The Brothers Mormonov

“If you don’t believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, then why are you still part of the Church?” Ivan questioned his brother Alexei.  The two enjoyed their gospel conversations, though Ivan left the Church years ago.  Oddly enough, they agreed on most of the facts, but never on their implications.

“I don’t let what I don’t believe get in the way of what I do,” Alexei replied.

“Then what do you still believe?”

“I know I had a spiritual experience when I read the Book of Mormon.  I asked if it was true and I got a strong spiritual confirmation.”

“That sounds like you can’t trust your ‘spiritual confirmation,’” Ivan sipped his coffee.  “If your ‘spiritual confirmation’ told you that something was true and it turned out that it wasn’t true, then spiritual confirmations aren’t a reliable source of truth.  You shouldn’t trust them anymore.”

“Not necessarily.  It could be that I misinterpreted the meaning of the experience.[1]  Perhaps the spiritual confirmation only meant that the Book of Mormon was leading me in the right direction.  Maybe God wanted to point me towards the gospel because that would better align my life with his will.”

“You really think God would tell you that the Book of Mormon was true just to lead you down the right path?  Even if its historical contents were objectively false?”

“God allowed the holocaust to happen.  I don’t see how letting us struggle with the meaning of spiritual experiences is so far beyond the pale.”  Alexei stirred the hot chocolate in his hands, waiting as the whipped cream slowly dissolved.

“OK, let’s put this to the test.  Let’s see how far you’re really willing to go with this theory.”  Ivan sipped his coffee meditatively.  “Do you still believe the other doctrines of the Church?  Do you still believe that President Nelson is a prophet called by God?”

“Yes.   So far, all of my spiritual experiences have confirmed that the teachings of the Church are true, which is to say that following the teachings of the Church will lead me in the right direction.”

“All of the teachings of the Church?” Ivan probed with his eyes.  “You’ve never doubted the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, for instance?”

“I think there may yet be revealed many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”  Alexei smiled.

“A clever deflection, but I’ll let you get away with it.”  Ivan responded with a grin.  “But that leads you to a more fundamental problem.  If spiritual revelations don’t give us eternal ‘truths’ but just point us in the right direction, then is there any limit to what the actual, objective truth could be?  Could God just be generically Christian?  Could he have told you the Book of Mormon is true because he knew that following the Book of Mormon would make you a better Christian?”

“That’s possible,” Alexei admitted.  “I think there are some parts of traditional Christian faith – particularly the idea of a closed cannon – that I disagree with.  But if God is just pointing me in the right direction, then I couldn’t conclusively rule out your supposition.  But I would stay within the Church unless I got further revelation that God wanted me to go elsewhere.”

“Let’s take it a step further.  What about beyond a Christian God?  What if the objective truth was closer to Buddhism or Hinduism or some as-yet-undiscovered religion?  What if He – or It – was just telling you that the Book of Mormon was true because doing so would make you a better person in general?”

“I must admit that that too is possible.  Though once again I would stay in the Church based on my experiences so far, unless and until I receive another strong spiritual revelation pointing me in another direction.”

“And let’s take it a step beyond that.  What if there is a God, but no afterlife?  What if he is revealing ‘truth’ to you because he wants you to be happy and to live a good life, but there is no ultimate reward for your righteousness in the hereafter?”

“I must also admit that that’s possible.”

“Then here’s your problem,” Ivan grinned again.  “If all those things are possible, then why are you following God to begin with?  You do have agency; you could always choose not to follow God.  If your interpretation of your spiritual experiences is so broad as to allow for basically any kind of God to exist, why are you so certain that you should be following God’s revelations in the first place?”

Alexei took a long, deep sip from his hot chocolate before he began.

“Well, let’s examine what I know about my spiritual experiences so far.  I know that I have experienced something.  I believe that what I experienced could only come from a power beyond my own conscious or subconscious mind.  I know that the spiritual direction I have received has led me to help other people, strengthen my personal relationships, and do good.  So, I believe that there is some form of God, that He does communicate via revelation to us, and that He is benevolent.  It doesn’t even matter if God is all powerful or even whether He can save us from death.  As long as He exists, has power, and wants to do good, that is reason enough to follow Him.”

