Updated: Jun 18, 2020
If you are a secular person, you’ll have a much higher threshold for credulity than if you are spiritual or religious. But this threshold is not always static. To have faith it helps to have a lower threshold for credulity, because it helps to develop a sense of awe for the universe and an ability to believe things that don’t seem possible. While the risk here is compromising one’s sense of logic and reality, there are benefits to thinking and believing outside of the box.
A large undercurrent to the Mormon discussion is a belief or unbelief in God. How one conceives of God, the "soul," and related topics will probably be a large part of where a person lands in their Mormonism. Even though this can be one of the largest shelf-breaking items on its own, it should be mentioned, but it’s far more comprehensive than can be completely addressed here. Yet it can be touched upon. While there’s no good way to solve someone’s lack of belief in God, God can have different conceptual levels, and we can perhaps help illuminate those concepts moving forward.
Where are you, God?
For many Mormons, perhaps in their deepest, darkest closets over some very serious pain they have cried to the heavens and haven’t received anything for that effort. This is a very difficult hurdle to overcome. However, taking a step back from the emotional challenge this creates, we can’t help but wonder why other people have experienced something, on a spectrum of nothing, to simply feeling peaceful, to having an open theophany, even visions and teleportation. It does make you wonder.
Some of the answers people have contributed as to why God isn’t there for them include the following along a rational/emotional spectrum:
This graphic represents how belief in God sits atop the human psyche. Many who disbelieve in God have had an emotional experience where He didn’t come to them, or they feel they’ve been treated poorly or unfair, or that others have been treated unfairly. This is balanced by the rational observation that there is no material evidence. For most nonbelievers in God, there is probably a combination of the two parts that inform their belief or lack of belief . . . in God.
It’s not hard to conclude that God doesn’t objectively exist. It hasn’t been demonstrated scientifically and witnesses haven’t been able to be subject to double-blind tests. On the other hand, the evidence of a material creation is evidence of a creator, as Alma puts it (30:41):
The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.
Darwinism has done an adequate job of answering the evidence of biological macro-diversity and physics, astronomical developments within the universe. However, all this does is move the goalpost into begging more questions. How did the laws and processes which created and formed the universe come into being? Doesn’t the existence of universal mathematical laws indicate an intelligent creator? On the surface, the evidences seem harder to find, but with enough egg and chicken debates, you get to a point of origin that seem difficult to explain using biological evolution or even the laws of physics. On the other hand, once you get down to periodic tables and physical laws, the ideas become so abstract and sterile as to make any connection to a god as a stretch for some and still makes god seem like an absentee landlord that does not allow for any moral derivative. Ultimately, belief in God from a rational basis correlates to how much material evidence one needs. Evidence arguing from universal truths, while engaging, ultimately cause the god argument to be less about whether there is intelligence in the universe outside of the universe or AS the universe, but what kind of intelligence that is, and the case is then made about how anthropomorphic it is or whether it’s simply a flying spaghetti monster. At this point, we are dealing in extreme hypothesis and not reality as we know it. It becomes almost pointless. Ultimately, the rational basis for belief becomes less of a drive and more of an observation. The intuitive evidence, or lack of intuitive evidence, becomes the driving force in the belief statement.
When it comes to intuition about God, the arguments then become how much of that intuition is real, or whether it’s some sort of emotional sensation that affects some people more than others. Why is the creator apparently absent from the scene? Even for the believer it’s hard to build a relationship with someone who isn’t materially “there.” You must make conceptual abstract ideas of this person, then reach out to them as if they exist. For some, that’s akin to believing in crazy. To others, the exercise perhaps turns on a muscle in the brain that causes or allows the manifestations to occur and is part of the test. It opens your mind to other realms or dimensions, which may be judged as psychotic, but could also simply be viewing something about the universe that science hasn't discovered, however, if even if you do experience it, and because it's not subject to double blind tests, you may never be able to fully say it isn’t psychotic. For this author the cost benefit analysis has led him to conclude that it may be possible he is deluding himself when he has had spiritual experiences. For that reason, it’s best to bind spiritual truths only to oneself. In this way, one can check the crazier and more harmful side effects of any possible delusion, and if it ends up that you are deluded, it may not be all that bad. It mitigates the possible mental cost of trying to find God and it opens up more possibilities.
