“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
- Hamlet (1.5.167-8)
I almost lost my faith to reason.
I almost lost my faith to reason when I embraced agnosticism for a year or so in high school, unsure of what I believed, but still walking the walk of Mormonism, betting that it’d be better for me if God turned out to be real (a Pascalian wager of sorts). But, since I had not yet been totally immersed in the waters of secularism, I returned to my faith after a touch of the transcendent, a taste of the divine, a brush with God.
Shortly after my mission, reason again left my faith in tatters, barely clinging to life. I had hundreds of questions (literally, I kept a list until I passed 500 or so). Questions such as: What’s up with polygamy? Is it from God? Will it be required of me? Will we eat meat in Heaven? Will we eat in Heaven at all? If prophets can be wrong about major moral questions, what purpose do they serve? What do I do with questions about the historicity of the Book of Mormon? Or struggles with questions about history, truth, translation, and the Bible? What does it mean for a church to be true?
I was hungry for answers and so I began to read.
I felt a desperate need to prove my faith to my intellect, justify my beliefs with logical arguments, present evidence to myself for every piece of my testimony. I read voraciously, thought deeply, engaged passionately with everything I could get my hands on.
I often felt alone.
I went to church and felt like everyone else was living in a different world. I thought that everyone was unaware of the questions and doubts and concerns that consumed me. I rarely voiced these thoughts and just stewed, going through the motions as if everything was fine. I largely avoided wielding my shiny pin of skepticism to pop bubbles of faith and belief, but sat with skepticism finding logical holes and rational problems with what people were saying.
I’ve since come to realize that I’m not alone and that many people find themselves battling to prove their faith empirically, using rational, Enlightenment-esque, secular reason. I fought that battle. I still periodically find myself engaging with my faith on those terms. But I eventually realized that the battle was rigged. Unless I found a way to get around the distortions that using reason alone created, I was doomed to lose my faith, my belief, my hope.
Through a series of experiences that I couldn’t rationally or empirically explain completely, I came to realize that my faith didn’t need to justify itself to reason.
Faith opens the immanent—the world that we can touch and see and hear—to the transcendent. Reason gives us access to the tangible and the empirical, while faith works in the unseen and intangible. Faith and reason can work together and complement each other, operating by different rules.
Everything changed once I realized there was an alternative to buying into the empiricist worldview that surrounds us, that tried to convince me that all that mattered was what I could prove with evidence, what could be measured and tested. Logic and reason are not the only metrics that have value. There is more to life than the immanent world around us.
Faith and reason are both valuable in my life. Faith operates in the realm of the unseen, the emotional, the mysterious cognitive processes that keep my mind whirring, the feelings that I feel, the deep gut-level sense of right and wrong that guides my actions and politics and ideally, my way of life. Reason helps me sort and order my thoughts. Reason guides much of the how’s of my life, helping me find the most effective way to live out my principles.
Part of giving new life to faith was admitting that I don’t know much. I strive to embrace epistemic humility, that is, to recognize that my beliefs are limited by my own lived, personal experience and that true, objective knowledge is probably beyond my mortal reach. Letting go of the need for knowledge freed me and my soul to believe.
Some days belief is a choice--the choice that Mormonism is my faith and my story, which I assent to wrestle with. But more often than not, it feels as if belief has chosen me, that belief has been thrust upon me and refuses to let me rest. Belief calls to me and who am I to deny that call?
I don’t know if everyone can or will feel the call of belief that I do. I hope that everyone can find something to believe in, some way to connect to the transcendent around us. This connection doesn’t need to (and often may not) look like a standard religious belief system. But I hope that everyone can find something beyond reason to account for the mysterious in our world.
I believe that giving in to reason and refusing to evaluate faith on its own terms limits the breadth of the human experience you can participate in. That was my experience. I needed to trust that my subjective, spiritual experiences—my encounters with the transcendent—meant something. That the meaning of those experiences is in excess of what reason contains. That the meaning those experiences carry may shift too, but that doesn’t invalidate them.
Adam Miller taught, “Every generation must work out their own salvation. Every generation must live its own lives and think its own thoughts and receive its own revelations. And if Mormonism continues to matter, it will be because they, rather than leaving, were willing to be Mormon all over again.” (see, footnote)
I believe that part of my being Mormon all over again, is to be a post-secular Mormon—a Mormon that lives in a thoroughly secularized world, a world that discounts the transcendent, that argues for reason above all, a world where faith must coexist with doubt. A post-secular Mormon seeks belief in the face of it all.
I don’t know what this means on a large, institutional scale and will likely never be in a position where I’d be obligated to figure it out, but I believe living as a post-secular Mormon matters for how I interact with my own faith and the faith of my fellow comrades in Christ in the pews with me.
For the good of my own faith and the faith of my fellow comrades in Christ, I believe we can and should talk about faith on its own merits, faith that doesn’t need to be logical or reasonable, nor can it be. I believe that this is a part of our generation working out our own salvation. I believe that recognizing the role that faith has in our lives can help us use reason more precisely. I believe in the transcendent. I believe that I can be Mormon all over again. I believe that my faith coexists with doubt. I believe that we can all find something to believe in. I believe that we need not lose our faith to reason.
Miller, Adam. “Introduction: A Future Tense Apologetics.” Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology. Draper, UT, Greg Kofford Books, 2016. xi-xii.