A couple of weeks ago, a column in this paper asserted that we cannot know God’s will for our lives, nor can we credit — or blame — any of our actions on influence from God.
The author also said that no one can know if anyone speaks for God, from Pope Francis to LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson to Brian David Mitchell.
I believe we can know God’s will for us, that we can see His hand in our lives and that we do have people in this world who legitimately speak for God.
And that’s where faith comes in. Faith, by definition, is a choice we make, the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
According to a large 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, 83 percent of adults say they are fairly certain or absolutely certain that God exists and 77 percent say that religion is somewhat or very important in one’s life. In Utah, those numbers are slightly lower, at 80 percent who are fairly or absolutely certain God exists and 73 percent who say religion is somewhat or very important. Still, it is clear that a “supermajority” of adults in Utah and the nation believe in God.
A 2018 survey probes more deeply on what it means to “believe in God.” Pew found that even for adults who describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” nine out of 10 still believe in a higher power who helps direct their lives.
There are numerous benefits to both believing in a higher power and attendance at religious services. You can literally add years to your life by attending church at least once a week — seven years, according to study in the scientific journal Demography.
Other studies show a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, less depression and decreased alcohol and drug use. Folks who are religious are more likely to give to charity, commit fewer crimes, are more likely to be cooperative with others, more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to be unemployed.
According to Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology and author of the book “America’s Blessings,” the benefit of being a religious country to the American economy adds up to a whopping $2.6 trillion. Some of that is a direct gain and some is cost savings (a lower rate of incarceration, for example) but there is a clear economic benefit to being a religious country.
Do people sometimes do bad things in the name of religion? Of course they do, and I believe that God weeps at the misuse of His name. Sometimes people argue that belief in God leads to waging war, but the comprehensive three-volume “Encyclopedia of Wars” analyzed over 1,000 historical conflicts and found that only seven percent were fought for religious reasons. Sometimes, as in the case of Brian David Mitchell and the Lafferty brothers, God is invoked in the committing of heinous crimes. But that does not mean that God does not exist and that we humans cannot come to know Him. Or Her.
Faith is foundational in my life, as I know it is for many others. It’s offensive to see faith and religion mocked — and not just my own, although I suppose it has been that way for millennia.
Like any other foundation, it is built slowly — one layer at a times. Experiences, challenges, setbacks and successes all add to the foundation of faith. It’s not a “one-and-done” experience, nor is it unusual to have ebbs and flows. Last year at this time, I wrote about the choice that some people make to stay members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints not because they don’t have questions, not because they don’t see conflicts, but in spite of them.
And it’s not restricted to the LDS church, I’ve seen members of the Catholic Church struggle this year, but stay because they have faith in God and I have become friends with Muslims who are lovely, faithful people who are horrified by the actions of some in their faith.
I don’t believe everyone needs to believe as I do or worship as I do, but I do believe it’s reasonable to expect that those beliefs be respected and not mocked. Let’s do better.
Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, is grateful for the roles faith and God have played in her life and is also grateful for the many good things people of all religions — or no religion at all — are doing in this world.