“Even if he can’t promise you eternal life?”

“Even then,” Alexei confirmed.

“But why?  If there is no afterlife, then you only get this one life to live.  Shouldn’t you just be having as much good experiences as you can while you still exist?”

“In that case, God can still reveal to you the best actions to take in this life.  As long as your life is better following God than not following Him, then you should still follow God.”

“But what about the greatest sacrifice?”  Ivan countered.  “What if God asks you to lay down your life for others even through there is no afterlife?  Would you still do it?”

“Yes.”

“But why?  Once you die, all consciousness ends.  That is the definition of the end of all value.  If you have to choose between still being alive albeit harrowed by guilt, isn’t that still better than no longer existing at all?”

“That is debatable,” Alexei conceded. “But that is the price you have to pay to be a true follower of God.  You can’t be a true follower of God without being willing to sacrifice for others, including sacrificing your own life if necessary.  Your reward for that is to have the constant presence of the Holy Ghost.  The price is that you must make that sacrifice if you are called upon to do it.”

“Why can’t you just back away at the last moment?” Ivan asked.  “If you know that you are only willing to follow God because it makes you happy, why wouldn’t you just stop following God the instant that it no longer makes you happy?  Especially if God suddenly demands your life from you?”

“If you’re truly converted, it’s not possible to back away at the last moment.  And if you’re not truly converted, then you can’t enjoy the constant presence of the Holy Ghost while you are still alive.  I would choose the former path, even if it risked my own extinction.”

A silence fell over the two brothers as they both took turns sipping their now lukewarm drinks.

“What if it was all in your subconscious anyway?” Ivan asked.

“I’ve had too many experiences that I can’t explain by appealing to the subconscious.  My subconscious doesn’t know which problems I needed to recheck on my physics midterm.  It doesn’t know which of one of the hundreds of Somalis I passed by on my mission (because none of them spoke the same language as me) would be the one that was Christian and knew English and was looking for a church.  My friend’s subconscious didn’t know that he should put on his seatbelt a few minutes before he got into an accident that broke his neck and would have otherwise certainly killed him.  Spiritual promptings intervened in each of those cases.  Something is going on here besides our own subconscious.  I choose to call it God and I choose to listen to it when it tells me to live the gospel, to keep the commandments and to keep going to church.”

“What if someone hadn’t had those experiences that you have been blessed with?” Ivan countered.  “What if someone couldn’t say that they knew that there was a God because of external validation?  Would they ever know if their spiritual confirmations were anything more than a chemical reaction in their brain?  A way to keep them sane in spite of existential dread?”

“Does following the spiritual promptings make them happier than the alternative?  Does it help them make other people happier than the alternative?  If so, why not keep following them anyway?” Alexei asked.

“And what if the spiritual promptings are just your own subconscious and they don’t lead you or anyone else to be happier?”

“Then I suppose you have finally found a reason not to follow them,” Alexei admitted.  “But tell me honestly, Ivan.  Are you happier for having not followed your spiritual promptings?  Can you deny that you have had them?”

“I won’t deny that I’ve had them.”

“And can you explain away what you’ve felt by saying it was all your subconscious?” Alexei pressed.

“I can not,” Ivan admitted.

“Then why don’t you come to church, even though you know there is a God?”

Ivan thought a long while.  “Having spiritual experiences you can’t explain isn’t enough to say that there’s a God.  It’s also not enough to justify a lifetime of obedience to one particular God.  Especially if you know that at least some of the beliefs related to that God are objectively false.”

“You’re upset that God isn’t exactly what you thought he was,” Alexei replied, “so you’re rejecting him entirely.  That seems even more irrational to me.”

