This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
As many take the search for meaning and happiness more seriously, they find that there is no obvious method to develop spirituality and learn about religion. Magazine articles are useless, mainstream media avoids the subject completely, and unlike with previous generations there is no mentor or wise elder to ask. Local ministers offer feel-good platitudes and internet personalities seem to have some ulterior motive.
How can we make a path towards God that is personal and fulfilling?
Learn The Character Of God
The purpose of religious education is to gain faith by learning about God and directing one’s life toward godliness. In 1832, an educational institution called the school of the prophets developed a series of lectures called Lectures on Faith. In the third lecture, they declared that in order to “exercise faith in God” a person must know God exists, have “a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes”, and know “that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will.” This is essentially how we should approach study of religion.
Know God Exists – The first thing is to gain “the idea that he actually exists.” Not a perfect knowledge, but simply to give credence to the idea that God is more than a myth. Many scholars of theology describe the history of belief in God and attach philosophies to their own beliefs, but do they actually think that a creator of the universe exists? The problem is scholars gather evidence to deductively find God, but real education begins with the existence of God. It is an inductive study, not deductive. We gather evidence and theories after we begin with the idea of God’s existence.
This is how King Lamoni’s father in the scriptures learned about God (Alma 22.) King Lamoni’s father asked about the godhead and repentance, but Aaron brought it back to the very simple concept that God exists: “Believest thou that there is a God?” (v7) Then he affirmed, “Behold, assuredly as thou livest, O king, there is a God.” The next natural question then was who is God? This is also how Joseph Smith learned about God–he first decided God exists and then wanted to know which church taught correct tenets of who God is: “for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence on settling the question by an appeal to the bible.” Young Abraham likewise decided God must exist. Abraham then sought to find out who God is–was God fire, water, clouds, wind, death, man, or something else? He logically reasoned that God is whatever the ultimate power over the elements of the universe is and therefore must exist. A supreme power has to exist; if a variety of real powers exist isn’t there one that is most powerful? It’s simple logic. We aren’t starting with any presuppositions about this power. We are just admitting that it exists. Abraham logically ran through the hierarchy of things: fire, water, death, etc. He reasoned that it must be a perfect person, contrary to what everyone in his idolatrous society believed. Lamoni’s father similarly asked what kind of force God is–if God was the Great Spirit that created them and delivered their forefathers, contrary to the Lamanite traditions. We too must get beyond our modern society’s idea that we are a product of chance or some phenomenon of evolution and see a force of creation and deliverance that we consider God. Lamoni’s father did not use doctrine of repentance to deduce God’s existence; Joseph Smith did not use bible verses; Abraham did not use idols. They started directly with the concept of a supreme being and induced information from there.
Discover God’s Character – In the Lectures on Faith, the question of who God is was answered by describing qualities of God’s character:
The order of these qualities is important as one leads to the next–there could be no faith to the working of power unless God has full “understanding of his creatures”, for example. At first it would seem obvious what these terms mean and how they describe God, but really consider what the scriptures say about them. To know or fully understand is commonly thought to be in acquisition of facts, but God’s knowledge in the scriptures is described as full consciousness, awareness, and holiness. When we understand what divine knowledge is we also understand our own knowledge, which is termed “testimonies.” With this holy knowledge we awaken to a consciousness we did not experience before. Each of these qualities of God’s character is greatly misunderstood by our popular culture and requires focus of study.
Live According To God’s Will – To study and understand religion is totally useless unless it affects how we live. Indeed, our very behavior is the study of religion: we study God’s character and our spirituality by behaving in accordance with God’s will. Ordinances are symbolic actions that physically demonstrate our religious study, and commandments are guidelines to behave correctly. The study of outer space requires an astronaut to fly in a spaceship, and likewise behavior according to God’s will is the very act that provides pragmatic understanding of spirituality. It is an experimental–almost scientific–process, and the most learned professor of religion will not have a clue unless he steps into the laboratory, for that is where true discovery happens, not in the textbooks. If you want theoretical religion, study philosophy instead.
Avoid The University Education Model
Today’s scholarship of religion removes personal conviction and adopts disinterested objectivity for the sake of scientific merit. Most western schools and universities now pursue this model of impartiality, and it is a huge problem because many students lose their faith in the face of profound challenges. The removal of core spiritual imperatives in the curriculum opens students up to alternative moral foundations, so they exit the classroom with diploma in hand as humanistic social warriors who essentially no longer believe in God. On the opposite end we have fundamentalist religious schools that drill a rigid religious model into the brains of their students, and study becomes all about scraping for justification for assumptions they have already made. They are not open to actually learning about the character of God and the gospel.
