Monday, October 6, 2008

Regarding God

Dear Atheist,

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I am writing this letter to you because I value our relationship, and I believe that relationships are built on, among other things, understanding. You and I have differences in our beliefs, but I think that we have a lot in common. I think that some of our differences may be merely misunderstandings. In this letter, I hope to present myself and my beliefs in a new way -- one that helps you to better understand me. And I hope that this understanding leads to a better relationship.

If in this letter I misrepresent your position in any way, please let me know and help me to better understand you. Also, I don't want to misrepresent the position of the LDS church, or any other for that matter. So please don't consider my thoughts as official doctrine of any church. For official positions and doctrine of the LDS church, please see lds.org.


My Background

To help you understand how I got to where I am today, I will start with an abbreviated history of my belief. I was born and raised in an active LDS family. I was taught from as early in my life as I can remember that there is a God. So it may be said that to believe in God is comfortable for me.

I realized this fact when I was 17 years old. When I recognized this, I actually became quite uncomfortable. Everything I had believed about God had been instilled in me by my parents and my interaction with the LDS Church. I began to realize that my perspective on the existence of God had been guided.

By this time in my life, I had some exposure to the theory of evolution, the scientific method, and an appreciation for different kinds of people (American, at least). I had been raised all over the U.S. (Missouri - 2 years, Washington - 2 years, Utah - 4 years, Chicago - 2 years, and Las Vegas - 7 years). The differences between my family's beliefs and other people's were apparent to me. But for the first time, I began to question the validity of the beliefs in which I had been immersed since birth.

"Why should I believe what my parents believe? What if they are entirely wrong? How do I know there is a God? I have no proof that God exists." These questions/thoughts dominated my thoughts at that time of my life. I continued to go to church out of habit, but I was much more of an observer now. With every word and testimony, my questions increased in number and depth. If I heard someone tell of their "knowledge" that God loved them, or that "Christ lives", I became more aware that they offered no hard evidence. The belief in God seemed more and more illogical and pointless.

I realized I was approaching the age (19) at which I was expected to serve a full-time mission for the LDS church (to be clear, I was not coerced, forced or manipulated to make that decision, I was simply a member of a culture where serving a mission was the norm). How could I go to some place in the world and teach of God when I didn't know of any such being? I had to stop sitting on the fence and decide what I believed. The possibility of departing from my "comfortable" past was frightening, but I could not live a lie. I preferred truth over comfort.

I did not discuss the matter with my family or any of my religious associates. I did, however, discuss the existence or lack thereof with non-religious friends, teachers, and co-workers. In addition, I read about different points of view, searching for guidance.

At some point I came to the conclusion that if there really was a God, I (and anyone else for that matter) had no way of really knowing who or what he/she/it was. If this was the case, then the LDS belief was as good as any belief -- since none could produce provable or scientific evidence. Further, I did not consider myself above any of the intellectuals that had attempted to prove or disprove the existence of God. I considered the question an open one -- and one that I could not intellectually answer. So I made one last attempt to prove the existence of God through the LDS approach -- search, ponder, and pray.

From Adam to Joseph Smith, the LDS accounts indicate that those who seek God will find him -- so, I thought, why should I be any different? If everything I had been taught was true, then I should receive some manifestation or confirmation.

Over the course of many months, I read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other LDS scriptures/references. I reflected on what I was reading. I prayed and asked God -- or I put out the question to meditation -- "Is all of this -- what I have been reading, what I have been living -- is all of it true?" I prayed with more intensity than I had ever prayed. Nothing happened. Total silence. The next night, I ran through the same exercise -- for hours I meditated and prayed, hoping for an answer. But still, there was no answer. This went on for some time until one day, I decided to give it one last try. The prayer turned into "Are you really there? Is anyone listening?"

I really thought that if God was really there and if all that stuff I'd read was true, my answer could be some sort of fantastic, supernatural, visionary experience. Perhaps an angel would come down and tell me "Yes -- it's true" or God would whisper in the wind "I'm here". However, I was hoping in vain. Nothing like that happened.

But something else happened. There was a small -- almost indistinguishable change in the direction of my thoughts. I suddenly began thinking of past experiences.

I remembered sitting in a Priesthood meeting (a semi-annual meeting for men in the LDS church), and the feelings I felt as I heard the prophet speak. There was a warm, almost electrical feeling that passed through my entire body. It seemed like every part of my body was acknowledging that what he was saying was true.

I remembered a youth conference when I listened to some peers tell of their testimony of the savior, and how I was moved to tears. There was a yearning -- a longing for home that overcame my whole being, and seemed to say -- you knew of this before you were here on Earth.

I remembered many other significant experiences involving powerful feelings. My baptism at age 8, my patriarchal blessing at age 12, priesthood ordinations at age 12, 14, and 16, church meetings throughout my life, church films and music, and many other experiences.