[1] https://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2020/02/joseph-smith-and-the-worst-case-scenario/

30 comments for “The Brothers Mormonov

  1. MoPo
    March 8, 2020 at 10:47 am

    I like the recent flavor of T&S.

  2. Brandon
    March 8, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Ivan seems atypical of an ex-Mormon non-believer and Alexei seems atypical of an active believer. Most ex-Mormons I’ve talked to appear to deny the relevance of spiritual experiences or dismiss them as some sort of euphoria produced by confirmation bias and groupthink. Furthermore, they dismiss the relevance of claims to feeling the spirit by pointing to other stories of people claiming to feel the spirit leading them to belief in ideas and religions that are mutually incompatible with Mormonism. And most believers I’ve talked to about the historicity of the Book of Mormon accept that there is at least some historical element in it and say that it is true in the sense of it being historically true.

  3. p
    March 8, 2020 at 10:54 am

    Ditto MoPo.

  4. William Barlow
    March 8, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    Brandon, I think you’re absolutely right that neither of these are typical. Ivan is actually not far from a standard Ex-Mormon right until the end, where he admits that he’s had spiritual experiences that he can’t ascribe to his subconscious. As you note, the vast majority of (especially Atheist) Ex-Mormons simply believe that spiritual experiences are confirmation bias, groupthink, etc.

    Alexei is an even more rare case. Very few members don’t believe that there is nothing historically accurate in the Book of Mormon. I don’t myself fall into that camp, but I think it’s an interesting thought experiment. The benefit of having a faith that is independent of the historiocity of Book of Mormon is that your faith doesn’t get shaken by evidence that the Book of Mormon isn’t what it purports to be. The downside is that a lot of your faith unraveling if you get to that point, though Alexei is certainly trying to stand firm.

  5. William Barlow
    March 8, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks MoPo and P! It always makes authors happy to know when people are enjoying their work!

  6. March 8, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    I like the last sentence, about God not being who we want Him to be. I’ve run into that sentiment (even if not the exact wording) a couple of times in my life. Someone claims that they can’t believe in God because bad things happen to good people. Someone says they don’t believe in God anymore because He wasn’t transactional (they were good, wanted a blessing and it didn’t happen). Someone stopped believing because God didn’t seem enough like a genie, granting blessings/wishes.
    It’s why I really like the church’s teachings about how this life isn’t just a test (in the school sense), but an experience for us to grow. We have to be truly independent individuals with some stewardship, power and responsibility, to see how we are to behave with significantly greater stewardship, power and responsibility. With that understanding it really helps me align what I see going on in the world with the question “Why does God let that happen?” that most people struggle with.

  7. March 8, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    My belief – and I know this isn’t popular in these circles – is that if you reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but still believe the LDS church is “true,” then you believe in a cruel god.

    What other kind of god would restore his church by commanding or causing Joseph Smith to present, as a historical record, something that isn’t actually what he claims it to be, and then reward the people who believed the deception with membership in the true church and the guidance of a living prophet, while punishing those who (accurately) believed that Joseph was not telling the truth about where the Book of Mormon came from?

    And the scriptures are also pretty clear about how worthless our religion would be without the ressurection. 1 Cor 15:19 “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

    I agree with St. Paul’s perspective here: if Alexei actually believes what he’s saying about his religion being good and true even if there’s no afterlife, then he is “of all men most miserable.”

  8. William Barlow
    March 8, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks, Jader! I think one of the most powerful doctrines revealed to Joseph Smith is that all intelligence is independent in that sphere which God has placed it, to act for itself, otherwise there is no existence. I’ve always interpreted that to mean that there are some things that God simply cannot do (i.e. force us to be both righteous and happy through taking away our free will).

    The implication is that there are some things that God can’t stop without making things worse. Turning away from Him because He can help some of our problems but not others has never made much sense to me. It is like cutting off your relationship with your Mother because you never got the job you wanted. It’s understandable that you’re upset, but why are you turning away from a source of support and comfort that you still have?

