The Faith-Building Power of Cognitive Dissonance

Kyle M is a Senior Editor at PC Magazine and bassist for the band Mere, which you’ve probably heard in a cheesy commercial on TV that plays during all the Jazz games. In his free time, he likes to break expensive tech gadgets, watch arty movies that his wife sneaks to the top of their Netflix queue, and Twitter his brains out. Welcome Kyle M!

I’ve been playing the Mormon apologist a lot lately in casual and not-so-casual conversations with friends and coworkers (Thanks Prop 8! Thanks Big Love!), and inevitably, they get around to asking a question for which I have no answer except to shrug my shoulders. And yet it’s not a defeated shrug. Sometimes shrugs can be a sign of faith, right?

There have been a lot of intelligent words written here lately about how to deal with those nagging issues or factoids or GA quotes that we just can’t reconcile with our views of the Gospel and our testimony of it. I’ve got a few of them—I think we all do.

Because let’s face it, there are inconsistencies. Weird quotes from the pulpit. Skeletons in the closet. Tough principles to swallow.

A particular comment on John C.’s excellent post the other day caught my eye (from The Consumer Model of Religion):

“I don’t think any religion is perfect. … The Mormon Church has lots of skeletons. But that doesn’t mean someone has to leave. They can elect to stay and just ignore or excuse the parts that give them grief. Or they may later find that there is a different faith that strengthens their relationship with their maker.”

The “ignore or excuse” line set me to thinking: do I ignore or excuse those parts of my religion that I can’t reconcile with my views of the Gospel? Or with science? Or with my political views? Do I put them on the “You don’t need to worry about this right now” shelf? (A great line by Margaret Young in a comment on her recent post.

Which brings us back to the Shoulder Shrug of Faith. It is possible, I think, to acknowledge the points of our religion that cause us some cognitive dissonance, search/ponder/pray on them as best we can to see if we can crack them ourselves, and then come to the conclusion that we simply can’t. That we need more light and knowledge (and that such light and knowledge may not come soon). Like any physical or emotional struggle, these mental challenges can be faith-building or faith-destroying.

One of my fundamental beliefs about God is that He smiles on curiosity and intellectual searching. That He has repeatedly commanded his children to seek knowledge by study, by faith, and by asking Him for it directly. That when a curious and confused 14-year-old boy walked into the woods to ask God an important question, his question was answered in a startling and miraculous way.

However, such a belief must be tempered by two realizations: 1) Sometimes in my searching, I will come across things that are difficult—almost impossible!—to accept; 2) God will not always give me the solution to such cognitive dilemmas.

I dare say most people who walk into a forest to ask God which church to join don’t come away with a concrete answer. Some readers open the Bible seeking peace and find racism and violence instead. Some don’t understand why church money was spent supporting a proposition in California which they oppose.

I doubt anyone in this dispensation has suffered more cognitive dissonance than Joseph Smith and Heber C. Kimball. Joseph Smith’s is laid bare for us to read in the opening verses of Section 121 (“Where are you? Why won’t You help us?”). As for poor Heber, imagine the disconnect of being asked—no, commanded—by your friend and revered prophet to give your wife to him! It’s akin to the cognitive dissonance of Abraham upon being commanded to sacrifice his only son, the promised child upon whose survival the Abrahamic covenant depended. Besides the obvious emotional anguish, the mental anguish alone would have been overwhelming, as each man struggled to comprehend a commandment that was given specifically to defy comprehension.

None of this is meant to belittle our own mental wrestlings, which are very real and can be very painful to work through. It’s just to point out that God has always asked His children to accept things that can be very hard, if not impossible, to understand.

And isn’t that what faith is? Believing that there is an explanation, seeking after that explanation, but not demanding to necessarily know it right away? Joseph, Heber, and Abraham didn’t shirk from what must have seemed like absurdities in God’s plan for them. If seemingly absurd stances like Prop 8 or the church’s history of race relations is to be our Mount Moriah, I will accept that there’s something behind it that I don’t understand, and continue to try to wrap my brain around it while I await further light and knowledge. God will bless us for the faith that it sometimes takes to shrug our shoulders.

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  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve been struggling recently with my own personal cognitive dissonance–God asking me to accept really hard things in my life (caused by Him) without giving me the understanding to deal with them.

