Monday, April 29, 2013

Faith journey: Break from Mormonism

It seems like every time I write one of these things, I take a swing in the very opposite direction of where my post seemed to place me on the spectrum of faith and doubt. Each time however, the swing seems to be smaller, so that is a sign that things are settling. So, don't think this represents any final statement of where I'll be in the next few months or even days. Also, I think it is time to call the faith crisis officially over. At least the crisis part. I think I've come to an acceptance that things are never going to be the same again and that things will still be just fine. Moving on.

For the last few months (pretty much since I wrote my last post) I've been on a break from all things explicitly Mormon. I still hang out with Mormon friends (thanks you guys for still being very nice, while I recognize that most of you hope we would come to church on Sunday, I've almost never felt like a "project") and still undoubtably practice many cultural habits instilled by Mormonism (although I am resistant to the label "cultural Mormon"), but no scriptures, no church (although we did go to the ward Easter egg hunt), no prayer in any recognizable Mormon way, and no garments. I've even given up most of my Facebook ties to "neo"-Mormon groups, like FMH and Mormon stories (those have actually been some of the hardest parts to give up). I also have a weekly cup or two of coffee at FUS (still with too much cream and sugar) and have had a few sips of wine (which I find absolutely disgusting).

As an extended aside, I have to say that the "rewards" of not following Mormon behavioral and doctrinal guidelines have been pretty disappointing. Coffee is pretty gross, doesn't really give me a big boost and brings with it plenty of habit forming properties that causes many non-Mormons to reject it (which was surprising to me) without doctrinal reasons. I could probably get to really like it, just like I could probably really get to like alcohol, but there are still plenty of non-Mormon reasons that keep me from wanting to do either one (but especially the latter). Not wearing garments will probably be nice in the summers of Tunisia, but wasn't a big deal in the endless winter of Wisconsin. I still feel guilty for being a dishonest, lustful, short-tempered human without having to connect any eternal consequences to those actions, perhaps even more guilty than before, because now I don't have a demonic figure to partially blame for tempting me, just good old human weakness. We still go to a church (Unitarian-Universalist) every Sunday or Saturday night (by choice, of course) and we still make a pretty significant financial donation to that church (although not 10% it still feels significant on a grad school stipend) and we've made a conscious effort to donate an increased amount to charities. Of course, feeling like we are going to church/pay for church without any sort of social or doctrinal pressure to do so is a nice feeling. Free childcare, even for Lulah (she is starting to stay longer and longer) during the main sermon is actually probably the best reward of our switch. I always hated having to try to keep my two year old quiet for what was supposed to be the most spiritual part of the week for the people sitting around me and feeling like a hypocrite because even I often found it boring and completely understood why he didn't want to sit still. I know part of the idea of that is probably to teach the kids discipline in sitting quietly, but I feel like the FUS model of easing children into that gradually, with a more child-friendly portion early in the sermon before older kids head out classes is much more reasonable than an hour of speaking from the pulpit.

Anyway, that was never the real reason I started on my faith crisis and have consciously avoided Mormonism for the past few months and plan on continuing to do so into the future. The real reason is intellectual elitism, a desire to be seen as cool by liberals and post-pubescent urge to rebel against my parents.

Feel free to stop reading there if that justifies your suspicions or you're not really interested in what I think are the real reasons I'm on an indefinite leave from Mormondom.

One of the main reasons, at least in my mind, is that I felt that I just needed a break. Every time I tried to come back to Mormonism, thinking that I'd gained some perspective and some emotional space, I realized that I didn't, at least not enough. I still have internalized the message that you are either fully in or fully out (although I recognize that other messages have been presented, the invective against "cafeteria Mormons" has a longer and more established history than "be as candid about your questions as you need to be," at least in my mind). I wasn't comfortable just "focusing on the good" as I saw it, because that meant leaving out so much of the other teaching of "living the gospel as it is told by Prophets to be."

Another is that I've recognized the value in doubt. This deserves its own post, but the intellectual benefits to moving outside of the Mormon box and the larger box of certain or firm faith, as opposed to the social of self-justifying benefits, have been significant and meaningful for me.

