一点儿小回忆

之前一个supervisor让我有空和她分享一些自己加入教会的经历。在上海转机十几个小时,闲来无事,便写了这篇回忆小记给她。说实话,好久没有梳理自己这方面的想法了,这几年很少去想对啊错啊、真啊假啊的东西,只是简简单单地live with it了吧。一边写一边想,这过程和谈恋爱似乎也挺像的。

1) First Encounter (November 2011)

Shortly after I first arrived in Singapore, one of my secondary school seniors (who is also from China) invited all the Chinese scholars in my batch to her Church. With hardly any religious background in China, we all, out of curiosity, went to church with her on the following Sunday. The church is a special one, neither Catholic nor Protestant. It is officially called ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’; perhaps its nick-name is better known —— Mormon Church, named after The Book of Mormon, which is considered as equivalently important as Bible by the church members, if not more.

On my first visit to the Mormon chapel, I was quite surprised at how modern the building was designed and decorated. Unlike most (Christian) chapels or Cathedrals, I could see no cross within the chapel as all the latter-day saints (i.e. Mormons as they are widely known) believe in the living Christ and cross symbolises Christ’s death. Of course, people here do believe in Crucification, but treat Resurrection as a much more significant event of Christ’s mission on Earth.

What made my first visit more special was the sacrament meeting. Unlike the usual sacrament meeting in which different members are invited to give a talk, the Primary children were having their annual music presentation as part of the meeting on that day. Although I couldn’t really understand the meaning behind the lyrics of the hymns, I enjoyed the presentation very much, partly because of the comforting power of the melody, partly because of the purity and innocence on the kids’ countenance.

After the service, we were invited to have a lesson with the missionaries. During the lesson, we were encouraged to clarify any doubts about God and the church. I was one of the most skeptical ones among the group and asked quite a few ‘offensive’ questions. At that time, although I had a good feeling about the meeting and the people, I could hardly foresee any possibility of myself being converted to Christianity, let alone Mormonism. There were just too many factual and logical gaps for me to accept with ease.

All of us were given a free copy of Book of Mormon and invited to read some verses. One of the very first verses I read is this,

“ Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” —— Alma 32:21

How can we believe in something which we are not sure whether it is true or not? Can we know something is true if we don’t even believe in it? Inquiring about the chicken-egg relationship between knowledge and belief is one of the fundamental questions in epistemology. Epistemology can probably suggest many plausible answers regarding this relationship, but no answer can directly suggest a way —— to believe or not.

2) Long Way towards Baptism (May 2013)

It had taken me one and a half years getting along with the church before I was finally baptised in May, 2013. Surprisingly, although I had very little faith in God at the beginning, I kept coming to church on Sunday and having individual lessons with many pairs of missionaries. Initially, I attended the meetings out of intellectual curiosity; later as my understanding of the basic principles and doctrines gradually accrued, the rationale of my attendance became more mental and emotional. There, I found an organised system of discipline to abide by and a lovely group of people to rely on.

Of course, all the mental support and emotional comfort could only explain the reason why I stayed at church, but provided very little justification for my final conversion, which required me to claim not only Christianity is good, but God exists and Christ lives. If I were to draw a curve to describe my conversion journey, there would be no singularity point. It just changed as it went. To put it a little bit paradoxical, the unexpected final conversion came in an expected long way.

However, there are two important quotes which mark the milestones of this long journey. I was so empowered by them when I first heard them and they never fail to inspire and motivate me along the way.

  • ‘Obedience to law is true liberty.’

The word ‘law’ here does not only refer to the public law; instead, it means a set of discipline we have for ourselves. Thanks to my education background in China, I had a strong resonance with the importance of discipline and wished to construct a system of principles for myself to stand for and live with. Only with obedience to those principles could we truly choose for ourselves and have true liberty. This quote pointed out what the church could offer me —— a coherent system of laws to abide by. Luckily, I agreed with many details in this system and choosing it was much easier than constructing my own. Then, why  not?

  • ‘Doubt your doubts before doubting your faith’

A tricky thing for many religious people is that people tend to only believe in the principles they want to believe in. If we are honest with ourselves, hardly anybody can boldly claim to have faith in every single part of a religion. After I made my mind to live with the principles of this church, I still had doubts about many factual claims and daily practices.  There is an underlying assumption behind this quote: doubts will always exist, no matter what you stand for. The more faith you have, the more doubts you will put on your doubts about your faith rather than your faith itself. I asked myself whether I wanted to believe in this church and hold on to my faith. For me, whether God exists and Christ lives was no longer an intellectual question, but a query on my personal choice. At about the same time, my school epistemology teacher taught us the idea of ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ (instead of ‘beyond any possible doubt’) in the construction of knowledge in almost every field including science. He shared with us, ‘faith is the leap over the gap of reasoning’. If this is true, why should I give up the leap because of the gap?

3) Reconciliations Within (Forever)

After I was baptised and officially joined the church, I realised that conversion itself is a journey as well and baptism is the starting point of this new journey.

Sometimes, I find it difficult to keep some of the commandments. Sometimes, I have good friends who come up to me and challenge my faith. In fact, I am constantly wondering how to live my secular life with this spiritual choice, but never wander about the choice itself.

In maths, we can falsify a claim by contradiction, but in life, we probably have to accept some contradictions tentatively and try to find reconciliations within.

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