In my physics class this morning, my professor told us that the sun is 92,960,000 miles away. I absolutely believe him. I have no way of testing this personally because I do not have access to any kind of technology or expertise to measure this, but my physics professor is an expert, and I believe that he got this number from an authoritative source that found a way to measure the distance in an accurate way. I can say right now that the sun is definitely 92,960,000 miles away, even though I don’t really have any way of finding this out for myself. This is the case with most or much of the information I consider factual: I can’t test it personally but I trust in someone with authority who tells me that somebody else has tested it personally and found it to be true. I want to be super clear that I am a fan of science and the scientific method and always hope that we can reach new heights in public scientific literacy, however, I would like to suggest that relying on factual information as my only source of truth is something that would be disempowering for me. In particular as a young woman who is not and probably never will be a source of scientific discovery, relying exclusively on facts means relying exclusively on a hegemonic structure of truth wherein all information that reaches me is first mitigated through other people (hint: powerful white men).
Faith as an additional source of truth is a powerful antidote to relying exclusively on a hegemonic power structure. Mormons have a particularly strong tradition of personal questioning and testimony. The origin story of our culture involves an uneducated teenager approaching God directly in order to find out the truth for himself. We teach over and over again from that tradition, encouraging people to have the nerve to approach God Himself to ask Him what He’s really about. There is something inherently radical about teaching this kind of faith as it suggests that every individual can be trusted to have personal authority in finding God or in meeting cosmic, spiritual, and moral truth. When I was a teenager, I was told often in Sunday school that ultimately the week’s lesson would apply to my life when I prayed and found out whether it was true for myself. Teenage girls as a group are rarely trusted even with very personal decisions about their lives and bodies and it was a powerful lesson in learning to trust myself to hear that a testimony was mine to gain.
The patriarchy cannot work without women listening to its lies without questioning them, and the epistemology of faith that I have learned through Mormonism has taught me to continually question. I question doctors who dismiss their patients’ medical issues as being related exclusively because of their weight or who continue to use outdated and harmful birthing practices, I question the messages I hear in the media every day that suggest that I am not and never will be powerful or smart, I question the idea that there is no way to build an economy wherein everybody has enough food to eat. I also find that what Mormonism taught me about building a base knowledge of faith is essential in surviving the religion, especially as a woman and a feminist. Too often we as a community fall back on the hegemonic conventions of blindly following leaders, which is particularly harmful in a journey toward truth and wisdom that is meant to be intensely personal. If we are to reach a better Mormonism, a more equal Mormonism, and one that takes its members more fully toward the gospel, we need to understand and embrace the radical potential of our ways of seeking and questioning within the patriarchy of the church and patriarchy everywhere.