal path. I’m cho-cho-choosing to not be pissed off by it (unless you actually meant to imply that, then I’ll choose to be bugged by it), just as I choose to still go to church and whatnot.

    But what word did you leave out of your sentence, as Jami pointed out in #76?

  95. Boy, that was a while ago. Maybe 3 years or so. No, it wasn’t because of anything in the ‘nacle. I basically came to the realization that I didn’t have any good reason to believe (as opposed to having some good reason not to believe). So, no, it didin’t have anything to do with Adam-God, evolution, free will, etc.

    Just to be clear, I stopped believing in God altogether, not merely the church.

  96. peetie,
    I don’t know what was missing. I assumed that Jami did and I was going with that. I assume that what you are going through is hard (because you seemed to imply that). Therefore I mourn, because why should anyone have to go through hard things that they didn’t ask for (or that they did ask for, for that matter). I only assumed it was difficult for you because you implied it was; if this was a good thing then good.

    I often find myself saying to people, upon hearing some news, that I rejoice with them if I should or I mourn with them if I should. I can’t tell, on hearing, if a divorce or a death is a good or bad thing.

  97. Name (required) says:

    #92–I do have sufficient evidence that if someone murdered me, that it would probably hurt and be a generally undesirable experience. I’m hoping that if I don’t murder anyone else, that they’ll return the favor and not murder me.

    As a more literal believer, I was actually more tolerant of murder. The bible is full of it, the book of mormon seems to condone the death penalty. As less of a believer, I actually am less in favor of killing people.

    I used to think that morals primarily had their origin with God. This might still be the case, but I now believe that it doesn’t have to be the case.

  98. Who else thinks that the Bloggernacle Back Bencher over at MormonTimes will list this post as “one of the best of the day”?

  99. Eric Russell says:

    I remember that poll you put up on your blog about who believes in Adam-God and I was like the only person to vote yes. I was just kidding. But I am agnostic on the matter, which makes me a whole lot more radical than most members of the church. In any case, I guess not believing in God at all makes it a moot point anyway.

  100. Name (req’)

    So you are going off of hope rather than belief in that case, huh?

    Well, what evidence do you have for the belief that it is wrong for me to murder my next door neighbor’s kid? I assume you do believe that it’s wrong, right?

    Obviously, my point is that we believe all sorts of things which we have very little evidence for: morals, minds in other people, belief and desires, causes, and pretty much any thing else that philosophers choose to argue about (and we all believe in the things which philosophers argue about). I just think that restricting reasons to believe solely to evidnece is too much.

  101. And the priest said, “I can take confession, but not the sin.
    The Church is the shelter, not the faith, son; that’s within.”

  102. John C.

    On a re-read it was an implied verb (mourn) that I interpreted as “missing” (re: Jaimi’s comment).

    Your assumption is correct. It is hard. Extremely hard. Especially since it is often assumed that doubts or struggles are really based in problems with a) morality, b) chastity or c) tithing. I can’t talk to family or most of the people at church about my position; partly because of the sentiment noted earlier about not offending some of the Lord’s sheep, and partly because of their thought that I’m apostate, or an adulterer, or “just thinks too much.” It is most definitely hard. This is probably the reason I reacted the way I did to the thread’s original post – the concept of choosing this is anathema to me. A friend and I were discussing the difficulties associated with our path and he summed it up with, “Man, I leave church and just feel beat up.” Sunday isn’t the day of rest it was previously.

    Not to wax too philosophical here, but I think this hard stuff is good for me. This is probably why I reacted the way I did to your “mourning” comment. (Forgive me, if I wasn’t clear before. I realize you didn’t mean offense by it. I should probably have just shut my yapper. I do appreciate your thought). Fowler’s stages of faith are all just that, stages of “faith”. Even the ones that are laden with doubt. I think I’m in a healthy place, but healthy places really suck sometimes, you know?

  103. Melvin Udall says:

    If you should lose your faith…

    Try to think where you had it last, before you lost it.

    I’m always leaving mine on the nightstand.

  104. Re: 98

    She really really should. ;)

    Although I don’t know which is more newsworthy, the thought-provoking post or the powerful comments it has generated.

  105. peetie & John C. Sorry I interrupted a very kind thought with my non sequitur. But about 16 implied verbs popped into my mind when I read that sentence, most of them rather silly. (I mourn for you and would golf with you if I knew you and you allowed it.) A couple made me lol. And I really lol-ed when I realized I’d forgotten the word “of ” in my comment. Irony is my middle name.

  106. I agree that you can’t make a conscious choice to believe something. However our testimonies and our faith are made up by how we interpret and react to the experiences we have and the way we live our lives.

    Two people could have the same tragic experience. One could get angry at God for it and the other might become humble and more reliant on the Lord because of it. There’s no saying that these are the only two ways to react. And with that, they probably didn’t choose how they initially felt. Ultimately though, how we let our experiences influence our testimonies shows our inner strength of character.

    I don’t know if a GA said this or not but I’ve heard it said, “Anyone who claims that they left the church or lost their testimony because of an experience (or article/book they read, etc.) is just using it as an excuse. They would have left the church anyway or were never really IN it to begin with.”

  107. Misty,
    That strikes me as grossly unfair. It isn’t our job to decide who is or was in the church. It is, to some degree, our job to check our own status. Does the fact that Martin Harris or Oliver Cowdery left the church mean that they didn’t really see angels or experience the joys and fruits of the Gospel they earlier experienced?

  108. Misty–It’s a nice quote but it just isn’t true. You honestly know no one who had a testimony and were 100% “IN” and then had that testimony crack under life pressures or betrayal or actual facts that they consider to irreconcilable to the gospel as taught by the church? I do. There are several examples among the commenters here of people who were “IN” and then left because of an experience or something they read. They could be lying but if so then they’ve been lying pretty consistently for the six months I’ve been hanging around here.

  109. The way I view faith, it has two components, each necessary but neither sufficient: (1) a willingness to believe, which is a matter of choice, and (2) a basic feeling (knowledge? belief? hope?) that the specific thing you are willing to believe is true. If you don’t have #1, you’ll lose or never get your faith. For example, I lack faith in Hinduism because I choose to–I’m unwilling to do things that might lead me to believe it.

    But I don’t see how you can really have faith in something without having #2 as well. Suppose you believe in Mormonism and not Buddhism. Doesn’t there have to be some feeling you have that Mormonism is true, beyond just your choice? If so, where does that feeling come from? If not, how on earth would you know which religion to choose?

  110. #103: But it’s always in the last place you look!

    Misty, thanks for proving the point I was trying to make in #102. It is attitudes like that which make this journey more solitary than it really should be.

  111. John C. – If I leave the church, it really could be your fault. I tcould be my Bishop’s fault, or my parent’s fault, or my teacher’s or any other number of factors. As much as I’d like to say that such and such made a choice to leave, the fact is, they made that choice based on their situation, and who knows, maybe I was a negative factor in their situation. Maybe I cause people to leave the church. Maybe there blood, as jacob said, is on my hands. The question is, what do I do about it? I don’t think pushing people into the church is the right answer. It certainly wouldn’t be for me. So while we can’t abdicate responsibility for how we affect others, we can do our best.

  112. Honestly, I can’t know exactly why anyone stays in or leaves the Church – or gains or loses faith in anything. I have no idea. I have a hard enough time feeling confident that I understand why I believe what I believe. I have had some amazing experiences that I simply can’t chalk up to anything but God and the reality of the Restoration, but I personally have had those experiences and felt that way since I can remember. Therefore, in a way, I might not have “chosen” to believe; it might be simply part of who I am.