    I like how you’ve conceptualized faith in this context–trying to believe in God and move forward even when things are impossibly difficult. Though I would add one caveat. I’ve decided in my particular situation that this kind of faith is only going to take me so far–if no answers from God are eventually forthcoming, it will be unhealthy and destructive for me to continue with a faith where there are no eventual blessings/answers. Of course, my situation has less to do with things like prop 8, etc., and more to do with my direct, personal interactions with God, so I think there’s something to be said for asking things to start making sense more quickly (otherwise, how can you have a healthy, meaningful relationship with God?)

  2. struggling says:

    I have no problem accepting that God may well ask me to do things that are very difficult. He is God, I am not. He knows far better than me what is in my best interest, and as long as I know that he is the one doing the asking, I will certainly obey.

    However, you are assuming away the real question faced by every sincere and questioning individual. The only interesting question is whether some particular request or purported revelation really came from God. If I have reason to doubt that, then I won’t do something as terrible as killing my son or sending my wife to my best friend because I consider it a trial of my faith. It is more likely to be trial of my sanity.

    The nature of the request itself is of some relevance in deciding whether it comes from God or not. If I feel impressed to kill another, or to take another man’s wife as my own, or if my best friend tells me that God has told him to tell me to do one of those things, I would consider the request itself to be powerful evidence that it did not come from God. Even if you could convince me it came from God, I am more likely to think that he is testing my basic sense of morality than my faith, and that he expects me not to comply.

  3. struggling says:

    I meant to say “instead of my faith” in the last line above.

    I don’t know why God would think I was being noble, or faithful to him by either violating my own sense of morality or by maintaining belief in some teaching when all of my own rational faculties tell me I should not believe.

  4. StillConfused says:

    Seraphine — are you sure that these things you are being asked to accept come from God? Do they give you a sense of peace and warmth or a stupor of thought? I find many potentially offensive things done or said by members or leaders of the LDS Church. However, those things do not give me the feelings that equate to them coming from God. So I do not attribute those to him. That doesn’t necessarily mean leaving an entire religion.

    In my personal journey, I find more comfort with Judaism than I expected. I appreciate the focus on works rather than faith. I appreciate the expectation of wrestling with .. even arguing with .. ecclesiastical leaders about aspects of the faith. I appreciate the individual relationship one has with God without interference from ecclesiastical leaders.

    Remember that even the articles of faith state that there are many things to be gained from other faiths and cultures.

    It is ultimately your decision as to where you fall on the religious spectrum. (I do feel that it is a spectrum.) My only worry is that you seem to have lots of animosity towards your God. I don’t think that is healthy. Also, I worry that you are putting too much of the outcome of your life on God. Is what you want from your God blessings (handouts)? Or perhaps you could look at your God as more of a mentor who is happy to share some skills with you but really looks to you to take the ball and run with it.

    Just some goofy thoughts from a LDS/Jewish/SouthernBaptist type….

  5. I hope it helps, Seraphine, and I think your caveat is a fair one. The only tweak I’d make to it is that we may need to be willing to temporarily accept comfort in lieu of understanding. (a big tweak, I know!)

    Struggling: you’re absolutely right, and I didn’t get into all the ways that our cognitive dissonance can be resolved. One of those ways is just as you say: we decide that something we thought is of God isn’t. At this particular point in my own faith, I wouldn’t think I’d be asked to violate my sense of morality. I’m no Heber C!

  6. I’d hope that faith is more than a shrug of the shoulders in lieu of evidence otherwise, or lack of evidence. Many would probably call that willful ignorance instead of faith, and in many cases they’d be right to do so.

    Newton couldn’t figure out a certain calculation and when asked he shrugged his shoulders saying that it must’ve been God and gave up looking for the answer. Years later someone found the answer. When we shrug we tend to stop looking, either because looking is too difficult, or perhaps it will make us face truths that we don’t want to find.

    To me faith is something completely different than cognitive dissonance.

  7. struggling says:

    Kyle: I would hope that your faith is never strong enough to violate your own sense of morality. The difference between you and Heber C. or Abraham is not that they have more faith in God than you do. The difference is that apparently they had absolute faith in their own ability to discern God’s will. That is a very different thing, and I am not sure it is a good thing.

  8. Scott B says:

    struggling (7.),

    I don’t think anyone deliberately sets out on a path of obedience expecting to “violate” they “own sense of morality”. I think the issue is that often, for better or for worse, many people alter their views of morality as they receive (or think they receive) revelation from God.