  9. William Barlow
    March 8, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks Believing Joseph! I think you make some very good points. I’m not sure if I fully agree with your last point. I’ve known some pretty miserable atheists and some pretty happy Latter-day Saints. Even if there is no afterlife, I’d be hard pressed to say that most atheists live a better life in this world than most believing Latter-day Saints.

    As to the cruelty point, I do think that Alexei would have to go through a lot of mental gymnastics to see why God would choose to act that way. I wonder, though, whether there is any way to conclusively get “over” the question of historiocity of the Book of Mormon. Maybe you just say that you believe in the historiocity of the Book of Mormon because of the spiritual experiences that you have received regardless of what new evidence has recently been unsurfaced?

    It seems better if people don’t have to jump onto fairmormon.org each time new evidence pointing one way or the other comes out. In part, this thought experiment explores whether we can get past that question entirely.

  10. p
    March 8, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Denying or downplaying that a text is ahistorical notwithstanding overwhelming evidence and deciding to believe it’s all still “true” anyway is flat-earth territory. It’s pathological and ultimately damaging; it exposes you to all sorts of crazy thinking – for instance our institutional failure to come to grips with the common phenomenon of homosexuality, our ongoing confusion re: the role of females, the Blacks & priesthood issue (“solved” let’s face it only in the face of overwhelming social pressure). True Believers are overwhelmingly conservative/ultra-conservatives and likely Trumpites. Enough said.

    I see absolutely nothing positive in denial of reality. Where does this lead? Nowhere good, believe me.

  11. p
    March 8, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Gonna add one more thing: young educated LDS are buying zero of this. You want to keep these people it’s time to get real.

  12. Taiwan Missionary
    March 8, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    Agree with MoPo about liking the recent flavor of T&S.

    As to the dialogue between Ivan and Alexei Mormonov: Alexei says, “you’re upset that God is not exactly what you thought He was, so you’re rejecting him entirely.” Too true to be good! The bad joke is that Man created God in his own image, and got upset that God got ideas of His own, and decided to change things around and do things His own way, instead.

    I consider myself reasonably intelligent, but long ago gave up trying to explain Him. I believe that He did things through Joseph Smith to bless us, that He has not done through anyone else. That is why I am a member of the Church. that does not mean that everything in the Church is done according to His will, and THAT IS OKAY.

  13. queuno
    March 8, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    I believe the book came from God and was translated by Joseph Smith. That some of the accounts within the book may be allegorical doesn’t concern me.

  14. William Barlow
    March 8, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks Taiwan Missionary! I’ve become careful not to draw too many conclusions from the concrete things I absolutely do know. People tend to get in trouble when they find a problem with an inference they’ve drawn. When inferences (I had X experience and therefore Y is true and therefore Z is true also) are tied too closely with what you know (I had X experience), then if you lose faith in an inference you tend to bring the whole thing down.

  15. William Barlow
    March 8, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks quenuno! For my part, I’ve had strong spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon. I don’t understand all the implications, but I can not deny the witness that I’ve had. That’s enough for me to take my next steps forward.

  16. SDS
    March 8, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks, William, for a great dialogue. Lots to think about here.

    One point that Alexei might emphasize is that his beliefs are the product of various factors– spiritual promptings, but also ordinary study and thought, etc. So I suspect that some of the possibilities that Ivan asks him to consider would be presumptively ruled out because although these could be possible interpretations or results of his spiritual promptings considered just on their own, they would be inconsistent with too much else that he thinks he has grounds to believe.

    But a crucial and I think really valuable point in the dialogue is that it’s a mistake to discount or reject spiritual promptings that he knows he has had just because the interpretation he gave them at the time turned out to be in need of revision. People do this a lot, I think, and it’s unfortunate. Put it this way: it is a mistake either to think that spiritual promptings are unreal or invalid or, on the other hand, that they are sufficient and self-interpreting. They are, I believe, one important part of how we form our beliefs, but not the only part.

