What if I didn’t believe in God? Would I still be a Mormon?
That’s a tough question since I do believe. Because I believe, I understand being a Mormon as living in covenant relation with God, recognizing him as my Creator Father, remembering his wisdom and kindness and my nothingness before him. That remembrance carries with it my covenant relation and my obligations not only to him, but also to those with whom I liveâ€”to my family, to the Church, to the world at large. I have covenanted to receive God’s wisdom and kindness, and to partake of that wisdom and kindness by confessing the divinity of his Son, who offered his life for all, and by imitating his atoning sacrifice. The Christian’s relationship with God cannot be solitary, just as the Godhead is not solitary. The good life is life with God (and, therefore, also with others), and I can receive that life because I am covenant with him and have the gift of the Holy Ghost, God-with-me.
But what if? What if there were no God? What would the good life be then? I think that, at least for me, it would be very much like the life I live now. Of course what I think about the meaning of my life would change drastically, but I don’t think that what I do would change very much. I doubt that many, if any, of my friends would notice much change. Why not? Because even if I think about my life merely in practical terms, ignoring its covenantal quality, it is very good.
My life with my wife and my children is shaped through-and-through by LDS scripture and by the practices and teachings of the Church, both as an institution and as a culture. It should go without saying that neither the institutional Church nor Mormon culture is perfect. I’ve been a member long enough and I am wide-eyed enough not to need someone else to rehearse for me a list of Mormonism’s faults and failings (though, if they make such a list, I wish they would get it right). Nevertheless, a life shaped by the institution and culture of Mormonism is a good life. My children are close and care-full for each other and for Janice and me, not only because of history and circumstance, but also because Mormonism’s doctrine of sealing has taught us to be so and because Mormon culture is a culture of families. Of course there are also non-Mormon families who are close. I’m not claiming that only Mormons have good families. But Mormonism gives us a way to do so, a way that is attractive, a way that has worked for us. I cannot dissociate my life with my family from my life as a Mormon, so I would stick with my life as a Mormon to have my life as a family, as this family that we are.
Being a Mormon has also given me something that is rapidly disappearing from the world, life in a village. Again, I’m not unaware of the difficulties of village life. Yet I’m also aware that, since my conversion, my constant membership in a Mormon villageâ€”sometimes a ward, often a branchâ€”has given me a community of other people with whom to share life, people who deepen the meaning and experience of life, Aristotelian friendships of all three types (virtue, utility, and enjoyment). I stand in front of my house to chat with the neighbors and, because I am part of the Grandview Fourth Ward in Provo, Utah, I know everyone on the street and most within several blocks, Mormon or otherwise. We stop to visit, we gossip, we worry for those with problems, we reach out to those who need help. The shape of that friendship has been quite different when we have lived in branches in other places, yet there was an important sense in which the result, a village, was the same. Our villages away from Provo were less local, but they created the same spiritual relationships: we had friends; we had obligations; we had a place among others and a social life, access to information about living, and faces to recognize and be recognized by, sometimes by pleasant surprise on the metro or the tram or in a museum. Wherever our Mormon village has been, it has brought us to know and genuinely live with people outside what would otherwise be our natural circle of acquaintances: blue-collar workers and Filipina maids; patent attorneys, corporation executives, and family farmers; truck drivers, civil engineers, and foundry workers; African, Eastern European, and Latin American immigrants. Life in our Mormon villages has made us more aware of the world.
I don’t know, however, how I would deal with the spiritual witnesses that I have received: the gentle, quiet release of meditative prayer, the forceful testimonies of those whom I love and respect, the sometimes surprising and occasionally overwhelming witness that the Spirit has born to the truth of what I have seen and heard. Nor do I know what would become of the ordinances I take to be so significant to being a Mormon: baptism, confirmation, blessings, the endowment and sealings. Without those witnesses and ordinancesâ€”experiences which make it difficult to ask “What if I did not believe in God?”â€”the good life would be significantly impoverished, even though it would still be good, very good.