Category Archives: Education

How Study Of Theology Can Strengthen Or Weaken Your Faith

Theology college courses change people. As the student sits down for his first lecture, he is surprised to hear the instructor sound atheist. Jericho was destroyed long before the Israelites got there. The bible was written during Israel’s captivity in Babylon, long after the supposed events took place. The Garden of Eden was just a fairytale based on other local legends.

“Well I still believe in the bible,” the student thinks. “I can learn all this important information and still hold on to my faith.”

Years later, the student receives a college degree. He still believes in his religion, but now he talks and acts very differently. When someone asks him about Paul’s sexist doctrine in the New Testament, he replies with a lengthy rationalization about what Paul actually meant according to the original Greek. When a young woman confides that she is ashamed about having sex outside of marriage, he tells her God loves all His children and she will not be damned for such a minor offense. In his Sunday sermons, he delivers pearls of wisdom from the scriptures, feel-good lessons that help people lead a better life.

But does he really believe the words he reads from the bible? Not any more.

People treat religion like a headache medicine. They want quick-term relief and comfort to help them sleep at night. But what happens when you become the pharmacist? What happens when you become the authoritative expert? Few are prepared to engage their religious beliefs in a rigorous classroom setting, and involve archaeology, philosophy, linguistics, ethics, and rhetoric.

When you turn personal beliefs into science , what you thought you know and what you find is reality rarely match up. It’s like that moment when you are dating and you realize all the imperfections in your partner, things you never could have imagined at first, and you have to decide whether to go on with the relationship. These dissonances will make the most brilliant and determined student push faith away, making it less personal. It will become detached and academic.

Follow Your Instinct

My number one rule has always been to follow my inner voice. My college teachers and even my church leaders may be smart and inspired people, but some of the biggest problems in life are caused by following the advice of others. There are core beliefs that are only between you and God.

Archaeologist Frank Calvert defied all his colleagues as he searched for the legendary city of Troy. Everyone told him that Troy was nothing but a myth from Iliad. But after many years his convictions paid off, and the city was discovered right where he said it would be.

There will be plenty of disillusionment as you study theology, but unless these moments of realization are uplifting, they do not make you a better man. Did Joshua really knock down the walls of Jericho like the bible says? The site of Jericho was destroyed before Joshua, so how could he? A weak theology student will take this as overwhelming evidence that the story was a myth. But, well, maybe there were two Jerrichos. There were two Bethlehems, after all. Or maybe the walls were wood, not stone, and have long ago rotted away. Or maybe the walls were dismantled and distributed to construct other buildings. There’s any number of explanations.

Or maybe the bible account we read is not what was originally written.

The challenge is to be open enough that you aren’t rationalizing everything that you presuppose, and yet you are sticking by your core convictions. Do not distance or detach yourself from your theology. I find that when I earnestly follow my honest instinct, my beliefs happen to end up in line with canon and true prophets. I find that my core convictions pay off and end up being right.

Avoid Social Justice Theory

There is no avoiding the primary question of existence: free choice vs. universal salvation. Oh we may think we got past that question long ago in the preexistence, when Lucifer’s plan was overthrown and we chose to come down to earth. But this battle is still at the heart of every non-believer, and the influence of Lucifer’s plan infests every society on earth.

How could a benevolent God allow suffering to exist? Why didn’t God create human beings who innately have enough integrity so that everyone chooses the right path? These doubtful questions are the reason why there are so many nonbelievers in America today, and they affect theologian more than anyone. The more you study theology, the more you get pushed to confront these foundational questions. Consider how great theologian C.S. Lewis doubted God’s benevolence after his beloved wife died. Or how Peter thrice denied Jesus after he saw Jesus being led away to his death. These doubts will come no matter who you are. The more you know about theology the less you are willing to just say: “I don’t know how the atonement works.” The important thing is that you are prepared in how you will deal these temptations when they come.

Popular culture today thrives on social justice. Environmentalism, social equality, gender equality, etc. all rely on social justice as the fundamental belief. The same rhetoric we fought against in the pre-existence is taught nonstop on PBS television and in the gender studies classroom–and in theology university courses. Social justice is merely a rehash of universal salvation, the same highly-competitive belief system that has been around from ancient Babylon to modern-day Communism.

The God of Christianity is like a math teacher who gives some students A’s and other students C’s. But is it just for God to create some people who eventually fail? Why can’t everybody get A’s? Universal salvation declares that nobody should be allowed to be better than anyone else. They will force you to live the right way to get to heaven. We are surrounded by chilling social justice rhetoric today.