    Just a couple of hours ago, sitting in church, my wife pointed out to me an item on the agenda from the ward council meeting she’d attended earlier. It said: “J—- H—— [a bright young man who was a sort of exemplary member through Primary and YM and until the last couple of years] thinks he doesn’t want to be a member because of Joseph Smith and polygamy.” I mention this just to show that the questions raised in this dialogue, though difficult, are becoming urgent as a practical matter.

  17. ji
    March 8, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Hmmm… All sorts of talk about remaining a member of the Church without reference to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This seems to appear a lot in Internet forums. Maybe there are many intellectual or cultural Mormons around us.

    For me, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of my faith in Jesus Christ. I believe everything about Him taught in the Old and New Testaments, and I believe that He has restored everything anew in this great dispensation through the Prophet Joseph Smith and evening more scripture. For me, it is faith in Jesus Christ first, restoration and church second, doctrines and teachings third, and feelings fourth — there is place for all of these more or less in that order. They say it takes all kinds to make the world go around, and I’m okay with that (God works in wondrous ways!) — but I do not understand the apparently prevalent pattern of feelings first, doctrines and teachings second, restoration and church a remote third, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ a very minor (maybe even wholly irrelevant) fourth.

  18. ReTx
    March 8, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    I too am enjoying these recent discussions. I think I’ve posted more in the last month than I have in the previous five years.

    This made me pause: “But that leads you to a more fundamental problem. If spiritual revelations don’t give us eternal ‘truths’ but just point us in the right direction, then is there any limit to what the actual, objective truth could be?”

    To which I say No. There are no limits to the actual, objective truth (definition) of God that the human brain is capable of understanding. And that truth of God’s nature (that uncertainty is a better word that truth) is the heart of my post traditional-Mormon faith. Or put in other words: we don’t know near as much as we think we know and it’s the admission of not-knowing (uncertainty) that sprouts faith.

  19. SDS
    March 8, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    ji, just want to say that I completely agree. The Good News about Jesus Christ is the essential foundation. I hope nothing I’ve written in comments or posts over the last few weeks has led you to think I don’t agree with that.

  20. William Barlow
    March 8, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    Thanks SDS! I agree – Alexei’s responses focus only on what he knows via spiritual revelation, which is a bit narrow. I would assume that there are other beliefs that he would come to via reading and pondering the scriptures that would add to his knowledge. For instance, if he had come to an insight about the atonement when reading scriptural passages on it, and applied it to his life, then I would assume that the atonement would have to play a role in whatever theology he accepts. As you say, that would narrow the range of options.

    I’ve seen a lot of friends in my generation leave the church. I think that early church history revelations is more of the spark, but the real kindling lies elsewhere. It’s something we need to address. More to come on that soon!

  21. William Barlow
    March 8, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    Ji – thanks, a good point that shouldn’t be forgotten. If Alexei’s responses had included spiritual experiences expressly connected with the Atonement, that would probably have helped.

    I guess the question is “Why do you have faith in Jesus Christ”? If the answer is because of your spiritual experiences, then the question presented in the story remains: are those spiritual experiences indicative of the eternal and objective truth that Jesus is the Christ, or can there ever be another interpretation of those experiences? I’m not trying to provide an answer, just raise the question. If your faith in Jesus Christ is based on his teachings, then what would happen if you found teachings in other faiths that you found meaningful?

    I guess my question is what our faith in Jesus Christ is based on? Our spiritual experiences or his teachings? Or is it something different entirely?

  22. ji
    March 8, 2020 at 10:54 pm

    Whatever it is, William, I hope you figure it out. Too many people delight in asking questions rather than getting answers. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the Gospel. A sophist, Socratic, or other questioning approach to faith may not provide a firm foundation. As the Savior told Jairus after his daughter died before they made it back to the house, when all others were talking reason and so forth, “be not afraid, only believe.” It’s an invitation from Him, a choice for us.

