Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Things I definitely believe in and things I don't understand

I'm doing a series of posts where I examine what I believe and why I believe it. It feels like an overwhelming task, but I feel like some of my beliefs are nebulous and namby-pamby.

I mentioned on Facebook that I choose to believe in God. I don't think science can provide evidence either way. For every argument that "humans/nature is so complex it had to have a creator!" there is an equally compelling "this system is so stupid if someone had created it they would have been smart enough not to make it this way." So the way I see it, it really is a choice, and for me, believing in God gives me aspirations beyond things on Earth. 

What God is:

I believe that God is a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. God made the Earth, and everything on it. I also believe that since God organized all the matter on Earth that he did so using the physical laws everything on Earth is subject to. I believe that God made the stars and other planets. I admit that I'm confused about how God could make the universe, because then He (They? She?) would have to exist outside it. Like Joseph Smith, I believe that spirit has matter, or at least is a phenomenon explained by the interaction of physical elements. However I was recently contemplating how an individual's atoms change completely second-to-second, showing that consciousness isn't accounted for by individual atoms. I don't completely understand the science there, but if it's true that my soul isn't made of atoms, what is it made of? Admittedly this is blowing my mind a little and I'm not sure if what I believe about the science of consciousness would really change my actions anyway, so I guess I'm shelving that for now.

If we're an advanced form of primate, God is an advanced form of human. Or maybe a better analogy would be that we're caterpillars and God is a butterfly, except that transformation is contingent upon how we act and what we choose to believe. I kind of hate that God is a completely different kind of human, because it means that whatever He does, He can explain it by saying something like "my thoughts are not your thoughts" you poor shortsighted human. I don't know if God works this way, but I'd like it better if His laws made logical sense to a human. If God is all-powerful, He should be able to explain His awesomeness in a way that stupid humans can understand. If the human-monkey God-human analogy is correct through, there are probably some aspects of God that were are completely incapable of understanding, which seems unfair. I do think there are aspects of my religion I can understand better by thinking about them though. 

What is sin:

 I wanted to define sin in a way that I could look at any action and determine whether or not it was a sin, like "does it cause suffering for myself or others?" But I went through a lot of edge cases and I couldn't find a specific definition that fit all the things I consider a sin or not a sin. My husband suggested that a sin is "intentionally disobeying God, or going against His will." I don't like this definition as much, because it's more complicated, but I think it does account for theology pretty well. It explains why there's so much emphasis on knowing and aligning onesself to the will of God. It's possible to sin even if you haven't formally studied religion/God's will, because everyone has the light of Christ, or a conscience, to make them feel guilty initially for wrong things. I don't think that guilt is a good ultimate indicator for sin though, because we can feel guilty about things that are right, and not feel guilty about things that are wrong. It seems like God should have given us a measurement more precise than a feeling for knowing what is wrong. One example that comes to mind is that victims of abuse often blame themselves or feel guilty for being abused, even though being the victim of abuse is not a sin. Conversely, some sociopaths feel no guilt for things like murder which most people would feel guilty about. Those are extreme examples, so here are some less extreme ones. Some people feel guilty for eating food they enjoy, even though eating is something humans need to do to survive and I think you might as well enjoy it (as long as you're not hurting yourself). I don't feel guilty for eating meat, generally, even though in some cultures and religions this is considered a sin. 

I feel conflicted because the evidence seems to contradict my religious belief, so I feel the need to change my belief. Maybe it should suffice that the feeling of guilt is an indicator that I should examine my actions and decide if they were actually wrong. 

Going back to the definition of sin as intentionally disobeying God's will, I like the definition because it does account for wide variety of human behavior. It accounts for how little children can do terrible things, but still be "without sin," because their brains are theoretically not developed enough to understand the concept of God and intentionally disobeying him. It ignores the consequences of actions; "the Lord looketh upon the heart." At the same time I feel kind of cheated though, because if I were to try to institute a similar scheme of discipline with my child(ren), I wouldn't be able to, because I can't mind-read and tell when someone didn't mean to do something (because a cunning child would constantly say "I didn't mean to" in that situation). Given this definition of sin, it seems futile to try to judge when another person sins. But we need earthly laws to prevent society from falling apart (probably?). But since we can't mind-read, we have to look at what the consequences of an action were to determine if it was right or wrong. 

How does the atonement work?:

Anyway, I was trying to decide what sin was to figure out how the atonement works, because the atonement still seems magical to me. The atonement makes it so we can repent from sins and change ourselves. God complied with earthly laws to make the Earth, and God complies with spiritual laws when it comes to the transformation of our souls. This is the part where Jesus comes in, and the reason it had to be Jesus is because he's half God; I believe that God is both Jesus's spiritual and physical father. Somehow Jesus's demigod status makes it so he could be the first person to become one with God (basically when he was resurrected?). Jesus talks a lot about how he is the way and the truth--his unique situation as half-human, half-God, made it so he could explain how to do it to us stupid humans. The part I don't understand is why he had to suffer for our sins, or even what it means for him to suffer for our sins. When we do something wrong on Earth, we suffer the natural consequences, like going to prison or whatever. So if Jesus really does relieve our suffering, it is our psychological suffering. The atonement covers any kind of psychological suffering, even suffering unrelated to sin. I think this can work just be believing in it, and indeed, the idea that faith, or belief, is essential for the atonement to work in one's life makes for a satisfying logic loop. The atonement may be a placebo, in that its power is directly influenced by our belief in it, but I believe the power of placebos is practical and nothing to be ashamed of. 

The part of the atonement that is still magical to me is why God needed someone to suffer for all the times someone rebelled against Him. One way I can explain this to myself is that God is a collection of "intelligences." Like a big brain? [note: the following is not LDS canon. LDS canon is that God has a body of flesh and blood.] We are child souls of the collective that is God, and our goal is to become part of God. But since God is a consciousness, it hurts to have lots of parts that don't agree with each other. God needs to be consistent with Himself, so He can't contain everyone that wants to become part of Him. So... Jesus has to transform these souls into God in a process that causes him pain, but he does it anyway because it's God's will and he's the only one who can do it? Well, I still don't get how that works, but luckily I don't have to decide everything I believe in today, so I think that is enough for now. I will continue contemplating what I believe.

Part 2


Andrea Landaker said...

Hey, thanks for this really honest and personal post. I, too, wonder about some of these things... :-)

G.K. Hall said...

Interesting thoughts..

I was reading Augustine's Enchiridion recently and toward the beginning it dealt with sin in a way that made sense to me.