Friday, June 6, 2008


I don’t quite know where this is going so I hope it makes sense by the time I’m done typing. Are there questions which you simply refuse to entertain? If so, why? I will tell you that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormons. I have a firm belief that the core doctrines embraced in canonical scripture are true and I strive to live them. That being said, as I age, I have realized there were many things which I simply heard, accepted, and embraced.

Occasionally I used the popular safety net of “Well, if the church is true, then this must be.” I never really put doctrines, beliefs, practices, and traditions through an individual, case-by-case mental process of acceptance. In my first 22 years I became the perfect spiritually-educated Mormon robot. I knew the standard appeasing answers to 99.9% of the questions that would come up, disregarding worldly evidences that demanded intelligent thought and analysis. And sorry, but no, bearing testimony is not an acceptable counter-argument. Testimony sharing has a rightful place but in an exploration of evidences between like-minded individuals who already share the common denominator of faith, it doesn’t hold water. In fact, it comes off rather ignorant. To be fair, I do not completely believe that it is the goal of Mormonism to create unquestioning, loyal robots but it seems to be an unfortunate side effect of the system in place.

The last decade for me has been a process of mental education and spiritual reconciliation. Having a solid foundation in my own faith, it does not mean that I have all the answers to all of my questions and yet I don’t believe it lessens my convictions regarding my chosen faith. I believe I have strengthened my faith through secular studies. I do not believe that there are questions which should never be asked. If one of the purposes of this life is to learn and grow, why would any religion tell us NOT to ask questions and just have faith? Sorry, that doesn’t fly with me. That does not mean to say that there are not ridiculous questions but if one becomes afraid to entertain thought, I need to wonder why?

Every religion will have their own set of questions that get the faithful riled up, so I’ll give a few that I have seen ruffle some Mormon feathers. Why get so hot under the collar when one wants to discuss the age of the earth, evolution, or science in general? Why get so offended when someone brings up archaeological evidences (or the lack thereof) regarding the Book of Mormon? Why get flustered when people question the validity of Joseph Smith’s status as prophet, seer, and revelator? And this one applies to every religion I have ever encountered, when there is a question which one cannot answer, why does the phrase “mysteries of God” always enter the conversation?

I don’t even care if people will look at the questions and come up with answers that fit their current belief system. I think I do that at times…I think I have to. At least then, individuals are mentally processing the quandary and coming up with a solution that will allow them to continue forward with their faith. I have friends who are sick of religious institutions because of the way the various sects lead their loyally blind sheep through methodical fear tactics. Mormons are not immune from this activity either. I can vividly recall many instances from my teenage years when these methods were implemented on me.

Coming back to the thoughts that originally inspired this posting, I have two great unknowns. One, how bad is Hell? Two, how good is Heaven? Those familiar with the Mormon faith will know that we don’t believe in a two-pronged eternity. For the sake of this argument, we’ll leave it at Heaven and Hell. I started thinking about this a few nights ago when I began to introspectively analyze the motives behind my behaviors. In other words, do I strive to live by the strict standards of my religion because of my fear of eternal punishment or because of my desire for Eternal Life? And if I ever stopped fearing Hell, is Heaven motivation enough?

I don’t have an answer for that yet…guess it’s just one of the mysteries of God.


Scott H. said...

I enjoyed your blog TJ and am one who is just opening his mind to questions. I always enjoy our conversations, whether in person, or through e-mail. I always learn and it always helps to see some issue through the eyes of another. Even at school I don't get to have any deep conversation cause there is no room for such issues in accounting classrooms. Anyways, I always learn from you and I love ya bro. Also, I liked you use of the word reconciliation...

Christopher Maloy said...


I know you love the banter we share back and forth on different topics of the mind, so why cease with the banter now?

It is very ironic that you could have ended this blog with “In the name of JC, Amen” and called it a testimony. Not sure if all readers of this blog are of the same mind as you, but we are probably close enough to say it is ok by the standards defined. (yes that is my winning personality and sarcasm kicking in, but I know that you love it).

This post sounds very similar to something we talked about on the phone a few days ago. Maybe it was our conversation on the human right and natural desire to question that provoked this post. Either way I agree with most of what was said.

I disagree with you on the fact that religion (Mormonism included) is in the business of producing questioning minds of all truth. If you disagree with me then the next time you talk about Joseph Smith in your quorum meetings propose the possibility that Joseph Smith may have been a fraud and explain your reasoning. Or question the existence of God. Watch the uncomfortable looks from all your peers, listen to the condescending answers you get from those much more knowledgeable in the gospel, listen to the remarks you get and the way you are treated afterwards. No this is not a Utah thing. The Californians are the worst when they visit. All church people do it from every sect. Now we can blame it on the people who are responsible and not the underlying system itself, but the system fosters this behavior, so I blame it on the systems, especially those systems lead and governed by levels of leadership. The ones with central leader figures. Go ahead and see how the system treats you by asking an off the wall question (that you have seriously been considering that is not in the standard edition of any manual or book).