  23. Wondering
    March 8, 2020 at 11:31 pm

    ji, I find real value in your approach but from my experience and observation I might have said too many people delight in unexamined [pseudo-] certainty instead of asking questions. Incidentally, faith/belief is not simply a choice. There are aspects of choice involved for me, but, e.g., I am wholly unable to choose to believe that the earth is flat. Because of spiritual experience in a form quite different from a “warm feeling” or “burning in the bosom” I have faith in Christ as Savior and in a few other related things, but certainly no certainty that might interpretation of those things has always been absolutely accurate. I can “know” e.g. that Joseph Smith was a prophet without knowing when he was acting as a prophet and when not, or whether the reports I read of his words are exactly accurate, or whether I understand them either they way he did or the way God did or does.
    Yes, I’ve been told I think too much. Maybe that meant I question too much. The the fact is I can’t stop. I’ve tried. Neither questioning nor faith is entirely a matter of choice. Nor are questioning and faith mutually exclusive.

  24. Wondering
    March 8, 2020 at 11:51 pm

    Autocorrect! @$*#& “might interpretation” should be “my interpretation”

  25. March 9, 2020 at 4:08 am

    Ironically, the more we ignore The Book of Mormon’s origins, whatever you think they are, the more the book gives itself to us. I’m on Team Historicity, as far as the debate goes, but I have to confess that I’ve read more books about the Book of Mormon than I have the Book of Mormon itself and that doesn’t seem right.

    This story touches on the disconnect between phenomena and the metaphysics we ascribe to them. Alexi cares more for the gift than the identity of the giver; he’s too busy eating the meal than to worry about who cooked it. Adam S. Miller, Jean Luc Marion and Bruno Latour would agree.

  26. Brandon
    March 9, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    The divide on what faith is among commenters on this blog fascinates me. Here are two competing views.

    1. From ReTx: “we don’t know near as much as we think we know and it’s the admission of not-knowing (uncertainty) that sprouts faith.”

    2. From ji: “A sophist, Socratic, or other questioning approach to faith may not provide a firm foundation.”

    The first comment sees faith as uncertainty while the second sees faith as certainty. When I listen to general conference, I hear the latter view more than I hear the former. Also, in testimony meetings, I frequently hear, “I know…” indicating that members at large prefer to view faith as a sort of certainty than an uncertainty.

    Here is a problem I see with the first view. If you have lots of uncertainty about a decision, why take it? If I am uncertain about a possible romantic partner, why enter into a marriage with them? If I have lots of uncertainty about a possible job, why sign the employment contract? If I’m uncertain about what the church teaches as truth, then why join it or stay in it?

    And here is a problem I see with the second view. How are we to learn if we don’t ask questions? If we just accept on face value anything and everything the church leaders say as true without testing it with our questions, isn’t that a blind trust in them? Isn’t that treating them as infallibles? Questions shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but as an sign of interest. The most dangerous thing is people not caring at all. Questions show that people care to actually think about things. They make it so that there can be a negotiation and a bargain and a relationship.

    I think that faith is something that has to have a number of certainty components to it, with a margin of uncertainty. I have faith in an employee to perform, for instance. I have certainty in her ability to perform because of a strong track record. But I am not entirely certain about what might happen in the future. So I take a gamble and hire her. But there are other possible employees where I see a larger margin of risk, and don’t want to take a gamble on them.

  27. ji
    March 9, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    Oh, my. So very very quickly–
    . “…a sophist, Socratic, or other questioning approach to faith may not provide a firm foundation…
    was re-characterized as–
    . “…just accept on face value anything and everything the church leaders say as true without testing it with our questions…

  28. March 9, 2020 at 9:04 pm

    As other commenters have said, I’ve been reading through some of the recent T&S posts, and I also like the feel of these.

    This feels like a good post in dialogue with one a while back (but for me, one that’s just one tab over that I just read a few minutes before) putting historicity higher on the “must have” list. (It’s a good post to explain why someone might stay even when they don’t believe in historicity)

    However, it feels like it misses a lot of things on the nonbeliever side.