    I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it. I’m me; others are others; as long as each of us is doing the best we can to live the most we know or believe or want to believe, I can’t judge the why or how. I try to share what brings me joy because it brings me joy – and I try to learn from others about what brings them joy.

    Honestly, I admire MikeinWeHo and Lost and Jeff G and others who struggle or have struggled but remain civil and open and sincere every bit as much as I admire those who never seem to waver – who seem to “get it” in the same way I “get it”. (I have a harder time with those who seem to want to make others struggle as they do.) I think we devalue “Judge not that ye be not judged” far too much, and we place way too much emphasis on belief over action.

    The central point of the original post with which I agree wholeheartedly is that, in the end, I need to try to take responsibility for my actions – whether I truly choose them or not. Perhaps I am not in control as much as I believe, but at least I am trying. I also need to open my mind and heart and arms to anyone who also is trying (and even to those who aren’t, with proper caution) – no matter their denominational classification or “level” of faith. Given my view of the Atonement, that’s pretty much all that matters to me.

    Being a Christian is not exhibited by what I say I believe; it’s proven by what I show I believe by what I say and do. It’s proven by my fruits – and one of those is how I treat those who disagree with me and who “make choices” differently than I. If they truly chose to be there completely freely or if a part of it was out of their control just doesn’t concern me. I’m only concerned about accepting them no matter how they got there, just as I want to be accepted no matter how I got where I am.

    Imho, that’s probably the hardest aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  113. The act of honest (and perhaps prayerful) evidence evaluation may have led one to disbelieve in some/many aspect(s) of our standard doctrine. Evaluation in the first place was a choice, yes, but surely we cannot promote non-evaluation as reasonable (and I don’t think you’re saying that evaluation in and of itself is the critical decision point). When thorough evaluation does lead to clear and straighforward conclusions, what choice do we have but to admit and deal with those conclusions? Is willful blindness faith or testimony?

    The choice, as I see it, is action rather than belief. We can’t always choose to believe something without being dishonest with ourselves but we have a choice as to whether that something is going to cause us to close the door completely on everything involved, or press forward trying to reconcile evidence with spiritual witness (for me, spiritual witness can’t be discounted completely either).

    I realize the dangers of my own thought process here. Continuing to do something (whether religiously or otherwise) despite the evidence or based solely on “feelings” can lead to scary things. Furthermore, acting differently than you believe is not necessarily virtuous. But I think I can continue to “do” the things of faith for a while even when I can’t believe x, y or z. That’s one definition of faithfulness, right?

  114. Maybe it’s kind of like “The Matrix”; truth comes down to the preference we have in the chemical reactions that take place in our brains. Some people prefer to believe that there is a God, an afterlife and a purpose and an explanation for everything that happens, and think that Joseph Smith came up with a darn good story that seems to make sense of it all (or at least a lot of it); other people see the cruelty and the pain and the joy and happiness of life as being something that has just come into being on its own without any guiding force behind it all, and can’t imagine attributing all that to a thinking being of some kind.

    I’ve always liked the parable Hugh Nibley told of the average Joe who gets the diagnosis of having a fatal disease, and as a result, starts to see everything through different eyes than before. Later on, it turns out he was misdiagnosed, and will live, so far as anyone knows, for many years yet. So, what does the average Joe do, who might be put in this situation? Does he keep the new outlook on life, or does he go back to the old one?

    I think it all comes down to what each of us decides is real.

  115. John C.-
    This is perhaps the bravest thread I’ve ever seen posted here. Bravo for saying what you did even though I’m sure you knew what the result would be. (Anyone seeing the number of posts already made could probably make a fairly accurate prediction of their own*g*) You are in great company-Lehi, Samuel and all others that remind us of our accountability even when “the truth” is taken “to be hard”.(“The Lord has said that all people are responsible for their own motives, attitudes, desires, and actions”)At least in this media you cannot be stoned or shot at!

    Thoughts as I’ve read…

    #17
    I don’t think we do choose what we believe. We choose how to deal with what we believe, we choose what information to seek out, and many other such things. But belief is, I think, a psychological state that happens outside of our control.

    Sooooooooo then you believe that when it comes to the first principle of the gospel, the one upon which the heavens are founded, the element from which God the Father operates, and the thing that determines our eternal reward and progression-faith-my agency has no effect? Oddly enough, the definitions of the word “belief” in every dictionary in my house contains words like “cognitive” and “mental acceptance” and “conclusion”…indicating that belief isn’t something that happens to us at all-but rather an actual conscious decision.

    #31
    At one point in my life I believed in Santa. I no longer entertain that belief because I put presents under the tree without his help. I would love to choose to believe in Santa, but I can’t. I assume you’d agree.

    Most people don’t believe in Santa because they’ve never seen him, someone told them he isn’t real, and eventually they do “his work” for him. In your opinion then, they were “forced” to not believe in him. But using the exact same criteria, why do I still believe in God? Your rational makes my belief in Him a matter in which I should be forced not to.

    #45
    I had gotten myself into a situation, quite independent of any active choice in the matter

    How can you claim you got yourself there but then say it wasn’t your choice? Inaction is just as much a choice as action and your sentence indicates that you know that because you were specific about the “kind” of choice you did NOT make.

    #68
    Let me ask you this? In your opinion is it rational to “choose” to be a disciple of something you have no “belief” in? There has to be something about serving in the Church and reading your scriptures etc that causes you do continue-because rational human beings rarely do once, let alone repeat, behaviors which result in zero payoff or enjoyment or benefit to them in some way. As I read your posts I continually thought-“Maybe you just don’t recognize your own faith-like the Jews didn’t recognize the Savior. They were expecting something entirely different than what they got, but that didn’t change what existed.”

    #71
    I cannot endorse a text that makes universal and categorical judgments regarding matters that are inherently personal and individual.

    Then you cannot endorse the Bible or the Book of Mormon because both texts contain the universal and categorical judgments that God delivers along with the ones that are inherently personal and individual.

    #74
    However, we cannot conclude that believers believe because the choices they have made in their lives have made them more virtuous than nonbelievers, and that their virtuousness makes them believers.

    We can however conclude that making virtuous choices allows the Holy Ghost to more fully provide His influence and witness-which strengthens belief.

    #78
    Some of us don’t see loss of faith as a bad thing. When you stopped believing in Santa Clause, was that a bad thing?

    Loss of faith in the imaginary or incorrect is a great thing, especially when it is replaced with what is real and truthful. Loss of faith in what is real and truthful has eternal consequences that are definitely a bad thing no matter who you are.

    “Belief” or “unbelief” in something doesn’t change the nature or status of that thing. Believing in Santa Clause doesn’t make him real, nor does unbelief in God make Him unreal. You might believe in Hawaii while I don’t believe in it-it doesn’t change what is.

    Faith has been defined as-“Confidence in something or someone. As most often used in the scriptures, faith is confidence and trust in Jesus Christ that lead a person to obey him. Faith must be centered in Jesus Christ in order for it to lead a person to salvation.”

    Perhaps in the end some of those who doubt cannot receive the answers or their hearts desire because they are praying/hoping to find faith (or belief) in something other than Jesus Christ. Or perhaps they want further light and knowledge without gaining a testimony of Him first. My faith isn’t centered on Joseph Smith or the priesthood or Church history or gospel doctrine manuals or anything mortal-it is centered on Christ-that He lived, that He died for me, that His promises are sure. Every other thing I believe in is built upon that witness. I do the best I can to obey His will because I love Him and miss Him and wish to dwell with Him again someday-period. I fall short all the time, and yet He grants me the ability to “undo” my failings and move forward. Because my belief is really all about my love for Him first and foremost, it cannot be easily shaken nor would I ever want to live without it in my life. Jeff G-I honor your personal choices, but for me-my brother and Savior and friend Jesus Christ isn’t just a “good reason to believe”-He is the reason my faith is even possible.

