The confirming voice of the Holy Ghost has taught me the truthfulness of many ideas. But this revelation thing is an inner experience that does not map to the world we live in. I cannot communicate the feeling of the touch of the Spirit beyond my own skin. I can only state that it exists, testify to the possibility that it can be felt, and warrant that the feeling is as unique and identifiable as the savor of salt.
I know why I do the things I do; it is a simple matter after receiving a revelation from God. But the articulation of the why to my colleagues has been difficult because they do not understand the vocabulary and the culture of revelation.
I cannot say that I have ever successfully accomplished it—how would I know?—but the effort has been invaluable because I have learned to engage my colleagues and listen to them. I have discovered that I have nothing to fear from a mutually respecting knock-down, drag-out wrestle over the mental, physical, and social context of the revelatory core. I am happy to harvest truth wherever I find it, even while mixing it up over observation versus belief with an atheistic (and esteemed) Scottish colleague over a Thai meal in Brussels.
My education in being a chemist in the workplace started with my first job in the Midwest after finishing my degree at BYU. It was substantially different from my exposure as a missionary to life in Germany. I realized there that professional people who claim revelation are not considered normal, and that what our colleagues really want to do is heal that “self-delusion” or gently pry that “juvenile tradition” out of our minds and fill in the hole with their learning.
They do not understand the risk of their assessments, or the challenge they have assumed. It looks easy to persuade a fellow chemist to give up his antiquated and restrictive prohibitions on drinking coffee or alcohol. Why, if he were a real chemist he would drop those juvenile inhibitions after reading a few articles from the New England Journal of Medicine that describe the benefits of a glass of wine with supper. After all, a real scientist would believe the science reported in the peer-reviewed journals.
The lab’s chief scientist stepped into my office and took the visitor’s chair. I was an entry level professional, fully ignorant of company politics and people. I had no idea why she would visit me. I could see she only had one cigarette in her mouth but it produced such prodigious volumes of smoke that I wondered if she had another waiting on deck.
“Dan, I understand you are a Mormon.”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“A practicing Mormon?”
“Yes, but only one wife. Why?”
“I understand that you Mormons don’t drink coffee or alcohol. Is that right? Why not?”
Puff, puff, puff—blowing particulates from pyrolosis of vegetable organics loaded with condensed phase heterogeneous polyaromatic compounds into my face.
“Well, you know, these things aren’t good for you. The prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation about it, called the Word of Wisdom.”
“Oh, a revelation? God talked with him? So, what do you think of the articles that are published in the scientific literature—I am thinking of something that recently appeared in the NEJM that proves a glass of wine with supper is actually good for you. Your revelation really doesn’t make sense compared with scientific research, does it?”
She’s right; it actually isn’t bad for me. Why did I say it that way? Traditional missionary response, for sure. But not such a good answer in this office today. Why is she doing this? I think she would like to rock my boat of belief. What am I going to say to a fellow chemist and the chief scientist?
“Yeah, that’s a good point, [name]. In fact, I don’t doubt that a glass of wine at supper could be good for my digestion, so maybe I slightly misstated my original reason.” Pause, and then inspiration nudges a new idea into my brain. “Indeed, the glass of wine would be very bad for me, but spiritually and not physically. It is actually a matter of commitment and integrity. When I joined this church I made the commitment to keep its dietary code. I practice and strengthen integrity as I keep my commitment.”
What could she say to integrity? That was beyond chemistry. She considered my answer, nodded, stood up, and walked out.
That answer does not weaken my belief in the divine origin of the Word of Wisdom, but it allows me to keep the pearls of my sacred experiences close to me while being open with colleagues who do not buy into angelic ministration as a credible source of information.
Last year I had the opportunity to refine the response. I approached a group of the managers in our plant south of Brussels who had stopped at the coffee machine. The plant engineer, a man I greatly respect and who obviously feels comfortable with me, challenged me, “Dan, here’s a coffee, come drink it with us.”