If there is one thing that never changes no matter where I go in this world it is human behavior. We all like to feel like we are better and we all like to feel like we have the special witness, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian alike.

Since we are in my uncomfortable realm of talking about what we believe right now and not what we can prove, then I will tell you that, I believe that any person who thinks he knows the truth hasn't even begun to find it. It is the journey that defines a person. It is through our questioning that has lead us to great discovers that have provided greatness to our race of humans. Just a few hundred years ago one in every three women died while in labor. What are the numbers now? Can you imagine if Copernicus never questioned the churches authority on the center of God's creation? Can you imagine if Darwin never questioned the origins of man from an observable stand point (not faith based dogma)? There are plenty more uncomfortable questions to ask. So let your mind be free to ask whatever it will.

You also mentioned the side effects of a system in place (interpreted as the church in which you attend), but if you profess the church to be pure in its doctrine and leadership then the system cannot make the mistakes.

I have so much more to say (like always), but I better leave some for my own blog.

If anyone comments on my post please email it to me. I never come back and read the blog or post after I have already visited it. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Christopher Maloy said...

I forgot to mention... what does the truth have to worry about? A question shouldn't affect the outcome of truth. Either it is true and supported by the answer from the question or it is false and needs to be thrown out, revisited, or revamped. Either way are we not better off for it despite the answer?

T.J. Shelby said...

So you're saying that my rant here amounted to sharing my testimony? Well, mi amigo, you are Robinson Crusoe (alone on an island) on that one because from the emails I've been getting I am apparently in the carpool lane heading towards everlasting damnation.

Also, I reread my blog...nowhere did I say, or infer (sarscastic or otherwise), that Mormons or any other religion produces questioning fact, I said quite the opposite. I said: "I do not completely believe that it is the goal of Mormonism to create unquestioning, loyal robots but it seems to be an unfortunate side effect of the system in place."

Regarding this comment you made: "...but if you profess the church to be pure in its doctrine and leadership then the system cannot make the mistakes." No where in the core doctrine of the church is mentioned the infallibility of the organization or it's sustained leaders. I don't believe they are right 100% of the time. Now do the majority of the sheep think that the apostles and prophet are infallible...well, there's a different story.

Regarding spiritual matters, if I differ from Pres Monson on a doctrinal matter...I probably better figure out pretty quick why we are not agreeing. On political or scientific differences of opinion, I could care less what he thinks. If there are differences on matters that overlap...quick, give me the blue pill.

Christopher Maloy said...

My bad bro. After reading your last comment we are saying the same thing. I must have misread what your wrote the first time.

Great blog.

Nicole Shelby said...

I've been thinking about this. And, I think that one of the reasons that so many are terrified of questioning and thinking is fear. They are afraid that if they do that it somehow reflects a lack of faith on their part. A flaw in their commitment to live the gospel and endure to the end. That somehow if they examine life and its many intricacies to closely that it will no longer be simple and true. Without acknowledging it, perhaps they believe that if they approach their questions in a scientific way, then they'll get scientific responses. And in the scientific world - truth is not always truth. Fact can be changed and added to. Evidence can be bolstered or destroyed - quickly.

I think one of the reasons that i admire you questing mind is that I know you have a firm, active faithfulness to the gospel of Christ.

Stephen E. Robinson (Following Christ, p27) - "There must come some point at which our commitment to the gospel and our conviction of its truth settles such qeustions in advance and predetermines our response to whatever challenge we may encounter to our faith, to whatever commandments we may receive, or to whatever sacrifice we are called upon to make...Faith after all, is spiritual knowledge...Most often it is knowledge unsupported by physical evidence or even challenged by the available evidence. Until our faith has a life and a strength of its own apart from intellectual argument or even physical evidence, it is not yet faith. In such cases what we thought was faith was merely the strongest human argument we had considered at the time. A testimony isn't like a hypothesis in science, which maybe supported by the evidence one day and destroyed by it the next. It is a conviction beyond the available intellectual proof that some things are eternally true..."

And i think that's the crux. You have that faith. You reason from a position of strength because you know the truths of the gospel. And because of that confidence you have the ability to open your mind and seek out the "mysteries" or whatever you want to call them. You've built a basic foundation and now you can add on buttresses or towers or bridges wherever you want. The hunger for more knowledge and greater understanding is commendable and appreciable and emulatable (is that even a word?). A foundation is necessary...but a structure cannot be beautiful without adding to it...