  116. xoxoxoxo says:

    107-
    Does the fact that Martin Harris or Oliver Cowdery left the church mean that they didn’t really see angels or experience the joys and fruits of the Gospel they earlier experienced?

    In all fairness to Misty’s anonymous quote, being “IN” the Church and seeing angels and having joyous experiences etc doesn’t automatically equate with having a testimony or having made a covenant with God and then keeping it. How many people in scripture (the Children of Israel, Laman and Lemuel) saw angels, witnesses miracles, and experienced joy and the fruits of the Gospel and yet walked away from the blessings and promises of God? Signs and wonders do not convert people-a personal witness from the Holy Ghost does.

    The question-Is there a distinction between being “IN” the Church as a baptized and active member and being CONVERTED/born again as a new person through Jesus Christ? If so, what defines one from the other and which are we commanded to become?

    And finally, what do the scriptures tell us about those who obtain a sure witness and then turn their backs on it and never return?

  117. If they truly chose to be there completely freely or if a part of it was out of their control just doesn’t concern me. I’m only concerned about accepting them no matter how they got there, just as I want to be accepted no matter how I got where I am.

    I am asking a sincere question here, Ray. Isn’t it possible that there is more to this? If I really care about someone, will I simply accept their choices as they are without any qualifications at all? It seems to me that if I truly care about someone, I certainly could respect their choices and their agency (and should), but I would also seek to share what I know about the possible choices and their consequences…as the Spirit directs of course. I guess I wonder if sometimes we don’t put such a premium on respecting and accepting others that we may at times shy away from the doctrine of how what we choose will affect what happens to us beyond this life. This isn’t about competition or arrogance, but about sincere concern. How to approach this kind of concern?

    Consider this scripture: Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish….

    Preaching salvation to me means going beyond just acceptance or respect for others’ choices. I first want to make sure they know what their choices are and what they mean in the plan. I want them to understand that ordinances and covenants are necessary for that salvation. I can rejoice in their goodness, kindness, etc. but do we ever do someone a disservice by not preaching salvation and the plan of God boldly and with clarity? — not in a spirit of judgment, comparison, or arrogance, but simply to preach the gospel in its purity?

    What is ringing in my mind is what Elder Bednar has so clearly taught recently and more than once. He has reminded us that if what we want as the end result of our belief to be truly justified and sanctified, truly changed, truly as covered by the Atonement as possible, that requires faith that is tied to covenantal living. “Sporadic spurts” of activity simply aren’t sufficient to receive those blessings.

    We can rejoice in all the good living we see from people of all walks of life, all faiths, etc. We can respect that someone may not be aiming for that goal, but I can’t shake this feeling of having some sort of responsibility to share what I know about the plan of God and about the essential role of ordinances and covenants in that plan.

    That’s really easy to say in theory, though. I find it difficult to know how, when, or if to even go there when someone is struggling in their faith, or has decided to walk away from the Church. I want to be loving, supportive and accepting on one hand (and seek to be!), and would never want my words or actions to be interpreted as otherwise, but I don’t want people to just aim for goodness and kindness. I want them to be able to enjoy all the blessings the Father has in store. If we really believe what we say we believe, then this isn’t just about belief. It just IS. And I’d rather have others come to know that sooner than later. :) — again, not in a spirit of arrogance, but with the convictions I have about what really is truth, what the standards, commandments, and covenants/ordinances really are that connect us fully to the power of salvation.

  118. Peter LLC says:

    This is perhaps the bravest thread I’ve ever seen posted here…. You are in great company-Lehi, Samuel and all others that remind us of our accountability even when “the truth” is taken “to be hard”.

    Blogging is not prophesying from the rooftops by the authority of Him who is mighty to save.

    Sooooooooo then you believe that when it comes to the first principle of the gospel, the one upon which the heavens are founded, the element from which God the Father operates, and the thing that determines our eternal reward and progression-faith-my agency has no effect?

    You don’t have to like, just live with it. C’est la vie, after all.

    every dictionary in my house

    You are appealing to a dictionary on this issue?

    Signs and wonders do not convert people-a personal witness from the Holy Ghost does.

    No, nothing converts you–that’s being acted upon. You choose be converted. You cannot surrender your agency to even the Holy Ghost.

  119. m&m, I said the following:

    “I try to share what brings me joy because it brings me joy.”

    “The central point of the original post with which I agree wholeheartedly is that, in the end, I need to try to take responsibility for my actions – whether I truly choose them or not.”

    “As long as someone is willing to worship with me, I don’t worry how they got there. I just care that they got there.”

    Let me make this clear: I do NOT “accept where (people) are without any qualifications at all”. If someone is a murderer and/or adulterer, for example, I don’t say, “Oh, well, they got there on their own, so I accept them where they are.” I just re-read my comments, and that is not implied in either of them. What I am saying is that it is the ACTIONS that are important, NOT how someone arrived at those actions – and often we place unrealistic boundaries on how someone must experience the Spirit that contribute to their inability to understand and accept.

    If my son leaves the Church, I will be more than disappointed – **and he will know that**, since he knows how much the Church means to me. I will believe that he is responsible for doing so – **and he will know that**, since I have taught personal responsibility and accountability in my home all his life. However, I will NOT assume he got there through transgression or sin; I will NOT condemn him as an unworthy apostate and disown him. I will NOT grill him daily about his current state and preach “at” him constantly – nagging him unceasingly until he throws his hands in the air, tells me to take a flying leap and turns his back to me forever.

    He will know what I want for him, and he will know that I will always be there for him for anything – including to discuss why he “lost his faith”. He knows I will respect him and love him and pray for him no matter what he chooses – that I will treat him like the adult he is and respect his agency in all he does.

    It’s a fine line we must walk between what we desire of others and how we treat them when they choose differently. What I am saying is that what causes someone to choose differently is beyond my ability to fully comprehend, so I simply deal with the choices and try to help that person to whatever extent they will allow it. I “preach” to those who are willing to listen; I simply love those who aren’t willing to hear my preaching.

    Constantly preaching at someone who simply needs to be loved and respected can do as much harm emotionally and spiritually as slapping them physically. I believe we tend to equate our own desires and yearnings for the movement of the Holy Ghost far too much, so we end up “reproving” far too often – even when that reproof is couched in sugary terms of love and concern. “Giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not” is a difficult standard, but it is representative of most of the descriptions we have of how both the Father and the Son deal with those who choose to act differently than they have asked. Even Alma, as we went about trying to destroy the Church, was told that he could do whatever he decided with his own life – but that he should not try to drag others along with him.

    That’s why I said that I respect MikeinWeHo and Lost and Jeff G so much – and why I see them differently than some others who appear to be trying to get others to join them in their movement away from the Church. I respect the former group’s actions, even as I pray that they will find a way to gain faith again; I do not respect the latter’s actions, even as I pray that they also will find a way to gain faith again.

    Please don’t confuse my attempt to honor agency as a lack of concern for others’ welfare or an unwillingness to preach the Gospel. That simply is incorrect.

  120. Will we ever uncover the secrets of the never ending debate between free will and freedom (in its various expanatory modes) and cause/reasons/determinism (it its various explanatory modes)? I doubt it. I think the dilemmas and paradoxes are embedded in our very language, in our struggle to make sense of the world and our experiences in it. However, as the mother of children with ADD, I find myself pushed more and more (using deterministic language) to deterministic explanations, without fully abandoning the idea of freedom.

