Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke at the BYU devotional this week, on the subject of doubt and belief, which ties into a very interesting, recent four hour debate on religion between Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris.
Elder and Sister Renlund spoke on faith crisis Sunday night. I wrote about that earlier. It was a very difficult talk for me. Perhaps the most difficult I’ve heard from LDS leadership since my faith crisis and reconstruction began 12 years ago. They seemed to downplay the difficulty many undergoing through faith crisis are having and seemed to ridicule or blame them for struggling with issues. As a Latter-day Saint who covenants to sustain Elder Renlund, I’m not criticizing him. But it was difficult.
Elder Uchtdorf gave a talk at BYU on the same subject, which resonated with me a lot more. He introduced the talk with an anecdote of a musician giving a world class level concert in a subway to see if people would notice. I love this concept and it has become a bit of a theme for me.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
In the talk, Elder Uchtdorf took the approach that faith and doubt are very difficult, very normal issues. His approach was to encourage the doubter to start with a desire to believe and make seeking God a lifetime pursuit. And gave an apostolic promise that if one did do that, they would eventually be rewarded.
Some of you might now say in order to have a greater belief in God I have to believe? But that’s exactly my problem. What if I can’t believe? The answer is. Then hope. And desire to believe. That is enough to start. To desire to believe means to open your heart to the possibility of spiritual things. To lay aside skepticism and cynicism. If you can simply want to believe, that can start the seed of faith.
Please understand this is not a process of once and done. It is not a process of minutes or hours. It may not be a process of months or even years. It is a process of a lifetime. We are seekers. You and I. We are light gatherers. You and I. We are on this lifelong mission to gather light and bear it to the world, which will lead us through the joys and trials of life. Don’t ever stop seeking. Jesus promised that if we seek we shall find. If we knock, it shall be opened. If we listen, we will hear… Hold onto that promise. Even if it takes your entire lives to find the precious light and truth you seek, it will be well worth the effort.
This journey is not easy. You’ll come across some real tough questions. Questions that you may never answer.
Why does the evidence seem to point to me that it is not possible that the Book of Mormon is an actual, historical record, yet why have I seen the transformational power it has in my own life and lives of others?
Why does Joseph Smith’s behavior surrounding polygamy seem so obviously scandalous and not of God, yet when I commit to and live according to the gospel and church he restored to us, my life is greatly blessed?
Why is it so hard to even believe God exists, yet I feel such a call to seek him and her?
Don’t be ashamed if you struggle with these and many other questions. They’re tough questions. But I believe as Elder Uchtdorf says, if you can suppress the skepticism and seek God, you will be rewarded. Earth is crammed with heaven.
The answers as you seek them might lead you to a different paradigm. The paradigm I’ve adopted to address those questions is to view the historical events in scripture and the LDS restoration as metaphorical. Jordan Peterson is using this paradigm in his debate with atheist Sam Harris about the value of religion and belief in God.
Sam: You say you believe in God.
Jordan: No, I say I act as if he exists.
This for me is the subtle difference between faith and belief. We can’t control our beliefs, in my opinion. They are formed at a subconscious level we can’t dictate. But we can control our faith, which is how we act.
Eric Weinstein, acting as the moderator, and attempting to summarize Jordan Peterson’s point, said:
The idea of metaphorical truth is the idea that there are some concepts which are literally false that you can falsify in a scientific, rational sense. But if you behave as if they are true, you come out ahead of where you were if you behave according to the fact that they are false. So to call these things simply false is an error. In effect the universe has left them true in some sense other than a purely literal one. Encapsulations of stories and prescriptions that if you follow them, irrespective of whether they literally describe the universe, you end up with advantages you may not know why they are there, nonetheless you are ahead of your position had you tried to navigate without these truths.