Sunday, June 28, 2009

On the Joys of Mormondom

Spotlighting a fantastic post by Andrew Ainsworth from over a year ago:

Why I Am Not a Disaffected Mormon

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blake Ostler on the Book of Mormon

I absolutely love the Book of Mormon. My testimony of the Book of Mormon is that it is authentic. However, I’m very intrigued by Blake Ostler’s theory about it being a partial modern expansion of an ancient source. I haven’t studied his theory out completely to see how far he takes it, so I can’t say how much I agree or disagree. I’ve only read Updating the Expansion Theory, but I definitely think he may be onto something. It seems to fit well with what I understand about the translation process of the Book of Mormon. This is his final statement:

“I believe that the Book of Mormon is precisely what it claims to be: a book translated by the gift and power of God that tells us about the record of an ancient people. However, translation by the gift and power of God isn’t translation based upon an isomorphic rendering of an underlying text into English based on a knowledge of the ancient textual language; rather, it is a revelation from God which involves necessarily the limitations of vocabulary, conceptuality and horizons of God’s servant chosen to render it into English for us.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

My Prophet/Parent Analogy

Warning--no analogy is perfect. Especially one originating in my mind. But there is something about the following that helps me explain why I believe in prophets even though they can be "wrong".

Parents aren't perfect. At least mine weren't. Yet I love my parents immensely. As a kid all I wanted to do was make my parents proud of me. They were great people in my eyes. (They still are--I just think the analogy works better if I'm using a parent/child relationship). I trusted them. I knew they wanted what was best for me. I knew that they knew things I didn't know. They had experienced things I hadn't, and could "see" things I couldn't from my vantage point. I even believe they received revelation and inspiration on behalf of our family. They taught me things of great value. They taught me truth--things that have made my life better and happier has a result.

Sometimes they were wrong. However, the things they got right far exceeded the wrong, so I never had to question whether or not following their teachings was ultimately leading me in the wrong direction or in the right direction.

No mortal alive today is perfect. In fact, only one who ever walked the earth was perfect--Jesus Christ. We trust in Him and in the Spirit who guides us into "all truth" (John 16:13). We can't look to mortals (prophets included) and expect to always get perfection. We can only look to Perfection to receive perfection. But by golly, I'm grateful God gave me my parents. And I'm grateful he gives us modern prophets too.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why I Don't Believe That God Instituted The Priesthood Ban

"While I don't personally believe it was God who instituted that policy in the first place, I most definitely believe God was behind the revelation to end the policy."

In writing the above statement on June 8th in a commemorative post on the Priesthood Revelation, Tom was curious and decided to ask me why I felt that "God wasn't behind the policy in the first place". I asked if he wanted the short version or the long version. He said long, so out of convenience, I'm simply dedicating a whole new post to the subject. I hope it's worth every penny he's paying. :)

There’s a very informative chapter in “David O. Mckay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” that discusses the policy entitled “Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood”. It's quite an "eye opener" and it helped me to become more informed about the background concerning the ban. The more informed I was about the history, the easier it was to see that prophets are not infallible and that God doesn't micromanage every aspect of Church administration. (Of course you also see this quite clearly in "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling".)

Although it’s clear that many of our past Church leaders were a product of their times (ie: somewhat racist) it is also clear that the policy was not really even well known about by the general membership of the Church up through the 1950’s. It’s no surprise that the “why” behind the ban is not very well understood now, because it really wasn’t understood well then. Even some of the Brethren in the middle of the 20th century weren’t aware that Joseph Smith (who was actually quite progressive) ordained several black men to the Priesthood and that the evolution of the ban actually began with Brigham Young.

One thing is sure: Hugh B. Brown, counselor to David O. Mckay in the First Presidency, was definitely in favor of reversing the policy. However he met with some resistance/pressure by other top leaders in the Twelve.

David O. McKay himself said multiple times that it was not a doctrine, but a policy, and that it would eventually be reversed. He started making modifications to the policy that laid the groundwork for the 1978 Revelation by President Kimball. I think President McKay didn’t feel it was quite time to act yet because he wanted unanimity among the brethren, and some of them, including Elder Harold B. Lee, had strong feelings to keep the ban in place. Unanimity was also extremely important to President Kimball as he sought the revelation to end that policy. It’s an insightful read and it definitely gave me a more realistic picture of how everything actually played out.

