Note: Belief and faith are synonyms as I use the terms in this post.
I’ve been thinking about the nature of belief and disbelief. Each person appears to have an inherent tendency to believe or disbelieve religious claims. Following are members of the church sharing their testimony of disbelief and belief.
Expressions of Disbelief
I’ve never had…a vision…(the) supernatural, … is utterly inexplicable based on any natural process, nothing like that has ever happened and it never will for me…I am simply incapable of truly in my heart believing in the supernatural.
I have a family wedding coming up, but I will not be attending. I am “worthy” of a temple recommend but I do not/cannot/will not believe the doctrines of the Church, nor do I choose to pretend that I do, so I will not have my recommend renewed.
I don’t ever remember a time when somebody said, “I know that Joseph Smith was a Prophet” when my inner dialogue didn’t echo the line from Napoleon Dynamite, “Like anyone can even know that.” I appreciate lessons about loving our neighbor, the Word of Wisdom, or even emergency preparedness, but would rather not have to hear about what I consider pure conjecture like the Three Degrees of Glory. The only things I would say I know are things that I have experienced first-hand or that have been scientifically proven. That’s just the way my brain works.
Expressions of Belief
I cannot remember when I did not have a testimony. It has, of course, been strengthened through the years, but I can never remember when I did not believe.
As I lay there holding the book in my hands, I knew, even before I opened it, that it was true…I also had a very strange feeling, which affected me very deeply, that I had always known that the Book of Mormon was true.
Unbelief, I’ve never experienced it to any degree pertaining to the Mormon Church. Belief is part of me, just like my hands are part of my body.
Agency Requires a Balance
As the above expressions of disbelief and belief indicate, there is a variety of people who make up church membership. Each individual in the church is a son or daughter of God and each of us has agency as a gift from God. We exercised our agency in the pre-mortal world and we continue to exercise it in this life (Alma 13: 1-6). The results of how we’ve used our agency in our first estate are with us today. As mortals in our second estate—how we use our agency each day will determine what kind of resurrection we will have in a future day.
In order for the principle of agency to be exercised there needs to be a balance which allows the dichotomies of belief and disbelief to exist. This mortal experience is designed so that the evidence needed to either believe or to disbelieve is available.
Conclusive evidence to prove or disapprove religious claims doesn’t exist. For example, The Book of Mormon is powerful evidence for belief, but without revelation from the Holy Ghost one cannot know with certainty. On the other hand, evidence doesn’t exist to irrefutably prove the Book of Mormon is a fraud.
The Lord keeps the evidence in balance so that we are free to choose according to our desires. It is a matter of faith. We can either believe or disbelieve based on the evidence.
Why do Some Members Believe and Others Disbelieve?
Having read the above expressions of disbelief and belief a question begs to be answered. Why do some members of the church believe and others disbelieve? The Book of Mormon answers this question. The Book of Mormon teaches the principle of conversion. Following are two examples:
The Lamanitish woman Abish was converted to the Lord because of a remarkable vision of her fathers. Alma 19:16
The sons of Mosiah taught by the power of the Spirit and thousands of the Lamanites were converted, and as many as were converted never did fall away. Alma 23:6
Note that in each instance the Spirit of the Lord was the reason for conversion. Abish believed in her father’s vision and was converted by the power of the Holy Ghost. The Lamanites were converted because they received a witness from the Holy Ghost.
Were there any who heard the inspired teaching who were not converted? The record says:
…as many as heard his words believed, and were converted unto the Lord.
But there were many among them who would not hear his words; therefore they went their way. Alma 19:31-32
It says that those who were not converted “would not hear his words“, I take this to mean they made a decision not to believe and wouldn’t even hear his words, and they went their way.
Those Who Disbelieve Can Believe
Even though unbelief appears to be inherent in some people; experience has shown that they can, and do turn from disbelief to belief. The scripture teach the Lord gives some of His children the gift of faith, and this in turn, becomes the source of belief for those who struggle to believe.
Elder Dallin Oaks taught:
Those who have a testimony of the restored gospel also have a duty to share it…One of the most impressive teachings on the relationship between the gift of a testimony and the duty to bear it is in the 46th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In describing different kinds of spiritual gifts, this revelation states:
“To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (vv. 13-14; see also John 20:29). Dallin H. Oaks, “Testimony,” Ensign, May 2008, 26-29
An Invitation to Those Who Struggle with Faith
Those who struggle with believing have an invitation from the Lord to hear those who know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. By so doing they can receive the gift to believe on their words.
The Savior said, Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost. 3 Nephi 27:20
Members of the church have been baptized, now it is up to them to fulfill their baptism covenant and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Summary and Conclusion
I like what Richard L Bushman wrote:
At the present moment, the question of why I believe no longer has meaning for me. I do not ask it of myself or attempt to give my reasons to others. The fact is that I do believe. That is a given of my nature, and whatever reason I might give would be insufficient and inaccurate. More relevant to my current condition is a related question: how do others come to believe? I would like to know if there is anything I can do that will draw people to faith in Christ and in the priesthood. My answer to this question is, of course, related to my personal experiences. I no longer think that people can be compelled to believe by any form of reasoning, whether from the scripture or from historical evidence. They will believe if it is in their natures to believe. All I can do is to attempt to bring forward the believing nature, smothered as it is in most people by the other natures that culture forms in us. BYU Studies, Vol. 25 (1985)