Most religion professors and journalists put the cart before the horse in order to push a social agenda. They use religion to push gender equality or gay rights. But you get your social agendas from religion, not religion from your social agendas. With faith deconstructed, the theology classroom convinces students to replace empty meaning with social justice causes. So what is really at the heart of your social crusades, religious journalists?

Universal salvation.

Go On Your Own

In 1967, the LDS church acquired some fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri that some falsely say Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Abraham. The church’s leading expert in archaeology, Dr. Hugh Nibley, translated the fragments and discovered they were from the Egyptian Book of Breathing, not from the Book of Abraham. Nibley was tasked with presenting his findings to the world. So how did Nibley explain it?

Nibley wrote the most important volume on Mormon archaeology ever produced: Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri:. The fragments contained only a small handful of hieroglyphics, so the easy explanation was that the Book of Breathings was a companion to the Book of Abraham text, which has not survived. But this was not enough for Nibley. He researched the crap out of it, exploring every angle and the background of every piece. He did not seek rationalizations of his religious beliefs, but earnest investigations from various conjectures. His answers fit neither the narrative of the church nor the narrative of mainstream archeology. He explored new theories on the nature of translation and inspiration. He confronted what the world fundamentally thought about Egypt and ancient literature, and changed everything. He was honest and sincere.

Do not be afraid to break new ground. Now, this is dangerous because I see plenty of religious journalists out there pushing all kinds of wacky theories, spreading false doctrines. It is important to keep your ideas grounded in reality. Wacky theories arise when people try to take shortcuts to truth. No, Ezekiel 1 is not about aliens. The answer is much more complex, and only an earnest, hard worker will discover it.

Do not rationalize your false beliefs. Yet do not make hasty conclusions without exploring every piece of evidence. The answer is there. The scriptures lead you to the answer. Theology is great because you can involve all kinds of fields of study to back you up. We are encouraged to “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118) The key is a combination of study and faith.

Science can enrich your theology. Sir Francis Bacon pointed out, “even that school which is most accused of atheism doth most demonstrate religion.” An atheist scientist who sincerely seeks out truth can deliver truth. I find that to be true. It is up to you to deeply ponder the facts and tie them all together. The Social Justice ideology is thin and easily defeated with reason and logic. The “contemplative atheist is rare” to be found, indeed.

Evil ideology is cold and bears a false resemblance of humanity. True religion embraces human warmth in a sincere way, as it points man to God for his magnanimity. Feel out this direction with your eyes closed, like rays of the sun, and do not heed the calls of anyone else. To comfort the widow, strengthen the weak, cloth the naked, this is true religion.

See also: Why Do People Who Look Into Mormon History Lose Their Faith

How To Ask Difficult Questions In The Mormon Church Without Expressing Doubt

Some Mormons feel like there are skeletons in the closet that they aren’t allowed to discuss. The pressure to be quiet feeds the media articles and television clips about Mormonism’s “dark history.” Racism, sexism, a history of violence. How can we talk about these issues without inviting doubt and apostasy?

Raw Story acted shocked when a Mormon Sunday School teacher was reportedly “fired” for discussing black history in the church. Ex-Mormon Bruce Fey asked: “Where can a sincere devout member with difficult questions regarding church history, doctrine, and culture go to discuss those questions?”

Get Both Sides Of Every Argument

This is a strange question, because I never felt like questioning the church was banned. Growing up, my father played anti-Mormon Christian talk shows in the car. When the Christian talk radio started bashing Mormons, my father did not even say anything. He simply let it play. When I later asked him why he did that, my father explained: “I want you to get both sides of the argument and make up your own mind.” I was amazed that he put so much faith in my ability to make wise choices, especially considering how persuasive anti-Mormon arguments were.

I did not feel afraid to ask questions at church either. But then again, I did not get bothered by other Mormon members who looked down on me. There is always going to be self-righteous good-doers, and people are always going to react to their hostility by poking holes in their beliefs, namely the church. We are going to equate the self-righteous jerks with Mormonism itself. It’s always going to be that way, because that’s human nature wherever you go. So I think it is wise to try to separate concerns about unpleasant ward members with questions about eternal truths.

I was never interested in “gotcha” questions, like race history that anti-Mormons use.

Let’s use a different example: Joseph Smith being sealed to girls besides his wife Emma. Someone with shallow faith would hear that and their knee-jerk reaction might be to ask their Sunday School teacher: “Why would a prophet of God enter plural marriage with a young girl?” Someone with even shallower faith would whisper to their friend: “Hey, have you heard Joseph Smith did it with a girl on the side?” But an earnest and humble person who is concerned enough to find out the truth of the matter would research. I’m not talking about somebody’s blog or Wikipedia. Wikipedia is crap. I’m talking about prayerfully reading the girl’s autobiography and all other resources available. That’s what I did. Then, they would discuss the matter with someone who knows about this issue. They would then discover that the “marriage” was strictly for the afterlife and never involved physical relations, and that it was necessary to institute polygamy for Mormons at that time.

