Kelly Patterson: Addressing issues that challenge faith


Kelly Patterson, political science professor and director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, spoke at Tuesday’s Devotional about wondering, wandering and overcoming issues that challenge faith.

Patterson began by explaining that there is a variety of ways to address issues of faith and that his ways aren’t the only solutions.

“What I hope you understand is that (these issues) can be addressed, that you can take what is beautiful and true about the gospel of Jesus Christ and live in a world that is not always friendly to faith,” Patterson said. “Tensions do exist between your faith and some of the norms of the world, but it certainly seems possible to find a balance between the two demands.”

He continued by explaining how the thinkers of the Enlightenment often attacked religion because faith stood in the way of reason. Patterson said seeing reason and faith as incompatible distorts both reason and faith. To address questions or problems, we must realize that there are alternative ways to look at each issue.

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Kelly Patterson talks about how to address challenges to faith through wandering and wondering. (Photo by Sarah Strobel Hill)

“The Lord has furnished us with two models to help us cope with the tension we often face between faith and reason,” Patterson said. “These two models take the form of the wanderer and the wonderer.”

Wanderers are those who do not let themselves become comfortable in the world, but rather know that life is just a temporary state.

“It is a wandering that is designed to take the individuals or people out of the situation in which they find themselves so that the Lord could teach them the gospel and make sacred covenants with them,” Patterson said.  “The wandering wrenches them out of the comforts, habits and routines that can dull their senses and fixate their desires on the mundane.”

Wanderers realize this life is a time to learn, but it is important to look at the role of wondering as well. Patterson gives the example of Moses who was one of the great wonderers. After Moses’ grand vision he asked God two questions: “Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?” Moses’ experience caused him to wonder.

“When we stare up at the night sky and see the brilliance of the stars or when we hold a baby in our arms for the very first time or when we contemplate on the death of a loved one, we cannot help but wonder why these things are so and by what they were made,” Patterson said. “These two questions form the core of all human wondering and questioning up to our present day.”

Patterson tied wondering and wandering back to faith by explaining how both principles benefit us in an ever-changing world.

“You cannot contemplate the ‘things of God’ without some distance between you and the world and without a stance of wonder and awe,” Patterson said. “Furthermore, we do not shy away from the hard work of thinking and contemplating. It is not our heritage. Parley P. Pratt, B. H. Roberts and literally hundreds of others have pushed us as a people in our short history to think and to think profoundly.”

With these principles mastered, individuals can approach questions with both faith and reason. Patterson also explained that using the principles of wandering and wondering allows people to keep their testimonies in check.

“The assumptions that lurk in the background of your thinking exercise a powerful influence, and if you are not careful and self-reflective, they may sometimes guide you to the wrong place,” he said. “Seeing yourself as a wanderer humbles you and helps you avoid turning your own ideas into idols.”

Finally, Patterson re-emphasized how we can address the problems and questions in our world and what blessings we will see from our wandering and wondering.

“We can repurpose the tension between the world and such a ‘bold theology’ by taking the best of what the wanderer and the wonderer have to offer us,” he said. “We can creatively use the examples of wandering and wondering to blaze a reliable and exhilarating path back into the presence of our Heavenly Father.”

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