  121. CS Eric says:

    I realize I am late to this post, but I have a couple of thoughts.

    First, I believe there is a reason it is called a “Leap of Faith.” I am more willing to take that leap if I believe something will catch me on the other side. If I don’t think there is any “there” there, I’m stayinf right where I am and not taking that leap.

    Next, I want second part of Ray’s comment that preaching at someone who needs to be loved can be as harmful emotionally and spiritually as slapping them physically. I was inactive for a while about three years back, and didn’t like the way I was treated by those who thought they were helping me. I made the remark that I was more likely to be loved back into the Church than bullied back into it. I think that love on the other side of the leap of faith is more likely to inspire someone to jump than judgment or criticism ever will.

  122. xoxoxoxo, you make the scriptures sound much worse, much less Christian, than they are. The scriptures say we a judged on the basis of the light we have received, and by a God who looks on the desires our hearts and not mere outward appearances. Judgment in the scriptures will be a personal affair, not a universal and superficial one.

  123. JNS, you said that so much more politely than I was going to.

  124. I do believe outside forces have an effect on what we choose. How would one comes to believe in Christ if another had not told them of Christ? How would one choose not to sin, if another had not told them of sin? How does one choose, without putting things a personal context, both those things taught to them from the outside, and their entermost feelings?

  125. John C.,

    I agree with the your sentiment, but I must agree with J. Nelson-Seawright: It is a bit oversimplified. I do think that we can have reasons for loosing faith. However, I am not sure if blame is very useful for anyone.

    I am no longer sure if I have much of a use for faith. Maybe I should state a blog called Reason Promoting Rumor (of course I probably would not post on that one either).

  126. First and foremost, until I become a Chinese citizen, blogging is not a brave act. Attempts to find bravery in my writing or posting this are attempts at demagoguery that I do not endorse.

    m&m,
    The last thing God wants us to do is call each other to repentance (except, of course, for when he wants us, too). The whole world would be much better if we spent less time attacking each other’s eyes with tweezers and more time sharing Christ’s love as we have experienced it and as we experience it.

    xoxoxoxo,
    I suspect that we are only superficially in agreement. I did not write this to call a spade a spade (although I am not inherently against doing such). In part, this is inspired by King Benjamin shaking his garments before the assembled crowd. I’m trying to do my part as best as I know how, but what you do with me (ignore, laud, abuse, or humor) is up to you. There is a wealth of verses that discuss the culpability of shepherds in the maintenance of their flocks. I appreciate the sentiment (we shouldn’t be callous to one another’s plight, nor should we abandon one another), but we are not sheep, no matter what the metaphor implies, unless we choose to be. In any case, that anyone should be pay attention to my ramblings at all gives them far more worth than they inherently have.

    JNS,
    I love you as a brother. You are, in your own way, part of the reason I wrote this. When I consider the various exit stories I have read or heard, I can almost always think of stories of people who have had similar or worse situations who decided to stay or who came back anyway. And there are many who never come back or stay in name only. I wholeheartedly agree that faith is a personal relationship with God and that, as such, it is only subject to personal and divine judgment. My point was to argue that very point. I am not God, nor is the bishop, the stake president, the church spokesman, or the prophet. Humans should not bear the blame for your relationship with God. It is an abdication of personal responsibility to argue otherwise. Humans and mortal events are mitigating factors; they influence us. We can learn quite a bit about God and Satan from the people around us. But we shouldn’t mistake the substitutionary for the real. And yet, we do. In fact, I am not sure how not to. It’s a mystery, but no less vital for all that. With this, I was trying to say that those who lose faith are looking at the wrong cause if they lay the blame anywhere but in thier relationship with God, with God himself, and with their own self, just as I would argue that people looking to understand their faith are looking at the wrong sources if they search elsewhere.

  127. I don’t know. I’ve wrecked plenty a young woman’s testimony in my day.

    I think we have more responsibility for each other and each other’s well being in this world than most Ron Paul supporters would like to admit.

  128. #126: A “Testimony” (In Mormon speak), is to openly tell another of your faith, in a hope or desire to increase their faith. Why can’t a telling of a lack of faith, cause a decrease in another faith?

  129. #128: That’s in another’s faith.

  130. Ray,
    Sorry for misunderstanding you. I see now where I goofed and appreciated your clarification.

    Still, my questions are genuine and not necessarily directly related to what you said. You have talked about what your son would know because of what you have taught and what he knows about you. How do we approach this kind of situation with someone we care about but who may not be as aware of how we feel, what we believe, etc.? It isn’t as easy as it would be with your son, and yet, I still can’t shake that feeling that we might have some responsibility to teach the gospel with clarity so that others at least know how we feel, even as we are willing to respect their choices if they choose another path.

    John C., I wasn’t talking about harshly ‘calling someone to repentance’ or ‘attacking someone’s eyes with tweezers” (not a very charitable reading of me, brother) – I have seen this kind of approach and don’t like it one bit. I do think, however, that at the other end of the spectrum is an almost wishy-washy ‘acceptance’ of others with the intent not to offend, without really being willing to share what we know and why it matters so much. I wrote that comment because I personally struggle with finding the balance between the two extremes and I am genuinely interested in others’ thoughts on it. But I don’t want to be misunderstood, either. I am not advocating cleaning house in others’ lives or being critical, unnecessarily heavy-handed, or any other thing that could do more harm than good.

  131. Peetie, I don’t necessarily proscribe to the “quote” that I noted. I actually think that trials of faith are a uniquely personal thing and that no one has the right to make that trial in any harder. I’m sorry if I offended you. I do believe that people and their actions/comments can try other people’s faith and that it is up to each of us to watch our own words and actions.

    However, with that said, I can’t control how you react to what I do or say. I can only try to be a good example and keep my covenants. That may not strengthen your faith but as long as I’m not weakening it, that’s all I can hope for.

  132. m&m, this is an issue about which I feel strongly. My response is to point toward the scriptures that speak of not judging, of not reviling those who revile us, of loving even our enemies, of upbraiding not, of controlling our tongues, of suffering long in kindness, of doing unto others as I would have them do unto me, etc. I will tell anyone exactly what I think if they are willing to listen, but I try always to do it in a manner consistent with the attitudes enumerated in the Sermon on the Mount. (As everyone here knows, I’m not always successful, but I try.)

    When we talk of those who have “lost their faith”, I never assume they have acted intentionally through malice or succumbed to sin or rejected the concept of prophets or any other possibility. If they state one of those paths openly AND are vitriolic in their approach, I will accept that as real. Otherwise, I will sit down, take the time to discuss and understand their journey and provide whatever advice or counsel or listening ear or sympathetic heart I can. I will try to understand them without pre-conceived assumptions and, if possible, help them find a way to hold onto a sliver of hope even if they can’t find faith. If that is not possible, and they feel they must leave the Church, I will accept their decision as their own, maintain whatever level of interaction is possible and make sure they know I am still their friend regardless of their faith at the time.

    If they want to talk religion, I will talk religion; if they want to play board games, I will play board games; if they want to talk politics but not religion, that is what we will do. If we have not had a relationship in which we could talk religion, I will not talk religion – unless our relationship changes enough to do so later. In that situation, I will look and pray for an opportunity to share my testimony and any spiritual insight I can share, but I will share only if I feel strongly and uniquely prompted to do so. In summary, I will do my best to respect their agency and their stated desires – unless they are acting in such a way that I feel others are in danger. Then, and only then, will I upbraid or chastise or preach without invitation or call to repentance.

