During Sunday’s church meeting, a man stood at the pulpit and bore a forceful testimony. Citing Moroni’s closing exhortation to “deny not [God’s] power,” he testified of the reality of miracles unlocked by wholehearted faith and willing belief. “Doubt and skepticism are fashionable in today’s world,” he said, and conceded that these might play a legitimate if limited role for some. But spiritual enlargement and sanctification come to those who “deny not” the power of God but instead affirm it with positive belief. His testimony was not unlike dozens of other testimonies offered from that same pulpit. But this one was delivered with such sincerity and feeling that I was struck anew.
The thing is, it didn’t ring a single bell in my soul.
My religious experience doesn’t naturally take shape in the language of doubt and skepticism, and certainly I feel no inclination to identify tribally as atheist or agnostic. But I’ve been quite open, both publicly online and in my in-person relationships at church, that belief-unto-knowledge is not my strong suit, religiously speaking. The transcendent claims of the Restoration and of religion generally — the claims that surpass ordinary, immanent human experience, that reveal an invisible realm of spirit holding hands with history; in short, precisely the sorts of claims to which Moroni refers his exhortation to “deny not” — I meet only with what I hope is an open-hearted kind of puzzlement. I haven’t been given grounds on which to settle a personal belief in the transcendent, yet many whom I trust and love have. I don’t deny them, yet I can’t attest them. Instead I simply watch and listen with attention. I try to, anyway.
Given the chasm between my experience and the testimony being borne, it was with some wonder that I observed my emotional response. Mercifully, I met no defensiveness, no bitterness, no reflexive skepticism — none of which, I confess, are strangers to my heart. No rebuttal surged, no need for approval or recognition of my difference. Instead, there was only love. I was filled with love for this good man — a man who has been a true friend to our family as a caring home teacher, who praised my Gospel Doctrine lessons and prepared searching lessons of his own, who took the trouble to know my parents and siblings and to ask about them, who reached out with gentleness and heartfelt empathy when I was grieving the policy changes in November. As I sat there in sacrament meeting listening to him talk, not a word of which I could have spoken with conviction myself, I was filled only with an awareness of my love for him.
Despite the insufficiency of my faith, despite my belief-blind mind, I can say unequivocally — yes, with every fiber of my being — that I love Mormons. I love them helplessly, despite the ways in which I differ from time to time in spiritual perception or cultural inclination. I love them when they’re wrong, I love them when they’re right. I instinctively love them, I trust them, and I belong to them.
For what it’s worth, I feel little self-congratulation for this love. I did not will it, I did not earn it, and I fail to live up to its imperatives every day. And besides, a love of Mormons is hardly a noble purpose, no more admirable than, say, a passionate attachment to WASPS or investment bankers. Much better, wouldn’t it, to be possessed by a passion for a more vulnerable community, a more deserving community. But Mormons and Mormonism were given to me, even if unmediated belief was not.
I don’t defend my way of being, and I don’t necessarily recommend it. The conviction of the brother at the pulpit, and millions like him, is the fuel that drives the Church, and I harbor no resentment against it.
But here’s the thing: when you subtract out the transcendent from religion, what remains? A lot of it, actually. Most of it, actually. Speaking in tongues and seeing visions are out. But serving, teaching, learning, attending, singing, sharing, giving — that’s all very much in. I may not have much to offer the Saints by way of transcendence. But when it comes to immanence, I was given something I can contribute to the ward potluck, and that means the world to me. Sitting on a padded bench in a ridiculous paroxysm of love is, it turns out, a little-known spiritual gift in itself.
 My oh-so-zen attitude, I realize, is a privilege of my safe and secure life, in which I have little need for divine deliverance from day to day. Should those circumstances change, these question of ultimate reality would probably take on a much more urgent cast.