The confirmation bias of faith and the inability to test your own experiences make finding God in a traditional Descartian way problematic. And so, it is left for you to figure things out empirically and anecdotally, knowing that for now, your knowledge would not be available for independent testing. Which means that if we are all being honest, even for some of the most devout, there is an element of agnosticism in their belief in God. Indeed, unless you have had strong theophanic revelations, your understanding of God will always have an element of agnosticism. The difference is your focus.
If one is to look at a painting, for example, of a character who isn’t quite in focus, one could examine the blur and pixilation of the piece and focus more intently on the medium, the textures, the flaws, the space around the figure, and the parts that make you doubt the existence of this blurred figure. Or . . . you can take a step back and appreciate what you can see. What defines the experience is the approach. Perhaps both approaches are essential. But perspective is definitely part of the allegory. Another way to see it is looking at outer space through a telescope. A casual observation would tell most that it’s all stars and no planets. But if you were to look through a telescope, get the right coordinates, fine tune them, upgrade, and so forth, one could see the magnificence of Jupiter. But it takes work. And desire. For any who are feeling the tension in the decision, they must weigh the possibilities of discovery over the costs of finding nothing.
Blaise Pascal would coin the test that is called, “Pascal’s Wager,” where one would bet and act as if God existed, then when one passed away, if one was right, one’s actions and belief would be rewarded. Conversely, if one was wrong, one was simply dead. However, if a non-believer did the same, one’s lack of belief and action would damn one in the afterlife, whereas if one simply died, like the believer, one was simply dead. It was a philosophical construct to who how belief in god was more beneficial. While useful, it can be adapted to living in THIS life and not imagine a hypothetical afterlife that hands out rewards and punishments. If you search for god, and no god is there, you will have wasted nothing, except for the sense that you tried to discover something only to find it didn’t exist. If you do find something, you can be rewarded, in this life, with that experience and intimacy that comes from finding god (which itself is idea full of layers and understanding but in this context could simply mean, a loving being who cares about you and/or the trajectory of humanity on another plane of existence), which is a joyful reward in and of itself that enhances life here and now. If nothing is found, you still gain the satisfaction of taking a chance on something and having no regrets. On the other hand, if you make no effort at all, you could be losing out on part of the vitality of life that comes from a heavenly relationship. There is some time cost involved, so it’s a decision each person has to make for themselves. The good news is there is no need to inform the approach through any system or religion in place, although they can help set up the constructs. You can still do it on your own terms if needed. Increasingly, many of the "nones" of the world are doing just that.
Aside from the intellectual factors, there are reports of problems that arise from those who make efforts, but get no response, who feel God has abandoned them in their pain, or others pain, especially within a deep and desperate search. For those that make efforts but get no response, there are factors that each must be considered to rule out reasons for failure:
Technique – Is it possible that you are doing it wrong?
While we may conceptualize prayer as simply a relationship between you and a divine being, the omnipotence of that divinity may be overstated in terms of relating to the natural world (relative versus absolute omnipotence). For example, we understand in Mormonism that God will not violate agency, or he ceases to be God. In another way, perhaps prayer requires certain methods and variables that allow for that type of communication to take place. The phone lines must be connected. There may be some science to it.
One of the theories to this process is that you must BELIEVE first. This isn’t simply an idea of belief, but a mental exercise of belief. That may open one up for self-delusion, but belief also has a value to action in testing of a hypothesis. So, if one hypothesizes that God exists, and acts accordingly, instead of demanding God to show himself first in a material fashion, this may be one of the methods of making prayer work. And the process may be needed to open the brain to be used in more intuitive and perceptive ways, ways that progress the nature of your own personhood, and open the pathways to heavenly communication. Recognize that some may be inborn with an innate ability to do this, aka, the God gene, but it’s doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s not available to all, but simply that it may be more difficult for some. There is some historical evidence for this as well, as when one studies the experiences of indigenous cultures, or even Western culture prior to the greater cultural impositions of the Age of Reason, one finds more examples of people who report great spiritual experiences and interactions with the divine. Perhaps in the West’s ability to gain intellectual reason, it also lost something valuable in the exchange?
