My favorite novel is Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century masterpiece Don Quixote. I love its mixture of comedy and tragedy, pathos and satire, and its deep exploration of what it means to be a human being who reads books and tries to make sense of the world through them. I have read Don Quixote in three different English translations. But I always read it in English.
It’s not that I don’t read Spanish. I do. I can read a Spanish-language newspaper and get just about everything that is going on. I have reasonable comprehension at the surface level, but I can’t plumb the depths. Deep reading of something really important, for me at least, must be done in my native language—the one that I acquired in my childhood and have used ever since to make my way through the world.
This is even truer of great books in languages that I don’t understand—the novels of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Proust, and Mann. These are among the most meaningful and important things that I have read in my life. But I have to read them in English. This does not mean that English is a better language than Russian, French, or German. And it certainly does not mean that these translations are better than the originals. All translations are imperfect, some deeply so. And yet, these imperfect translations allow people like me access—no matter how flawed—to humanity’s greatest minds and creative spirits.
But this is not a post about my favorite books. It is a post about why I am, and remain, a Latter-day Saint.
I do not stay in the Church because I have had an irrefutable spiritual witness that I cannot deny. I know that some people have, and I respect their experience. For many years, I sought such a witness desperately, but it has never come. For me, faith is based in hope, not certain knowledge, but that’s OK. I have come to see hope as one of the greatest things that human beings are capable of; and I marvel at its power to shape a spiritual life.
I also do not stay in the Church because it gives me answers to my deepest questions. I have very few answers of this sort. But I keep asking because my humanity depends on my always being engaged in conversation about the big questions: What do I mean? How should I live? What will be left of my life when it is over? These are the main topics of my lifelong dialogue with myself—and whoever else might be listening in on the conversation.
My religion is the language of my faith. It provides the vocabulary that I need to frame my deepest questions, and it gives me the metaphors that I need to make infinite and ineffable things hold still long enough to examine. I do not claim that the language of my faith is the best language in the world, or that it provides a perfect translation of God’s mind and intentions. I only claim that it is my language—the one that I acquired in my childhood and have used ever since to make my way through the world.
I stay because my religion is the language of the questions that I have to ask in order to live meaningfully in the world.