Perhaps most notable and fresh was the memory of how I felt as I read the scriptures. Those books -- those words -- were somehow different. I loved reading other books -- fantasies, westerns, academic works, etc. -- but I never felt the burning and longing in my heart as I did when I read the scriptures.

I realized that throughout my life, I consistently had undefined feelings -- good feelings -- that were unlike anything in any other setting or situation. All of these memories and thoughts had one thing in common: they were all related to God -- specifically, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

I then made a startling realization. The LDS faith teaches (similar to other faiths) that God communicates to us through the "Spirit" (for the sake of simplicity, consider the spirit as a sort of sixth sense for knowing what is true and what is false -- especially when it comes to things relating to God). These experiences -- these powerful emotions -- were manifestations of the spirit. I knew it. And when I thought that, the same electrical feeling flowed through my body.

Although I had been taught about the spirit, I had not ever realized the application or reality of it. I finally made the connection. God had been telling me all along that he was there -- that it was all real and true.

I also realized why I didn't have an immediate and clear response to my prayers in those past several days. Answering my prayers about His existence or the reality of the gospel would have been redundant at that point -- he had already communicated it through those numerous experiences throughout my life. In fact, it may have been a bit offensive for me to be asking for something that had been given to me all along, and which I had been ignoring.

This experience was a major turning point in my faith in God and in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. First, I recognized that there really was something out there -- something beyond current scientific explanation. Second, I made the connection between the spirit (those powerful experiences) and God -- that the spirit testified of the reality of God and His plan. Third, I realized that I can't learn everything about/from God all at once or in the way I prefer.

Since that experience, I have served a full-time mission, been sealed in the temple, and served in many positions in the LDS church. I have continued to have spiritual experiences that have confirmed the existence of and revealed more about God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I continue to learn.


Spiritual Seeds

Throughout known history, man has looked to something greater than himself. Man has a tendency to worship -- a built-in hunger for spiritual harmony and a longing for a heavenly home. Just as our physical bodies thirst and hunger for sustenance, our spirits hunger for communion with the divine.

When we think of lies, deception, cheating, arrogance, anger, hate, stealing, abuse, murder, there is a natural negative feeling that comes with each of those concepts/acts. Except for the deranged, any human being would consider these acts to be "wrong".

Now think of honesty, integrity, humility, patience, love, respect, kindness. These concepts are accompanied by a natural feeling of goodness and "right".

From a certain scientific perspective, these polarizing concepts of right and wrong seem illogical. Evolution, for example, is dispassionate and highlights natural selection, survival of the fittest, etc. Some might argue that right and wrong is simply something that man has invented. But why? What part does it play in evolution? How does it give the human race an evolutionary advantage? Some might say it actually puts us at a disadvantage, contending that ethical dilemmas distract from the natural goal to survive. And why does it play such a prominent role in society? Where does it come from?

How is it that all can agree on these extreme maxims -- no matter their culture or background? Civilizations that originate in complete isolation from others hold to the same basic values. There seems to be something there that is truth, but that is not controlled by man -- these truths are universal -- but don't seem to be related to the physical.


While the origin of these truths may be difficult to prove, the results of their implementation has been proven time after time. Those concepts that are perceived as negative are simply not advantageous to a long-term civilization because they end in disintegration, but the positive concepts build stability and lead to harmony and cooperation.

Further, our ability to identify right and wrong is natural. Any child, adolescent, adult, or elderly will respond with similar views -- it is not right to deceive, abuse, or kill; it is good to be honest, loving, and helpful. The perception of these truths is not a product of logic -- neither is it a physical sense like seeing, tasting, touching, etc. Our natural compass is a sixth sense. Something inside us recognizes right and wrong, considering them as fundamental and as naturally occurring as light and darkness. That "something" is our spirit.



The Idea of God Makes Sense

Some of the commentary I've heard from atheists reveals that there is considerable misunderstanding about what God is. I don't believe that God is a mystical, inexplicable life-force or cloud in deep space. Nor do I believe that God is a magical, thunderbolt-wielding archetype with winged harp-playing angels fluttering around him. I would be reluctant to believe in such a being. Such descriptions might make for a nice painting, but I consider them to represent a fantasy.

Let's look at God in a different way.

Man has learned how to build fire, harness energy, automate, simulate, explore other worlds, and even manipulate genetic coding. How much further will we be in 100 years? How about 10,000 years -- or even 1,000,000 years?

We have learned how to extend life, and are learning how to further extend it. We are learning about the building blocks of life, how to use and manipulate them. We are already talking about terraforming other worlds. Is it possible that some day -- in the distant future -- we could learn how to create worlds, live indefinitely, or even create self-sustaining and intelligent life?

Now, is it reasonable to consider ourselves alone in the universe? If time and space are infinite, don't statistics indicate that it is improbable that our world is the first and only to sustain intelligent life? I take the position that there have been many worlds like ours, and that there are many worlds like ours in the universe. We are not alone. God is out there.