For some, it may be near to impossible as they have tried the believe first theory and still come up short. One approach is to clear the pathways of spirituality. If there is some sort of an energy transfer, it’s possible there are blockages. What you eat, what you drink, the thoughts and images you view, could all play into these pathways. Fasting from these things may help to open those pathways. There seems to be an inverse relation between the focus on material inputs (food, water, sex, distractions, entertainment) and the ability to receive spiritual communication.
This discussion has deliberately shied away from discussing “righteousness” as it pertains to heavenly communication. First, the gospel teachings don’t seem to bear this out. In many interpretations of the gospel, God will communicate to anyone, for he is no respecter of persons. Second, in those gospel teachings, He will meet us where we stand in our worthiness because no one is truly worthy in the classical sense. Third, one idea is that worthiness is simply willingness. This isn’t to say that communication that has a higher vibration, light, or power, won’t increase in frequency with greater obedience to that light. But initial efforts should be available to all of humanity no matter their initial understanding and heeding of spiritual light. Our own moral standing should never be a reason to inhibit us from seeking God.
Intent – Perhaps for prayer to work, we need to judge our own hearts.
Perhaps subconsciously, we are taking the approach of attempting to pray to rule it out as a way to apply deductive reasoning. Perhaps in doing so, subconsciously, it doesn’t activate what is needed in our brains to make prayer work but works a part of our brain that shuts that sort of ability down. Likewise, God may be able to sense that intent and chose not to respond as either a way to honor your agency (to help you find what you are looking for) or simply because your ability to receive hasn’t been activated.
Pain – Heartache can be an impediment to theology.
Perhaps you are praying in anguish and wish for a sweeping theophany to put to rest your pains and doubts, personal challenges, and pleas for relief. Some see this in terms of Enos’ prayer, a Mormon rubric many follow but few seem to grasp, for there may be a difference between your soul crying out in hunger, and your heart crying out in anguish. It’s possible that strong emotional responses, typically pain, can inhibit spiritual responses. This may be how our emotions are tied to our brain. While that may not seem fair as we would imaging a loving Father or Mother coming to our rescue as we cry out, whereas as parents we are wise to swoop in with a toddler in pain, we have more nuanced approaches to children who are older. Swooping in and coddling isn’t the best approach as children age. Sometimes it’s best to listen, to get your child to focus, and be a sounding board for them as they quiet their heart and seek for solutions. That’s not to say that grief isn’t real, or that God doesn’t care about grief. But perhaps there are times that God needs us to quiet the storm before He can speak.
Morality - God is a monster for letting or even commanding bad things to happen in the world
It seems to be a strong point of argument that if an omnipotent God allows atrocities to happen to his children, that God is a monster. This could be whether he commands in in scripture or simply allows it to happen as we see today. This is a hard one. However, one counter-idea is that atrocities in the short-run may make diamonds of souls in the eternities. While this hard to absorb in this difficult world, it is technically a moral response if existence is seen within an eternal spectrum. This may not satisfy our finite minds, but perhaps we need to examine whether our own morality is limiting us, that we are trying to define God within our own mortal ideas of justice and goodness. The other possibility is that God cannot intervene because He is only relatively omnipotent, and that he knocks on the door to intervene but is limited by us and our ability to respond to him as he uses us to do most of his work and watches us as we contribute to most of our own destruction. There may be justifiable reasons for personal and universal pain, even if we cannot understand them.
One example from science fiction, once again taking from Star Trek, is the idea of the “Prime Directive.” Under this construct, societies without hyper speed space travel capabilities could not be contacted or intervened upon from the advanced systems of the Federation, no matter how much they were suffering. Some of the series best moral arguments came from the idea of intervening against the Prime Directive because of some moral imperative.
"The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy… and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous."
While this is of course, fiction, it does elaborate on some interesting ideas that we can project into theology. If the gods of the universe are highly evolved, with a highly developed moral construct, is it possible there are rules and prohibitions that keep the gods from communicating with mankind under what would be normal circumstances? Just like scientific development or space travel, is it possible that mankind must learn how to adapt their spirituality and create peaceful societies to release that prohibition? What other rules and or ideas would we thus need to adapt? While we can only speculate, it does help to create a sort of moral ground for developing faith in god while grappling with the apparent immorality of pain and suffering.
