Thoughts on Belief
I absolutely ADORE space Mormonism. This may come as a surprise, since my other ideological leanings don’t necessarily suggest that I would be all over the whacky, out-there, bizarre beliefs I affectionately call space Mormonism (Kolob, God as alien/space traveler, Twelve Tribes/City of Enoch taken into space, The Kolob Theorem, some Skousen stuff, etc.). I don’t really hold these beliefs as literal, corresponding in some way to the real world that we inhabit, but there may still be an element of belief in how I treat these ideas, which brings us to the other piece of the puzzle fueling my thoughts for today—the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text absolutely incredible podcast (should podcast names be italicized? It feels right, but I’m not sure and feel like my previous searches have been fruitless…), which treats the Harry Potter books as sacred texts, meant to be read seriously, performing a close reading that privileges seeking meaning and comes from a place of affection for the text in question.
The past little while has brought my affection for space Mormonism to the forefront (working on a short story dealing with faith crises in Mormonism, but in a sci-fi mood, a friend asking for movies that make me think of Mormonism for a project he’s working on and realizing that my list is almost exclusively sci-fi films, this piece from Zelophehad’s Daughters on “space doctrine”, and watching The Fifth Element and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in the past few days). I also (finally) began listening to Harry Potter and Sacred Text, which is phenomenal (if you love Harry Potter, do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven’t already. It’s excellent). These factors and some conversations with friends surrounding them have got me thinking about belief and what it really means to believe something (no, this is not going to be like a ‘believing in Christ’ vs ‘believing Christ’ deal. Stephen Robinson already wrote that book and it’s whatever).
I think there are different sorts of belief. There’s obviously a belief as fact subset that may be the most common. This would be when you say that you believe in something meaning that you attach some sort of historicity or factual status to the thing that you believe in (the “I believe that” in response to a story or new piece of information sort of belief). However, I don’t think that this is the only sort of belief that we can have. I think you can believe in things without necessarily believing in their historical, factual, empirically verifiable existence. Not just things where that’s impossible, but where it doesn’t matter. (Those may be two different sorts of belief actually, but I’m less concerned with the intricacies of this taxonomy of belief and more with some of the implications, applications, practicalities.)
This may seem strange or antithetical to Mormonism, which places a large amount of emphasis on its historicity and factual, empirical sorts of origins. I’m not convinced that this is necessary or essential to Mormonism’s fundamental essence (though I have friends that would argue otherwise), but it is a key component of how Mormonism is reflected in people’s lived experience. (I read a couple interesting posts, here and here, that sort of touch on this, but in discussions of Mormon artwork and how it should stop trying to be historically accurate, but rather move towards inventive, artistic approaches.)
For me questions of historicity and empirical verifiability or not that interesting. Nor do I find them particularly faith-inspiring. However, discussions of meaning and wrestling with narratives and texts and searching for meaning are remarkably valuable. These sorts of discussions are rich and enlightening and have produced some of the most spiritual experiences I’ve had (especially in the past 5-7 years). This is precisely the sort of engagement that Harry Potter and the Sacred Text seeks to have with HP, a text that no one believes in as history. I think this allows for an expansion of possibilities for approaches to LDS scripture (admittedly most of these already exist in some form or another in various circles).
HP is a powerful and formative piece of my life and something that I absolutely believe in. As is Star Wars, and to a lesser extent a number of other novels, Hamilton, loads of movies (the films of Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Tarantino, and Terrence Malick are particularly resonant for me), scattered songs, and a smorgasbord of other pop culture pieces. Maybe this is why I’m drawn to space Mormonism. It captures my imagination and discussing the hypotheticals and implications and possibilities are enriching, even if I mostly don’t think that the world actually works according to space Mormon doctrine. Yet, there’s something there that I believe in. Belief to me seems far more than something that I recognize as factually true, but should be something that inspires me to action; that lifts my eyes up from the doldrums of mortality to a better, greater, wackier world.
Let’s take our texts seriously and engage with them in a variety of meaningful, insightful, precise ways. Maybe for some that means continuing the sort of historical proving methods that I find empty. Though I think for all of us it requires a deeper commitment to read, really read and analyze what’s on the page. To think through the implications, to ask questions of the text, to wrestle with it, to read it with and against itself, to parse meanings from words, to look at what’s absent from the narrative, to question the narrators, to open ourselves up to what the text has to say.
The value of a belief should be far less determined by its historical veracity and far more from what actions it causes us to commit. To be clear, I am not advocating for presenting known falsehoods as facts. I don’t think that pieces of information that are undeniably untrue are useful. However, I think the mythology of something—the narratives, the stories—are valuable. History can definitely shape our reading of these things and absolutely should. But this study and knowledge should be used to improve our ability to read and understand texts that we find sacred (the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Harry Potter, the works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, etc.). (I’m touching on tensions that I think need more space to be dealt with and might return to if people want/I feel the need. Also, if there’s anything here that you want me to explore more, explain better, any questions, comments, concerns, fierce disagreements, etc. let me know and I’d be happy to try and address them.)
Yeah. So there can be miracles when you believe. Even when that belief isn’t tied to historical fact.