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.
I attended a town hall meeting last week and manned a table collecting signatures for petitions for both ethics reform and fair redistricting in Utah. A small group of women opposed to both petitions showed up. One woman accosted people signing the petitions urging them not to sign anything they hadn’t read. Of course, nobody should sign documents they haven’t read, but few of the signers heeded her. Those interested in signing were already informed on the issue. When the meeting began, the woman jumped to her feet to denounce the petitions. Now, I’m all for passion, but too much passion expressed inappropriately comes across as hysteria. The speaker finally convinced the woman to sit down and let the meeting move on to other topics. Then a woman approached my table and told me I had no right to be at the meeting with petitions. Her friend tried to write down names of people who had signed. I don’t know what organization these women represented, but they were a prime example of the current polarization of American discourse.
Now these ladies who feared circulating a petition with which they did not agree were more amusing than annoying at that meeting, I might feel differently if I had to encounter them as neighbors, ward members, or work colleagues. I generally don’t care for people who try to change my mind. Does anyone?
My brother badgers me about politics. He’s a right-wing conservative living in a very blue state. I consider myself relatively moderate, but can’t agree with Doogie’s claims about the environment, intelligent design, and other issues. He doesn’t seem to hear anything I say. He twists my words and accuses me of statements I haven’t made. I have finally realized that Doogie really isn’t talking to me. He’s finishing up arguments he’s had with liberal thinkers in his state. He’s saying to me what he wishes he’d said to them.
I no longer have the energy for the angst enjoyed by Doogie and the anti-petition ladies. Why argue about something today when tomorrow new information or experience may cause me to evaluate and change my opinion? But I do think it’s important to stand up for people or groups who are unfairly maligned. I couldn’t just let my visiting teacher partner and the sister we were visiting denounce gays and Lesbians as sinners who deliberately choose to break divine commandments. I think I handled that one tactfully, asking if they were aware that scientific research, which President Hinckley acknowledged, indicates that homosexual tendencies are inborn.
Listening to illogical emotion is tough. Aunt Loosy gets all her information from Rush Limbaugh and other talk-radio hosts. Do I let her spout the ridiculous libel she shares because of her age, or do I offer counter information? Most of the time, I make a joke and change the topic from politics—as I’ve learned to do with Doogie. Sometimes relationships are more important than proving I’m right.