As well, often pain sometimes must be felt, whether loss, absence, loneliness, grief, physical pain, or moral consequence. After the soul can quiet the emotional shock of pain, God can step in and provide the response, the love, the understanding, the relation, that heals the heart. It may be a warm embrace of spiritual arms, and it could also be crystal clear understanding quickening the mind in a flash. Sometimes it may be sharp and sting, causing anguish of the soul. An oldie, but still apt, CS Lewis quips in the Problem of Pain when contemplating a Christian god:
“I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed by such lines [where happiness and kindness abound and they always lead to good things]. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction. … Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. … Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”
The final impediment to seeking god may be in our conceptualization of god. Judeo-Christian themes anthropomorphize god, and post Christianity has satirized him as a “man with a white beard sitting on a cloud in the sky,” against flying spaghetti monsters, in order to illustrate the opposite of that construct as just as equally silly. Other systems drill down god to the best aspirations of mankind in an overly abstract way, such as love, which even secularists will begrudgingly admire. But maybe we get ahead of ourselves in trying to seek god as a material or even non-material being. Setting it aside, conceiving a god in the best attributes of man is probably a better start. It’s why Jesus Christ is so compelling, as here is a god that gave us an example to follow. Joseph Smith’s Lecture on Faith Three leaves the materiality of God alone, along with the theological warfare of the Trinity or other multiple god constructs that disturb monotheism and goes for the attributional traits.
2. Let us here observe that three things are necessary for any rational and intelligent being to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. 3. First, the idea that he actually exists; 4. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes; 5. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which one is pursuing is according to His will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive. But with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Others such as the Buddha, were gurus who pointed a way, and their teachings are just as enlightening, and often even provide some comprehension beyond the Western construct of god. But the idea of finding god with those that have claimed either to BE god or have been WITH god seems to be a good hypothesis. What they say about god and what god means, and how god behaves, and how god views us, are the start of a good gnostic study of finding god in our own way.
At some point, one must wonder a few things that may play into conceptualizing god. Some questions to ponder may be:
Is there only one? Or are there many?
Given the evolution of man, is it possible to conceive that man has lived elsewhere in the universe millions/billions of years ago and perhaps advanced to become AS gods?
Given evolution, is it possible to conceive of beings that can travel anywhere in space and time in the universe? Would this not answer impossible questions such as relative omniscience and omnipotence of such beings? Does it help with the idea of prophecy and time viewing?
Is god simply the organism of the Universe? Or is God within the construct of the universe. Or are there levels? Are we the molecules of His being? If there are many gods, is this god the greatest of them all? If that’s the case, does that give a different meaning to “god dwells in your hearts?” the you are “stardust” or that while god may make up the expanse of the universe, god could also make up the expanse of the smallest atom?
If evolved men are both good and evil in this world, are there advanced beings who are likewise evil?
Since we can’t see god materially, does that mean god doesn’t exist or does it mean that god may not be able to, nor may it be ethically legal, for gods to appear in such a manner unless certain efforts are made? Should we factor that into any decision about belief?
Is god a product of the mind, an imposition of the brain attempting to make sense of the world, or is the brain a beacon for communication with gods, in a way that surpasses the known five senses?
These and many other questions should be considered as people are attempting to find god. We limit ourselves when we construct our own belief paradigms and/or moral conditions upon the known material world. It would wiser to think broader. Even the molecular structure of a spaghetti noodle has some divine beauty that begs lots of questions about existence.
However god plays out, people have historically used god the idea of god, or “taking the name of God in vain” to foment their own power plays, and should be the true recipients of the ire of anti-theistic thinking. The ways that mankind have used god as part of religion in the name of subjugation, murder, lying, thieving, and committing atrocities, are legion. This anger should not be minimized. Part of rejecting the Mormon binary is to realize that even in the faith of Mormonism, god has been used to do some unspeakable things, and then used to cover and cloak those things. God has been used to engender loyalty and obedience, keeping the business ends of the faith running at operable speeds, while often ignoring weightier matters. God has been used to protect institutions as ends to justify means. Perhaps it’s time for that to end in this century.
