Thursday, February 16, 2006

An Open Letter to all Atheists and Agnostics

“Our deepest fear is not that we’re inadequate, our deepest fear is that we’re powerful beyond measure.”

Marianne Williamson

Ya know, for the longest time I had held that one of my greatest fears was not fulfilling my potential, I mean who does? Who goes around consistently doing their best? Is it even possible to do your “best”? I won’t even try to answer that question, because that’s another topic for another day. But it strikes at a topic that has been on my mind. A couple weeks ago I had an hour to kill between classes so I found myself here on Myspace browsing forums. I ended up in the religious forum for some reason, and saw a thread entitled: “The Book of Mormon”. I saw just how many replies it had and so I couldn’t help but venture in to see what sort of discussion was taking place about a book that, in my opinion, is absolutely unparalleled in its inception. Its claim of divinity and the circumstances that surround its origins are a subject of vast importance if they are indeed true. Well the discussion was the usual flare, ignorant claims, childish remarks, insults, biased declarations, demands for proof, the works. I kept reading, finding some redeeming qualities in some members of the church who stepped up and not only knew what they were talking about but conducted themselves in a highly intelligent, respectful and thoughtful manner, something that is kinda rare to see on an online forum. But a few of them seemed to win some respect with a few of the more intelligent individuals that were participating in the discussion. One of which, an agnostic, who was a member of the church at one point, but had slowly fallen away because ultimately, he said, could not prove to himself there was a God, got me thinking about agnostics and atheists in general. Therefore, I’ve decided to write an open letter that has been a long time coming, addressed to those who believe there is no God or assert they do not know. Atheists, Agnostics, this is for you.

Dear Agnostic/Atheist,

I am writing this letter as an explanation and as a challenge. An agnostic, as I find it, is defined as: One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God or One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism. Now fundamentally, with both an atheist and an agnostic, there is a large need to have the existence of religious things proven, as in scientifically, factually, they want to see the truth of it with their very own eyes, touch it with their hands, measure it, size it up, and make it into something that fits their own whims. They are very skeptical of the merits of religion. They worry about people following a “myth”, being deceived by “impossible promises” of eventual happiness. They had seen the terrible things that have happened through out history in the name of religion, and many figure religion does more harm than good. Now I know that much of the above is a generalization, but I honestly believe that many self professed atheists do not believe in God because they are not prepared to be what believing in a God entails. Saying there is no God perhaps becomes an excuse to a veiled problem with living a certain way. But for an agnostic on the other hand, they are content with the fact that ultimately God cannot be proven to exist in the way they want him to be proven to exist. Their excuse is God cannot be proven to exist, nor can God be proven not to exist. Or in other words, it’s too hard to know, so I’m not going to try.

So yeah, what am I getting at? Well, with all this demand for proof, one (as in me) who does believe there is a god cannot help but think about the concept of faith. It is the most fundamental concept of religious belief, and yet it is grossly misunderstood by even the most educated and thoughtful. If God, or rather the concept of God in their minds is intangible and abstract, does that mean that anything intangible and abstract is unknowable? Does the very concept of truth, of anything, being intangible make it doomed to subjectivity? How it is that someone would be willing to write off intangible concepts like honor, love, compassion, honesty, sacrifice, humility, and diligence because they cannot be proven, like people would prove the earth is round? It is my estimation that we all believe in far more intangible things than we realize, in fact, we live by them.