    In my individual callings, I might have occasion to modify that slightly, but that’s how I try to handle the balance as an individual. If I’m going to make a mistake, I want that mistake to be on the side of compassion and charity and brotherhood, not the alternative.

    This philosophy allows me to have many good and valuable friendships with people who can’t be friends with other members – solely because those other members refuse to respect and accept my friends for who they are – who share my desire to see these friends embrace the Gospel but are unwilling / unable to wait for it to happen according to these friends’ agency and the Lord’s apparent timetable.

  133. John C.

    What you suggest would be true if a particular individual obtained their faith from God and was in a position where others had no influence on them. How many people fit that description?

    One might attribute that kind of faith to men like Joseph Smith, Nephi(Lehi’s son), Alma the older and younger, to name a few, but I would think that for the majority of mankind that acquiring and losing faith comes, in part, comes by the influence of others.

  134. Ray,
    I can’t tell if you think you need to convince me of what you have said. If you do, you don’t, because I basically agree with what you have said, and I try to take the same approach.

    I suspect that perhaps I’m not explaining myself well enough, and for that I apologize. Thanks for your thoughts.

  135. m&m, I went back and re-read your comment. I probably did mis-read it initially.

  136. Ray’s counsel is wise. Let me add a caution: Once you end a relationship with your adult child, you risk losing relationship with your yet unborn grandbabies. This did not happen to me, but I have seen it happen too, too, many times to my generation. To have these kids in your life, is to be truly born anew.

  137. Busy day at work Friday–didn’t check out this post until today.

    Soooo many thoughts on this, but not sure what to add at this point. Thanks for this post and the many thoughtful, personal comments. It gives a lot to think about.

  138. t.r.t.c. says:

    I can relate with the example of the person with a disease coming to have a different perception about things. I went through something similar with the birth of my son. Thanks to that wonderful little boy I found my faith in the gospel again. It’s been a bumpy ride since that event in my life years ago but I persist because I have faith that I will find truth and light. Despite all that I could have easily chosen not to accept that change in perception. I think a person that finds out they are terminally ill would still have a chose in the first place on whether on not to see things differently. Of course our environment can affect us without our approval but we can always chose how to react.

  139. I come to the bloggernacle to learn and to share. I’m thankful to those who share. I am surprised by the variety of testimony and faith I’ve encountered in bloggernacle. Those who express they have either lost their faith or it has diminished with time pull at our heart strings (#47). I am at a loss to understand these things, I try, but it is so far from my experience that it is difficult.

    Most people have their testimony grow and mature over time. Others, like #47 struggle and as he says, never really get one. Still others have a testimony thrust on them with convincing power, suddenly and dramatically like Alma the younger and the four sons of Mosiah, Aminadab, and Paul. The whole spectrum of possibilities is present, it seems. I personally relate most with the last group, but have learned that it is not always welcomed, at least by most in bloggernacle. But we’re all accountable to the Giver for what we’ve been given, and need to be wise stewards.

  140. xoxoxoxo says:

    JNS-
    “you make the scriptures sound much worse, much less Christian, than they are.”

    And some make them sound much more frivolous, less strict than they are.

    “The scriptures say we a judged on the basis of the light we have received, and by a God who looks on the desires our hearts and not mere outward appearances.”

    For those who have righteous desires and give their hearts to God-that is comforting news. To those with wicked or slothful or rebellious hearts-that is damning news. While it is possible to outwardly appear righteous, pious and engaged in the gospel while inwardly being wicked or slothful-God knows the truth. But is the reverse truly possible- to have a pure heart filled with righteous desires and bear no outward fruit or good works? We are judged by our works, our words and our thoughts, not just our hearts.

    The scriptures say that those who know the Lord’s will and do not prepare themselves or refuse to do His will be beaten with “many stripes”, but those who did not know the Lord’s will and committed acts worthy of punishment will still be beaten if they do not repent, just with fewer stripes. Nowhere in scripture does it say that those who live with lesser light or die without knowledge of the laws of God are never subjected TO those laws-or the requirements of the same.

    Judgment in the scriptures will be a personal affair, not a universal and superficial one.

    The price required by justice for voluntary “sin” is universally fixed. And yes, God will individually determine who is guilty of willful disobedience/sin and who is not and give all the opportunity to embrace the Atonement. But there is no favoritism or respect for one of us over another. Those who choose to and repent rather than hardening their hearts shall have claim to His mercy and obtain a remission of their sins-they will escape the penalty. Those who choose not to repent or take advantage of the Atonement will pay the fixed price themselves. ”None but the truly penitent are saved”. There is nothing superficial or un-Christ like about it.

    John C.
    The last thing God wants us to do is call each other to repentance

    I totally agree, but we have also been commanded to “cry repentance” and “preach repentance” and to “say nothing but repentance unto this generation”. It behooveth those who have been warned to warn their neighbors-and the blood of those who we should warn but do not is upon our heads.

    We are responsible to live the gospel and be examples to others of the truth that has been given to us, but we are only held accountable for the stumbling blocks we WILLINGLY place in the paths of others-when we choose to undermine another’s belief-not when someone seizes upon an innocent act or comment as their reason for abandoning their faith.

    Just because someone “feels” judged or “thinks” that someone else (or everyone else) is pointing fingers or declaring them to be sinners doesn’t make their perceptions TRUE. The very real fact that SOME people are self-righteous or holier-than-thou or even bigoted pigs doesn’t make it a FACT that everyone is.

  141. Peter LLC says:

    And some make them sound much more frivolous, less strict than they are.

    As for Goldilocks, she makes them sound just right.

  142. Yes and no. Any of the items listed above can be the spark or catalyst that starts a believer questioning. But where you go from there comes from yourself.

    “Choice” is the wrong word however. You can’t will yourself to believe something is true once you’ve concluded it is false. Sure I’d like to believe that I have a million euros in my bank account and life doesn’t end with death. But wanting something to be true doesn’t mean that I can convince myself that it really is true.

  143. Steve Evans says:

    Peter, that #141 is a hall-of-famer.

    All’s I know is that someone’s itchin’ to get banned out of this thread. Volunteers? xoxoxoxo?

  144. C.L. Hanson,

    Interesting story.

    My experience is just the opposite. At a cross roads in my life where decisions are made that impact ones entire life, I prayed for help to know if God was listening, I got my answer.It came with power and witness, like get written up in the scriptures. I stand as a witness that the Lord will, for His own purposes, give very average struggling people experiences with ministering angels, visions, dreams, and other manifestations of the Holy Ghost to provide testimony and direction.

  145. Jared — in that case, you wouldn’t call your belief a choice, would you? Could you just choose to believe the opposite? It is the same with unbelief: it’s a question of looking around you and within yourself and reaching a conclusion about how you think the universe operates.

  146. Steve Evans says:

    CL, I don’t think anyone here needs pointers on how to become a better unbeliever.

  147. #145–
    But you yourself said it, it is a choice. We who believe choose daily to believe and accept our experiences as God given. Others make a choice to view things differently. Faith is a choice, that is the whole point of the the post. Faith has always been a choice, and always will be.

  148. 147. Or not.

  149. Steve — lol, I’m not the one who brought up the subject of losing one’s faith… ;)

    This is what I love about the Internet over one-directional media such as television: people are exposed to a variety of viewpoints and engouraged to think through their own responses. It excercises composition and critical thinking skills regardless of the conclusions you finally reach.