Another main reason, is my realization that I just don't have a testimony of the unique truth in the LDS church any more and probably even in Christianity at large. The last two pillars of my LDS testimony, the Book of Mormon and the Atonement, simply aren't there any more. The intellectual and spiritual process that brought me to this point is too long and convoluted to put fully here, but the essence is this: I no longer have the conviction that the way truth is laid out in the Book of Mormon and embodied by the Atonement is an accurate reflection of reality in any meaningful way. Obviously the idea of a God who, by His own sacrifice, paves the way for us to return to a state of purity and peace is an appealing and beautiful one. I've simply come to a place of acceptance where I no longer see myself as clean or unclean, just...human. I feel like defining people by their actions "active/inactive, worthy/unworthy, full tithe payer etc." is neither healthy nor reflective of reality as I perceive it. While I still believe in right or wrong, I have a testimony that I am not made less human or less alive when I do something that is wrong, I just become a person who has done something that is wrong. I am responsible for it, but I am not cosmically degraded for it. I believe that when I do right I am bring myself closer to a place of peace and wholeness, and when I do wrong I take myself away from that place. I don't need any divine assistance to change, I just need to use my own willpower and self control that is my inheritance as a rational human being. Anyway, the Atonement no longer fits into my worldview, except perhaps as a great symbol of sacrfice in an attempt to gain empathy for others, but that's a hard symbolism to parse out from the greater "payment for sin" narrative.

That actually leads into my last main point for this post. I find much of truth in the LDS church and a lot of reinforcement for principles of which I have a testimony, such as peace, equanimity, tolerance and social justice in its teachings and scriptures. However, I so often felt like I had had to wade through water so deep, filled with patriarchy, racism, homophobia ("Too much tolerance is a sin" Really Elder Packer?), and images of a vengeful and petty God, to find them sometimes, that I would rather just go to sources, such as consistently uplifting, affirming and cringe-free sermons we get at FUS, where I get them straight, not tangled up in so much metaphor (as I see it) that can often be as damaging as it is helpful and focused on the here and now and what I can do today.

Maybe some day I'll gain the spiritual maturity to go back to my spiritual heritage to find my truth in the form that connects me to my past, as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends without it being emotionally or spiritually damaging, but that time is not now.


  1. Dude, Packer's talk made me feel violent. Every conference I think to myself, "You are sick, old, and say awful things. Feel free to move on to the next life aaaany time." By FAR my least favorite apostle.

    Anyway, as always, thanks for being willing to share your faith journey so openly. I appreciate your thoughts and honesty!

  2. Tim, I love reading about your faith crisis. I love your candid honesty and public disclosure. I've been meaning to chat with you about my own faith "crisis" ("faithless crisis?", "no-faith realization?") for months, but never have. I'm a strange fully-out-yet-by-all-appearances-fully-in case, and it's difficult but something I'm in right now. we just have to chat more soon. I'm excited by your analysis and truthfulness, and maybe you'll inspire others to see that joy can exist in every life and every being regardless of doctrine or dogma.

  3. Learning to appreciate wine is like dipping into music or art.
    It's not about the alcohol. For me it's about the history and culture of my ancestors (French and Scot) and it's about food. It's complicated and subtle. I worked as a waitress for years going through college and went through a little training session at one point. There is so much to learn.

  4. Thanks for the post. It's an ever evolving struggle and a tough decision. We aren't at that point (yet?) but are currently in the stage of unashamed, guilt-free honesty with ourselves and each other. We aren't that open with others because want to avoid being 'project-ified' at all costs. Anyway, I am curious to hear about the continuing evolution of your post-Mormon lives. Good luck and Flying Spaghetti Monster Bless!

  5. Too bad you don't have any control on all the prayers going up from Utah.

  6. I myself can relate as I'm in the same crisis. I feel there is other ways to find god as we all have the buddha nature within & one shouldn't be told how to live. loving people they are however rules are unclear & one shouldn't be dammed because they drink alcohol, coffee or tea. Anyone can bear a testimony & say this/that. my problem is members put on a front at church & outside they don't live their testimony or practice what they preach.