My Religion

I’ve thought for a long time about how I can describe my religion. The earliest versions where characterized by what it isn’t. I’m not really a Mormon. I’m not really a Christian. I’m not really agnostic. I’m not really gnostic.

As I’ve learned more, I’ve come to realize something a bit deeper: naming things is hard. Ironically, I am intimately aware of this in another context. In programming, we have a saying that goes “The two hardest problems in Computer Science are cache invalidation and naming things”.

There’s an amusing version of this that says “the two hardest problems in Computer Science are cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors“.

Naming things is hard. There’s a ton of mythology that is built up around the idea of knowing the name of a thing, and that principle finds itself in some of the best literature of our day.

“[E]ven the simplest of names is well beyond our reach. Remember, I am not speaking of the small names we use every day. The calling names like ‘tree’ and ‘fire’ and ‘stone.’ I am talking about something else entirely.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a river stone, smooth and dark. “Describe the precise shape of this. Tell me of the weight and pressure that forged it from sand and sediment. Tell me how the light reflects from it. Tell me how the world pulls at the mass of it, how the wind cups it as it moves through the air. Tell me how the traces of its iron will feel the calling of a loden-stone. All of these things and a hundred thousand more make up the name of this stone. This single, simple stone. Can you see how complex even this simple thing is? If you studied it for a long month, perhaps you would come to know it well enough to glimpse the outward edges of its name. Perhaps. This is the problem namers face. We must understand things that are beyond our understanding. How can it be done?” Rothfuss, Patrick. The Wise Man’s Fear (pg 116-117).

How can I name something that is ever-changing? How can I describe something as complex as the foundation of my soul? Words utterly fail me. And so, I have no thing by which I can call my beliefs.

So, I will attempt to crudely describe it, in the hopes that you can glimpse the shape of it.


I believe in the infinite potential of man. I believe that the sum total of all the things we know could fit on the head of a pin, with room for a million angels to dance next to it. I see so many around me that claim to “have a fulness”, yet how could anyone make such an audacious claim? Mathematically, our existence must be made up of at least 10 dimensions, yet for all our science and understanding, we can only perceive things that happen in 3 of those 10. We have 7 dimensions that surround us and are in us and are of us that we cannot even begin to see. There could 2 entirely distinct realities all folded up next to us, each with its own three dimensions, and there would still be a whole dimension left over, and no one would know.

And yet, I believe that it is our responsibility to learn all that we can. I believe that the fundamental characteristic of divinity is knowledge. I believe that Joseph Smith chose the word “intelligence” for a reason, as he was trying to describe the eternities. It is intelligence and knowledge that make us divine, and it is its lack that damns us.

I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. (Abraham 3:19)

… this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God… (John 17:3)

A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge… (Joseph Smith, TPJS (pg 217)

My religion is education. My religion is science. My religion is to learn as much as I possibly can. I welcome knowledge from wherever it comes, because my goal is to become like God, who knows everything.

I utterly reject the idea that some knowledge is inherently evil, or useless, or of no worth. I also reject the idea that some knowledge is more interesting than other knowledge. I freely admit that I personally value certain kinds of information over other kinds, but that is because I am a fallible human being who cannot understand the true scope of everything.

If I believe in the potential apotheosis of mankind, then I must believe that I will eventually learn everything required to construct a universe, from string theory to orbital mechanics to chemistry to mathematics to psychology, biology, sociology, and beyond. I must know it all, because I must be “more intelligent than they all”.

I see our path to the divine as an intensely personal one. My salvation will come to me because of my choices, and mine alone. No church can save me. No man can save me. No one can carry me to God. I must find the path and I must walk it alone.

Mainstream Christianity (including the LDS Church) would have you believe that they can carry you to God. And why wouldn’t they teach that? If you believe that, then that teaching makes them persistently valuable and continuously relevant; it is in their interests that you believe they will always be important. They see themselves as the vehicles by which salvation is delivered.