Universities were key in the 19th century in the spreading of Christianity across America, yet today’s university is broken and does not provide uplifting religious instruction. But there is a better way. There are new resources available and a superior system for religious instruction. Now, it is up to the individual to direct his own instruction.
Unlearn Our School System Heuristic – Colleges are on their way out. Study of religion is currently in flux, and as the old classroom-based system is dropped by the faith-seeking, many struggle to find reliable resources and methods for learning. They need to unlearn the school system’s method of learning that has been drilled into us and rediscover the spiritual heuristic that will give godly knowledge and wisdom.
The public school system teaches us to memorize answers, fill in bubbles, and regurgitate what our teachers want us to think. It promotes a mimetic concept of knowledge where fact is whatever everyone has been taught. It follows the Prussian school model of the Industrialization era that was designed to babysit the children of factory workers and prepare them to be dutiful factory workers when they grew up. Schools are still like this, and in fact every year they solidify their authority over moral, social, and spiritual matters, directing every facet of how we are expected to live our lives. To discover spirituality, we need to first stop regurgitating the “answers” fed to us, stop feeling comfortable with a benevolent authority stealing our agency, and become a different kind of student.
Spiritually Based Education – Earlier, I speculated that Alma the Younger observed as apprentice to Ammulon the design of an educational system over the Lamanites. This prepared him to eventually be high priest and establish churches throughout the land of Zarahemla for the education of the people. The differences between Alma’s system and Ammulon’s system of education are important–essentially, Ammulon’s system was economically based and Alma’s was spiritually based. So what about today? Unfortunately, today’s school system is economically based like Ammulon’s system, and we are reaping the same societal mess that the Lamanites experienced.
Even church universities are quickly eroding their spiritual basis and allowing corrupt moral foundations to replace them. I expect the way things are going religious colleges will be pretty much irrelevant as a within 10 years. Online education is replacing the college campus–rightly so–and this changes the role universities play. Church members will have to find spiritual education in family or local congregation-based studies, as we can see with recent policy changes toward home-centered learning. We are becoming more like Joseph Smith who studied the bible with his family and walked alone into the forest to pray to God. That is the model for our spiritual education.
Discovering Truth By Practicing Faith
Search, Ponder, Pray – To retain core conviction while being open to new spiritual discoveries, a student of religion should learn in their own laboratory rather than a university lecture hall. Faith is a process of testing, and knowledge is a process of discovery rather than the memorizing of answers for a test. The method I learned as a child in church was to: search, ponder, and pray. Joseph Smith searched the bible and tenets of various Christian churches with specific questions; he pondered them; and then he approached God in fervent prayer.
Prayerful scripture searching is not a scripted line delivered from a prayer book. It is original speech that comes from the individual’s heart based on original questions of the heart. In almost every instance, skeptics either refuse to pray sincerely or their questions are from some atheist websites. Of the thousands of skeptics I have come across, I have yet to find a single one who came up with their questions on their own and who searched, pondered, and prayed sincerely and fervently and yet did not receive a right answer to their prayer. Search, ponder, and pray in these steps:
- Throw away rhetoric you have heard from skeptics and secularists. Come up with your own concerns and ideas.
- Write down a list of personal spiritual questions. Often, such questions come down to: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?
- Address each question with a variety of answers as you find them from scripture, tenets of denominations, friends, etc. Do not exclude any source without first considering what they have to say. Ponder on these answers humbly.
- Pray to God directly in the name of Jesus Christ to answer the question or confirm that the answer you are leaning towards is correct. The answer to this prayer may manifest in a variety of ways: a warm feeling in the heart, an enlightened mind, an experience the demonstrates it, etc. Do not superstitiously look for a physical manifestation like your dog acting weirdly that night, because God does not work in random physical phenomena. Look for anything as an answer that is positive and good, for that which is good comes from God.
- Grammar – The way your thoughts and language are constructed. What is the reasoning behind how one word relates to another and how does this direct how you think?
- Logic – Study closely logical fallacies and consider the veracity of ideas which most people assume.
- Rhetoric – Become fluent in media communication and understand how persuasion and understanding is achieved by how people present their ideas.