  9. re 8:

    Scott, is that supposed to be comforting? I mean, of course people don’t expect to violate their own sense of morality, but that morality is so relativistic and moldable isn’t too comforting.

    I mean, there aren’t any problem with it if you believe morality is subjective and already relativistic, but that doesn’t really do many favors for God, does it? This is a problem.

  10. Andrew–

    Note that I said, “for better or for worse”.

    I didn’t claim it was either.

  11. This was a thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    One of my latest sayings in life is “God is found in the tension.”

    That said, the “opposition in all things” thing is one thing when talked about in a Sunday School class, it’s a whole other ball game when experienced in all the messiness of real life. Faith is no small thing, it’s hard work!

    Jeffrey Holland (before being Elder Holland) wrote an article that captured this once (not my favorite title, but the guts of the article are worthwhile). He talked about the tensions and confrontations that fill 1 Nephi, and how that all sets the stage for the amazing chapters in 2 Ne that teach of the Savior and His Atonement.

    I still don’t know exactly how to access the Atonement in my own Liberty Jail moments, but it helps me to even consider that those moments could exist to help me learn more about the Savior. I don’t know exactly how to apply that formula to things like hard historical topics, but I believe that all things can point us to Christ if we will let them, if we will let God…that the messiness exists for a divine reason.

  12. I am reminded of Adam when Heavenly Father commanded him to sacrifice the firstlings of his flocks. He didn’t know why but when asked, he said “because God commands it.” I can certainly understand why a person would not want to spend so long doing something for only that reason. I would want and seek answers. But, I have lived through enough to know that sometimes that is all we get in this life and when we progress to the life beyond, those blessings that we wanted here will be waiting for us there. Time may seem like it drips as slow as molasses while we are here but I cannot say to my Heavenly Father, “Grant me patience, and make it quick.”
    Please do not take this as hurtful or unsympathetic for that is most assuredly not its intent.

  13. ronito, it’s definitely a delicate balance, being able to shrug your shoulders and yet keep looking for answers.

    Struggling/Andrew, this is a black-and-white approach, and one that gets believers in a lot of trouble with atheists, but what if morality is defined as doing what you think God wants you to do? Just throwing that out there. That line of thinking has caused an untold number of atrocities, but I’m still not sure there’s a better alternative (and I think it’s a good system when accompanied by the Holy Ghost).

  14. Sorry, didn’t mean “doing what God wants to do” as a definition of morality, just as an approach to it.

  15. re 13:

    as an atheist, I can already say you’re getting in a lot of trouble with me :3.

    I mean, I think we haven’t even established what God wants people to do. For one, people have different ideas about who God is and what he wants and these ideas are often contradictory and irreconciliable. Second, you have those who don’t believe God wants them to do anything because they don’t believe in God. And in fact, the very posturing of “doing what God wants you to do” may just end up removing it one step back from, “Doing what you want to do,” especially when you consider some of the subjective validations that are in both that we can’t be sure are externally or internally produced

  16. Sorry, hopefully, #14 clears that up. An approach to morality, not the definition of it.

  17. The really big caveat here is that we meet many characters in the scriptures in their moral maturity, not as floundering teens. Many (not all) have reached a level of faith which makes them certain of God’s voice, and able to discern between it and a weak imitation. (“Where is thy light that I should worship thee?”) Many teenagers reach some cognitive dissonance when they learn of troubling issues, but they don’t have the moral maturity to do anything but pout and leave, or close their eyes and cling to Mommy’s skirt–which is easier to grasp than the more elusive, metaphorical Iron Rod. To reach a level of maturity wherein we can recognize and distinguish the true voices in the maelstrom of noise takes time AND struggle, study and faith, contemplation and action. No wonder we hear references to battles so much in the scriptures–and not just physical ones. “I have fought a good fight…” Paul isn’t referring to an arm wrestle.

  18. re 16:

    I’m not sure how that clears anything up. I’m not so certain why people have to plug in God as an approach to morality in the first place…especially when doing so according to certain religious moral codes leads to such discomforts between the sensibilities of people and the so-called prescriptions of the Lord. Of course, I’m kinda out of the loop on this general topic.

    for example, we take Margaret’s comments in 17. Why should we accept the idea of “moral maturity” as being doing something other than “pout[ing]” and “leav[ing]”? Why is it taken for granted that the true voice in the maelstrom one of the church? I mean, I’m being contrarian, but I’m just wondering why continue to bother?

