By Mike Barker
I’ve had an idea bouncing around in my mind for quite a while now, unformed until recently.
For me, this past Sunday was one of those days that you wish hadn’t happened. It was a horrible day. While the details aren’t important, it did cause me to seriously question (again) my relationship with the faith of my parents. It caused me to question my own faith. Is there a place in my faith-community for a person like me? What kind of person am I?
I read – a lot.
I think – a lot.
I question – a lot.
I hope – a lot.
I know – very little.
I love – a lot, but perhaps not enough.
I have faith.
A few months ago one of my friends who reads this blog said to me, “Mike, you are smart. Be careful though. I have seen people like you who think too much and end up leaving the church.” I bristled at his comment. I have also been asked, “Mike, why do you read so much?” So why do I read? Why do I question? Why don’t I “know”?
I recently heard Dr. Bob Rees say, “There are two types of Mormons I don’t trust – those that don’t think at all and those that think too much.”1 I like that insight. But what is “too much”?
I don’t believe that rationale is antithetical to religious belief. To say that rationale is the only reliable form of epistemology is to deny many forms of truth: moral truths, aesthetic truths, intuitional truths, religious truths. It is just too restrictive a form of epistemology.
As I was driving home today, I called my brother, Paul, and started trying to work out my feelings about what happened this past Sunday and why I do feel so driven to study and question.
Most religious communities foster several forms of worshipping God. Worship can be expressed through ritual, through prayer, and through contemplative reflection. On very rare occasions have I, personally, found God through prayer or through ritual – be it temple, the Lord’s Supper, or other forms. It has dawned on me that I worship God by wrestling with Him with my mind, which does bring questions and doubts. But it is in this intellectual engagement where I ultimately feel closeness to my Heavenly Parents. “Belief itself is a choice I wrestle with God for, somewhere in a dark swampland, my inner landscape; where not only God’s credibility, but my own are at stake.”2
“If our popular [Mormon] culture demonizes the intellect, that’s not what Joseph [Smith] taught. Joseph taught that we are intellects fully as much as we are spirits. Or sometimes he seemed to say that our essence is spirit-intellects. That’s what we ontologically are. And to bifurcate those, to sunder the mind and the spirit is to be apostate from major thrusts of Joseph’s theology.”3
Now I have laid on the altar my sacrifice. The sacrifice that I bring to my faith-community is my mind, my thoughts, my intellect. But, wait. I am Cain, not Able. My sacrifice is not needed. My offering is not wanted. My offering is rejected. My offering is pushed out the chapel doors and asked not to return. I am Cain.
But do our Heavenly Parents require us to all worship the same? Are we all to bring the same offering to the altar?
“Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another, the communion of saints. If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note. Aristotle has told us that a city is a unity of unlikes, and St. Paul that a body is a unity of different members. Heaven is a city, and a Body, because the blessed remain eternally different: a society, because each has something to tell all others– fresh and ever fresh news of the ‘My God’ whom each finds in Him whom all praise as ‘Our God.’”4
It would be absurd for me to require my religious community to desist their ritualized and contemplative form of engaging the divine. So why, then, do so many feel uncomfortable with how I engage the divine?
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy…mind.”
This is how I engage Mormonism. This is how I worship God.
1Dr. Bob Rees, A Thoughtful Faith podcast, episode 22; click here to listen.
2Dr. Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D. in psychology and education from University of Michigan and an M.B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a practicing psychologist for over twenty years, and is a former president of the Association of Mormon counselors and Psychotherapists; Best of FAIR podcast episode 10 “Believest thou…?” click here to listen.
3Dr. Phillip Barlow, Mormon Matters podcast, episode 73; 1:15; click here to listen.
2C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.