“[name], thanks for the offer but you know I don’t drink coffee. I’ll take my chocolat chaud.”
“You should; sometimes you just need a coffee.”
“Yes, there is much good in what you are saying. But it’s all about value,” I said, shaking my right index finger at him. “The value I receive from my church membership—you know that’s why I don’t drink with you guys, it’s church—is far, far greater than the taste of the drink or the social moment.” I had not thought of the value approach before; that was new. He probably did not agree that the things of any church are of such great value, but he accepted my perception of it. He is a good man, and I learned from the interaction with him.
So, the social and mental context of this aspect of my faith has been refined by my experience with people who question me. I keep the Word of Wisdom because I desire to strengthen my integrity generally by keeping my specific commitment to God, and because I understand and want the overwhelmingly high and eternal value a temple recommend and callings in the church bring to me. I don’t make this sacrifice of sociality, taste, and buzz because of health or because I fear the chemical effects of trace levels of nicotine or caffeine or an aliquot of ethanol in my body. Belgian beer is only Brussels city water compared with the taste of revelation from the Holy Ghost. It is an easy call for me.
I want to deflect from my faith a common complaint of my colleagues about traditional Christianity (their target is Catholicism and Protestantism; they just assume Mormonism is another Protestant sect). They hate the elitism (or simply dismiss it as absurd) that is bred by the traditional Christian doctrine that declares Christ universally necessary for salvation but restricts Christ’s availability to a handful of the blessed.
They think they have taken a shot at me when they express their anger or contempt for the condemning judgments the blessed ones toss their way. But I am not in their line of fire. In fact, I explain to them that my finger is on the same trigger, that I fully agree with them. It surprises them but I think their model does not permit them to understand. It does not matter, anyway, for they have thrown the Son of God out with the dirty bathwater of traditional Christian doctrines.
My God cannot be a respecter of persons; the elite Christians are self-made, and their judgments of others can be ignored. Further, I know that Christ is indeed universally available and how it is done. That point alone sharply differentiates my faith from that of the traditional Christians.
Receiving revelation does not make me better than anybody else, and I am not their or your judge. While I am not exactly disinterested in others’ salvation, it is not my problem. This saves us both from the ultimate arrogance of the saved that somehow gives them leave to stomp uninvited into another’s beliefs garden.
I know by revelation that this mortal life is not the end of the probationary period, so I don’t have to cajole, threaten, or attempt to coerce anybody to believe. The evangelicals do this when they show up on my door because they do not know what I know. They want me to take that minute to fill in the “I accept Jesus” card just in case I walk in front of a bus later that day. They would hate for “death to send me reeling to an eternity of hellfire and damnation” because they neglected to force me to sign up for their heaven.
Another salvo from my technical colleagues is that I must believe in the literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis like other traditional Christians, since I am a believer in God the Creator. That makes me a hypocrite to either my science or my religion in their eyes. But the rules of the game change with prophets and revelation. Again, I am not in the line of their fire. Truth is my object, not preservation of my models. The prophets gave me the core ideas that flavor my life with profound meaning, but it is effective science that helps me understand the historical and geological boundaries to those ideas, to clarify the physical context of my faith.
Galileo is a classic example. He brought more light to Christianity with his telescope than centuries of religious scholars re-working the same few words handed down from the apostles and the Jews. The Hubble Space Telescope has continued offering the same curriculum to Christians. I have been taught of the unfathomable and infinite reach of the mind of the living God by its photographs.
I believe in God the Creator, but I do not have to believe that he created the earth in a handful of years. I am happy to have inherited the scientific tradition that established the age and complexity of the earth. It fits my model of the eternal God that a few billion Earth-years are insignificant and don’t show up in the high-level construction plans that have apparently come down to us via Moses.