God is not so different from us, just more advanced -- much more advanced. God is a person who has advanced so much that he knows infinitely more than we do. He has knowledge and power (or abilities) that surpass our comprehension. He can create worlds, create life, and even live forever. God is an advanced -- even perfected -- man.

I have six children. I love them and want them to be successful. I want them to learn and grow. I hope that someday, they will become self-sufficient and contribute to society. I would be proud if they learned how to do everything I can do -- and improved upon it.

Sometimes, teaching my children means letting them struggle or even fail. It can be hard to watch, but I know they will learn how to get back up, dust themselves off, and learn from their experiences. They will learn to overcome adversity and they will be stronger because of it.

God created us. He is our father. He loves us and wants us to learn what he knows and have what he has. God knows how we can become like him -- he has a plan for us. We call this plan "The Plan of Salvation", which employs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The plan includes a mortal life in which we are to live in a time-bounded and imperfect existence - separated from his presence. While this plan gives us all the opportunity to be like him, it is designed to allow us to choose for ourselves.

Sometimes God allows us to struggle and even fail. I'm sure it's not easy for him to stand aside and let us choose for ourselves -- especially when we hurt ourselves or even hurt others -- but he knows that we need to choose and learn for ourselves. In addition, these experiences enable us to grow further than we otherwise would have grown -- like a child going away to college.

God is not mysterious. God is our father. He is advanced, and wants us to know what he knows and have what he has. In order for us to become like God, we need to pass through this experience of life. We must learn to make decisions on our own. We must learn how to use our "sixth sense" of the spirit. We must follow the tested and proven pattern to become advanced like he is.


What About Science?

I am a fan of science. Although I am not a scientist of any kind, I enjoy and am fascinated by science. I am excited by the advances of technology and the discoveries made by brilliant people. I love learning about scientific research, theories, and models. With each new discovery we learn more about ourselves and our universe.

I do not consider science to be in conflict with God, scripture, or gospel teachings. Differences, I believe, can be attributed to lack of information or knowledge. I don't have a problem with dinosaurs, neanderthals, or the big bang theory. Science is the process we use to put together the puzzle of the universe. Right now, that puzzle is scattered, but coming together day by day. As science progresses, we will have a better view of the whole picture. Some pieces of the puzzle will be reshaped, some thrown out, and new ones introduced. Ultimately, through unbiased scientific advance and divine revelation, the mysteries of the universe will be uncovered and everyone will know how all of the pieces fit together. In the mean time, I continue to accept science while I exercise faith in God and live the gospel.


A Concession and a Choice

I think most people would admit that the existence of God cannot be scientifically proven -- I would add that it cannot be disproven either. To prove that God does not exist, one would have to visit every corner of the universe (or all universes), be aware of every level of existence, and know every possibility. Ironically, to take the position that there is no God is to assume omniscience.

But not being able to prove that God exists doesn't mean we have to believe in God. It is ultimately a choice. You can choose to live a life that follows a belief in God, or you can choose not to. If there is no God, then to live a "good" life, following God may not matter in the end, but it will likely ensure a healthy, productive, and happy life that may influence others for good. On the other hand, if there is a God, choosing to live a life in harmony with what is "right" has added benefits -- like salvation. So believing in God is a win-win.

A Testimony of God

I know that God is real. The very idea of God makes sense. God is our father.

If you have any doubt of the existence of God, take a look around you. Look at the complexity and harmony of nature. The miracle of life and the order of the universe confirm the existence of a great designer and governor. The opposing concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, reveal the internal compasses that are our spirits.

I came to know that God exists, countless others have found God, and you can too. If you sincerely seek God, you will find him -- perhaps not in the time or way you expect, but you will find him.


I hope that at the very least, this letter has helped you to understand the basis for my beliefs. If anything I have said has caused you to think about God in a different way, I hope it will lead you to reconsider the existence and nature of God.

I wish you the very best in life.

Sincerely,

Adam Michaelson

5 comments:

Melissa Rojas said...

Adam, that was a BEAUTIFUL testimony. You have a gift for writing and especially a gift for sharing your testimony. Hearing your testimony strengthens mine. Thanks for sharing--if I come across any one in doubt, I will definately point them in this direction. Love you.

Michaelson Family said...

I am so proud of you. I thank God for you every day.
I love you Adam.

Amy said...

Wow, Adam. You must be helping Dad write his next book. That was well said and nice for me to hear your testimony, including earlier experiences. Thanks for sharing. I was wondering, what prompted this?

Anne Michaelson said...

Adam, thanks for making your blog known to us. For awhile there, from your experiences, I thought all our teaching and FHE's and scripture studies ere of no consequence. Its funny, I think my testimony came about the same way. Thanks for sharing yours. Hope Mr. Atheist reads it.

Anne Michaelson said...

Hey, Adam, apparently I read this and commented on it two years ago. Guess I am close to the ways of grandma HOlley because I can't remember even reading it. I do know you have a testimony however, you show it everyday. You are amazing. I love you so much. And your family is proof of your greatness. How lucky am I to be your mom?