But how did the ban actually begin, and why? It’s not completely clear, so the official answer is “we don’t know”. However, it's pretty clear that it didn’t begin as a “revelation”. Rather, the policy seems to have begun officially in 1852 with an announcement by Brigham Young. I doubt that God had anything to do with it, but rather I believe He simply honored the agency of Brigham Young who was a product of his times and was reacting to something culturally at the time, believing it to be the right thing to do. Now I'm not throwing Brigham under the bus here. I'm simply recognizing that although he was a prophet who did a lot of amazing things, he was also a flawed human being, as all prophets are. As we know, when the Lord calls a man to be a prophet, he doesn't unmake the man. Brigham, like so many other Christians of the time, believed the "curse of Cain" justified the subordination of black people. And over time, many leaders just assumed that’s the way it was supposed to be and didn’t really understand that the ban hadn't always been in place.

Over time people looked for scriptural justifications for it and began teaching their interpretations and some of those interpretations became accepted by many—not all—as a quasi-official “doctrine”. In my opinion, the folklore that was perpetuated to try to explain the “why” behind the ban became even more offensive and painful than the ban itself. So it’s almost doubly offensive and ridiculous that many still teach these rationales today (such as that blacks were less faithful in the pre-mortal existence), even though that has been repudiated time and again by apostles and prophets. For example, here is Elder Holland’s wonderful denunciation of the folklore surrounding the ban from his PBS interview:
"One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. … It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place… [when asked to specify the folklore] Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic."

I’m very grateful to live in a day and age in which wrongs have been corrected, and I especially appreciate quotes such as Elder Holland’s. Unfortunately, some haven’t got the memo. Significantly, President Hinckley spoke out in General Conference in 2006:
“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord. Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?” ("The Need For Greater Kindness", April 2006 General Conference.)

There are many other relevant quotes assembled on my post: Endorsing the Call: Repudiate Racist Justifications for the Priesthood Ban. In making sense of all of our past, as well as our present, I also strongly recommend an important FAIR article by Armand L. Mauss: "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics". It should be required reading for anyone trying to become informed on the subject.

Now the hard part is that some otherwise informed members of the Church can't quite bring themselves to accept that past prophets could have been “wrong” on this. But we have to be honest with ourselves, and "wrong" is the word Elder Holland himself used. Some say, "Surly God would not have allowed them to get something this big so wrong for so long, right?" Well, in my view that’s a faulty fundamentalist view of prophetic perfection. It's also unrealistic and a bit ignorant of how God works through mortals through time.

Marvin Perkins was recently interviewed by Times and Seasons. At the end of the first of four segments, he said something that resonated with me and struck me as very important and I wish all members would come to understand this:
"Then you have those who are not familiar enough with the scriptures or the Plan of Salvation to understand that all prophets and apostles make mistakes. They mistakenly believe that all prophets are to be perfect in the administration of the things of God and because of this, their testimony of the truthfulness of the Church suffers a major blow and they begin to doubt and struggle. After we show them D&C 1:24-28 …
24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

… and a list of prophets who’ve made errors from the Old Testament to the Doctrine and Covenants they begin to see that their testimonies were weighted too much on the Brethren who are imperfect and not enough on Christ who is perfect, and His restored gospel. With this realization, the shift is made and they become stronger, more productive Saints, now able to help their brother."

So that's kind of the framework I'm working with concerning the Church and the Restoration. Furthermore, there is so much more of greatness and goodness in the work that these prophets accomplished overall that focusing on their mistakes doesn't really give the true picture. Nevertheless, you can't just ignore the fact that mistakes were made--many of them acknowledged.

For example, after the revelation in 1978 Elder McConkie said: "Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more." ("All Are Alike unto God", BYU Speeches).

Still though, how do I personally make sense of the evolution of the ban, historically speaking? My personal understanding follows along the same lines as Papa D/Ray, who’s shared some of his thoughts. I’ll quote him now because it’s basically exactly what I currently believe. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind should I be influenced to think differently:
1) Joseph ordained black men to the Priesthood. That is indisputable in any intelligent way.

2) Brigham Young and many of the early Saints were steeped in racism growing up. “The incorrect traditions of our fathers” are hard to shake, especially when they are so commonly shared.

3) The single most fundamental prejudice of the time was inter-racial marriage – even without the possibility of it being eternal.

4) Brigham seems to have supported the ordination of those few black men who received the Priesthood.

5) When a black Priesthood holder appeared to be about to marry a white woman in the temple, Brigham (and most members) couldn’t take it. It was too much for them to consider it as a legitimate possibility. Brigham, particularly, was irate and vowed it wouldn’t happen.