  19. The true voice is not necessarily “the Church.” It’s Godr.
    My issue is with people who are unseasoned in dealing with ambiguities and then promote themselves as spokespeople for the flaws of the LDS or any other religion. In a larger stereotype, they might leave a marriage when they realize that their spouse’s laugh includes a snort–and then go on talk shows to discuss the repulsiveness of the snort, forgetting entirely that it came only in moments of fun or joy. In religion, they are like the character Alymer in Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” who is so obsessed with his wife’s birthmark that he fails to see her beauty and ends up killing her in effort to “perfect” her.
    The true lover (which aptly describes a disciple of Christ) learns to love more deeply over time, and learns forgiveness simply as a way of being.

  20. Mark D. says:

    I would say the opposite – that cognitive dissonance in and of itself inevitably weakens faith. One strengthens one’s faith by other means to deal with cognitive dissonance. Without such support, cognitive dissonance is more likely to destroy faith than sustain it.

    And in particular in such cases, faith in God may well be sustained while faith in aspects of church doctrine, history, and leadership suffers.

  21. re 19:

    Yet you did say that the morally immature thing to do is to “leave,” so at the very least, you still hold that God’s voice is best found in the church. This is not a controversial thing to admit, though, since after all, it is the basic of saying things like, “The church is true.”

    I agree with you that one person’s dealings with church don’t make him an authority of the church…so one person who leaves doesn’t make him an authority that gets to say everyone should leave. But at the same time, this applies *very much* to this topic. Here, we have members who are unseasoned with dealing with the ambiguities but then promote themselves as spokespeople for the benefits of the LDS church. When really, these attempts to deal with the ambiguities are only sufficient for each individual person, and doesn’t suggest objectively whether all should stay or all should leave. So, we can’t suggest that it is morally mature to stay or morally immature to leave…because we still have these ambiguities and there is nothing conclusive coming from this.

    Yours is a way that would condemn people to intense personal and subjective suffering, because you think they should just learn to “deal” with the ambiguities (some of which bring them immense pain) or “set them aside.” Yours is a way to marginalize by reducing the issues of people who struggle to “a snort” or to suggest that they aren’t being a “true lover” if they realize that they personally cannot allow themselves to remain in such a situation.

    And I mean, that’s fine if you or anyone else wants to take that stance. It’s a personal decision that must be decided on a case-by-case situation. But it shouldn’t be considered irrational or “morally immature” or whatever else to take a different stance.

  22. Margaret,
    Would I be being obtuse if I said post 19 seemed non-sequitor to me? Religion is not a marriage it’s a quest for meaning and truth. It’s a nice analogy to try and certainly would put down any criticism of religion, but it just doesn’t follow for me. In a marriage you accept your loved one warts and all, in religion you seek the truth. Then if religion is not about truth, then what is it about? And why have it?

  23. I apologize in hindsight, of course, for my forceful and accusatory words. This is not going to help share anything with anyone. I just got derailed by the suggestion or assumption that there is some kind of “moral immaturity” with leaving.

  24. Andrew,

    Your point of view and commentary are welcome, but increasingly aggressive tones like 15, 18, & 21 are not. No one wants to summon the PTB, so let’s all chillax.

  25. Andrew–Thanks (for your 23).

  26. re 22:

    It seems to me, ronito, that the assumption is that the truth *is* found in the church, warts and all. This is not a controversial assumption of course…because I mean, the point of faith in this kind of church is to be able to say, “The church is true.” I mean, why do we accept our loved one and all? We have a belief and trust it is ultimately worth it, this is the right person, we should make it work out, etc., if we assume the church is true, then obviously, faith in this makes some of the same claims. In the long run, this is the right church, we should make it work out, belief and trust is ultimately (and eternally) worth it, etc.,

    If we either divorce (pun not intended) the church from the truth, or the purpose of religion from the purpose of marriage, then things become RATHER different. That’s where we get people who leave.

  27. #22–The decision to commit oneself to a particular religion is to me quite parallel to marriage. Christ is the bridegroom; the church is the bride in Christianity. Marriage metaphors (including in the Song of Songs) appear throughout the scriptures.
    You will not find a religion on this earth which doesn’t have warts. If you choose to stay, you find a way to accept the presence of the warts, and sometimes you even try to remove the warts. But religion has everything to do with commitment. How else do we peel away the distractions and silly embellishments to find the most precious truths unless we’re PRESENT?