I remember on my mission, my companion and I were walking along the street in a nice little neighborhood in Beaverton Oregon, and we saw a bunch of guys sitting outside on their driveway eating lunch. So being the crazy missionaries that we were, we went up to them wondering if they’d like to hear a message. They got to talking with us, giving each other these knowing looks, as if they all understood us to be these naïve young kids that knew nothing about what they were doing. They were honestly good guys, they didn’t treat us with any contempt, just skepticism. I could tell they were hard working, caring family men, some active in their own respective churches, some not at all. But I remember one guy asking me more or less, “You say it’s a feeling you have, how do you know it’s not just indigestion?” I recall baring my simple little testimony in response to that which yielded little to nothing from any of them. They just gave us a bemused look and told us it was nice talking but that they weren’t interested. I walked away from that wondering how I could have handled that question better. Even years later, I’ve thought about what I could of said, trying to think about how I could have related in spiritual terms how he could have understood how the Holy Ghost is anything but indigestion. So many individuals go to church (yes even my church), profess to be Christians, and don’t know the role of the Holy Ghost, nor how to recognize his influence or really, what the holy ghost does at all. Knowing what the Holy Ghost is, what role he plays, and how to “listen” to his voice are vastly important to this very topic and to anyone who finds it difficult to reconcile the “proof” contained in religious belief as opposed to scientific truth.
After years of many experiences and pondering since that day in Oregon, I think I got the answer to that question figured out now. If I could have gone back to that moment I would have asked him if he loved his wife. “Yes, of course” he would have said, and then I would have asked him how he knew he was in love with her. From there I think he would have understood what I would have been saying. Both “beliefs” are based on very strong feelings. Sometimes you know something inexplicable that you can’t explain to someone else unless they have experienced the same thing. It’s like trying to explain what salt tastes like to someone who has never tasted it before. Yeah, try it, you won’t get anywhere. That’s why religious debates, especially ones between those that believe in God and those that don’t, turn into long winded often worthless efforts. Somehow, there must be a middle ground established, a bridge between what faith is, and what type of proof that is demanded by those that do not give it any adherence.

Belief in God holds the same inward personal nature as the aforementioned salt or love. In the simplest terms, setting out to believe in God is not a matter of coming to know he exists like you would come to know 2 + 2 = 4, or utilizing the scientific method to discover proof enough to produce a theory. You won’t be able to prove there is a God with things like a measuring stick or a magnifying glass, but there is a different tool you do use. It is very much a process as much as the scientific method is. Setting out to discover if there is a God is a matter of being willing to stake your whole life on a spiritual “bet” that he does. And that such a “bet” will either return that investment and then some, easily recognized within, or it will return nothing. Throwing your “money” into such a belief is a willingness to try to actually live well in this crazy ole world. Believing in God, having faith in Him, also includes having faith in you, having the sheer audacity to think you can live a life that harmonizes with what you slowly learn to be His expectations of you. Essentially it is an “experiment” to use a word a skeptic or a scientist would relate to. If, and I do mean if as powerful as I can emphasize the word, someone were to sincerely, wholeheartedly, without guile pray to know there is a God, being genuinely willing to live a life that believing in God entails if an unmistakable answer comes, I will promise, stake everything I have, that that someone will earn the beginning of the knowledge that there is a God. That is the challenge. If there is a God, He will answer such a question in such a way that there will not be any doubt as to its veracity. He will not answer if you are not willing to follow through with what gaining the answer entails. If God is what he is, you cannot lie to him to prove he does not exist by not answering you.

But what’s this unmistakable answer? How does someone know it’s not just “indigestion”, or that it’s simply the willingness to believe rather than actually receiving an answer? Well, frankly, it tastes like “salt”, meaning you have to honestly try it to really see. But I will tell you this, the fruits of the spirit, meaning the outcome, or result of what the Holy Ghost will feel like are, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5: 22). You have to really think about each one. Can you remember what each feels like? When you felt them? If you know, deep down, what something there feels like, you have already felt the spirit. It is my assertion that many have already been operating by the influence of the spirit and have yet to recognize its subtle power because its source is still unknown to them.

Ya see, we have all these emotions we feel, happiness, sadness, comfort, pain. Haven’t you ever thought about the inexplicable connection between those feelings and our behavior? Within that thought is the secret to happiness, and the quest human beings have been trying to “solve” for thousands of years. We want to know, and some things seem to be just beyond our grasp and yet still we try. Faith, my atheist and agnostic buddies, is as much a part of our nature as breathing. Therefore, back to that experiment, if you know what love feels like, or if you’ve ever felt truly good inside, that is what you can expect. Ya see, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) or even more succinctly put, “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32: 21)

That is faith. In the end, if there is a God, you will find out and you will know by experience and effort. But can you think of one good reason why he would, hypothetically, want you to discover Him by faith? Why not just appear and settle it once and for all? Isn’t it true that we tend to learn the most during the hardest periods we face in life? When do you really learn, when the answer is shown to you, or when you discover it on our own? Frankly, it’s all one big test, a test of the widest scale, covering our whole experience. It is the purpose to our lives. It’s that test, that initial “experiment” that most agnostics and atheists aren’t willing to try because it has ramifications they aren’t willing to take on. Like the good ole proverbial leap of faith, you either land on firm ground, or you don’t. If you don’t, it’s not true, if ya do, well, you better be willing to follow through with what you’ve discovered. Knowing something holds responsibility, so does the freedom to obtain it.