6) They constructed a quasi-scriptural justification (based on the common and widespread Protestant beliefs of their upbringing and the current time) to put a ban in place, and a few people spoke of hearing Joseph make statements that would support it – his previous actions in ordaining black men notwithstanding. (BY never claimed direct, personal revelation on the subject; rather, he said, “The Lord has spoken” – and used the scriptural justifications.) NOTE: I’m NOT saying this was done intentionally, knowing that it wasn’t inspired. I’m saying I think they never considered seeking revelation, since it seemed obvious and apparent to them given the assumptions of their upbringing.

7) Other apostles over the years tweaked and added to the original justification, bringing, for example, the uniquely Mormon concept of the pre-existence into it by claiming black people had been less valiant in the pre-existence and, therefore, were unworthy of the Priesthood in this life.

8 ) The membership, by and large, bought into the justifications – even as some of the apostles and members never did. In many people’s eyes, it became “doctrine”; for those like Pres. McKay who recognized it didn’t originate through revelation, it was viewed merely as “policy”. Those who saw it as doctrine outnumbered those who saw it as policy.

9) By the 1940’s and 1950’s, many people’s attitudes in the country had started to change, and Pres. McKay thought it might be time to change the policy. He prayed fervently about it, but the Lord told him it wasn’t the proper time yet. Importantly, Pres. McKay never said the Lord told him the ban was “His will” or “correct” or anything like that. He simply said it wasn’t the proper time yet to lift the ban.

10) By the late 1970’s the Church was in a situation where it simply couldn’t grow and produce future leaders in Brazil and other Western Hemisphere countries (and Africa) without ordaining black men to the Priesthood. This reality weighed heavily on the minds of the First Presidency and the 12, as they were well aware of the growth limitations AND potential in those areas and as they were faced with abundant evidence of very faithful black members who didn’t appear to be cursed by God in any reasonable way – much like Paul’s dilemma with circumcision among the Gentiles of his missions. It also reinforced the beliefs of the “younger generation” who were not predisposed to accept the folklore and more disposed to see it as Pres. McKay had seen it – and as Pres. Kimball saw it.

My own speculation:

A) The decision had been made without seeking direct, personal revelation, so the Lord waited until (practical) unanimity could be reached before stopping the policy. (Kind of like the people of Limhi needing to suffer more than the people of Alma before each group was delivered from their respective captors.)

B) Those who had been the most steeped in hardcore racism (not just the justifications for the ban) had to die before the ban was lifted – much like the people of Israel who built the golden calf needing to pass away before the group could enter the Promised Land. (Hence, my use of the Jacob 5 allegory – pruning the bitter fruit according to the strength of the roots.)

C) Elder McConkie gets a bad rap, even unthinkingly by me sometimes when I’m not careful with my wording. He wasn’t racist in one important way – in that he didn’t dislike or disapprove of black people in general; he simply was a forceful proponent of the folklore. I know that is splitting hairs to a degree, but I believe he was being “loyal” to the leadership, especially since his father-in-law was a Prophet and someone he revered – a great influence in his life. Perhaps he never fully “repented” (meaning simply “changed fully”), since he never removed the folklore from Mormon Doctrine, but he was able to rejoice in the revelation – since he really wasn’t a hardcore racist at heart. That left only Mark E. Peterson as the champion of the ban and its fundamental racism, and he was only six years from passing away by 1978. (I’ll equate him with the fact that handful of adults at the time of the golden calf were allowed to enter the Promised Land. It’s a stretch, but it’ll do – since the actual balance in 1978 would have been 14-1 in the FP and the 12 when you put McConkie in the approving category.)

Ray called that the concise version. :) He then goes on to summarize the following ideas: 1) God works with prophets in their own limitations all throughout history; 2) the Restoration is a process not an event; 3) that the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times refers to the condition at the end of the dispensation--that the Jacob 5 concept of pruning will be accomplished fully only at the end. ("There will be “bitter fruit” in the Church even after the Restoration – fruit that could be pruned only according to the strength of the root. I don’t think that bitter fruit has been purged completely yet").

Personally, I'm at peace with that understanding. Furthermore, our "labor in the vineyard" is a part of something much grander than some local pruning here and some pruning there. I'm just grateful to be a part of the whole process!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Name of the Church" as it evolved; through the eyes of other "Saints"

I recently took a peak at a blog (Saints' Herald) from some of our "cousins" at the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church). There was one post that I found particularly interesting: The Name of The Church. It was well researched and well written. It speaks to both the name of the early Church we all share in common, as well as the changes over time as they branch off from there. I'm sure Latter-day Saints will find it interesting and worthwhile.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do"

2nd Nephi 25:23 is generally misunderstood by evangelicals, and unfortunately, too often by Latter-day Saints. It says: "For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do".