It takes a bit of effort to unweave the construct of god the way a religion or system conceives of him or her, and it’s tempting to simply apply the binary all the way to the top of the metaphysical pyramid. Instead, perhaps take the time to do the unweaving, to find god anew in a way that doesn’t attach god to a system or structure. Perhaps we find ourselves embracing parts of that system or structure again but coming from a place of gnosis and godly elevation, rather than from a simple desire for creedal loyalty. Perhaps we can eject those things that are truly abhorrent, that we find abominable in god’s eyes, that we give god a place to point out the errors in our traditions, our systems, our method of thinking and believing, our processes, our patterns, our hierarchies, our keys, and our leadership. We may think that in doing so we have been warned about putting ourselves ahead or above others with more authority or keys and that is a “high road” to apostasy. We may think we are being prideful in doing so. We may be concerned about this warning. However, the scriptures do not bear out that warning if such behavior is done in a way to elevate god in the process. The Isaiahs, Jeremiahs, John Baptists, Jesus’, Abinidis, and Samuels are all evidence of those who stick their necks out to challenge the existing religious systems. We must balance that against the Nehors and Korihors in their desires to bring light unto themselves and elevate themselves a following. If we can tell the difference, then we are justified. Indeed, we are showing our faith, our humility, our sacrifice when we undertake such efforts. Rarely do such endeavors make a person better off among humanity in general. Often beheadings, stoning, arrows and slings, and crucifixions are the judgments of the former day. In our day it comes in the form of shunning, notations on church records, excommunications, loneliness, and loss. Perhaps the costs are worth the benefits of a greater connection to truth and a better understanding of god.
The Nature of the Soul
Highly related to discussions on theology are the nature of the human soul itself. Discussions over whether there is a soul also play to materialism versus metaphysics, death versus eternal life, free will versus determinism, even the very mechanism by which life manifests itself in biological beings. Does it come from within, or from without? These are usually advanced discussions that interplay with neurobiology, the best way to live life, and the role of God (assuming there is a god) plays in our lives. For many, this sort of philosophizing on life underscores or overwhelms the theological role.
Is the Soul Eternal? One of the biggest discussions surrounding this debate is the idea that neurobiology plays a very large role in the nature of our own personality. Religious theology assumes that a spirit comes to indwell within the body, bringing the personality of that being to life. However, the role of the brain is being studied more, and it appears that alterations to brain function can completely alter personality, giving credence to the idea that there is no spiritual core, per say, but that all of what makes you YOU is within the brain. Does that mean, however, that there is no spirit?
While we cannot say for certain, do we need to give away the farm on a metaphysical presence within the material corporeal body? It may require for us to learn to conceptualize the spirit of a person differently. Perhaps instead of using the traditional hand in glove analogy, it may be better to conceptualize the spirit as the light energy that holds our atoms together, and that the combinations of the atoms that make you YOU are combined spiritual energies that make up the core of who you are, and may have a greater basis in the brain than in the proverbial “heart.” Not only does that change the nature of how we conceptualize spirit, but also how we conceptualize matter. In other words, there is no “dead” matter, but that it has a spirit that is unique to it and has a life of its own. It’s also quite possible that as energies make connections, that without the material glue, those connections may still be able to continue after the material is destroyed, altered, or “dies.” Energy simply transforms. It doesn’t go away. It’s called the Conservation of Energy. Really the only debate is how the energy transforms.
Materialists would say the energy dissipates into smaller units of heat and blends into the universe. That’s one idea. Another idea is to see the spirit and body like a computer. The soul could represent RAM, energy that it takes for the computer to be awake, and the ROM represents the core memories of the body, that die with the body as it ages and decays. They need both to work properly. We know as people age their memories fade and the part that makes them unique as a person dies over time. We see this with Alzheimer’s patients. Indeed, we all have millions of memories we forget. Some scientists believe they are stored but simply can’t be recalled. This is called retrieval theoryHowever, it’s possible that our brains have internet communication devices that allow our core memories to be stored in cloud locations and devices, to transfer it to other holding facilities, even if the core system dies. The spirit may even be a virtual computer that is written into the code of the material computer but can be transformed and moved from system to system if there is a live internet connection. It’s possible, therefore, to conceive of a knowledge bank that never dies. Likewise, it’s also possible, therefore, to conceive of biological knowledge banks that are set up to preserve memories, ideas, and beings in a way that allows them to maintain a distinctiveness and evolve over eons. We may never be able in our lifetimes to scientifically prove either theory, but we don’t need to automatically accept the “Occam’s razor” view on this matter either.
