The proposition of putting one’s religious convictions out on the Internet for everyone to read may seem ill-advised to some, particularly to those in the humanities where one’s politics and ideological commitments, it is fairly argued, are inseparable from one’s research and academic output. I recognize that there are some departments where to be an avowed believer in any faith system will bring one’s intellectual bonafides into question. I also recognize that I work at an institution where almost the opposite is the case. At BYU we are expected to be examples of the believers to the students who attend here and to our colleagues everywhere. To a cynic, this means that the sincerity of a BYU academic cannot be vouched for; there are other motives—addiction to a monthly income not least among them—that might be adduced to account for my orthodoxy and -praxy, such as they are. To the secularist, if I bear my testimony I am confessing that I have a profoundly irrational world-view; to the cynic, if I bear my testimony I am just trying to keep my job at BYU.
So, here is my testimony, in all of its craven naïveté.
I know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me and knows me personally. I have faith in Him and the plan that He has revealed for me and all of His children to become like Him. I know that He sent His Son to show the way and to redeem me to Himself if I am willing to be redeemed. I have felt His love and His drawing me to Him by the power of His Holy Spirit, whose presence is real and palpable to me. My experiences with the Holy Spirit are like immovable pillars in my life. When I have been reluctant to believe or to obey, they have been obstacles to my unbelief; I cannot get around what I know I have felt and experienced of God’s loving reality. When I have needed help and courage to try intimidating things, they have served like anchors to my soul.
The story of how I came to know these things and other fixtures of my personal faith is an embarrassment of predictability. I grew up in the faith, born in Utah. Some of my earliest memories are of being taught “of goodly parents” that my life had a purpose, designed by God, and that there were certain mile-stones along the way to which I should strive: baptism and confirmation, receiving the Aaronic Priesthood, receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, serving a full-time mission, and marrying for eternity in an LDS temple. I accomplished each of those goals basically on schedule.
Along the way, beginning at about the age of seven, I read the scriptures faithfully. I remember getting up at 6:00 in the morning regularly to read my Book of Mormon by the big bookcase in our basement. I remember puzzling my way through phrases like “great and abominable church” and the passages of Isaiah, which seemed opaque to me. I remember my mother recommending an article by Bruce R. McConkie on how to read Isaiah, which I studied at the top of a guava tree at a park near our home in Manila, where we were living at about the time I received the Aaronic Priesthood. I remember reflecting on the complexity of the Book of Mormon, which made J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which I also read that summer, seem like a child’s bedtime story; and I thought, “there is no way that someone could have made this all up.” I still think that—more now than ever. (After all, I am now a member of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU.)
I was called on a mission to Guatemala and served there for two years where I learned to love the language and the people and the scriptures even more. When I returned home, I enrolled at BYU where I met my wife (at church in the Clyde building). We married in the Idaho Falls Temple, just as each of our parents had, and began our family without delay while I was still in graduate school at the University of Texas. We are now the parents of six good children and have served in numerous callings in a number of wards where we have always been blessed by our association with the the Saints.
For a cynic, this is the most utterly predictable thing that he or she has ever read. I offer no defense. It is. I also offer no apology, however. If a life that reads like the textbook scenario from How to be a Utah Mormon is the price I shall have had to pay for what I have learned of God’s love and of His plan for me and those I love, I am thankful for the chance to pay it. I’m sorry it makes for such boring reading. But there it is.
What I can’t—or maybe it is more honest to say won’t—give here, are some of the details that might serve to complicate this bland biography and infuse it with a little more interest. Why not? Why do I leave them out? Because I believe that certain things only ought to be shared one on one when the time is right. What is really going on in anyone’s life no matter how unremarkable it may seem on the surface is, in the end, pretty special, even sacred. That is a secret that wise people know and that—shall we say—”not-wise” people have no part in.
I know that each of us is a child of a loving Father in Heaven. He sent His Son to be the gate and the way back into His presence. The Holy Ghost bears witness of these things and of much more when we have the faith to open up to Him. The Scriptures have become both stranger and truer to me over time. I rejoice in the space they create for me to choose either to doubt or to believe. I choose to believe and have come to know in many instances that they teach the truth. I have had experiences that have assured me that God’s power is real and that it is manifest on the earth through the ministry of living prophets and in His holy temples.
And I know that God is love. For now, for here, that is all I have to say.
A native of Utah, D. Morgan Davis has also lived and studied in the Philippines, Israel and the West Bank, and Egypt. He served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years in Guatemala. He holds an undergraduate degree in Near Eastern studies from Brigham Young University, a master’s degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in Arabic language and literature from the University of Utah (2005).
Dr. Davis is the director of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative at Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, where he evaluates, edits, and supervises the publication of classical Middle Eastern works of philosophy, theology, mysticism, and science. The texts are produced in their original languages of (Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, etc.), together with English translations on facing pages. He has been involved with the initiative since its inception.
His areas of research interest include world religions; Islamic origins, literature, and culture; and the history of religion.
An avid traveler, runner, hiker, and mountain biker, and an occasional tenor soloist, Dr. Davis is married to the former Kristina Nelson, and they are the parents of four sons and two daughters.
Posted September 2010