    Andrew #23–thanks. I was a bit surprised by your tone. I have many dear friends and relatives who are no longer LDS. My son no longer considers himself LDS. Though I would love to have him return to the faith, it is a non-issue in our relationship. I tease him about “going to the temple” when he participates in Hare Krishna worship services. I agree with your observation: “Here, we have members who are unseasoned with dealing with the ambiguities but then promote themselves as spokespeople for the benefits of the LDS church.” True, and well said.

  28. sorry guys; i’m trying to pull this message around to a positive one!

    How cognitive dissonance can be faith-building…Cognitive dissonance should force us all to look exactly at why we are believing in the first place. And with this, this should allow us to evaluate what we appreciated about the church, what brought us in or what kept us going…It’s so that we don’t become complacent and apathetic.

    So, as far as we can find out that hey, we have a true belief and we *did* have true faith and we *did* have meaningful experiences, then that’s how we build ourselves up. It would be silly, I agree, to leave real and true experiences for a wart.

    However, as I discussed earlier (or maybe elsewhere?), when we take these continued leaps to faith…believing through ambiguity, then I think we need to evaluate if we are getting continued benefit. For example, here’s I think a classic example of good faith.

    We come across some issue or tenet. It doesn’t seem immediately sensical or logical to us. Through faith, we trust regardless of the ambiguity. After time, we come to realize that that issue was not so much an issue or that tenet really does bless us (in a way that we couldn’t have seen without hindsight). So, our faith promotes itself and builds upon itself.

    If this isn’t happening to us, then we need to take a long and hard look at things. So, in the end, this should allow us to come to two conclusions for faith to be workable…it should allow us to come to reject things that aren’t working for us (e.g., if even after accepting that unintuitive tenet, we still are conflicted and hurt…we need to move on and let go of the tenet that has failed to prove itself)…but it should allow us to become truly more appreciative of core things that did work and that do work. To go with Margaret’s marriage analogy, if you see a wart but decide to work through it on faith, then your relationship should prove to work out better and improve. You should become a better, more caring, more empathetic and sympathetic person. So, in that case, you were justified.

  29. Perhaps a distinction should be made between perceived long-run and short-run cognitive dissonance. I agree that there is nothing particularly faith-promoting about long-run shelving of disturbing/conflicting principles. However, my experience has been that, more often than not, revelation/inspiration/understanding comes while I am in action.

    In this vein, I think cognitive dissonance can be helpful or faith-promoting, because it allows us to continue living what we do understand, rather than simply slam on the brakes and wait until God puts His fingers on a rock in front our eyes. In short, it allows to avoid continually tossing the baby out with the bathwater, then having to fetch it again and again.

  30. Sorry, the last paragraph above should have started with “In the short run, however….”

  31. I do believe that life without struggle leads to apathy and atrophy – but I also believe always running uphill into a stiff breeze ends up breaking people. I don’t expect to “know” everything, but I am grateful for the experiences that lead me to be comfortable feeling like I know some things – at least well enough to stop the wind and level the road.

  32. re 27:

    Out of compassion, I would say that with respect to your son, you have to come to an appreciation of him for the decisions that he makes that bring him happiness and success, irrespective of if he’s in the church or out of it. I can’t speak exactly for him, but it bothers me that many of the people I know similarly hope that I would come back to the church…and even though it is a non-issue, silently and paradoxically, it is blaring because it seems like all of my accomplishments and achievements are blemished in these people’s eyes because I do not believe. And, to be fair, I understand why they might think this: they purely mean to wish the best for me and they feel that the church offers that (because that’s been their experience).

    But ultimately, I think what has been much more impressive to me is when people care about me first. Not Me as Someone Who Could Potentially Be Convinced To Come Back To The Church and not Me as Someone Who Is A Prime Target For Evangelizing…but just me. For people who can truly have my welfare in mind, even if it means supporting me in my (well-conceived; I do think someone should tell me if I’m going to be absolutely and markedly stupid) decisions outside of the church, that ULTIMATELY actually makes me more favorable to the church. Not saying that it actually brings me back into because there are just some things I’m not able to truthfully accept…but because I know these people don’t view me as a means to an ends, I know this won’t bother them.