  150. “It exercises composition and critical thinking skills regardless of the conclusions you finally reach” sounds like a good way to describe the process of making a choice. *grin*

  151. Given not only the breadth of posts regarding this topic as well as the depth of some of these posts I can but come to a few conclusions.

    The exercise of faith is a deeply personal one but as Jared put it (#139) we are all accountable for what each of us has been given. Given same I can and should surely focus on where my personal faith is or is not rather than contend with others as to where I believe their faith is or is not.

    To do otherwise is to me akin to taking on the role of Nephi’s olders brothers, chastising and rebuking him for his level of faith, a faith they had not (and clearly never) reached in their own lives. And those who have been blessed with greater faith, should they surely not be the more understanding of those of us who are still struggling in the valleys of our lives while they are standing higher…..

    Does not Charity apply even to the exercise of faith?

  152. I think it sums up to this: We are obviously affected by everything around us, but ultimately, we are all God’s children with power to act and choose for ourselves. Don’t get caught up in blaming external factors for your own behavior.

    Realize that we are influenced by external forces but never forget that it is our calling to learn to rise above them.

    Remember compassion most strongly when dealing with others who have lost faith and remember accountability most strongly when dealing with your own.

  153. I agree there is a choice. Its a choice to believe, even if you talk about it like its knowing a fact. I don’t blame any person for taking my faith, just as I can’t blame a single person for the church not actually being the thing I had faith in to begin with. I chose to have faith before, sometimes against my better judgment, because I had been taught that trusting my own feelings and judgment equalled something like pride if they didn’t point me in the direction of faith (in the LDS church). Now, I am not necessarily choosing *not* to have faith, but its just very different, and it involves a lot more trust in myself and my own relationship with God, and much less faith in a church or human leaders.

    So I agree to an extent with the original post that there is a choice involved, but I have to say the post comes off as smug and uncharitable. Congratulations on making your point.

  154. #152: I guess it comes down to how one see things. I acknowledge most of my daily behavior is a response to “external forces”. I don’t know how far I would have to ‘peel back my life’, to reach ‘choice’.

    I believe the ‘calling’ is to become an external force in others lives.
    The goal is to live by Faith, until you come to Truth. No need for compassion here.

  155. Matt Rasmussen says:

    Re: #48 “Name (required)”: The ‘unbelievers are sinners’ line may be true for some, but it is somewhat of a nasty generalization.

    I didn’t mean to convey that unbelievers are sinners. My post was based on my experience of not knowing anyone (so far) who just decided to not believe; instead it was a string of decisions that led them away from believing. Some of those decisions were even sound at the time like not going to church due to illness but then other decisions creep in along the way. I would never say someone is a sinner because they don’t go to church during a major illness. Unfortunately, by the time the illness was healed, subsided, or in remission there have been other decisions that have prevented maintaining their faith. That’s just one example but I’ve seen it happen countless times. Disclaimer for nit-picks: I’m not saying everyone who experiences major illness loses their faith.

    Also, I recognize there are people like “Lost” who can’t explain why they lost their faith. They did nothing wrong. Nothing traumatic happened. They are good people. I don’t know how to explain it either. I can only recommend to continue following Alma’s urging to desire to believe so that the seed of faith may grow.

    My main point was that if great men like Martin and Oliver can fall, so can I. We all have to stay true and try our best to grow.

  156. Josh Smith says:

    Came back to read some of the comments after the weekend. For what it’s worth, loss of Santa Clause is a tragedy. The sneaking down the chimney and eating cookies in the living room was kind of creapy. But who wouldn’t like to have more presents? and flying reindeer?

    My final opinion is that the original post was silly, but it generated really thoughtful comments. Here’s a proposal for two new posts:

    1) What moral responsibility do we have in presenting information potentially challenging to another’s faith?

    2) Bloviate. What the h*ll does it mean to bloviate? I believe it is an awsome word. But my faith could be shaken depending on the definition. I’m pretty sure my original belief in the word’s goodness was not a choice.

  157. I love dictionaries!

    blo·vi·ate (bl?’v?-?t’)
    intr.v. blo·vi·at·ed, blo·vi·at·ing, blo·vi·ates Slang
    To discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner:

  158. And I HATE that this thing won’t take phonetics.

  159. Josh Smith says:

    My faith is confirmed. Bloviate is a wonderful word. Much better than discourse, lecture, or sermon. Thanks.

  160. #156:”What moral responsibility do we have in presenting information potentially challenging to another’s faith?”

    Isn’t this what 50,000 Missionaries are sent to do?

  161. Ah, Josh. You say the nicest things

  162. Josh Smith says:

    John C.,

    Bloviate is my word of the day. Thanks.

    There.

  163. Josh Smith says:

    Bob,

    Could you elaborate?

    Yes. Presenting our faith often challenges other faiths. You make a good point.

  164. I’m sure Bob can elaborate, but can he bloviate?

  165. Josh Smith says:

    The bar has been raised Bob. If you listen you can hear a collective blogernacle breath-hold. Let’s hear you bloviate.

  166. #164 – I would answer that, but it would be the pot calling the kettle black.

  167. #164:Bill O’Reilly self-admits to bloviation. Myself..I can speak (elaborate) on any topic for an hour. Two if I know anything about it.

  168. Researcher says:

    This is an obvious question, but do you mean “bloviate” or its derivative “blogiate”?

  169. Josh Smith says:

    Researcher,

    Don’t be messin’ with the-word-of-the-day.

  170. Wow. After reading this piece I had to cool off and come back and re-read it again before I could respond. It ticked me off royally. Now I am finding that the more I have to learn, the more I believe that I have something to learn from the things that make me angry. So I read it again. And again. And I realized something.

    People are afraid of what they don’t understand. And they can easily attach judgments or opinions of something that they haven’t experienced before in order to deal with that fear. It is when you truly have personally experienced something that you really can speak with the experience and wisdom that doesn’t smack of judgment. It is true what they say of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes…

    As for the author of this post I assume that you have not lost your faith before. Making sweeping generalizations about someone’s faith and applying it to everyone like that is just so dead wrong.

    I am speaking as a person who was born and raised in the church, active my entire life- always temple worthy, have married and raised a large mormon family. I have had a strong testimony, love my scriptures, sing for every church related function, and been close to the Spirit or so I thought. I have been a leader among my peers. And I have “lost my faith” so to speak. It wasn’t because I just stopped going to church one day and then quit altogether. It wasn’t because I started drinking or smoking although there are days that I wish that’s all that it was. At least I know how to fix that! :] I didn’t commit some terrible sin and I am still temple worthy. What happened to me? What happened to my faith? I wasn’t looking to leave the church, I was studying the scriptures [the BOM Precisely and trying to read it by the end of the year per Pres. Hinckley’s challenge} and I found contradictions out of the blue… not looking for anything! I did some more studying to understand the contradictions and found more problems and questions and when I began to ask others about my questions I was shut down, ignored, told to not worry about it… or to pray about it more {which I had been doing}. My belief in certain things were shattered, not of my own will… not of my own searching and not of my choice. It was like it was pulled out from under me without any warning. If I could choose to go back to that place in time again and erase the past 2 1/2 years of struggling to believe in something that I no longer believe is literally true, I would. I liked my naive ignorance… I liked really BELIEVING it was literally true…my heart hurts not being able to believe it is true… I have been TRYING to believe… doing everything I am supposed to do to believe… but I can’t make my mind believe something that isn’t true no matter how badly I want to believe it! Why do I want to believe it? Because the alternative is to split up my family… the alternative means that we raise our children in a household divided, because the alternative means I have to be the only one that is different in my entire family. The alternative isn’t much of an alternative. But the constant battle in my mind to try to make myself believe something that it can’t eats me up inside more than words can say. Only a person living a ‘double life’ like that knows that kind of pain. I believe there is a word for it… Cognitive Dissonance.