I cannot accept this view. It relies on an exclusive view of knowledge (“Only this, but not that”). But I believe that our path to God must be an inclusive path, and it is a lonely path; a path where we must wander in darkness alone, relying solely upon our timid and feeble connection to God to lead us through the things that would distract us.

Along the way, God may send us messengers. He (and I use the pronoun loosely and out of convenience) has always sent messengers to point the way. But the messengers are never meant to be followed. They come to deliver a message, and it is the message we must follow. Not the messenger.

I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. (Morpheus, The Matrix)

This is all God has ever done. He has only ever shown us the path, but He leaves the choice to follow it up to us.

This is the role of a church and organized religion. It is meant to be a guidepost along the path to God. It is meant to be a messenger to show us the way to go, and then having chosen that way, it become irrelevant to us.

The only way to find the path is to learn as much as I can, because it is by learning that I can recognize and see the path.

This is my religion: to find my path to God, and to follow it wherever it goes.

Jonah

For the past several of months, I have had an incessant drumbeat in my head, urging me to “find others like you”. It is a plea to bring others together, to draw them in, to gather them; it is all the same message.

And to my chagrin, I have been ignoring it.

I’ve been ignoring it because I have no idea where to start. Where do I go looking for people like me? I have no idea how to begin describing how I think. I’ve thought that Rock’s suggestion of “uncorrelated Mormon” is a decent start. “Christian” is also a good one, but even that falls short of what I am envisioning in my head.

However, I cannot ignore this any longer. I must do this, or else this divine demand will fade, and who knows if I would be favored with its return. I still have no idea what to do, but I must do something.

I had a brief conversation with God this afternoon, and this is how He chastised me:

You have neglected to do what I have asked you to do. You have not found others like you. You have not been keeping records. You have not been searching for me. You have simply been standing still, looking around, and considering alternatives. Choose! Choose to do something! And after you have chosen I can refine your choices. Choose to be cold or hot. Choose to act. Choose to believe, and choose to have faith that your choices will bear good fruit. … Choose to study out of sacred books. Choose to exercise and bring your body to be in tune with your spirit. Choose to seek out learning through faith. Choose to live a life of light. Right now you are wandering and have no direction. The things you fill your time with are obscuring the fact that you are aimless, and they are filling your belly with food that does not satisfy, and water that does not slake your thirst.

So, I will begin.

Changes

Steve Evans over at By Common Consent has published a “Laundry List” of changes he would like to see the LDS Church make.

While a bunch of these are a bit tongue-in-cheek (ahem), I whole-heartedly agree with the list. The Church has gone astray. Implementing the things on this list would be a massive step towards getting back on the proper path.

Intelligence and Voices

A while ago I posed the question:

if God speaks to me “after the manner of [my] language”, how do I know that it is His voice that I hear, and not my own? (Recognizing the Voice of God)

I realize now this is the wrong question. It is not the voice that matters, and here’s why.

God communicates to us through the Holy Ghost. He speaks, and we “feel pure intelligence flowing into [us], it may give [us] sudden strokes of ideas” (TPJS pg 153). In other words, God does not speak in words. He speaks in ideas, and our feeble brains try to translate those ideas in to concepts and words that our finite minds can grasp. So of course the words sound like our words, because it is our brains doing the translation.

But as I’ve written recently, the voice speaking the words is irrelevant. The only pertinent information is the information itself. What matters is the idea being conveyed, not who is conveying it. It does not matter if it is our voice, or someone else’s voice, or even Satan’s voice. If the message is a true message, we ought to heed it.

Experiments

On the popular TV show MythBusters, one of the hosts once said:

“Remember kids, the only difference between science and screwing around is writing it down.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSUMBBFjxrY)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about keeping records, and this quote jumped to mind at one point. It got me thinking: If I’m not writing down what is going on with my life, then technically I’m just screwing around.

This next prompted me to think: then what am I testing? When results should I be recording? What experiment is being performed?