I believe in Adam and Eve but I do not have to believe that they were a global phenomenon and that all humans on this planet descended from them starting some 6,000 years ago. I expect that Ötzi, Lucy, the Cro-Magnon cave painters of Lascaux, France, the 9,000-year old woman whose remains were fished out of the La Brea Tar Pits, and the Neanderthals whose remains I saw in the Neanderthal Museum in Germany, have a story. Adam and Eve and their role in my faith are not at risk because the core came by revelation, but my understanding of their historical and social context will continue to be refined by science.
I believe Noah existed and I am willing to accept that he spent about one year on a boat. On the other hand, I am not constrained to believe in a global flood that wiped out all life on the earth. The Masoretic and Septuagint texts of the first book of Moses are flimsy protection from the big guns of systematic science. Not even the hero Gilgamesh of ancient Sumer and Babylon can deflect the withering blasts of stratigraphic analysis of the tells and the various isotope-based chemical dating methods. I can easily cut the traditional global nature from the local phenomenon so I can retain the core story. I trust good science to put the boundaries around these stories but revelation to confirm the veracity of the core.
Science cannot, however, discern the origins of the core or analyze its mechanisms. The core does not belong to the world of rational analysis and deductive logic. As I said earlier, revelation does not map to our world. But I can offer up the Book of Mormon as evidence that the collision of the spiritual galaxy with the physical galaxy can produce something tangible that has purely revelatory roots. This book is the word of God and stands on its own.
I also believe in the God of Redemption. In fact, the Great Creator and the Redeemer are the same divine being. This is like a professional engineer being a prophet. It is helpful to me that the essential lawfulness, subtlety, and technical integrity of the Creator find expression in the works of the Redeemer. The conditions of salvation are essentially lawful, consistent, explicable, and understandable, and the consequences of properly executed experimental studies entirely predictable.
The last statement above strikes a sensitive nerve with my colleagues.
It was an intense argument about religion and science. The old fellow sitting shotgun was a long-time friend, a professional electrical engineer and entrepreneur. He also had expressed an astoundingly fierce antipathy towards the Christianity of his Italian fathers. His partner was in the back seat, another engineer, younger. They were vendors for a project we were working on.
“Science is reproducible but your religious experience is not. That is why science is better than religion, and why you cannot be much of a scientist if you believe in religion.” That was [younger], in the back seat.
“What do you know about reproducible experiments in religion? How many times does an experiment have to be repeated before its results and principles become credible?” I was going to ask how they could so casually dismiss the common experiences of millions of LDS all over the world, but [younger] cut me off.
“I can see where you are going and think that is a useless argument.”
[Older] jumped in. “I have tried many of the paths my believing friends have recommended but none have worked for me. I would be willing, but I have already proven to me that it is all based on emotions. Religion is a fairy tale.”
There it is. He has done the test. A good man has tried to repeat his friends’ religious experiences and found them all to be incredible and irreproducible. Are mine and my fellow Latter-day Saints’ also all emotional? And the church a modern fairy tale? No, and No; I know better. I don’t have to let this one stand.
“Guys, the experiment works, but there are conditions of humility and desire that are essential. It is totally up to the person whether it works or not. Because God is hidden, nobody is compelled to believe—He is not going to suddenly drop out of the sky in front of you and beg you to believe in him. I, the believer, look about me and see the handiwork of God, while you, the unbelievers, do not. Fair enough. The hand of God is in the mind of the observer, and not explicit in the external evidence.” Then an analogy occurred to me.
“Did either of you take an organic chemistry lab in college?”
No, neither had. “We are electrical engineers, not chemists.”
“It is quite an astounding thing that a group of students can be handed exactly the same written procedures, be given exactly the same glassware and reagents, and that one team will produce no crystals; another a thick, sticky mass of yellow gunk in the bottom of the beaker; and another a beaker-full of beautiful white crystals of, say, vanillin. What was the differentiating factor in the quality of the results?”
They did not respond, but they also did not turn me off.
“It most certainly was not the written experimental procedures or reagents. What other variable was there? It had to be the people! It was variations in their diligence, their interest, their belief, the personal evaluation of the importance of organic chemistry lab, their preparations, and etc.”
