Sunday, December 05, 2004

Faith and Knowledge

December 5, 2004

In a previous Gospel Doctrine discussion we examined the substantial and differential role that faith plays for Reform Mormons. Faith for us is not just a belief in God or a noun designating a type of belief. Faith is a personal requirement necessary for progression. Acts of faith lead us to the second principle of our religion: Knowledge. For many people, knowledge and faith are opposites, but for Reform Mormons the two compliment each other and are absolutely required in order to progress.

Recently I had a discussion with a friend of mine about this very subject. He's a Baptist, and currently struggling through Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. He said that he had a hard time with the difference between faith and knowledge, and saw the two as opposites. He asked me how I handled it; I was more than willing to jump in and offer the Reform Mormon perspective.

Because our use of the word "faith" means so much more than just a belief in God, I had to start by explaining most of what we discussed on our last Gospel Doctrine discussion. Faith that our actions can result in an eventual outcome are usually based on knowledge, and patterns that we observe. For example, faith that the sun will rise tomorrow (as I mentioned before an "easy faith") can be rationally held based upon the pattern we have observed as well as the knowledge we have about how the solar system works. Faith that the sun will rise might be shaken by an eclipse, but our knowledge of the solar system together with our observance of the pattern combine to create a stronger faith base in understanding the sun and its habits.

Exercising faith causes us to learn new things. The scientist has faith in the scientific method, that by formulating a theory and testing it he or she may strengthen their faith in the theory. In the area of knowledge, nothing has served mankind better than the scientific method. Tremendous progress has occurred as a result. Yet some see this new knowledge as threatening to their faith. Knowledge is only threatening to faith if faith is based upon a static set of assumptions to which new information might be challenging. If "faith" is about progression, as it is for Reform Mormons, then faith is never threatened by new knowledge; faith is always enhanced by knowledge. I explained to my Baptist friend that as a result of this functional view of faith, important discoveries such as the theory of evolution have become fuel for progress for me rather than something I have to "fit" into my belief system. He seemed dubious.

Knowledge reintegrates into faith for a Reform Mormon by cycling through all four of our principles: Faith, Knowledge, Revelation, Restoration. Revelation adds the esoteric to our knowledge, giving it balance, and Restoration adds meaning to that compound to finalize it. The result is a new faith, further along the path of life, ready for exercise in a new way. This is dynamic and exciting.

My Baptist friend, and so many others I know, take what I consider to be a passive approach to faith. Faith is merely belief in God, and having joined a prefabricated belief system (church) they turn their faith progression decisions over to this body, subjugating some or many of their own interests for the sake of conformity with the system they have agreed to support. For many people this approach does not develop the kind of faith we have been discussing here. For many people it becomes a license to "turn off" progression, and return to a static faith. This develops into things like literal belief in scripture, unquestioning devotion to ecclesiastical leaders, and other problems that are at the root of religious failure today. Many churches actually actively teach their adherents to avoid knowledge, as though there is virtue in never progressing, and damnation in discovering new ways to believe. What a disservice this is to the children of God.

To a Reform Mormon, Albert Einstein and countless others were as - in fact, more - prophetic than Heber J. Grant. They brought new knowledge of the ways of God (God's creation) into our sphere of awareness such that we could integrate them into our faith. Such action is progression at its finest.

We believe that this is what Joseph Smith meant when he suggested that we have got to learn things, and learn to become Gods. God didn't become God by sitting on her butt all day, going to church on Sunday, and making sure she took care of a few rituals. There is no huge "data dump" coming from God that magically turns you into one. You're going to have to learn it.

The desire to progress and exercise our faith is fundamental, but it also has an element that is transcendental - that is, there's an element that seems to defy the cold rationality of logic and reason. This is revelation, our next principle, which we will discuss more in the weeks to come. Every time we obtain new knowledge we need revelation to balance it - and when we do this, we approach the veil and begin to tap into knowledge that is not cold and rational, but warm and loving. I believe it is this desire that my Baptist friend recognizes and sees as antithetical to knowledge. In effect, he goes directly from faith to revelation, eschewing knowledge in the process. One is never sure if another human being has understood your meaning and intent clearly, but that day I did my best to explain why knowledge isn't at all the opposite of faith. For me, knowledge and faith are completely connected and essential, and they don't clash at all. You get from faith to revelation by way of knowledge, not by avoiding it.

Still to come: Before adding new knowledge to your faith base, make sure you round it out and give it meaning. These important steps are achieved in the acts of revelation and restoration, principles three and four.

In the meantime, what have you done recently to increase your faith?