    A choice you say? Bull. Only those who haven’t lost their faith as I have can make sweeping judgments that show their complete lack of understanding of how someone loses their faith to begin with. From my experience it’s different for every person and while some people just choose to not believe anymore because they want to live out of harmony with the church standards, the majority of those like me no longer believe by any choice of theirs and they have a heck of a time trying to deal with their new life and new choices, feeling like they have been cheated that they can no longer believe and often wishing that they did believe and that it was true. No sir it is not a choice for everyone. How I wish it was. If it were, it would be so much easier to just choose to believe instead of the living hell that it is right now.

  171. Josh Smith says:

    There it is.

  172. Oh and I meant to comment about our responsibility towards others and how we affect them, etc. In the past 2 1/2 years I have spoken to friends of mine, asked them some of my questions, and pointed out some of the concerns and doubts I have had with church doctrine. Two of my close friends have now left the church and both of them called to thank me for my helping them have the courage to question. They thanked me! I wanted to throw up when I heard that and they have both left the church and are happy about it and here I sit miserable and trying to make my life be what it once used to be and feeling guilty and totally responsible for my two friends going astray…

  173. Josh Smith says:

    I feel better. Anyone else?

  174. sorry for the bolding… I don’t know what happened…

  175. Josh Smith says:

    Bookwormmama,

    We were talking about bloviate. I just read your post and if your comment wasn’t along the bloviate line of comments, my last few comments were completely out of line. If you were playing along let me know. If not, I’m sorry and I’ll stop posting.

  176. In my experience belief is at bottom a choice. I have had a number of spiritual experiences. I know what I have experienced and what I experienced was that I know in my heart already. My heart vibrates in response to the truth of the gospel and the Book of Mormon. I believe that I could give answers that are satisfactory to me about the kinds of questions that bookwormmama has (and I’ll be i know at least as much if not vastly more about the ancient world than mama as well). However, there is always the possibility that my experience is illusory (even in all respects). I must choose what to trust, and I choose to trust my heart. I believe it does come down to that choice. I know what I have experienced and I don’t have to wait for all of my questions to be answered before I choose what to trust.

  177. Josh, I would take it easy for a little while.

  178. Agree with JNS.

    If faith were simply a choice, we could all just as easily choose to believe in Buddhism or Scientology. (And if that were the case, what would that say about the value faith and belief? Not much.)

    Faith and belief is much like love. I choose to love my wife, but something ineffable drew me to her in the first place. I could not just as easily choose to love any woman. Innumerable factors influence my rational and irrational decisions to love that person.

    And so it is with faith and belief, innumerable factors, including all of those you list above, as well as a host of other biological and cultural factors, influence our choice to believe. Such a choice is not like choosing barbeque or sweet-n-sour sauce for my McNuggets.

    Our beliefs choose us as much as we choose our beliefs.

  179. “Our beliefs choose us as much as we choose our beliefs.”

    Matt, that sounds nice but I have no idea what that means. can you elaborate?

  180. This book, just released last month, would seem to lend some credence to the idea that “our beliefs choose us as much as we choose our beliefs,” :

    On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not, by Robert Burton

    An abstract:

    In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton challenges the notions of how we think about what we know. He shows that the feeling of certainty we have when we “know” something comes from sources beyond our control and knowledge. In fact, certainty is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact. Because this “feeling of knowing” seems like confirmation of knowledge, we tend to think of it as a product of reason. But an increasing body of evidence suggests that feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain, and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning. The feeling of knowing happens to us; we cannot make it happen.

    Bringing together cutting edge neuroscience, experimental data, and fascinating anecdotes, Robert Burton explores the inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know. Provocative and groundbreaking, On Being Certain, will challenge what you know (or think you know) about the mind, knowledge, and reason.

  181. Matt: It seems to me that it is “both/and” rather than “either/or”. That is, faith involves aspects of belief that cannot be chosen and aspects of faith than can be. I cannot choose to simply have spiritual experiences. I cannot choose whether to believe that there is now a road out in front of my office. Spiritual experiences can be chosen in the limited sense that we can search and look and be open. However, when and how they occur is not up to us. Somehow such experiences occur to us in the midst of our search. We search for them, they don’t come just by choosing them. However, whether we trust these experiences is a very basic choice. Do I trust my experience or do I hold off forever looking at the evidence and changing every time it stacks up differently with every new argument? In my experience we can choose to trust our hearts — and we are always free to choose not to trust them even after having had spiritual experiences.

  182. Matt: Doesn’t the book you cite assume that all human behavior is in fact caused by brain states beyond our control and that all of our experiences of choosing, and even of having experiences at all, is illusory? It all reduces to the behavior of neurons. Is that really what you want us to buy into?

  183. Who? (181),

    Completely agree. But John C. doesn’t frame it this way.

    See, people have feelings or spiritual experiences that “occur to us in the midst of our search” (your words) with regards to “blacks and the priesthood, women and the priesthood, the priesthood, tithing on gross vs. net income, porn, sex, boy scouts, homosexuality” (John C.’s words) or a host of other issues.

    And I agree, whether we trust those experiences is a very basic choice. But the feelings we had were not a choice. So if our faith is based on feelings we don’t choose, saying I lost my faith because of X, Y, or Z is perfectly valid.

  184. I don’t know how it works for anyone else as an individual; I just know how I want it to work for me and what it takes to follow how I want it to work for me.

    Some who “lose their faith” remain in the Church; others leave. Some reconcile the dissonance and find a measure of peace; others don’t and remain miserable. For the first group, the peace and community and family and whatever else is more important than complete confidence and total lack of doubt, so they “put their issues on a shelf” and walk away from them for a time; for the second group, reaching perfect understanding *NOW* takes first priority and overshadows everything else. Frankly, I think that points more to how each of us defines “faith” than it does about how we define “choice“.

    If by “faith” we mean “certainty about our religious beliefs”, I agree that losing it might not be a conscious choice. That seems to be what many here are doing – defining “faith” as “testimony” or “certainty” or “lack of doubt”. If, however, we mean the “substance of things hoped for”, I think MikeinWeHo and Lost and Jeff G and others have not lost that hope and, therefore, have not lost their faith. In the face of what they have described, I think that’s “evidence of things not seen” producing a conscious choice to not give up – to “endure to the end” without certainty.

    I think the “problem” is that too many of us teach the universal possibility of personal certainty – in direct contradiction of our own scriptures that extol “simple faith” and assert that not all can “know”. Without those unrealistic expectations, much of the “dissonance” would disappear, imho, since it would be ok simply to exercise faith and maintain hope in the face of uncertainty.

    I also think that there are some people who simply lack “the faith gene” – who simply must understand something perfectly before they can accept it. I would argue that these people never possessed “faith” in the first place, so they can’t lose it. Finally, I don’t believe someone can “choose” to lose something they didn’t “choose” to obtain or find.

  185. bookwormmamma,
    I have struggled in faith. I haven’t endured your struggle, but please allow me the value of mine. I am sorry you are struggling; please know that I wish you well. There was no judgment intended in the original post. I meant what I said when I said that our testimony is a negotiation between ourselves and God based on our interactions and expectations of that relationship. I hope you find your keel soon and right your ship; this is not (quite) the same thing as hoping you remain in the church.

