I left the fellowship of my faith when I was not yet even an adult, twenty years ago. Since that time, I've been a privately practicing Mormon that has remained faithful, but kept a healthy distance from the establishment of the LDS Church. I did this because I found it difficult to varying degree to sustain the Church Leadership in everything they do, and the core message that the LDS Church is the absolute one true faith on the Earth.
Never feeling as learned as I could be, I've filled my bookshelf with works on philosophy, metaphysics, mythology and religion trying to garner a greater understanding of the world. I read ancient literature to give myself a better handle on how people in biblical times wrote. I read and (admittedly) skim various versions of core religious texts.
I often turn to science to fill in some of the blanks, or at least explain them. Looking at things like how the universe was likely formed, the arrangement thereof, and all the energies intrinsic to it didn't make me less religious. The more I look at science and the various paradoxes found within the more I believe there is a God, not less.
This is chiefly what religions peddle in. By design, each religion does the best job it can granting the flock or membership a degree of certitude about God, the afterlife, and a righteous lifestyle. Necessarily, each purports to be the “true” church having figured it out better than all the others. My wife once asked if it was possible if all religions could be true, and not true, at the same time. I think she is very wise.
Truth is a very influential particular of an elite body of concepts that make up the most important universal, a collection of things called Virtue. I don’t believe that religions or Gods can possess or be the source of such things, but they can be the paragons of them and even embody them. To that end, any faith that claims it can withhold Virtue or agency from a person in the name of God is treading in the most dangerous of hypocrisy.
The notion that there is a single true Church runs contrary to every one of Gods other works. From the very largest objects in the universe to the very smallest, variety is always necessarily present. God does, in grand fashion, make this obvious everywhere one looks. It is not a single universal type of star that lights the night sky, but a multitude of variety.
More to that line of thinking, The God of the Old Testament (or the Torah if you prefer) tells Abraham (among others) he will be the father of a multitude of nations. Not a single nation run by a single church with a single set of beliefs, but a multitude. That word appears in virtually every translation of the scripture I’m referring to.
mul·ti·tude noun \ˈməl-tə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd\
: a great number of things or people
If one looks to the Latin origins of the word and pokes around a bit, one finds multitudin-, multitudo, from multus and the word meliorate somewhere on the same branch. To ameliorate is to make something that is not so great, better. It is the beginning of something good. I take in the context of that scripture that God was telling Abraham that these things would occur by necessity to make things better for others to form a greater basis for seeking Virtue.
The most foolish and fanatical people I've bore witness to run on pure certitude, letting it flow through their veins giving life to every misguided thing they do. Worse, the more certitude they have, the less likely they are to examine their beliefs or the actions they take in the name of those beliefs. They operate without the need to seek Virtue, certain that institutions, society, and control external to a person’s agency is the way to solve all the world’s problems.
I don’t think certitude is dangerous for just religious people. I think an Atheist running on absolutes and certitude is just as dangerous to themselves and others as a devout Christian doing the same. To hold science as the single belief to rule all others is as problematic as holding the Bible to the same standard. Everything necessarily has leaks, flaws, and gaps that should make a rational and reasonable person at least wonder. I think we have the ability to possess both an imagination and a rational mind for a reason.
Why Does God
Most religions hold that God is holy, righteous, and the embodiment of all things good and virtuous. If that is truly the case, would that God ever do anything to infringe the agency or choices of others? Would he or she use their obviously more expansive ability to make choices (intrinsic to being a God) to infringe the choices of lesser beings? I can conceive of very few examples where that would be possible.
The Old Testament (or Torah, I like the Torah) does a good job of showcasing instances where God had to step in and take direct action on Earth. In every instance it seemed to be possessed of two key components, preserving or increasing agency for future humans relative to the event, and maximum deniability. If a city was so wicked that all who would be born there would find their agency infringed from the moment they drew breath to the sum of their whole lives? That city would meet an unfortunate end.
Likewise, I think that God allows things like war and genocide to persist to give us the opportunity, collectively, to make our world as awesome or shitty as we want. Given the population and variety of people in the modern world, access to technology, and so forth, we have an even greater degree of agency than ancient peoples had. If war, famine or genocide occur on the planet, it is because we are choosing or allowing it to happen, not God.