Combine this idea with evolution; we are constantly changing. We aren’t the same person we were when we were born. We won’t be the same when we are raising families. We won’t be the same on death’s door. We can recall the people we were, but we aren’t those people anymore. In the same way, when we die, we also may likely change and adapt, bringing the memories of who we were with us, but transferring them into other types of computers, who keep the core memories, but changing the nature of our beings in a state of constant universal evolution. In this way the nature of life isn’t simply recycled, but it evolves. If evolution works the way we see it in biology (from simple to complex) it’s easy to conjecture that energy and light may also evolve in its interaction with the material from simple to complex, taking on more and more personality, beauty, power, and form. Or . . . like the ideas of natural selection, slip into oblivion or are recycled endlessly into the same form if there is no growth or stress upon the spiritual genes to mutate. This really isn’t too far from the more Buddhist construct of how what makes you YOU is an illusion. In that system, when you die, you die, and what makes you YOU ceases to exist, but the grand universal spirit, which is everywhere and in everything, keeps the energy and recycles it again. In other words, the Universe is the organism that lives forever, but you are a cog wheel in it that must needs be recycled for the universe to exist and grow. The spiritual part of you is inextricably tied to your unique biology and decays with you when you die, turning into another system, perhaps a plant that grows on your grave. The only difference between the Western construct of the soul and the Eastern or secular construct is how one constructs the universal organism (God). If it merely exists and is eternal, whole, and unchanging, the Buddhist construct works. But if the universe has an evolutionary trait, which necessarily involves cycles of birth and death, then what makes life on earth could be offspring of that universe, offspring that is intended to grow and evolve on its own. While it continues to change and possibly grow, there is a thought that what makes you YOU will never die. In fact, as you evolve, you cause the universe to evolve and grow, ever expanding, both apart and a part of the Universe. This meshes both the Eastern and Western constructs of the soul. In terms of physics, it would approximate the wave/particle duality of light.
Thus, we see there is plenty of room for soul philosophy, even within Mormonism. There are lots of areas to explore.
Free Will Related to discussions of the soul, the idea of Free Will is often argued as a proxy discussion to the nature of life and god. It is assumed by materialists that because all that makes up who you ARE is completely enveloped in your material being, that it is really your genetic code that causes you to behave how you do, as you react to experiences. Thus, no one is truly responsible for their actions as a cause of their goodness or badness and therefore the morality of actions is largely moot. It’s merely how an organism with certain genetic characters responds to environmental stimuli. Now Free Will, admittedly as a philosophy, helps with organizing legal constructs for human behavior, but if you want to judge a man eternally, the argument for Determinism will often win out.
Viscerally this can be hard argument to conceptualize because we can all think of circumstances where we make decisions on a knife’s edge, we moralize a decision that could have gone either way and we see that decision as a choice made from a deep well within us. So, it feels as if we act and we don’t react. We struggle in Mormonism because of the ideas of agency taught in the Book of Mormon.
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and call things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
Scientists and philosophers will tell us that this is illusory, because subconsciously we have already made the decision that we in essence “chose” to make. There are counter examples. Take twin studies, where genetically identical twins with similar environmental inputs, will have vastly different personalities as they age. Some will say that the randomness of some decisions (vanilla versus chocolate) over time will explain that difference, but does that explain all of the vast differences in personality that often form? Does randomness make up for all the differences or are there other inputs we haven’t absorbed, such as spiritual ones? And even if the spiritual element is added, determinists would rightfully say that the spiritual DNA also make Free Will impossible. Given the same spiritual inputs, Free Will is thus not really Free Will from a universal level. At this point, we are looking at semantics and the idea of what it takes to choose. Mormons would readily admit that spirits come into bodies with fore-ordained blessings and that goes into a bit of the Deterministic thinking. Those that believe in re-incarnation or karma, likewise.
