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.