Gordon Monson: When it comes to faith, I KNOW nothing, but here’s what I BELIEVE

“My Latter-day Saint religion is far from perfect ... But my spiritual experiences have been close to perfect.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gordon Monson.

“I know the church is true.”

Many a Primary kid and fervent adult.

I’m going to get personal here, and I hope you don’t mind.

Read, ponder and, well, prey, fire away, as you will.

When it comes to matters of faith, what do you know and how do you know it? Is religious faith itself antithetic to knowledge? And should faith, then, be ridiculed because it isn’t knowledge?

There have been all kinds of thorough treatises centered on faith in God, what it is, what it does (or at least is capable of doing), how to cultivate it. I’ve always found the topic fascinating, especially the idea that God wants humans to develop and depend on faith in this earthly existence. Somehow, it’s supposed to put everyone in better stead regarding important eternal pursuits, removed as most of us are from regular godly visitations.

If God appeared in front of us every morning — eyes blazing, voice sounding like thunder, or maybe like the deep basso-profundo in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” or perhaps the powerful, melodic tones of Maria Callas, we’d pretty much have no doubt that … yep, the Almighty’s there. Little belief required.

In the absence of that, it is said, we’re here, somewhat isolated, removed from God’s presence, requiring faith to get us by and religion to help us better understand that faith.

Atheists consider all of the above a waste, even stupid.

Believers consider it fundamental, even essential.

If you haven’t actually seen your God, why do you believe in, pray to and worship him or her? Why do you follow and honor, or try to follow and honor, the tenets of your religion, whichever one it is?

Do you know it to be right? Are you sure? How do you know it? Is it a family tradition? Did research and logic persuade you? Did the spirit move you? Did an answered prayer confirm it to you?

What I know

Many years ago, I attended the same Latter-day Saint ward as Loren Dunn, who was a general authority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I considered him a friend (although I’m unsure what he considered me), having had with him many discussions about life, about sports, about journalism, about religion, about perspective.

I loved the guy. He regularly stood at a pulpit and said, with conviction and sincerity, “I know that God lives. I know that God lives. I know that God lives. And I know that I know it, too.” I never really got from him exactly how he knew that he knew it. But he said he did.

I’ve heard many others testify that they know stuff.

I don’t know that I know anything in this life.

I’m pretty sure about some things. I know, OK, that if I lie down in my driveway and my daughter drives her Jeep over my knees, that that’s going to hurt. I know the Utah Jazz have never won an NBA title and that their chances of winning one without Rudy Gobert and, if it comes to this, Donovan Mitchell are nonexistent in the 2022-23 season. I know the sky is blue and that grass is green, unless water mandates are followed and then it’s brown.

That’s what I know.

What I believe, on a personal level, is that God is real, that Jesus is the Christ, that the church I attend has a lot of good things going for it, but also that it is imperfect, that it’s made mistakes in the past and still makes mistakes, but also that the experiences I’ve had in my faith have helped me and moved me in a way that I don’t deny.

Maybe the same can be said for you and your own church, for all believers in all religions.

More than a few, some who know me and my cynical nature well, have asked me through the years: Why are you a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Look at some of the things that its prophets and other church leaders have done and said. Look at the sketchy history. Look at past polygamy. Look at the former priesthood/temple ban for Black members. Look at the stances taken in regard to LGBTQ individuals. Look at the condescending way women are treated.

I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it again, there are things that I don’t get — not just don’t get, but don’t agree with, and, in some cases, firmly dislike. More on that in a minute.

How do you feel about your church? Studies show that notable numbers of people are bailing on their church and on formal religion as a whole. I understand their concerns.

Here’s the thing for me, though: There are experiences I’ve had through my life that have nudged me along in my belief, that have whispered to me that there is truth in important parts of it, significant and strong feelings that God is great, that life is eternal, that Christ’s atonement is authentic, that my faith is taking me in a positive direction. It’s hard to explain those spiritual encounters. It’s like the old missionary analogy about trying to describe what salt tastes like. It’s … it’s … it’s … salty.

My religion is far from perfect

Same with this. For me, it’s spiritual, it’s personal, and it’s real. It’s salty.

So, what am I supposed to do with that? Deny those experiences? Forget about them? Ignore them? I believe in them, and they make my life better. My faith makes my life better.

My religion is far from perfect. Other religions are far from it as well. And so are their followers. But my spiritual experiences have been close to perfect.

A lot of folks have spiritual experiences in their faith pursuits, some of which are starkly different from my own. That’s all good. We’re all just bumping and skidding along in this life, trying to find our way.

Nonbelievers will scoff at those experiences, pointing out and highlighting the indiscretions, the anachronisms, the inconsistencies, the lapses in logic, calling it all nonsense. That’s their experience. That’s what they know … er, uh, believe.

As the son of a scientist and a disciple of study, I’ve learned about the empirical and the pursuit of it, learned about the imperfections in those endeavors, too. What’s considered truth today, even in the most logical of laboratories, isn’t always considered truth 10 years from now.

Mysteries abound.

Still, real spirituality feels different; it is different — for me, anyway. And spiritual connection is not mere emotion. It’s more profound than that. That spirit has met me at life’s important junctures, and some not as important.

It met me the day my dad died too young and I prayed for him, for my mother, for my own heavenly linkage. It did when a friend found out he faced a critical health issue and needed help from those around him and, especially, from the one above him. It did when I endured a significant personal challenge in my youth. It did when a brilliant family member, in the throes of depression, took his own life and when another beautiful family member, at the vibrant age of 14, drowned while on a Boy Scout canoe trip, when we all cried over his casket. It did in a quiet moment when I sought divine direction. It did in the hour I married my bride. It did when I saw my kids born, when I saw them laugh and cry and hurt and heal. It did as my mom lost her eyesight and her hearing, limping through life in her late 90s.

I don’t know that my church is true.

I have faith — that’s all I have — that God is out there somewhere, that truth is found in the core gospel I’ve studied, and that my church’s faults — and yours, as well — will be made right, worked out over the long haul, over the longest haul, with good eternal hope to the benefit of those who choose to believe and those who don’t.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.