But why try to obtain knowledge that there is a God? What will it gain you? To that I ask, what if there is a God? What if there is a very distinct reason you are here, along with everyone that has even been on the earth? What if your choices really do hold eternal consequences? What if you really do have a Heavenly Father who genuinely cares for you? What sort of help are you denying yourself? What if you are decidedly against the very purpose of your existence? What does all that mean if all those answers are actually yes? Do you really know that there isn’t a God?

Okay, so, before I finish, I will issue a warning to those it applies to. If one that once had received knowledge of the existence of God who then acts contrary to such knowledge, that knowledge will soon wither and die and it will be even harder to earn again. Faith is much like growing a seed, or maintaining a fit body. It must be nourished, it must be exercised, and it must be upheld. Therefore it is almost more about maintaining earned knowledge than gaining it. In the scriptures the term is affectionately and repeatedly called:”enduring to the end”. Believing in God holds moral responsibility. But make no mistake about it, following God is your choice, and always will be. I’ve found many who aren’t religious tend to hold the belief that religious people are forced to follow rules upon rules, taking away their agency. No, agency is the bedrock of true spiritual progression. It is essential to everything God “hypothetically” has designed and planned. Without agency, a conceptual loving Heavenly Father would be saddened to have a bunch of children who have learned nothing. Without agency there is no personal growth. That is exactly what He would not want, wouldn’t you think? That is why a saying like, “God will force no man to heaven” is so important to understand because it illustrates a very important attribute of God. He loves us. God, if there is such a thing, does not want blind sheep, like so many would like to think everyone that believes in God is. No, He wants those who are willing to risk the effort to find out and then put that knowledge to action, and in turn, further knowledge and so on. He wants tempered progressive individuals. Can you imagine if there was a God, just how much He would need to love us to allow us to make our own decisions? That is the only way to truly test us. And that is his sole intention, to see us learn and grow, much like any loving parent here.

And so in closing, I just wanted to give a small rundown of the meaning of Christianity to emphasize the larger picture of everything that has been said. Faith is a verb. So is love. Exercising faith in Jesus Christ, is repenting of the things you know you shouldn’t do and forsaking them. That’s sin. And that’s repentance. And don’t kid yourself; you know the difference between right and wrong. You know it in your heart of hearts. Stop justifying it. Faith and repentance are the essence of what Jesus would call his Gospel, basically what it takes to earn the grace that he won by taking on everything on your behalf. Baptism is far more than getting dunked in water, it is lifelong promise to live according to Christ’s expectations, a symbolic immersion of conviction. Baptism itself then would be an outward expression to an inward commitment. It is a covenant with God, a covenant being a two way promise. In other words, an individual promises continual exercise of faith in Christ, by repenting of this sins, and by doing so they walk the road to being saved, to redemption, not by their merits, but by the grace of Christ. And those that continue in a belief in God, will begin to learn something wholly unique to that person, they will begin to learn as the years pass, as prayers have been sent and answers received, and subtle but powerful communication has been established and reestablished that there truly is a God. They will need to have exercised their faith in greater and greater degrees, but I am sure, that person will know there is a God as much as they can come to know the earth is round. I know you’re skeptical, I actually think it’s a nice trait to have, but if you truly possess a healthy skepticism in things, all I’m asking is you point it straight in the face of the belief that there is no God and get yourself down on your knees, search your mind, your heart, ponder those thoughts, and pray with sincerity. There is how to obtain your “proof” you keep asking for.

So what does all this have to do with the quote I noted before I said anything? Reread it again and then connect it with what I’ve said. The big question is: are you willing to take the challenge to come to know that there is a God on? What is it that makes you disregard the very notion of it? Is it fear? Pride? Why are you so afraid of tapping into your own potential, because that is where it exists. There is a God. You are a child of God. We all are. He loves you, and will give you every opportunity to realize it if you but look. There is a purpose to everything we are going through here on Earth, and there is a way to know it is all true if you simply and honestly want to know. I leave the desire and effort up to you, just as your Heavenly Father has.
In faith,


A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Moroni 10:3-5.

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

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