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.

The Purpose of Life

Over the past few months, I have come to a deeper understanding of just what life is all about. I confess that the Plan of Salvation has never adequately explained the “why” of life to me. It only really explains the “what”. It explains what happened, what is happening, and what might happen. But it doesn’t really explain why it needs to happen that way.

As I have meditated on this, I have been granted a deeper understanding of what life is all about.

It goes something like this:


We believe God is a just and fair god. We believe that all people, regardless of their life circumstances, come to this life for roughly the same purpose. We believe that maybe some people have some additional special purposes (Joseph Smith springs to mind), but our common denominator is that we’re all here for the same reason.

So what is the common basis of our existence? We are all born, we all live, and we all die. But more importantly, we do not remember who we are, and the only thing we take with us when we leave is our selves. This leads us to the purpose of life.

Life is a massive scientific experiment.

A good experiment requires the minimal intervention of outside forces. It requires the isolation of the variable being considered, so that the variable can be examined directly. Without that crucial isolation, doubts arise as to what is truly causing the results being observed. The Fall and the Veil are the isolating factors in God’s experiment, and we are the variables. The Fall isolates us from His presence, and the Veil from our memories of Him.

When we are in the presence of God, we have an overwhelming desire to follow Him and do according to His will; He has a very persuasive personality. But people can be persuaded against their will, which is why He devised mortality as our experimental chamber. His continual presence would confound the results of the experiment.

In mortality, we exist separate from Him. We are not in His presence and are not influenced by His overwhelming love and goodness. Instead, we exist as free agents. We are variables, able to vary according to our own desires. In this environment, the only will that truly exerts control over our actions is our own.

The experiment of life is designed to answer the single question: what will you choose? Will you choose to seek out compassion and empathy and the qualities of Godhood? Or will you choose to seek out self-gratification, ego, control, and dominion?

The things that happen to us in life are not the point of life. Sickness is not the point. Health is not the point. Suffering is not the point. Happiness is not the point. Your circumstances are not the point.

The point is how you choose to respond to them. Life is an experiment to prove what you truly want to be happy. That is the purpose.

The Traveler

A certain man was walking down a road, enjoying the beautiful scenery. After a while, he stopped to rest.

Before long, a man in a suit came along and approached him where he sat. Some brief introductions ensued before the suited man declared: “Do you see that mountain in the distance? That is where you should be walking. The climb is difficult, but the views are the most sublime in the world. I should know, because I am the world’s best mountaineer.” The first man eyed the suit, the well-polished loafers, and the hands free of calluses, before thanking the man for his advice. The suited man continued on.

After a while, a woman came to the man and sat with him. Together they talked for a while, and the subject turned to food, and the man’s wish for a meal. “You should come with me!” the woman declared. “I am heading to a distant restaurant where I am the head chef and will make for you a feast, for I am the best chef in the world!” The man observed the woman’s poor satchel, with its small piece of moldy bread and a bottle of brackish water. He thanked her for the offer, and she continued on without him.

As the man sat on his rock, he thought to himself: “Two people have come to me, offering to help and claiming to be the best at what they do. But from my observations I do not see how this could be. They offered me no evidence other than their words.”

These thoughts consumed him. As the day waned, a third traveler approached, and sat with him. “What is your story, friend?” the man asked. The weary traveler said “As I have walked this road, many have come to me offering help. They see my bent back and shuffling gait and claim that just over yonder is something that will help me. Every time I have followed them, I have been disappointed. The inn is always too distant, the food already eaten, the wine already drunk. But I am still a long way from my journey’s end, so I must continue on.”

The man considered this for a moment and said, “I, too, have been disappointed by those who have approached me. Their words taste sweet, but are bitter in my belly. But I am glad for your company. Come, let us walk together so that we will not be alone, and perhaps we may find rest together.”

They stood, the man took the travelers pack, and they departed with quick steps and light hearts.

Joy

Tonight, an interesting thought came to me: If Christ were to show up on my doorstep and spend the afternoon with me, what would we talk about? He’d want to sit, listen, and hear about what I’ve been doing recently that excites me. What would I tell Him? Would I be able to look through my life and find a topic about which I could talk endlessly, forgetting that I sat in the presence of God, and expound on the intricacies of the topic? What topic, as I describe it, would fill me with joy and exuberance to be talking about it?

As I pondered this and expressed this idea to my spouse, I found an answer. And as I considered it, my soul was filled with light as I thought of how excited I get when I talk about this subject, and how I revel in its complexities and delight in the challenges it presents.

And I felt God smiling down on me, and knew that He would love to sit and hear me out. And I know it would be foolish, for there is nothing I know that He does not; He’s the one who probably inspired me with these ideas in the first place. But He loves to hear us prattle on about how we take joy in filling the measure of our creation.

Do you know what you’d talk about? And if you do know, is that what you spend your time doing?

Being Here

From a conversation with my spouse earlier this week:


Life is not as big a deal as we make it out to be. As we struggle to understand doctrine, argue over Priesthood and the Church, attend all our meetings and tick service assignments of our lists, as we delve deep into symbolism, and worry about sealings and keeping our families active…. Our time here is not really about that.

What about the millions who die because of freak accidents or violence? What about the continual arguments over science and nutrition and being green, over saving the race and the planet?

I think, more and more, that life is about being here. About having a chance to exist in time and space apart from our gods. If we happen to find Them while being here, then sweeter the experience. If we happen to make others’ existences a little more peaceful or happy, then sweeter the experience.

I think the “eternal perspective” we should be keeping is not, “One day I’ll be happy and with all my loved ones again,” but rather, “This time is a chance for me to experience something totally different and foreign. A baptism of fire into coping as a spiritual-physical entity. And one day I’ll work all this out. Until then, I’ll have faith.”