Alma talks about this in Alma 32, where he invites us to perform “an experiment”. In this experiment, he describes a seed (“the word”) being planted in our hearts. Except here, he gets it a bit wrong.

In a proper experiment, you want only a single variable. That way, as you observe results, you can confidently attribute them to the singular difference between that experiment and the control group. Unfortunately, Alma describes a bit of a shoddy experiment, because he’s under the impression that the variables are 1) the seed and 2) the fertility of our hearts. He describes the variable of the seed as “if it be a true seed”, and the variable of our hearts by saying “if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief”.

While Alma is describing an inappropriate setup for a proper experiment, he actually unwittingly gets it right. What is being tested here is not the seed. The seed, or the word, is unchanging. We know a priori that the seed is a good seed. What is being tested then is the fertility of our hearts. Or put more simply, whether we will choose to receive the seed or not.

This is the grand experiment; this is the thing we are sciencing: our agency. What will we choose? Will we choose to nurture the seed, so that it will grow and swell and put forth fruit? Or will we choose to neglect it and end up casting it out?

And if we perform these experiment, are we recording our results? Or are we just screwing around?

Knowledge

Sure knowledge is the enemy of learning. 

Once you claim to know something, you have shut yourself off to ever learning anything new about the subject. If I claim “sure knowledge”, I am also claiming “sure stubbornness”. I am claiming “sure ignorance”, and consequently “sure damnation”.

“Sure knowledge” means that I have shut myself off to the possibility of nuance and more information. Why would I be interested in learning more if I already “know” a thing? I would never consider new ideas, because I would “know” that I have already learned the whole of a thing. 

It is eternally dangerous to make such an audacious claim as the one of sure knowledge, yet we hear it all the time. The pride in this idea is cancerous, because it begins to infect our other notions. 

I do not know anything. I believe many things, but I try to be open to the idea that my beliefs are wrong, that I do not have all the information, and that the number of things I can learn is eternal and infinite. With such a perspective, how could I ever claim to know the end of a thing?

Ad Hominem

An ad hominem fallacy is one where, instead of attacking an argument directly, you attack a person making the argument, and use your attacks on that person as a way to discredit the argument. In short, you’re ignoring the thing being debated and attacking the debater.

Many of those who have become disaffected from the LDS church are guilty of ad hominem fallacies. They decry that since the church is corrupt, its message must also be corrupt. Similarly, those in the church are guilty of this whenever they slap the label “anti-Mormon” on something and use that as an excuse to not listen.

Ad hominem also works in the inverse, too. The conventional meaning is that you distrust something because of where it comes from, but the inverse is also a fallacy: to give credit to something because of its source, and not because of the thing itself. Mormons do this a lot in the form of the “Follow The Prophet” trope. “Anything that the Prophet says is true because the Prophet said it” is an ad hominem fallacy. Similarly, for some disaffected Mormons, “Anything that Denver Snuffer says is true because Denver Snuffer said it.”

In both of these cases, the important thing is being ignored, and we are focusing on something that does not really matter. In both cases, the source of the material is completely irrelevant. It does not matter who said it. What matters is what was said. Is the message of God? Does it encourage you to believe in Him and deepen your personal relationship with Him? Or does it drive you away? Does it entice you to scorn your brothers and sisters and place yourself (or anyone else) on a pedestal?

We can extend this to other things as well. People dismiss the Book of Mormon because they believe Joseph Smith was a fraud. This is an ad hominem fallacy. The Book of Mormon can be true and important and relevant regardless of how it came in to being. It does not matter if it came from golden plates divinely translated by an uneducated farm boy, or if it came from the dictations of a white salamander, or it if came from the machinations of conspiring men. What matters is what it teaches.

All humans are fallacious. We are all weak, culpable, fragile, and unreliable beings. But that does not stop us from being capable of beautiful works and great goodness. To ignore or reject something good simply because you don’t like where it comes from is wrong. And accepting something evil because you like the source is equally wrong.

The sources don’t matter. Just the message.