Robert Millet explains that “this does not mean that we must do everything we can do BEFORE Christ can assist us. This is not about chronology. Further, who do you know who has or will ever do ALL they can do? Grace is not just that final boost into heaven that God provides at the end of a well-lived life, although we obviously will need all the help we can get. Rather, the Almighty assists us all along the way, every second of every minute of every hour of every day, all through our lives. It does not mean that we will carry the bulk of the load to salvation and Jesus will fill in the gaps; he is not the God of the gaps. Our contribution to glory hereafter, when compared to his, is infinitesimal and minuscule. If I might be permitted a paraphrase of what the passage stated, “We are saved by grace, above and beyond all we can do, notwithstanding all we can do, in spite of all we can do” ("Claiming Christ", p. 188).

Misinterpreting this means that people could be guilty of practically attempting to save themselves—“a works-righteousness that discounts, understates, underappreciates, and even sets at naught the mighty work performed by our Savior and Redeemer” (Millet, p. 189). Yet by having full faith in Christ, even "faith unto repentance", we are encircled "in the arms of safety" (Alma 34:16).

Personally, when I compare this verse with all the other teachings of Nephi and the rest of the Book of Mormon, it is clear that "even after all we can do, it is still by grace that we are saved." We cannot save ourselves. There is a reason why the Savior is called the Savior. In other words, "after all is said and done, or after all we can do (which comparatively isn't much)--we are saved by the grace of Christ." And that's why we rejoice!

This is much more in line with LDS teaching on this aspect of grace, as well as with all the other scriptures in the Book of Mormon which eloquently state the doctrine of salvation by grace; and that we need grace here and now, not only after or at the end of our lives. After all, Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer, not just a “wise consultant” or “celestial cheerleader”.

It is so critical to understand this, and to not misunderstand this. Stephen E. Robinson has even stated that in that passage, “all we can do” is have faith in Christ. This is made clear in the following verses, particularly 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ, and we write according to our prophesies that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” Moreover, the Book of Mormon elsewhere states that “all we can do” is to repent and turn to Christ. (Alma 24:10-11).

As fellow blogger, Papa D, has written: "Of course, we are to try to do all that we can do, but exactly what we can do pales in comparison to what He has done - saved us by His grace regardless of what we can do. It takes the pressure off of us and puts the focus where it should be - on His incomprehensible grace that so fully he proffers us."

Finally, another possible interpretation is that the "we" in "all we can do" might actually be referring to just Nephi and his fellow prophets, not an "impossible standard that is required” of humankind before God grants forgiveness and salvation, but of the "efforts he and his brethren have put forth to write and persuade".

Katie writes: "To rephrase it, might he be saying, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that after all we can do [to write and persuade], it is [ultimately] by the grace [of Christ] that we are saved.”

"Framed this way, Nephi is NOT making a sweeping statement about the necessity of each man and woman to turn to Christ only AFTER you’ve done the best you can; but instead is acknowledging that the work he does is insufficient, for it is by GRACE that he is saved, even after all he does."

Monday, June 8, 2009

June 8th: Commemorating the Revelation

Before June 8th, 1978, most black members of the Church had not received the priesthood in this dispensation. While I don't personally believe it was God who instituted that policy in the first place, I most definitely believe God was behind the revelation to end the policy. Because of that, we remember today a true jubilation.

Just over three months later, the First Presidencies' landmark letter was canonized as Official Declaration--2

In the spirit of that jubilation, I want to recommend anew J. Stapley's fantastic sacrament meeting talk: Commemorating the Revelation.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Concern For Those Who Are Struggling

I want to recommend an active BCC post: "The Hard History–is faith enough to get us through?" My participation there, as well as many wonderful comments (including some who are struggling) has prompted me to think about not only how we present some of the "hard" history, but how we can help those who find themselves in a crisis of faith. I want to shout from the roof tops that it is so critically important that we not judge those who struggle with doubts. It's imperative that we not dismiss the concerns of those who have legitimate questions about interpreting the "hard" facts of Church history.

All too often, people (including family members and friends we are prone to go to first) get defensive and don't seem to care as much about the person who is struggling as much as they seem to care about protecting their own beliefs. We need more empathy all around. Less worry and more love. I recommend Richard Bushman's pastoral approach.

I don't have a lot of experience in this realm. But I've had enough to feel prompted to share some thoughts. Sometimes when people present their concerns to those who haven't yet assimilated those facts into their own faith paradigm, problems arise in communication. That's when concern for the "one" rather than concern for ourselves should kick into gear. That concern is exactly what Elder Wirthlin was talking about in his now classic conference talk: "Concern for the One".