So my answer to the question is, everywhere. Ask your doubtful questions everywhere as long as you are sure they are sincere questions seeking truth about eternity. Just gather evidence from all sides of the argument. The truth will always set you free.

When I engage anti-Mormons on twitter they usually either block me or ignore me. They might talk to me at first but once they find that I know what I’m talking about, they try to move on. That is because they are not actually interested in discussing questions; they are only interested in disseminating anti-Mormon literature to Mormons to get people to leave the church. Actually, their methods are lot like the methods terrorists use to recruit people online. Terrorists quote some history book about slavery among the founding fathers, or say Christopher Columbus was a genocidal madman. Terrorists and anti-Mormons both have a series of “gotcha” issues that sound damning on first impression, but are actually very easily explained when viewed in the proper context. If these “gotcha” issues can instill just a tiny seed of doubt in your heart, they hope to fertilize that seed by moving on to other more personal issues. Gotcha questions are the thin end of the wedge to open up your doubts. We all have doubts.

Confront Issues That Make You Ask

What creates those doubts? When confronting your doubtful questions, it is important to ask yourself, “Why is this important to me?” There has got to be some underlying personal issue that makes this question stand out. Maybe someone is being mean to you at church. Or mybe you resent not being given a “higher” priesthood office. Or maybe you resent not being allowed to drink coffee like your cool friends. The questions of the heart are much harder to pin down and much harder to answer than the questions of the head. But they must be confronted.

It is also important not to rationalize. Cognitive dissonance will remain if you simply try to patch up your testimony with half-hearted answers. The issue is often some transgression that causes you guilt and makes you look for a way out–it is actually about you, not the church. Maybe coffee is just a symbol for the physical relations you have with your boyfriend? If so, gather raw church information for why chastity is a good thing, and compare that with arguments for why sexual relations outside of marriage makes you “free” and “empowered.” Then talk to people who wisely understand the issue, such as a Mormon family psychologist.

Admit that you don’t know the answer to begin with, and that’s okay. Maybe you have made big mistakes in life or maybe some of your beliefs are wrong. Admit that maybe you have a shallow concept of who your ideal self is and how to get there. Take a few hours to quietly ponder it.

You can’t rely on other Mormons for your testimony because they will let you down. People are going to be mean to you at church. They are going to act hypocritical. If you build your self-esteem and eternal goals on the praise of others, you are going to be crushed when you discover that in this world the only person who really looks out for you above all else, is you. God is certainly there to lift you up at a moment’s notice, but ultimately it comes down to you deciding who you are going to be. How are you going to let yourself be defined?

The very question “Where can I ask questions” shows a faithless reliance on what other people think of you. It shows that you expect answers to be handed to you instead of searching the raw data for yourself. Fellow saints are not the keepers of your testimony, you are. We should absolutely lift each other up, share wisdom, and give each other positive encouragement. We should be family. But in striving toward perfection, we must not put the cart before the horse and pretend like we have all the answers, the image of our ideal self pinned down, or the path to get there. At some point, we need to be realistic about who we are and love ourselves for the good and bad.

Ask All Questions

Finally, don’t just ask your questions at church. Ask them everywhere about everything. Realize that loss of faith does not occur in a vacuum; people don’t just become “un-religious.” Whatever or whoever inspired you to ask a question has a religious agenda themselves. This includes the movement to ordain women, the movement to marry gays, the media website or television channel that wants you to buy their commercial products. Ask what their agenda is. They like to frame themselves as secular movements fighting against backwards religion, but the truth is they are every bit as religious, and their crusades against the church are religiously motivated. They are not just nice people who want “equal rights.”

When you seek both sides to the argument, don’t treat the other side as simply the negation of church doctrine, but ask yourself what they would replace that teaching with. What is their solution? What is their fundamental ideology? In considering the feminist dogma that crusades against Joseph Smith for marrying that girl, and ask yourself why if secularists just want “the right to love” for gays, why do they oppose polygamy–the right to love. Do they truly want to give people the “right” to marry whomever they want? Ex-Mormons like to call themselves ex-religion, but it is impossible to go through life without believing in something, in your heart and in your head. They have an ideology, and there is a reason why they conceal it and refuse to talk about it openly.