Evolving Faith

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Nick Boyer, writer, [email protected]


Evolution. That is the key to survival. Species get it. Companies get it. Churches get it. Conspiracy theorists get it. The Republican Party is slowing relearning it with reaching out to the ever-growing minority population that votes.


It seems apparent to me that life keeps going based on a simple truth that you must adapt to the changing tides. We’re not still in caves, we don’t still have slaves, women can vote, children aren’t in factories, there is less violence in the world, there is more powerful technology, etc.


But, evolution doesn’t always mean progress; it just means sustainability. That is why we still have wisdom teeth and poor eyesight. That is why kids today text poor grammar and may not know how to track a wild boar.


We don’t let evolution get rid of the weaknesses because our strength is compassion and empathy. We know we’re greater collectively than individually. Also, our weaknesses may just be weaknesses for that time period because me not knowing how to track a wild boar isn’t really necessary for my survival. But, who knows? It might be necessary in some sort of post-apocalyptic world.


Anyway, I used to struggle as a Mormon with the incompatibility of Evolution with the Adam and Eve story. You can probably throw open the scriptures in most places and find incompatibility with the knowledge we have of the laws of physics or history, the flood, the creation, the DNA of American Indians, the talking animals, and the miracles. There is always room for doubt.


But, for believers there is always an evolution of faith. In early stages we may have simply believed simple explanations, but as we evolve we need more complex explanations to reconcile the walls of belief, which science keeps making taller and taller. From that early stage, we see that to survive, our faith must become durable to outside forces and may even need to grow legs to run away from the elements of doubt.


How often has science been replacing God as explanations for cause and effects of our world? We can trace the beginning of the universe to a theory of a Big Bang, but then we can ask what is before that? There is always a trump card of faith that God is beyond our rationality and understanding. As our understanding progresses, our God is retreating. The idea is called the “God of the Gaps,” which isn’t talking about a fashionable deity, but a God that becomes less relevant with each new peer-based review that lessens God’s hold on our beliefs. Our faith is always on the run. If we want to keep it, we need to find ways of keeping it relevant for our lives.


We are in a transitional time. A time when to choose faith is a clear-cut choice because it is perfectly reasonable to not believe in complicated dogmas. Memberships are decreasing rapidly in organized religions, even among Mormons with the streamlined Missionary program. But, people aren’t less “spiritual,” whatever that means now.


People still believe in doing good by what they think is right and always will. The concept of what is “Good” is what evolves. People still have faith in various forms. We need spirituality that is rooted in communion with our place in the universe. We all need to touch that thing called existence and feel like we have a purpose.


Many people, disavowing the miracles of Jesus, still love Jesus as a teacher of morality. For me, I love Jesus’ teachings and feel a kinship to Him as an actual person. I may never truly know if the Jesus I know is who really was, but the Jesus I know, I love. The God I believe in, I love.


The God I believe in may not be the same as what other Mormons believe in. Jesus taught surrendering our pride to a God, which to me, means surrendering what we think we know for a higher law or purpose. I believe this helps us to be happier individuals, as we focus on the greatness of the whole, rather than the pettiness of its parts. But, for other Christians, Jesus may be a Bill O’Reilly-like figure, a culture warrior who sends hurricanes to punish gays.


I don’t believe in that God. God for me has evolved into an ideal rather than the normal Zeus-like figure out to get you. Right now, what I need for my faith is moral guidance and love. I don’t need intolerance or debatable historical claims. I don’t need to know what exactly Joseph saw or what Boyd K. Packer has said about feminists, gays, interracial marriages, or scholars to believe in my God.


Perhaps I’m taking too many liberties with my faith as I’m making it work for me instead of me for it. But, at this point, that is as close as I can get to God.


I can’t accept that God lets suffering happen as merely a test. That feels too abstract for me, but it is comforting to know that there is a God that cares about your suffering. I can’t accept that we are only here to obey rules, but I do accept that God likes us to avoid darkness. I can’t accept that there are a chosen people and others are simply screwed in terms of salvation, but I do believe in a God of mercy for all. I can’t accept that the faith of others is meaningless in what God will accept, but I do accept that God can be specific. I can’t accept that anyone in this life is doomed for eternity. That doesn’t make any sense to me, that we are eternal beings, and in this blink of eternity we can make a mistake that will ruin our existence forever.


I’ve learned that I can always be wrong, but I can’t give a pass to what I feel is wrong because of my inability to know everything.


I will never truly know if the things taught in Sunday School really happened the way the leaders of the church have the manual currently written. But, I’m a believer and trust in what I think is right.


What separates me from a devoted militant member of Al-Qaeda? I have chosen a God that doesn’t ask me to be a terrorist. I’ve chosen an ideal of love and compassion, not of revenge and intolerance to others in any degree. That is the only God I believe is worthy of worship.


In a way, I may not even be Mormon, if being Mormon is defined as accepting everything the leaders have said as truth. I may never know, and don’t see merit in many of the rabbit holes of faith. I consider myself Mormon because it’s the source I use primarily for connecting with my God.


We talk boldly in the Mormon Church. We sell ourselves as the only true church or the only people who really know what’s going on with God. To me, there isn’t merit in that confidence. I only see that as a source of pride in the sense of having a bumper sticker that says, “My God can beat up your God.” Which is childish to me.


So, there are always flaws in faiths, which might be one of the requirements for it to be considered a “faith.”


Jesus said “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” For me, that freedom comes from the understanding that there is plenty of unknown and at some point you just have to choose which way you want to live, what you believe in, and accept the limitations of that choice. At some point, your faith has to come to terms with the environment it’s in or it will eventually become extinct.