In this way, it doesn’t really matter if there is a true “Free Will” in the objective sense. Like determinists, the idea is useful in legal and moral constructs. But it goes against the idea that life is a test that will pick winners and losers or that good and evil are waging a war on the souls of men and men get to choose. In the opposite vein, having an omniscient God also seems to play into the idea that life is all predetermined and that we are merely living the play in God’s head. All of this can make it hard to see life in any way fair to a spiritual test, as winners and losers are already made the moment they are born. Likewise, we loathe to liken that to some sort of pre-ordained blessing as it seems to indicate inequality is justified. Our fairness meters go off. So, the issue of Free Will does ultimately play out in trying to conceive of moral eternal justice, life being a test, and to an extent, why bad things happen to people. If there is no Free Will, there is no need for ultimate justice, life is merely a simulation, and bad things happen to people because of things out of their control.
Perhaps the answer lies in physics. At the surface, determinism suits macro-physics. If you drop a ball, it will fall. If you swing a bat at a ball with a certain angle, given wind, temperature, the speed of the ball, and its spin, it will go in the same direction every time. However, this doesn’t work so well at the micro-level. Just like discussion in the nature of the soul, light can be seen as both a particle and a wave. Given similar inputs, light won’t always behave the same. There is an element of randomness. At the biological level, we see randomness introduced into genetic mutations, where good mutations favor evolution, and bad mutations favor extinction. One wonders if observations of randomness aren’t always as random as we think, if there isn’t some sort of guidance in the way we have observed organic evolution since it does seem to violate some laws of physics (order to disorder, for example). Could randomness truly be a type of choice at a sub-atomic level. Could choices that we make as human beings illustrate a type of macro-randomness that necessitates an experiment, or test, to determine what will be the outcome? There is wide room for ambiguity in processing the purpose of life that allow both for understanding the nature of how we behave scientifically, but also seeing the awe in the universe that seems to have created order out of chaos. If there is a god guiding this process, perhaps we can also guide our own lives to ensure that when choices appear to come, that we chose to evolve from chaos to order, or in other words, Choose the Right.
The Nature of Evil Finally, one of the things that can be difficult to absorb when trying to comprehend unorthodox constructs of the spirit, one needs to grapple with the problem of evil. It’s one thing to argue whether god exists. It’s quite another to comprehend the devil. As distant as the idea of God feels to some, the idea of the devil on the other hand, splits the difference. There are those who would swear they have seen and felt demons but doubt the existence of god. Others say, that like god, these are constructs of a fearful mind and are psychologically induced.
Regardless of the nature of demonic existence, the actions of men are the best place to start in assessing the nature of evil. What constitutes an act being evil? Even Hitler believed that by removing Jewish people from the Earth, he was going to benefit mankind and there was a utilitarian motivation behind the Holocaust. This same motivation was instructing the Allies when they fire bombed and ultimately nuked Japan in the name of ending the war. Were these actions evil? Were the people that performed these actions evil? What about people like Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered and ate his victims? Or Ted Bundy, who likewise violently raped and murdered women for his own benefit without any utilitarian motivation? Unlike the machinations of political leaders who do evil things as a means/end motivation, these sadistic and personal acts are hard to find ethical justification anywhere. Were these men simply acting in a consistent way with their DNA and experiences, or was there another input from darker sources that helped push them over the edge? While we can’t say for sure, if there are people who use their lives to simply better their own conditions and leave a pile of proverbial dead bodies underneath them . . . and they also survive death. . . do they take those motivations and ethics with them into the spirit world or the next life? Is there a network of energy that motivates and inspires, on one hand, or pushes people into acts of oblivion, on the other? Are the dead attracted to people, or actions, or efforts, that further enable light and progress on one hand, or chaos and selfishness, on the other?
Whether or not there is a true “devil” it’s not hard to see how there is true evil in the world. Learning how to distinguish what is evil from what is light and good, is one of the greatest challenges of this life.
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