    It doesn’t seem to address the cases of people who haven’t had any experiences that they would consider to be spiritual (or of people who have had experiences they once considered spiritual but who didn’t have such validations that make that interpretation the only reasonable interpretation they have.) And I guess maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe it’s not “supposed to”.

    But what gets me is that Ivan starts asking some of these questions but conveniently zigs instead of zagging in a way that doesn’t get very serious. Like:

    “What if someone hadn’t had those experiences that you have been blessed with?” Ivan countered. “What if someone couldn’t say that they knew that there was a God because of external validation? Would they ever know if their spiritual confirmations were anything more than a chemical reaction in their brain? A way to keep them sane in spite of existential dread?”

    I find Alexei’s responses not very satisfying. He goes back to the idea of spiritual promptings as making one happy (which Ivan critiqued earlier in the discussion and Alexei defeated by saying that spiritual promptings need not always do that.)

    Early on, Ivan asks if Alexei ever doubted his church’s teachings on homosexuality.

    But I think he pulls the punches.

    This is all great for sympathetic allies, but it so often misses the experience for many LGBTQ folks themselves.

    How does Alexei deal with the reality that many LGBTQ people are socialized into believing themselves wrong at a fundamental level (or broken in their desires and attractions at a fundamental level), and who are socialized to believe in spirituality that might confirm such things? This is not a spirituality that for many of them will make them happy, although maybe their belief may motivate them to believe that their self-denial will make other happy? (That all being said, I am also aware that some religious LGBT folks do find comfort in celibacy and faith, just saying it isn’t a universal experience.)

    If Alexei, true believer, will believe even until God asks his life of him, how can he (or any of us) address or distinguish between LGBT individuals who may believe that God expect them to lay down their lives — literally — as sacrifice to “cure” them?

    …I personally can’t say I’ve ever had anything I would call a spiritual experience. I know that that differentiates me even from a lot of exmormons, who aren’t in a similar position. I am more familiar with the stupor of thought than the burning in the bosom, but I hardly use that as indicative of the existence of anything ;).

    But I am familiar with anxiety and self-loathing, and I am familiar with the joy of *ceasing* to hold myself to those external expectations. I don’t really feel any inclination to say any of those things came from an external source.

  29. Brandon
    March 9, 2020 at 11:09 pm

    ji, how was I supposed to interpret what you wrote? To be fair I’ll give your comment a bit more treatment.

    “Too many people delight in asking questions rather than getting answers”

    This seems to imply that we should not dwell on questions too long (or even ask too many) and come to answers quickly (well, answers that are in line with what church leaders already think and say).

    “…when all others were talking reason and so forth, ‘be not afraid, only believe.'”

    Here you imply reasoning (“talking reason”) goes against having faith. You just believe. That is faith. Hence I said that your view sees faith as certainty.

    “It’s an invitation from Him, a choice for us.”

    Here you’re saying that believing is simply a matter of choice. We can just up and will ourselves to belief, it is not and should not be something that our reasoning and senses causes. Belief doesn’t have to be caused. You just believe.

  30. ReTx
    March 9, 2020 at 11:52 pm

    “If you have lots of uncertainty about a decision, why take it?”

    Well, I’d argue that a whole ton of certainty is self-soothing fraud in the first place. Uncertainty is a very scary place to be and the brain has all kinds of ploys to avoid it (I train animals for fun using positive reinforcement/operant conditioning. How uncertainty/fear avoidance works in the brain motivationally, is a fascinating topic). So I can tell myself that I’ve made a decision because I’m *certain* of an outcome, but that’s false thinking. Much better thinking is: I’ve made a decision because there’s a reasonable chance at the outcome I want.

    “If I’m uncertain about what the church teaches as truth, then why join it or stay in it?”

    That is the question, isn’t it? For me (and I totally get other people are different), the search for truth is where I find God. However, in doing so I don’t ever seem to find *the truth.* But if I don’t search/hunt/crave truth, I don’t find God. An interesting paradox.

    Great conversation.

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