A few months back we were at Seven Peaks in Provo and my son was staring down the long drop of one of the slides. He knew that it was safe yet ultimately that knowledge wasn’t what was in question. He thought it too big a risk. He didn’t have confidence in the safety of the slide despite having intellectual knowledge that it was safe.
I raise this to illustrate a principle. Often when people talk about religion and religious knowledge the issue really isn’t knowledge despite all appearances. What people really are after is confidence.
Keeping clear that these two questions really are different is important. (“Do we know X” vs. “Is X worth the risk”) Often critics of those who are religious talk about big claims needing big evidence. Typically what’s going on is conflating questions of confidence or risk with questions of knowledge. Usually these come out after a while.
Now of course in one sense the questions are related. If I am changing a light fixture and ask myself, “is the power switch off,” I may well know. However I’m likely quite a bit more concerned than I am if I’m merely flipping the light on. More is at risk so I demand more confidence in my knowledge.
All of this may sound important but it’s really just semantics ultimately. The justification we require for knowledge simply is different from the justification we require to do something else.
Mormonism of course is a costly religion. We have callings, pay tithing, have long sometimes boring meetings all because we know it is true. Yet ultimately it’s not that costly. 10% is not that much different from differences in cost of living and taxes for different places we may choose to live. Callings can take up time but honestly the time I spend preparing and teaching hyperactive 9 year olds isn’t that big a deal. Yes I give up coffee and alcohol but again that’s a pretty small sacrifice. Perhaps it seems a bit more when we’re younger and teens or young adults. Yet in the big picture I honestly think the risk is small. Certainly it’s far smaller than many other things we risk (jobs, marriage, where we live, and so forth).
If people wish to change the topic from whether we’re justified to say we know the Church is true that’s fine. Yet if we shift to the risks of religion, I think we have to say that the risks are far less than the risk that the power in on when changing a light fixture. We can take that risk whether we know or merely believe and are acting on faith. Indeed, perhaps because of the role of risk even those who know must act in faith as well.