Sunday, April 27, 2008

Religion vs. Athiesm

Every once in a while, the argument comes up about how religious people believe in God and that makes them better. The irreligious retorts, 'but do you think I am a bad person because I do not believe in God?' Often the irreligious will provide many examples of evil things done in the name of religion, but there are also many examples of evil done against religion.

After Mitt Romney gave his "Faith in America" speech, there were complaints that he essentially gave the shaft to atheists in the United States. I have thought since his withdrawal from the presidential race about his speech at CPAC. He very subtly addressed the accusations against his Faith speech. He said, "Americans love God, and those who don't have faith, typically believe in something greater than themselves."

That is the key to everyone. If the religionist or atheist is a good person, it is because they believe in something. Many who claim to be religious really believe in satisfying themselves (or as we sometimes say - pride), and many who are atheist have a strong sense of right and wrong which leads them to live exemplary lives. So really, everyone has guiding principles no matter the belief system.

But then that gets back to faith. What is it good for? Why bother with all these rules, the guilt of sin, and the impossibility of a God who is the Father of all nations hearing and answering each prayer?

Well, we have already seen that everyone believes in something. For some it is no deeper than themselves. For others it expands to their families, communities, or nations. For others still, they believe in God.

Truth matters. Each person has a responsibility to find and accept and live by as much truth as possible. The danger lies in feeling you have all the truth. The faithful and faithless who have nothing to learn are the most intolerant people on the planet. Joseph Smith asked, "Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain?" (TPJS 320).

It is easy to turn religion into a club. Someone could quote John 3:16 and say, God loves the world... therefore you should do such and such. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi warns that "many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible" (2 Nephi 29:3). (I was a little too fond of that verse as a missionary. I don't know that I read it to anyone, but when I read it to myself, I only saw others not accepting more scripture.)

If God were really concerned with the Gentiles hearing this warning, the Book of Mormon was a terrible place to hide it! I think we in the Church sometimes forget that whatever Israelite blood we have from the lost tribes, we are still Gentiles from Nephi's perspective. His warning was directed more towards the Latter-day Saints. We can feel we have the Book of Mormon and don't need any more, or that the Doctrine and Covenants has all we need.

The Restoration came to give us continuous revelation. Joseph Smith lamented, "there has been a great difficulty in getting anything in the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. Even the Saints are slow to understand" (TPJS 331). How much more could we have revealed to us if we were ready to recieve it?

The whole point of Nephi's warning is that we can never become complacent about our knowledge of the truth. If we are satisfied that we have all the truth, we will begin to use it as a weapon to beat others into the image we think they should conform to. The truth gives us no right to treat others with anything other than love and respect. Instead, we "are without affection, and [we] hate [our] own blood" (Moses 7:33).

To address some of my questions from earlier: the rules of the Gospel are revealed from heaven and are given to provide us with safety. Guilt serves a purpose: "when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon" (Neal A. Maxwell, October 1976 Conference). Perhaps I will take up faith and prayers some other day.

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