  33. I see what you’re getting at Margaret, but that’s awful close to a positive feedback loop. Don’t like brocolli? Keep eating it until you like it! Doesn’t seem like a way to the truth.

    I will agree there’s no religion without warts. However, one must check out the warts lest they find years later a frog instead of a prince, instead of saying I’m committed to this so I’m staying and that’s that.

  34. Andrew–thanks for that lovely comment. I’m serious. I hope my son knows that I celebrate the things which make him happy. I think you’ve provided us a fine glimpse into the thoughts of one who has chosen to leave and who yearns to have that decision respected, and to have subsequent decisions honored as well. It’s important to have that voiced. We are often so lousy at loving people TRULY who haven’t fulfilled our particular dreams.

  35. imasurfer says:

    1 Ne.11:17 – And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
    2 Ne. 26:24 – He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world

    I thought of these two Book of Mormon passages as I read your post. Nicely done

  36. ronito: That’s a good point. This whole idea of dealing positively with cognitive dissonance is built on the assumption that I have a bit of faith to start with. (of course, that is where the “dissonance” comes from in the first place, from something challenging my existing beliefs).

    I would call the “positive feedback loop” a “virtuous circle,” though. I believe in God, God reaffirms my belief because I believe, which makes me believe even more, etc. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There are virtuous circles throughout the gospel and the scriptures: “Unto him that receiveth I will give more” (2Ne 28:30), “He that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24), and even a certain reading of Moses 1:39 involves a virtuous circle: God brings to pass our immortality/eternal life, which adds to His glory, etc.

    I guess I’m saying that if you think life would be better if you were to like broccoli, by all means, keep eating the brocolli until it tastes good. It’s not a way to discover truth, but it is a way to grow a testimony that’s already built on something, however small.

  37. And, as it turns out, broccoli is really great!

  38. #36: I do not see a “positive feedback loop”. I feel faith is meant to be end, and be replaced by knowledge. Or, “Cognitive Dissonance” (questions ??) should come to an end with knowledge, not more faith. To me, faith is only a place holder until we come to know.

  39. NorthboundZax says:

    Bob, it can be very much a positive feedback loop. I think we have all heard the phrase “[some challenging thing here] has strengthened my faith”. As faith is conviction lacking objective evidence, the process of challenging things (discomfiting evidence) making a faith claim stronger is a clear example of a positive feedback loop, necessarily implying that faith must be leaned on even more heavily than before the information was encountered.

    I remember having a number of discussions with missionary companions about this behavior in others’ faith. We often had a laugh at how discomfiting evidence would make religious competitors we’d chatted with like Jehova’s Witnesses and SDAs dig in their heels all the more. In retrospect, I’m sure they had similar conversations about us. It is difficult to address such notions in ourselves – making positive feedback loops of faith and dissonance extremely easy traps to fall into.

  40. #39: I see faith as a hope, not a conviction. I think we need to confront “discomfiting evidence “, not hide from it by showing an increase in faith. There are many things for which I have no knowledge or even evidence, there is where I use my faith.

  41. Thomas Parkin says:

    “faith is conviction lacking objective evidence”

    This isn’t an LDS definition of faith. ~

  42. StillConfused, I’m not sure of much right now when it comes to God. As I said in my comment, though, the things I was being asked to do/accept came (from my perspective) directly from God. They were powerful, spiritual experiences that led me down a particular path in my life that I wasn’t sure I wanted to travel down. I chose to travel down it, though, because part of me did want it, and I thought it was His will (and that it would turn out well if that’s what He wanted me to do). And it’s pretty much just caused me pain, and now I look back on everything, and I only have a couple of explanations that will make sense of the whole thing:

    1) I believed these powerful spiritual experiences came from God, but they didn’t, and I made them up and caused the pain in my life, etc.

    2) God led me down this path knowing it would lead to a lot of pain and confusion in my life (though, perhaps, he has some bigger picture in mind).

    Right now I’m not looking for God to randomly bless my life or tell me everything that I should be doing. I’m following a path that feels right to me, and I’ll move forward whatever God decides to do. But in order for me to maintain a relationship with God that is not fundamentally different from what it currently is, what I need from God is some kind of understanding/bigger picture. If God expects me to be able to obey directions he gives me in the future, I need to be able to have some kind of trust 1) that it’s God speaking, and that 2) even if difficult and painful things happen, that there’s some bigger purpose. Right now I don’t have trust in either of those things (so, I suppose it’s good, God is currently being pretty quiet).