I tried to do this, in my own imperfect way for sure, in response to an email I received several months ago:

I appreciate you writing and feeling confident enough to ask your questions honestly and openly, and share your concerns with an "outsider". I sense your sincerity and I hope something I say can be helpful. First off, let me just say that you're not alone; you're not the first to have struggled with these questions. I hope it can give you hope to say that passing through doubts with your beliefs still in tact can actually strengthen your testimony. And in some respects, I think all of us live continue to live with doubt to some degree.

One thing I do know--"know" undeniably--is that I have had some very powerful, spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon, and I always come back to that. That's the foundation of my testimony. There are many things I'm not 100% sure of, but I always come back to the Book of Mormon and the implications which it carries with it (ie: God does live and reaches out to bless his children, Jesus is the Christ and really did live, die, and take up his life again, etc). Naturally, it is the single greatest evidence of the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith. Joseph had many flaws for sure, but as Elder Holland's fourth great-grandfather said when he heard of the Book of Mormon in England, he walked away from the service saying "no good man would have written that, and no bad man could have written it." It still remains the single greatest evidence for the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. So even though Joseph isn't perfect, and the Church isn't perfect (because it's made up of very imperfect individuals)--the gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect and I cling to that. And I find that gospel taught powerfully in the Book of Mormon, and I recognize God's fingerprints all throughout that book. That's why I believe.

It's easy to doubt. It's a little harder to have faith, but that is the path that I have walked, even as I've had to adjust my framework of the Restoration as I've learned more. I once wrote on my blog: "I stubbornly desire to remain open minded yet filled with faith at the same time. I appreciate what President Hugh B. Brown said about doubt: 'Some say that the open-minded leave room for doubt. But I believe we should doubt some of the things we hear. Doubt has a place if it can stir in one an interest to go out and find the truth for one's self' ("An Abundant Life")."

I don't think it would be as helpful to focus your concern on whether "the Church is true", because there are some things that does mean and some things it does not mean, and it's easy to miss the boat and confuse the issues. That's why I'd say start by focusing on the Book of Mormon; focus on goodness--focus on true joy. Start with what you DO know and go from there. I don't think it's particularly helpful to have too many concerns/doubts floating around in your head all at once. But keep in mind that there will always be other, more positive perspectives that you can accommodate into your testimony than that which is offered only by the critics of the Church. They have an agenda, and it's not always as fair as they want you to believe.

Last thing, if you truly want to know truth, you also need to make sure you're sincerely trying to keep the commandments, otherwise you won't always be able to distinguish light from darkness, and sometimes guilt can sway your perspective. Like Jesus said: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17).

My heart goes out to you. You're in for quite an adventure. It might be a struggle, but you have every right to know for yourself if all this good news is really true, or if, as you said, it's like Santa Claus. I'll share with you my conviction--this isn't just a fairy tale or pie in the sky. It's really the greatest, most important knowledge to know that God lives and that Jesus is our Savior. This life has purpose. We didn't come hear just to live and die and have that be the end. I have an atheist co-worker, and while she is a fantastic person, she sure is missing out on at least living with more hope (see Ether 12:4). Because even if it weren't true, it can sure bring a lot of happiness and goodness to how we live our life.

You talked about fear. Faith really is letting go of your fear and turning yourself completely over to Christ. Only then do you truly find rest for your soul. You also talked about "knowing" versus just being "pretty sure". Here's how I've come to know, versus merely have faith, on some of these issues. Read Alma 32, at least from verse 26 on, where Alma compares "the word" to a seed. The power comes from actually reading in the Book of Mormon, but here is my paraphrase:

He says that when you plant a seed, do you "know" if it is a good seed? No, but you have faith. But as the seed begins to grow, and if you nourish it and don't cast it off because of unbelief, then it continues to grow, and then you stop needing to have faith that it was a good seed, but now you actually know it was a good seed. And if you continue to nourish it, it eventually grows into a tree which bears fruit. When you partake of the fruit, when it has enlarged your soul, enlightened your understanding, and it is delicious to you--you no longer have faith in that seed. You KNOW. And that's how I know what I know.

Alma goes on to say in Chapter 33, verse 23, his concluding remarks: "And now…I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen." So this is the "experiment" that he recommends. I guess I recommend it too. :)

("Clean Cut")

PS: Although I have never felt it personally necessary, I know some have found the following website helpful. If the advice I gave isn't quite what you're looking for, it may or may not have something you are looking for: