To say that you believe something generally means to say that you trust it. For me to say that I believe in what the Mormon Church stands for should be evident. The true question, then, is more, why do you go for Mormonism? What is it that makes you focus your life on its doctrine and building said Church? How do you know so certainly that this is the right way to go?
It all started with a discussion with my father when I was a fourteen-year-old. As a lad I grew up with Mormon philosophy. During my very early years we lived in New Guinea, where we were the only LDS in probably a thousand miles. Each Sunday we would have Sunday services with the family, Dad presiding and both parents teaching Sunday School and my oldest brother passing the Sacrament. Later, as we lived in the Netherlands and Dad was a Bishop in Rotterdam, I had a father-son discussion with Dad. I wanted to visit another LDS church in the city that Sunday because I had a girl friend there, and Dad tried to persuade me to come to visit the community over which he was presiding as a Bishop. One argument led to another and finally I must have thrown the question to his face “but I don’t even know if Mormonism is the right way to go or not.” It must have startled him, because his answer was straightforward: Well, if you don’t know if it is right, you’d better find out for yourself. But how? Start living it, was his answer. That was a blow to the face, for sure! After all, I had always been coming to all Sunday services, visited all youth activities, and did as I had been asked to do. Moreover, I felt lonely in school, being the only practicing Mormon there, with no addictive habits, with a clean vocabulary, and neatly groomed. To the monks and nuns who were teaching in this Catholic school I was a prime example of the perfect teenager. But I had few friends because of my living standards. Dad’s invitation “to live Mormonism to find out if it is true” had struck a chord that guides me today. I took up his challenge. I guess he was inspired by Jesus’ statement in John 7:17. But after licking my wounds at the thought that my way of living had done me little good other than keep me out of trouble with the law, I decided to start living Mormon teachings in a more conscious way, and while doing so, constantly asking the question to what avail.
The quest gave up results slowly, I must admit. No angels with blowing horns crossed my path, calling me to repentance. No bright lights, to be sure. But slowly I gained knowledge, first naively, but less so over the years. Slowly I grew to trust not only the small voice within me that led me to do the right, but the prophets that I studied in the holy writ. Over the years I have come to find out that, even if the Mormon faith was based on untrue doctrines, it sure as heck makes sense to live by its principles. I learned that God’s commandments, as I now see them, are a more safe and wise way of living than just adopting the values of the cultures I take part in. Abstaining from addictive substances is not just for religious purposes anymore, but a smart way to live. As an organizational anthropologist I now see that the Ten Commandments are more than the basics of social control. Marital fidelity is not to please God, but to save your own marriage and to protect your children from experiences that would traumatize them for the rest of their lives. Prayer is not to inform God about my predicament, but to learn to listen to my own feelings and needs, and tune into what God is actually thinking. As a matter of fact, these so-called commandments of God are a smart way of life and they teach an inquisitive person about the One who came up with these ways of living. One could even say that I can be trusted, not because I am such a good person, but I live naturally by these principles.
God, to me, is the Creator. I am in awe as I look at the expanse of the universe. I am intrigued when I learn of new immense discoveries in astronomy and other sciences. To think that I am even remotely interesting to such a being is mind-boggling. If anything, it motivates me to do right and perhaps learn more from Him.
Knowing of the weaknesses of man, and certainly my own included, helps me understand the frail nature of existence. If life would end with the arrest of the heart beating, what reason would there be for us to learn, to live, to do good? Moreover, why not end it all when suffering seems to be unbearable? And why not end someone else’s life when you see him suffer? Why would there be any value in life at all? The mere fact that anything that lives craves for life as long as possible, gives me hope for more than this life has to offer. I truly believe in life after death.
And if there is life after death, would we not want to make the most of that stage of being as well? That, to me, is the reason for a belief in or trusting in a caring God—Someone Who is not only powerful enough to create, but good enough to trust. Furthermore, my belief system is not based on hearsay, or on the hope that it might perhaps be true, but on experimenting with it in the same way I tend to do in studying the sciences: by observing, hypothesizing, trying to predict the outcome, and looking for when the hypothesis might not be true, and then re-stating the hypothesis.
It is true that there are many ways of looking at life that might, at the outset, provide the answers mankind seeks. To me, all of them are valuable insofar as they lead my quest not to a dead-end but to further learning and inner freedom. As a result of using Mormonism in my life I now have high regards for other religions or people of other faiths. Studying religious cultures and the people who live in them has become more than just a hobby, one could say. That attitude, of seeking more truths, defines Mormonism at best, I believe. And thus, the invitation of my father many years ago, to live its precepts more seriously, and wondering about its truths, has influenced me to the extent that I not only respect others for their quest for a true way of living, but to keep on learning. It helped me in college, taught me during a full-time mission for the Church in Utah, Ireland and Scotland, intrinsically motivated me whilst teaching religion in my career, and sent me back to school to further my education up till now. This force of belief gave me the strength and (some) wisdom to endure in hardship. It saved our marriage more than once. It helped us raise our children to a high spiritual degree and it influences our grandchildren.
I don’t believe I am one of the greater minds walking this planet. And so if one rejects my view of life and Deity as having no value, I would certainly understand. I, myself, have often doubts as to my ability to teach religion in the many nations and cultures of Europe as I currently do. But this I do know, that Jesus is not only that Creator of which I spoke afore, and that He is not just a caring member of the Godhead. I am convinced that by living by His teachings one can actually slowly learn about a tangible God, and not just some mystical, incomprehensible force in the universe. God is alive and invites us to follow His teachings so that He can save us. Scripture study, prayer, caring for our fellow beings and living by God’s precepts are equally important. It makes me grateful for the Mormon Church, its structure, its history, its prophets and programs that help me learn about all that matters in life. It has structured my life in a way that helps me actually put into practice what I believe. To live Mormon teachings, even if one is not an actual member of the LDS Church, makes all the sense in the world. But to actively use this Church in developing oneself and making this world a better place to live on, gives more than one could have dreamed of.
Johannus D. T. (Hans) Noot is Coordinator of Religious Education in Belgium and the Netherlands and advisor to Seminaries and Institutes in Eastern Europe for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in organizational behavior from Brigham Young University (BYU) and is currently working on a Ph.D. in organizational anthropology at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. An organizational consultant and entrepreneur, he is also president of the Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief (www.noodtFoRB.eu) and a member of the International Advisory Board of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU.
Posted December 2010