If the whole world decided to just work together to make the best possible place to live, we could do it. We have the means at our disposal, the manufacturing capacity, and the substance of culture to make it a reality. The world isn't the dark place it sometimes is because of some grand celestial agenda, we are choosing as a race to make it this way. People aren't killed in war zones or on crime ridden city streets because God needs more angels, it’s about the choices we make.
The wisest individuals I've ever known were profoundly compromised by doubt and have many questions. The more they came to know and understand, the more the world would open up to them and illustrate just how much they do not know, and never will. If they answered a single question there would be a hundred more as a consequence and behind the answers to each of those, a hundred more, and so forth.
To possess incertitude one must merely possess questions about everything around them and be free of assumptions to that end. Most societies and faiths look down on individuals that possess doubt as being people who lack conviction. The truth is that this is usually the opposite. These are individuals usually lead intensely examined lives checking and double checking everything they do. They are not satisfied with seeking Virtue for a couple hours on Sunday or by putting a check in the mail for their favorite charity once a year. They are on a mission to learn whatever they can in this life. They live in every moment as themselves.
Incertitude has an extremely ethical sibling called Pessimism. This quality, properly honed, can protect someone leading an examined lifestyle from all kinds of (technical term) baloney. The world is full of crap designed to mislead you, leave you bereft of your agency, and outright harm you. A healthy pessimism is often the best armor against human negligence, greed, and avarice.
We don’t do anything in a vacuum. People who live an examined lifestyle are oddities, worth writing about, and worth watching. If one decides to live in such a way, others will be taking notes and trying to discern why or how you do all of your things. Pessimism isn't just a countermeasure to protect yourself, but also one for all the folks that might be quietly following your digital or real world footsteps.
Incertitude will rarely grant you the wisdom to know what you must do, but it is essential to the process of selection to that end. I think this is more than half of figuring out life, assuming God’s own ethical nonintervention being essential to agency. This isn't to say you should never do anything, but that you should figure out what it is, and do it now. Make sure whatever that is gives you and those around you more choices, not less.
Crisis Of Faith
These beliefs run contrary to the LDS Church. Speaking strictly for myself, I can’t profess to know with certitude that the Mormon Church is true or that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Likewise, I hesitate to say it isn't true as well. It is unlikely that in this life I will possess a traditional testimony, and certainly not the sort any Bishop would thank me for sharing. This isn't to say I don’t believe in a great deal of what the Church teaches, but that to core ideas designed to employ institutional certitude as a substitute for real conviction, I simply can’t subscribe.
Joseph Smith spoke of the economy of God relative to the leadership of the Church. To assume there is always a person on the Earth capable of setting aside their agency, denying a state of perdition, and being a true revelator and prophet is difficult, all things considered. Such individuals are going to be extremely rare. I’m not saying it is impossible, but that the idea that such a person exclusively speaks to the same tiny percentage of the world’s population since the 1800s isn't remotely economical. Do I think the Mormon Church was possessed of a true revelator and prophet at some point, and that they brought some actual truth into the faith?
Yes, and we’ll likely never know who that was exactly or the total sum of his or her contributions. I have theories, but no certitude relative to that.
Does that mean that all faiths potentially possess truth as my wife suggested? Would the duration the church has existed and the number of adherents make it more or less likely a true revelator and prophet has contributed to their doctrine? Is one of the active or dead faiths on the Earth possibly more “true” than the others?
Yes, no, maybe… but only relative to individuals in any case. I think there is probably a church more suited to my individual spiritual needs but that may not be the case for my neighbor. I’m still trying to figure all that out, and still be a good person. It is super hard.
The problem is that the various churches ask that I hold myself higher than others or make assumptions about their authenticity based on spiritual beliefs designed to govern me alone. It feels as arbitrary as claiming superiority over someone else because my tailor made pants don’t fit them. They would have me believe in absolutes and adopt certitude on things that I can’t ethically subscribe to. I think it may have been one of the few things I figured out young, but only realize now. There is no church or faith that will accept a person like me, but there are many that might tolerate my presence.
I will not contribute to institutional tyranny that asks that I hold myself as being closer to God than someone else on the basis of their identity as it relates to intrinsic qualities like race or gender. I can’t assume that the way I live my life could be universal to everyone or that anyone else could do as I've done and prosper spiritually. I will love and draw people close on the basis of the virtues they choose to embody.
Do I think that everyone should abandon their faith, science, atheistic notions, agnosticism, nihilism, or other belief set? No, but I think they should be a little less sure they've found the universal answer for them and everyone else.