If you are one of the three people that regularly follow my blog, you will note that I rarely mention religion. And if I do, it is generally in passing. You may also ask why. Am I ashamed of my religion? Not at all. In fact I am quite proud of my religious affiliation. I just don't often feel it necessary to the discussion or topic I'm covering. Generally it's because I feel that Religion is a very personal thing and to share with others should be reserved for genuine love and respect for that person. Also, I don't like to offend others (generally), and the easiest way to offend others it to talk about religion or politics. So I try to keep neutral within my posts.
Today I thought it would be a good idea to share my personal feelings about my own faith, and hopefully answer any questions about why I believe the way I do. I hope not to offend anyone, as that is not my goal. I don't believe that my belief in my own religion requires the condemnation of any other Faith. But I do have specific reasons for my beliefs, and I hope to share them in a way that is informative and clear (if not concise). Please forgive my verbosity here, but there are a lot of potential questions I'm trying to answer in this post.
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most people refer us as Mormons, Mormonism, etc, when they are being nice. And I've heard many of the other names from people not trying to be nice. While many people have heard of the LDS faith, few people have bothered to learn more about it than from hearsay or passing media mentions. Let me tell you about it, from my point of view.
My family are all members of the Church, for several generations on most sides. An exception would be my grandfather on my mother's side, who was not affiliated with any religion (interesting story behind that). But then living in Utah, finding people with a long history in the Church is not uncommon. And many people find it convenient to remain a member of the Church, just because they grew up in it. But the Church does not encourage this, but rather encourages all members to gain a personal testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and in the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is a challenge I took upon me when I turned 16.
I had always felt an affinity to religion, and enjoyed growing up in the Church. But, like many people without a personal testimony, or knowledge, about the Church and it's teachings, I had issues with people (including myself) who were not perfect. So, I started to look around at other religions, particularly through reading the sacred texts available to those faiths. I chose the sacred texts based on the premise that such texts should reflect the Divinity being worshipped.
I read the Talmud with several commentaries made by various rabbis. I read the holy Quaran. I've always read the Bible, so for many of the Christian religions I read many of the religious commentaries from their points of view. This way, I would have a wide basis of experience on which to base my conclusions. And, of course, I read the Book of Mormon.
Now Faith is a process, in my experience, and requires testing assumptions and looking for divine confirmation. The first test of my faith was to know whether or not a Supreme Being was there, and whether or not that Being cared for me as a single individual. The only way to know for sure was to ask that Being directly, and so I prayed. I received a comfortable feeling, one of peace, and took this as an answer. This feeling of peace confirmed my belief in a God who loves me personally, and has a vested interest in my welfare.
I continued with my prayerful search for months, reading texts, pondering their meanings, and praying about them. My answer came as I read the Book of Mormon. I have read it many times before, or out of it, but now I read it with a distinct interest in it's authenticity. It's hard to describe the feelings I had at the time, but they confirmed my feeling that the Book of Mormon was true, and by extension the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith was true. Of course I continued to pray about every aspect of the LDS doctrine, and received confirmation each time. As I continued to study, I was struck with the way all aspects of the LDS faith fit within the principles of Faith and Repentance, and the importance of a line of authority for Baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit if you prefer, though the KJV of the Bible says Holy Ghost), which were the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With it all fitting together so neatly, the Book of Mormon reinforcing the lessons I read from the Bible, and the confirmation I felt from God made it a logical choice.
So how can I base my whole faith on a feeling? Well, if you believe in a Supreme Being, and this Supreme Being is one that is all knowing, all powerful, loving, good and kind, then you know that he will want you to trust him. I personally don't believe faith comes from flashy displays of Divinity (based on my personal experiences), but rather faith is required for any divine "sign" to be given. Therefore, once you start to exercise faith into action (such as praying, attending services, reading scriptures, being nice to your neighbor, etc.), you will receive a confirmation on whether or not that faith was well placed. The more faith you develop and exercise, the stronger the confirmation.
So through my personal conversion story, I've learned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. It teaches the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, is lead by Him through his appointed Prophet on the Earth. I know this to be true, and I'm happy with that knowledge.
But what does this mean? There are a lot of principles that are followed in the Church that are often not understood. Let me cover some of the main ones, and hopefully clarify what they are:
- Is it true that Mormons do not drink? Not even coffee? Yes, it's true. Why? Because we believe in modern revelation, meaning that God will speak to us directly (when the matter is personal) and through his appointed Prophet (if it involves a larger body), we listen to the teachings of our Prophets. Joseph Smith received such a revelation, which is called the Word of Wisdom. Subsequent revelations have set a rule: no alcohol, coffee, black tea to drink, tobacco to smoke or chew, or any drug abuse. There is also guidance in how to eat healthy, get exercise, and so forth. I see the ability to abstain as proof that I am free, as opposed to being restricted based on chemical stimulants.
- Is it true that Mormons have more than one wife? No. But what about (insert polygamous group here)? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has not practiced polygamy since 1896. Groups that do are not members of the Church, and any member of the Church that does practice polygamy is not a member for long.
- Why can't Mormon's do (insert something here)? Okay, I get this a lot when someone finds out my religion. They want to know why the Church prohibits something, or why people can't do something else. Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Everything you do in the Church is voluntary, which is to say the Church doesn't MAKE you do anything. The Church has standards, just like any other religion. Those standards are, essentially, the Ten Commandments. Also included there is the Word of Wisdom (see number 1). You have a choice to follow them, or not. The Church doesn't break your kneecaps, publicly shame you, etc.
- Why aren't Mormons Christians? Well, we are, and very much so. It is called the Church of Jesus Christ, after all. We believe in God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. So why have you heard that we are not Christians? Well, because we also believe that, along with the Holy Bible (which, by the way, is excellent to read in the original Greek!), another record of Christ and his prophets has been made in the New World, and has been brought forth now as the Book of Mormon. It also testifies of Christ, His mission on the Earth, and God's plan for Salvation for his children. But to claim we are not Christian is very wrong, and shows a distinct lack of understanding (or willingness to understand) just who we are.
There are a number of other questions I've gotten, but I will leave it there for now. I hope this helps you understand the point of view I am coming from, particularly when I talk about Autism. I'm a Believer, and proud of it. If I don't mention my religion much after this, just know that it's because I don't see it as relevant, even more so after this post.
If you have any questions about the Church or it's teachings, I would highly recommend you start by reading the Book of Mormon. Then either contact your local meetinghouse, or the Missionaries in your area. You can also post any questions you may have here, and even whether or not you want them made public (I can and will respect any private comments, if you mention you want to keep it private).