Friday, May 1, 2009

Why I believe - not your typical Mormon testimony

Creation proves the existence of a creator.

It is the natural order for organization to move to disorganization, the ONLY time disorganization moves to organization is when an intelligent being acts as organizer. For this universe and this world to have come into existence, a creator HAS to have been involved, otherwise disorganized matter would have remained disorganized matter in perpetuity.

The very first thing I was taught in Physics 101 was, In all scientific experiments, the result will either be random or predictable. It is simply not scientifically possible for anything unique and functional to spontaneously create itself.

Some may mistake this for an argument against macroevolution. Evolution is a matter of biology, and unlike physics, which I find fascinating, biology is a science I have no interest in. Theistic evolution seems perfectly reasonable to me, and I don't care to delve further into how the creator engineered this work. My concern is establishing that world was engineered, a fact which is just as obvious to me as the fact that my watch must have been designed by a person. That I didn't watch him draw out the plans, and can give you little or no information about who he was, hardly constitutes grounds to dispute the watchmaker's existence.

Furthermore, personal experience confirms to me that not only does God exist, he actively, though discretely, intervenes in my life.

I have seen events fall into place so precisely that I cannot believe that they were just a series of coincidences. Most significantly were the rather extraordinary circumstances which led me to discover Mormonism.

As a reckless, self-destructive teenager, it is a miracle that I never killed or crippled either myself or any other person. Literally a miracle.

Within Mormonism, there is a phenomenon sometimes referred to as a "burning in the bosom" (Luke 24:32). We believe that this is the influence of the Holy Ghost. I call it as a phenomenon because I am convinced that it is legitimately supernatural. I have felt it so powerfully that I cannot consider it possible that it was just my imagination. Furthermore, I felt overwhelmed by it before anyone told me about it, and as a missionary I had people just as strongly affected ask me what it was, who I had not yet taught about it, or told to expect it.

After the scientific need for an intelligent designer, and all that God has done in my life, the final pillar of my faith is the Book of Mormon.

I do not hold conventional Mormon beliefs about this book of scripture, nevertheless, I certainly do believe in it. Whether it contains accounts of actual people who lived, and events which actually took place, I don't know. I'll leave it up to FARMS, and those who challenge their premises, to continue to battle it out over questions of archaeology, and whether the metals, plants, and animals of the BOM could have been found anciently in the Western Hemisphere. To me, these are peripheral issues. The true measure of it's worth is in it's teachings. The fact that young man, on the American frontier in the 1820's, whose education came primarily in his home, produced a work that educated people to this day find so deeply meaningful, is a miracle. I firmly believe that Brother Joseph could not have produced it without supernatural assistance, and that since it testifies of Christ, that supernatural force has to have been a positive one, ie. God.

I've read the collection of B. H. Roberts writings, published by Signature Books under the title, "Studies of the Book of Mormon". This contains what critics of the church consider to be the strongest arguments for Joseph Smith being capable of producing the BOM with the sheer power of his fertile imagination, and the sources available in his community. My reasons are a series of blog entries of their own, but for now I will simply say that I remain unconvinced.

I have also read Ethan Smith's, "View of the Hebrews", and the Spaulding Manuscript, both alleged to be source material for the Book of Mormon. I found in both of them only general similarities and some very significant differences. A verbatim quote would be the smoking gun that shoots down the Book of Mormon, but guess what?, not a single instance can be found.

Within the Book of Mormon, the Book of Jacob ends with the phrase, "Brethren, adieu". Letters written by his mother demonstrate that she would close with this French word. Also there's that passage about treasures becoming slippery, a reflection of superstitions the prophet was known to have held in his youth. These examples serve as subtle hints that Joseph produced this work himself, that it was not ghost written or plagiarized.

This undoubtedly sounds very different from the way you usually hear a Mormon "bear his testimony".

Most who come to my blog are probably familiar with the way Mormons express usually their faith. The fact that I have not made the statement, "I know the church is true", most likely stands out to you. The one thing that just about everyone considering what to make of Mormonism all have in common is the approach, "It this true or is it not"?

This position may be popular, but is it reasonable?

People love to question whether a source of information and ideas is credible. If they can label it is not credible, they feel relieved of any further need to consider anything that source has to offer. I assert that this is intellectual laziness. If someone asks me to take their word for something that cannot be independently verified, that's one thing, but when I listen to people presenting lines of reasoning, I take their arguments one by one. That which I find to be reasonable I adopt into my own beliefs, and that which I do not find reasonable I do not.

Joseph Smith presented the world with some profound lines of reasoning, but since he claimed to see God, and claimed that God had rejected Christendom and had began Christianity anew through him, people are eager to dismiss him, and everything he ever taught, in their entirety. Not only that, there exists a prejudice that anyone who takes Smith's teachings and claims seriously cannot possibly have anything meaningful to say.

What I find incredible is that on the one hand, the critics assert that Joseph had such an amazing intellect that he made up this rich and complex system of belief from the sheer power of an incredible imagination, and on the other hand, they say that nothing this highly intelligent man ever had to say deserves any serious consideration.

When I study this man's teachings, I find a combination of the profound and the absurd. He gave us answers to all the most vexing questions Christian thinkers have been struggling with for centuries. One of his most valuable contributions addressed the matter of those who die without ever hearing the gospel. He told us that the assumption that death is the deadline for accepting Christ is wrong, that there is still time to be taught and to accept in the next life, while we await the resurrection. He also mistook Masonic folklore for literal history, was deceived my a con man named John C. Bennett, and said that some common Egyptian funerary scrolls, which had nothing to do with the Israelites or their faith, had been written by the biblical patriarch Abraham, in his own hand. At times he demonstrated a level of reasoning consistent with the limited educational opportunities of the frontier, at others his teachings far surpassed anything we could expect from someone of his background. All of which leads me to one clear conclusion, here we have one fallible mortal man, who did from time to time converse with God and angels.

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