This was exactly the analogy I had been looking for to help me deal with this issue. “The same holds for the synthesis of a revelation from God, or, in other words, the test of the spiritual things. We are all handed the same written procedures and reagents. Then the results of the experiment are entirely up to us.”
They could not respond. I was merciless and drilled the screw deeper. “I plainly state that each of us is totally personally responsible for the decision of belief and the test of the Spirit. It is not God we are testing.”
[Younger] asked, “How did you do with the vanillin synthesis?”
I laughed, and said, “Oh, I was struggling with who I really was in those days. I probably got the yellow mass of gunk.”
Then he said, “Since you are not a good chemist you had to believe in God.”
That was a nasty little poke; not the first one today. I laughed again (these things don’t bother me anymore) and extended my right arm to the back seat and waved my hand about. “See my hand waving around? I am pushing back on you like you have never before felt it from a religious person. You could not answer me, so you had to fall back to a little weak hand flopping and ad hominem. We Mormons are not like your Protestant sect friends. You have no idea who I am and what I believe. You think you know but you don’t. I have tried to get you to stop your headlong rush to beat up the Mormon in the driver’s seat and ask me questions but you would not, and your models are killing you because they are totally useless with me. ”
[Older] said, “You are probably frustrated that you did not convert a couple of non-believers.”
“No, not at all. Your salvation and faith are your problem, not mine. I enjoy these conversations; I learn much by them. And I think the world of you.”
I know that one of my feet is already in their court. They don’t see it because they cannot believe that a man who speaks of revelation from the living God can also accept a 4.5-billion year old earth and rigorous science. They cannot see the other foot because their models blind them to possibilities that are beyond the pale of traditional Christianity.
I will have finished sixty years on this planet in July. I have lived with my faith, its doctrines, practices, requirements, and consequences, for five of those six decades.
My family was fully churchless until we came to the LDS church in Nevada in about my tenth year. My faith was not distilled or rammed into my genes by my parents when I was a child. I learned what I learned by study and by revelation; I was responsible for what I became.
The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church have been a powerfully anchoring force in my life, neither restrictive nor coercive but liberating and compelling to growth. I have been around long enough to see it for what it really is.
It is not a hokey American cult that enriches the few grizzled Elders and good old boys sitting atop the church’s hierarchy, or a beehive of mindless drones, but a full-bodied participative religious experience of love and revelation, volunteerism, and great sacrifice, from the bottom to the top of the organization, in every culture of this world. I love its energy and its power.
I admire the young man, Joseph Smith, called by God to restore the priesthood, the ordinances, the structure of the church, the testimony of Jesus, and knowledge of the eternal nature of man. I owe the Lamb of God for every good thing that I am, and his grace and love for lawfully and mercifully helping me deal with every stupid thing I do. It is my hope to be prepared to meet him at the judgment bar where I intend to personally express my great gratitude to him.
I built houses and laid stone while finishing my undergraduate degree in German literature at Brigham Young University with a secondary teaching certificate and a minor in chemistry. Prof. Milton Lee, Professor of Chemistry at BYU, invited me to join him as a graduate student in my last undergraduate year. Five years later I departed BYU for Kansas City as a newly minted Ph.D. I was employed by the Midwest Research Institute to provide support to the National Toxicology Program’s toxicological studies around the country. I then took a position in the corporate analytical services group of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., near Allentown, PA. I have been with Air Products since December 1984. I was lab-based until about 1999 when I accepted the opportunity for a fundamental career change. I have become the global technical product and R&D manager for a new product, responsible for its rollout throughout the world and for keeping the new product’s development pipeline filled. I have learned a lot about high-pressure gases engineering principles and practices. I was based in Brussels for most of the past eight years, and have traveled extensively throughout the world. The best part of this job has been the wonderfully diverse people with whom I have worked in many nations.
Posted March 2011