    Which is why I might change my faith/religious path. There’s a very good chance I will be redefining my relationship to God (which might not be a bad thing).

  43. KyleM, thanks for your thoughts. I actually am temporarily accepting comfort in lieu of understanding, but that’s only going to work for so long. :)

  44. Thomas Parkin says:

    “2) God led me down this path knowing it would lead to a lot of pain and confusion in my life (though, perhaps, he has some bigger picture in mind).”

    This is common. It has happened to me a few times, and in the last couple years in a devastating way. However, near the end of the troubles, I can almost see the man I’m meant to be. Something that would never have happened if I had had the success that I hoped for. ~

  45. #38 Bob: “I feel faith is meant to be end, and be replaced by knowledge…To me, faith is only a place holder until we come to know.”

    I would split hairs with you a little on this one. I personally cannot foresee a time when faith will not be required. If there is meaningful free will I believe faith is an essential aspect of community, action, relationships, etc. In my view there will never be a time when we will not need to have faith. (Though on some issues it seems faith can become a knowledge, as differentiated in Alma 32. Still, I don’t see it as being an either faith or knowledge proposition. I see it as a “faith and knowledge” thing.

  46. I would also ask people to consider a deeper view of what “faith” is. Paul’s description of it being a hope for things not seen is only a partial description in my view. There are some aspects of Paul Tillich’s view of faith I find useful and persuasive. His idea of faith involving an “ultimate concern” and the actions we take in relation to it is very interesting. Check out his “Dynamics of Faith.”

  47. #45: I don’t see this as “spliting hairs”, but a good faith effort to understand each other and “Faith”. Maybe I could have better said for that question, faith can now be replaced with knowledge. I agree, Faith will always be needed, because the questions will keep on coming. (And an answered question, just seems to lead to more questions and more need for faith.)
    I also agree, faith also gives time to move forward as we look for knowledge.

  48. NorthboundZax says:

    @41. Thomas, I think it works as well as any when the meaning gets a little probing. At a minimum, I would suggest looking through Kaimi’s T&S post from a few years ago on “A brief conversation about belief” before dismissing it out of hand.

  49. @41. Thomas, words are mere labels for concepts, not the concepts themselves. You are free to define a word however you want, so long as you say in advance when you are deviating from the common understanding (or whenever there is no common understanding).

    I personally define:

    knowledge = belief with evidence
    hope = belief in a plausible hypothesis without evidence
    faith = belief in an implausible hypothesis without evidence
    trust = belief despite (seemingly) contradictory evidence

    By my definition, it seems that some of what LDS call faith is actually some mixture of hope, faith, and trust.

  50. Thomas Parkin says:


    I think you would have to have many conversations, with types of thinking Mormons not often found on the Bloggernacle, as well, before coming up with any meaningful idea of how Mormons view faith.

    I’d strongly recommend reading Joseph Smith and company’s “Lectures on Faith” which would, if nothing else, show that the way Mormons have historically framed faith is quite different than how a science centered atheist is likely to frame it, as well as being substantively different from how most religionists frame it.

    Cool. ~

  51. Dan Weston–
    >”By my definition, it seems that some of what LDS call faith is actually some mixture of hope, faith, and trust.”

    I personally find virtually nothing wrong with this.

    While I agree with Thomas Parkin (50) that many conversations with divers Mormon thinkers may help one to understand the way we think, I don’t believe it is such a burdensome requirement, especially for someone acquainted with religion generally, and specific religions in great depth. In other words, while a man from your (Catholic) background may not share each and every aspect of any particular definition of faith with Mormons, there are certainly parallels and similarities that inform a person and allow them to opine intelligently and respectively without being censured for being completely off the mark.

    As an aside, I think the Lectures on Faith are very interesting, but I question how much the average member of the LDS Church actually relates to those passages.

  52. I should clarify my above comment–What I meant by “I personally find virtually nothing wrong with this” was that I have no problem with a) someone not of Mormon background opining on what Mormon faith represents in (to me) a fairly broad sense.

    In my re-reading, I realize that it appears I’ve said I agree with with the substance of the comment (49), including the definitions, which I’ve not yet thought much about.

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