“Just say no to anything they offer you, and don’t answer any of their questions.” -LDS mom to her children
“Stop listening to what he’s saying.” -An LDS dad as he pulls his intrigued son by the arm away from a Christian preacher
“My mom said I’m not allowed to talk to you. [“Why do you think that is? I just want to share with you from the Scriptures.” I said.] I don’t know, but I’m not supposed to. I have to go.” -LDS teenage girl
“Girls, we need you to go somewhere else right now.” -LDS youth group leader, interrupting a conversation between two LDS teens and some Christian girls and forcibly pushing the girls away from the conversation
“Ummm… I’m not sure… hey Dad?” -LDS teen when I asked her to explain the LDS Gospel to me in her own words
“Even if you think they might be Mormon, just don’t talk to any of those people out there.” -LDS boy to his friends
“I don’t understand it, but I make sure not to question it.” -elderly LDS missionary
“You need to stop asking us so many questions. You just don’t understand. Just pray and read the Book of Mormon.” -Young LDS woman in dialogue with a Christian woman
“My faith doesn’t need to make sense to me. It doesn’t have to be rational or logical; I just believe in my heart.” -Brazilian LDS teen
Above are just a few examples of the ways that my interactions frequently end or stall on the streets of Manti. Whether a mom is sheltering her young or young people simply do not know how to engage in a conversation about faith and reason, I see fear and unpreparedness when I attempt to talk to teenage Mormons about their own religion, and that bothers me. I love talking to teens on the street — partially because I love teenagers, but also because at their age, it is simply vital for them to begin to experience independence in many ways, including their religious beliefs. I can hear them parroting what they have been taught in Sunday school and seminary since infancy, but I can also see their minds processing my questions and realizing that their answers are often not completely watertight.
And that’s where I want them. Because not only Mormons, but all young adults, need to understand one vital fact:
Your parents’ religion isn’t good enough for you.
I don’t care who you are, or who your parents are. The ideas that your parents have taught you and instilled in you will not carry you through the rest of your life, and you cannot rely upon them.
You see, your parents, while I hope they are fantastic, loving, well-intentioned guardians who have trained you well in all sorts of life skills, have not taught you everything you need to know about your belief system. They can’t help you handle your best friend’s questions about the meaning of existence. They won’t always be there for the after-class conversation with your atheist professor. They have not had the same challenges with technology or hot-button political and ethical issues in your world. On these issues, you must develop your own belief system.
Am I saying that you should not adhere to the same religion as your parents as an adult? No, not at all. Am I saying you should consort with the Devil and check out what he has to offer in your search for truth? I wouldn’t recommend that.
What I am saying is that you, as a young person, should take the initiative to educate yourself on world religions and worldviews and understand their basic tenets. You should ask hard questions, to your parents and to those in their religion. You must think critically about what you hear, and determine which worldview is the most reasonable. One of the skills that this search requires is the ability to filter through emotional appeals, ad hominem attacks (personal instead of principle arguments), and other deceptive manipulation that will hide the true issue at hand. Your search should not have easy answers; you will soon find that the many controversies and views out there are complex, tied up in real life situations. But keep searching, because the answers may not come easily, but they will come.
If, as you think and question, you land in the same church that your parents raised you in, so be it. But if you have evaluated your own faith and other major faiths, your conviction for your decision will be strong and reasonable. The same goes for the political camp that you land in, and the sides that you take on moral issues. Never follow the crowd because everyone else is. I saw a t-shirt recently that read, “Think while it’s still legal.” And never stop.
But Carissa, you can’t prove God. How can anyone commit to a belief system that requires so much faith?
Sure, believing in God requires faith. Sitting down in a chair requires faith that it will support you. Committing to a relationship takes an immense amount of trust in another person (who is, frighteningly enough, very fallible). We all place our faith in something, or someone. But, unlike the Mormons with whom I frequently discuss these issues, I want my faith to be in a system that makes rational sense, and that isn’t full of logical holes. I strive for my beliefs to be made up of a reasonable faith and studied-out truth claims. I have plenty of learning left to do, but I think each of us should desire such a belief system in order to function in our complex, opinion-heavy world.
It’s not good enough to have faith, and to hide away inside a temple or a seminary hoping that no one questions it. We must wean ourselves off of our parents’ answers in order to question our own beliefs and question those of others.
And ultimately, strive for answers, and trust fiercely.