I love you and admire you...and you have one of the most amazing minds and clarity of thought that i've ever witnessed. Thank you for always sharing yourself - not just with me.

Jodi Jean said...

holy moley, what a great post. so many thoughts ... but i totally agree with you, and i LOVE nicole's comment. i'm gonna have to think about this a little bit. i have nothing to add to the discussion.

on another note ... i said something in RS that almost got me kicked out (haha, from the looks anyways) we were talking about the priesthood and the women we saying all the normal stuff ... and i mentioned that women can stand in the circle while blessing a baby (not doing the actual blessing) and that women can give their kids blessings when their hubby or other priesthood holder is not present. i know that i've heard these before ... but i cannot find where. any help??

T.J. Shelby said...

Nicole, thanks tremendously for the (unwarranted) praise. While I agree with you on many of your points, I disagree with others, most notably the Stephen Robinson quote.

I agree: (A) that people generally think asking questions regarding the gospel "reflects a lack of faith on their part." The greatest revelations of the modern era have come because someone asked "Why"? The greatest discoveries and inventions in history have come from someone asking "Why not" or "How"?

I disagree: that "in the scientific world-truth is not always truth." Truth IS truth. Regardless of the discovery point, all truth comes from God. I know that many Mormons would disagree that truth can come from God through such unclean heathen sources but I do not believe that the LDS Church holds the monopoly on revelations which advance and evolve human civilization. Scientific findings may alter previous hypotheses but truth, or accepted scientific law, which has been put forth, scrutinized, tested, verified, duplicated, reproduced independently, and laid before humanity to is that NOT truth?

I disagree with Robinson: "There must come some point at which our commitment to the gospel and our conviction of its truth settles such questions in advance and predetermines our response..." Um, yeah, I don't buy that. Sounds like robotics to me. We were given analytic capabilities and free will for a reason. Not to shut our minds down and spew out pre-programmed responses.

I agree with Robinson: "Faith after all, is spiritual knowledge." However, your faith on certain things can become perfect and allow you to also have physical knowledge as well. The Brother of Jared was able, through perfect faith (spiritual knowledge) to see "the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting. Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him." (Ether 3:19-20).

I agree with the foundation comments. However, does it spiritually wound me to wonder occasionally about the foundation? Do not thoughts ever creep in that allow me to wonder why God would step in to send angels to call Alma the Younger to repentance or Christ stopping Paul from his ways and yet allows genocides of innocents and famines and various natural disasters in various continents? Does it put me on shaky ground to question what is done in His name while wondering why certain things are NOT done in His name?

T.J. Shelby said...

Jodi, pretty bold. It is in the Answers to Gospel Questions by Joseph Fielding Smith. Good luck finding any Bishop with the, good luck trying to find any priesthood leaders that would allow you to do it.

Nicole Shelby said...

Completely warranted should be praised loudly and often.

Thanks for agreements.
Disagreements: truth is truth. i hadn't meant truth isn't truth. What i meant was the perceived or accepted "knowledge" of science. You know the whole flat world vs. round world... (and yes there are plenty more recent examples). I just meant...well, whatever.

And the Robinson quote. Yes, i agree and disagree. Robotics is a bad thing. Blind obedience...without attempting to procure personal faith shouldn't be. What I understood from it, and agreed with, is that at some point we have faith that the prophet has been called of God, and because of our faith in who he is, we've already decided that we'll follow him in that role...even though we don't know all of what he will say or will do. And we have a responsibility to question what and why and develop our own understanding.

When I was reading The Holy of the characters talked about seeming difficulties in the scriptures. And he said that he just always assumed that there was a reason and purpose for what was included...and it was up to him to figure it out. So, if there was a was his responsibility foremost to seek to understand it. Not just pass it up as useless or non-understandable.... Hmmm...i think i might just be rambling now.

I don't know about being spiritually wounded for questioning the actions or inactions of God. I always think of Alma and Amulek who had to watch the people of the church be burned...knowing they had the power to stop the atrocity. I don't know why some things are allowed and some not. Why He actively steps in sometimes. And why he allows evil to exercise it's agency other times. I don't know. But, i don't think it's dangerous to want to know. I think without striving for understanding and further enlightenment...we might just fall back on our emotional responses. And act as if how we feel about something is how it really is. Okay, now i know i'm really babbling.

Onto watching a show!

Love you.

Jodi Jean said...

hmmmm ... i wonder if mom has a copy of that book ... hmmmmm