Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Conversation on God

Episode 014 is a conversation on the concept of God. Phil and Skyler also briefly share their own spiritual or intellectual journeys as it concerns religion, to where they are today as two non-religious searchers for truth.

Listen to Episode 014 (1h35m, mp3, 96kbps)


Show Notes

Wikipedia.org, "God"
Skyler's Column, "What I Know and What I Don't Know"
Skyler's Column, "Rebuilding my Foundation"
Skyler's Column, "Down with Conviction!"
Skyler's Blog Post, "On Gods and Rulers"
Skyler's Facebook Post, Considering the Power of God
Skyler's Blog Post, "Receiving God's Law"

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rebuilding My Foundation

(Originally published at Everything-Voluntary.com in June 2013.)

"Resistance," to the Borg, "is futile." It's also human, very human. Particularly the type of resistance given to the changing of one's beliefs. And by "beliefs" I mean everything someone either thinks is true or knows is true with absolute certainty. Often their certainty is based on a very limited amount of experience, and they don't know what they don't know. Faith, the way I see it, is rational belief on the basis of limited experience. What is believed may ultimately prove false, but without faith one will never do anything. Nobody has experienced everything, and everybody wants to remove their "felt uneasiness." Like resistance, to act on the basis of faith is also human. I have performed religious ordinances and made covenants with others (seen and unseen) on the basis of faith. But I now find myself at a point in my life where I am stuck. Some things that I believed I now question. Let me explain.

What Was

For the last ten years I have claimed by word and by action to be a devout Mormon. Mormonism has and continues to be a very fascinating topic for me. When I (re)discovered the Gospel, I had a zeal to progress in "the Kingdom" and to do whatever was necessary to marry my wife in a Mormon temple. My faith was strong, and it transformed my life for the better. But my zeal was not founded on a spiritual witness of the truth of Mormonism, on any supernatural experience, that I believe other's have had. Mine was an intellectual zeal. And that zeal carried me toward exploring other unknowns, namely economics, political philosophy, ethics, and so forth.

The last decade has been one great pursuit after another, starting with my acceptance of Mormonism. It means a lot to me and I hope when all is said and done that I will die a Mormon. But let's not put the cart before the horse. Before now, I was prepared to live the rest of my life practicing my faith and encouraging my children and others to do likewise. In examining what that encouragement would mean, however, I began a process that took me from comfort in my faith to wondering whether or not I had a solid foundation by which to bear my testimony of the truth. It turns out that I have not had that solid foundation. And that realization pushed me to question more and more the Church to which I claimed to be a proud member.

What May Be

One of my favorite passages from the Book of Mormon is found in what has been unofficially called the "Psalm of Nephi," found in the Second Book of Nephi, Chapter 4, verse 34 which reads, "I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm." I feel very close to what Nephi is saying here. Because my faith has been based on the arm of flesh, meaning, my [imperfect] conclusions regarding Joseph Smith, his work, and the modern LDS Church, moving forward would mean confusion, and ultimately heartache.

I have very important questions regarding the modern LDS Church, specifically its post-Joseph Smith leadership and practices, the way it handles its finances, and the many traditions and folklore that it upholds that don't seem to be anchored in either scripture or factual history. Maybe it's all nothing. Maybe there are solid answers to all of my questions, but I have reached a point where I no longer trust myself to have the patience required by my limited time to find them. And more, I would only be continuing what Nephi was warning against, putting my trust in the arm of flesh.

Instead, I have decided that before I can continue supporting the modern LDS Church, I must determine if it is the rightful successor to Joseph Smith. Before I do that, I must determine if Joseph Smith really translated the Book of Mormon "by the gift and power of God." And before I do that, I must determine if God really exists, and if so, if I can have a personal relationship with him.

Final Thoughts

Many reading this have already made up their minds about these things. The extent of my faith right now is the belief that if there is a God, he must be willing to have a personal relationship with his creations. If not, then what do I care about him? If he created the universe and then disappeared, then why do I care to know about him? I hope that's not the case. I really like the idea (based on Mormonism) of a personal God with a personal interest in seeing me become like him, ie. divine. But I will no longer stand on a shaky foundation. I will do what I can to know if God exists. If he has an interest in me, I won't give him any excuses not to show it.

What I Know and What I Don't Know

(Originally published at Everything-Voluntary.com in May 2013.)

I've found myself getting frustrated lately due to assumptions I've made regarding my convictions, mostly religious. I've gotten ahead of myself and wound up confused and dissatisfied with where things were going. It's time to take a step back and reassess my knowledge banks; to really dig into my mind and categorize everything (okay, a fraction of everything) into two lists: what I know, and what I don't know.

What I Know

I know that I am alive. I know that I am a male member of my species. I know that I have been alive for almost 30 Earth years. I know that I have two parents and four siblings. I know how long each of them has been alive. I know that I attended every year of public school. I know that I was baptized into the Mormon Church after my eighth birthday. I know that I graduated from a public high school with a 3.0 average. I know that my first job was fast food. I know that I accepted the teachings of the Mormon Church and became worthy to enter their temples.

I know that my wife was born and raised in Mexico City. I know that she attended public school. I know that she moved to Chicago in 1999. I know that she moved to Salt Lake City in 2002. I know that we met in 2003, and got married in a Mormon temple in 2004. I know that we had our first child, a son, in 2005. I know that we had our second child, a daughter, in 2009. I know that we decided to unschool and parent our children peacefully in 2011. I know that I published my first book in 2012.

I know that I have never had an experience with the supernatural. I know a lot about the doctrines of the Mormon faith. I know a little about the larger world of religion. I know a lot about economics. I know a little about the larger world of science. I know a lot about libertarianism. I know a little about the larger world of philosophy.

What I Don't Know

I don't know all of the details of my conception and birth. I don't know all of the details of my early childhood. I don't know the details of my parents' and siblings' lives. I don't know the details of my wife's life. I don't know all of the details of my children's lives.

I don't know a lot about the larger world of religion. I don't know a lot about the larger world of science. I don't know a lot about the larger world of philosophy.

I don't know if God exists. I don't know if I am the spiritual offspring of deity, as the Mormon faith teaches. I don't know if Jesus Christ was the son of God, or that he was resurrected. I don't know if the Bible contains books written by true prophets of God, or containing true events. I don't know if the Book of Mormon is as Joseph Smith described it. I don't know if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, nor any of his supposed successors. I don't know if the Mormon Church is God's true church.

Final Thoughts

This was an exercise in mental clarification. There are many things that I know, mostly based on having experienced them; too many to fit into a short column. It would probably take volumes to list every single piece of knowledge I have, but even more, thousands or millions more, to list every single piece of knowledge I don't have. There's even knowledge, I'm sure, that I can't have, or don't have the ability to obtain (I can't experience things in your body, for example) or even comprehend. I think however, that most things I can know, one day, be them experiences or facts, natural or supernatural (keeping an open mind, of course). I don't know how long I will live, but I know that I can work on knowing more things, and hopefully my life won't end too soon.