    Matt,
    While I do believe, as I stated above, that the initial feelings of faith choose us, I also believe that abiding faith is a choice. People have had experiences similar to mine or more or less powerful. How do I account for their choice to stay or go? Of course, it isn’t my job to do that in any case. If I believe that they believe or not because of the juices in their brain, rather than the choices of their heart, what value does my belief or their lack have? It is possible to understand ourselves as the victims or willing accomplices of our hormones/brain chemistry, but how does that reflect the manner in which I experience my life?

  186. Who?, your comment on the On Being Certain book is a little less than nuanced. The argument is that certainty is an emotional rather than analytic aspect of our thought process. When we feel certain of something, the research suggests, that’s a result of our limbic system, rather than our frontal lobes. So certainty and loss of certainty are not conscious choices as much as they are unconscious emotional responses to the world, analogous to flinching when someone hits you.

    Whether everything we do is a result of the behavior of neurons or not — we needn’t decide that issue, or parse out the complexities of deciding to what extent the behavior of our neurons is us — we can distinguish between mental states that result from different parts of our brain. That’s what the book Matt linked to is interested in doing. Choice, as a matter of cognition, is related with the frontal lobe. Belief and certainty, as issues of emotion, are not.

  187. Who? (182), Uh, no. I don’t think you can reduce the premise of the book to “all human behavior is in fact caused by brain states beyond our control” anymore than I would reduce all human decisions to choosing whether or not I follow the still small voice.

  188. That last sentence applies especially to those born and raised in the Church who might not have made the personal choice to believe despite doubt. If you haven’t faced, identified and dealt with doubt (“things not seen”), I don’t think you “have faith”.

  189. Josh, no I wasn’t following the comments along the bloviate line… honestly I posted my comments after reading the original post first and read the other comments after posting mine…so no worries I wasn’t posting about that at all… I was writing in response to the main article…

  190. Matt/JNS,
    If we tie a given emotional state to a given bit of evidence, how is that not cognition?

  191. JNS: Well, given my background in cognitive neuroscience, I will simply differ. The book in fact does assume that — have you even read it? The certain belief I have that “all humans are mortal, I am a man, therefore I am mortal” is not based on feeling or the limbic system. In fact, there is no limbic system involvement in that kind of certainty at all! Further, the notion that choice is merely a frontal lobe activity is naive at best — as I’ll bet you’re well aware. It may be that “feeling” certain is a result of limbic systems — but is that all it is due to? Would you suggest that the testimonies of each church member is merely a collocation of chemicals in the limbic system and not anything more? And if something more, then the assumptions and methodology of Burton are not really the sole story as it argues.

  192. Thomas Parkin says:

    First off, I think choice is problematic. Not that we don’t choose, but knowing where our choices come from … where do our thoughts come from? Observe yourself thinking. We do not will our thoughts into being. They come to us. And, in so far as I can observe myself choosing, my choices come from that same place. Something in me may be free, and it may be choosing and willing – and that thing may in fact be me (what else would it be?).

    Anyway, there is lot more to it than waking up one morning and saying ‘I choose to have faith’ or ‘I choose to no longer have faith.’

    I recognize that I both chose to leave the church, then chose to come back. In fact, even though there were many factors, my varying choices being factors, many moments of varying color that lead to both, there were in fact decisive moments in each ‘choice’ that were definitive. I could describe both moments. Neither was in and of itself a matter of choosing whether to have faith or not. Rather, I chose to act based on where I beleived I’d find happiness and freedom. I never really lost my faith in the church – for some reason the things that seem to trouble people about the church have never troubled me. But I did lose faith in the ability of the gospel to make me happy and free. I thought I’d find freedom in chooisng an identity: in creating myself, or, in a kind of Nietzchean way, being myself. And then, over time and after a LOT of difficulty and soul searching, and making myself and other people miserable, and close observation of myself and the people around me, and contrasting it to those few Mormons I knew understood and lived their religion – I began to find my faith again.

    What I do think is that we can choose, day to day, even moment to moment, to think and, more importantly, act in ways that will strengthen or loosen our faith. Certain things we do bring the Spirit into our lives. At some point we may have to choose those things over things we temporarily love better. And that is very very difficult. It may be more difficult for some than for others -right, some have ten talents, some five, some one – we do not begin on equal footing. But consistant prayer, honest, searching and humble scripture study, a willingness to sacrifice, especially the willingness to sacrifice one’s worldly identity (the honors of men), in short living the gospel, which can very nearly be _defined_ as a mode of searching, will lead any person to the same _ultimate_ conclusions. We will grow from grace to grace.

    Well, if we love better the voice of our totem jaguar spirit, or whatehaveyou, that will lead us to a different place. Those who find their lives lose it – those who lose thier lives, for Christ’s sake, will find it. I found that the most hateful scripture. Right along with the scripture that says that no man seeks for the Lord or His righteousness, but walks in his own way, after the image of his own god, which is in the image of the world. I personally wanted to be Lord Byron. Some other person might want something less dramatic – to be a success in some profession, or in the eyes of some people. Or when Pres Benson said that unless the roots of our faith go deep into the gospel as it is taught in the BoM in the heat of the day it will wither and die. I really hated all that stuff. It turned to be so, all the same.

    ~

  193. Oops. I should say cold vs. hot cognition. It’s the distinction between the emotional subsystems that we don’t consciously control and the analytic ones that we do.

  194. Who?, you’re a prince.

  195. Ray, I just wanted to say that a lot of what you seem to say makes sense… I agree that there is a possibility that because I was born and raised in the church and never given an opportunity to learn about or be exposed to other ways of thinking without being taught that they were all “wrong” could definitely have skewed my own perceptions now and could affect my own search and personal beliefs now.
    I agree with your comment on #188. There is a possibility that I have never had faith to begin with… just a religion that I didn’t pick and doctrine that I didn’t choose for myself. I was born into it. I didn’t search for it.I can’t say for certain whether I would have joined the church on my own if I wasn’t born into it… the reason I stay now is for family…

  196. Josh Smith says:

    Bookwormmomma,

    Again, I’m sorry I misread your post. I’ve read it over four or five times now and there’s no reason I should have misread it. I’m sorry.

  197. No worries…it’s no big deal…:]

  198. #195 – bookwormmomma: Fwiw, part of my testimony is due to my study of other theologies and religions. Frankly, I don’t *desire to believe* any of them like I *desire to believe* this one. It really is what I want, so I’ve chosen consciously (I think – *grin*) to pursue a deeper understanding of it – to reconcile what I can reconcile and gnaw on what I can’t reconcile for now. It works for me.

    It also has given me a bit of perspective on “the alternatives” – again, enough to realize that I just don’t want them. They won’t give me any more joy in the here and now than I already have, and they don’t give me the hope for a continuation eternally of what brings me joy in the here and now. I feel what I believe is true; I want it to be true; I don’t want any other “truth”; so I accept the difficulties inherent in the history as a natural result of mortality and pursue the joy I want and for which I hope.

    To me, that’s a conscious choice – as others have said, not necessarily as to what I hear or read or feel but as to what I do with it. Even if I am wrong in that (even if I don’t choose nearly as much as I think I do), my belief in the nature of the Atonement covers that potential wrongness, so I just don’t spend much emotional capital worrying about it.

  199. Okay folks. We’ve touched a nerve. Lots of ink spilt. Faith is clearly complex, involving conscious decision making, unconscious emotional data, and events external to ourselves. It may be a mistake to emphasize one aspect over another; however, only one of those aspects is within one’s conscious control. This may be a case of agreeing to disagree here; in any case, this is as far as we can go with it here. Thanks for the discussion, all.

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