It was my first semester of graduate school and I was sitting in a class that focused heavily on historical theory. One of the professors disagreed with the approach taken by one of the students in her master’s thesis. The debate continued for several minutes, and one could see the frustration increase in the student. Throughout the semester, all of the students were exposed to new ways of thinking and approaching history. By the end of the semester, the above-mentioned student had become completely disillusioned with her own approach to history, and believed that her whole concept of the world had been wrong. Her disillusionment was so great that she dropped out of the doctoral program and pursued a completely different program of study. I thought at the time how sad it was that she had based her whole world view on one particular theoretical approach to history, and that it could be so easily disrupted. I thought how fortunate I was that I had the Gospel as my foundation. I saw clearly in my personal life the parable of the foolish man building his house on sand versus the wise man building his house on rock.
Some people have told me that my religious beliefs are merely a crutch, and that my so-called security is really obstinacy in thinking my beliefs are true rather than my having any actual truth. I personally don’t feel like I am an obstinate person, but I may be deceiving myself. I only can state what I believe to be true. I was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I have always believed that it is God’s one Church. As a Mormon missionary in Switzerland, I was speaking to a man on the streets of Basel and he told me that I only believed what I did because I was culturally conditioned to believe that way; put in a different part of the world with different circumstances, I would believe something else; it is all relative. I pondered what he said, and wondered if I had been raised in a different cultural milieu, whether I would have accepted or rejected the Church if I had been exposed to it. I cannot answer that question, because that was not my condition, but I continue to believe.
Others have asked me how a person with a PhD and a historian could believe in religion generally and Mormonism specifically. Again, I don’t know how a “person” could; I only know that I do. History has not made me skeptical of God; if anything, it has made me skeptical of humanity. Studying the works of previous scholars, I realize that theories, ideas, hypotheses, and conclusions have changed over the years. I find it complete hubris for someone to think he/she has written the definitive work on any subject, and that his/her conclusions and analysis will forever stand the test of time. There is always a new study, a new analysis, a new approach. If anything, my time spent in academia has only strengthened my conviction not to put my trust in the arm of man, for it is weak and ever-changing.
Obviously that does not mean that I think scholarly pursuits are a waste of time. I do believe that God wants us to strive to understand the world around us. We should explore, think, analyze, and hypothesize. I love to learn, to read, and to explore. I believe that humanity is bettered when it is exposed to ideas and knowledge. But I do believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will improve humanity the most.
In my academic pursuits, I have read and studied many things, and history is a nebulous field of study. I believe that I have understood things in the past, through my research and analysis, but I have to say that the things I believe the most have not come from physical experimentation. I believe that the Holy Spirit has communicated with my soul. There are things that I believe that I cannot fully explain, but I know them nonetheless. I have experienced the Spirit’s revelatory power, and I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he restored Christ’s Church to this Earth. I believe that The Book of Mormon is a true testament of Jesus Christ.
Mormonism appeals to me logically and spiritually. It has given me answers to the most troubling questions I have had. Do I have doubts? Of course. But I doubt and question many things in this world, including myself, but I believe I have found the way to find answers. I don’t think that God has a problem with questioners, if they are honest in their questioning. I continue on in what I believe to be true.
I think in the end science and religion do mesh: true science and true religion. I concur with the Apostle Paul when he said that now we see through a glass darkly but then we will see clearly. I recognize that in this world we do not see all things clearly, and so all things aren’t clear to me now. Once again, I can only go with what I have personally experienced, and what I personally believe. I believe that Jesus Christ is the way, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only way to Christ.
Stephen S. Francis specializes in Renaissance and Reformation European history in the Department of History at Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah. He received his BA at Weber State in 1991, and then proceeded to earn his MA and his PhD from Arizona State University in 1994 and 1998, respectively.
Posted November 2011