An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Krista Tippets’ NPR program “Speaking of Faith” interviewed two Jesuit astronomers last week. One of the Jesuits interviewed made the comment that the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certitude. By that definition, I wonder how many Mormons have faith. A principle of Mormonism is that we can “know” the Church is true, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. If we know these things, what room is there in our theology for faith?

Since the first principle of the gospel is faith, shouldn’t we be nurturing it rather than drying it up by turning it into “knowledge?” In all my years of church membership, I’ve heard only one member use the term, “I have a very strong belief” rather than “I know” when bearing his testimony. And his statement jarred. In Mormon culture, a testimony is knowledge, not belief.

The hubris of Mormon certitude certainly antagonizes nonmembers—giving rise to jokes about St. Peter initiating new candidates into heaven with a caution. “Hush! Mormons are in that room and they think they’re the only ones here.” I suspect certitude also has a chilling effect on members who study, fast, and pray for sure knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel and don’t receive it. Are they less worthy than members who “know” or are they just more honest about the strength of the impression they receive?

My grandchildren, ages 3-10, all say they “know” the church is true. What they mean is they have faith in their parents and Primary teachers who have told them the church is true. Faith is a beautiful concept—related to love, trust and confidence. Faith in one’s self, in other people, and in God provides strength to move ahead into an unsure future. People who can act only upon full knowledge miss opportunities to learn and grow. Doubt is faith’s partner, not its enemy.

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