Aug 30, 2009


For all you Mormon Stories fans out there, the "second generation" of Mormon podcasts has begun now at Mormon Expression, so make sure to check out this new site when you get a chance (You can also see a link on my blog roll). A commenter on my previous thread, Sunflowercalm, tipped me off about a new podcast by the guys at Mormon Expression, interviewing John Dehlin about where he is now and how and why he is now in a much better place spiritually speaking. I think they asked him most of the questions that I would have wanted to ask him myself and I really enjoyed the insight that he was able to give from the experience of his journey. So download it and listen to it. You'll be glad you did.

More directly related to this post, however, is another series of the Mormon Stories podcasts that I hadn't listened to yet: "Fowler's Stages of Faith," podcasts #'s 15, 16, 17. I wish I had listened to this series first and I highly recommend listening to it before embarking on the rest of the podcasts. Seriously, if you listen to nothing else, LISTEN TO THIS SERIES. You won't regret it, I promise.

You can read a bit about Fowler's Stages of Faith Development here, but I highly recommend listening to at least the first podcast (#16) in order to get a better grasp on what it actually means. It will also help you better understand what I'm trying to get at in this post.

I first came across the "dark night of the soul" theory when I read Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light by Brian Kolodiejchuk (which I highly recommend, by the way). Mother Teresa herself experienced intense spiritual darkness and doubt that lasted for most of her life until just before her death. But back then I don't think that it registered in my mind that this phenomenon of a "purgation of the soul that brings purity and union with God," could perhaps apply to regular people and not just extraordinary and holy individuals such as Mother Teresa. It's not something that I've ever really heard in Mormon circles before and I think that this is probably because it is assumed that when we doubt and lack faith, the problem originates in us. God NEVER abandons us or closes the channels of communication, right? Wrong.

But there is a purpose.

Last time I was home visiting my family, I remember having a discussion during FHE about faith. Dad asked us all whether any of us had ever doubted that God existed. To my astonishment, I was the only one in my family who said they had. I was then suddenly aware of the chasm that existed between me and even my own family members, who are by no means ultraorthodox, conservative Mormons. Even they had never doubted. I know that my family would never mean to make me feel weak or "less" in any way. But I did.

I think that those of us who struggle in the Church are usually looked looked at with either misunderstanding (i.e. "They're just not committed to living the Gospel.") or pity (i.e. "It's too bad that they're just not strong enough.") But more than we actually hear it from people, we tend to feed ourselves these negative thoughts all the time. And sometimes we start to believe it. We feel sorry for ourselves. We start to think that perhaps we are weak because we doubt and everyone else knows that we doubt. Then the resentment of those who are spiritually-fulfilled sets in and we start to look at believers in the same condescending manner that we were probably looked at. As we become more "enlightened," we see how "deluded" they are.

After listening to these podcasts, I have begun to look at doubt in a different light. Although I had concluded that having doubts and issues weren't really a sign of weakness, I hadn't really thought about them as being constructive or a necessary part of progression. At least not in the way that they were presented in these podcasts. These stages of faith (or unfaith) are necessary, they can't be rushed, they can be lengthy, (even "brutal," as Tom says in the podcast) and they can't be skipped over.

For those of you who had lived a pretty orthodox, faithful life before entering a crisis of faith, you know the flood of emotions that comes with such a crisis: anger, disillusionment, apathy, and, my personal favourite -- cynicism. It's terrifying and perhaps even a little exhilarating at the same time as you are forced to cast aside all your old dogmas, beliefs and ideas, starting with a blank slate and realizing that you need to make the most out of this life since it may really be all there is. Priorities change. The way you view others changes (as Tom said in the last podcast, he was literally a homophobe and a racist when he was at Stage 3). When he got to Stage 4, it was hell. But now that he's gradually leaving 4, he is grateful for having been forced out of Stage 3. It's about going to a higher level -- and I don't mean that in condescending way. It's about having a deeper and more mature faith.

I'm in Stage 4, I don't know how long I'm going to be in it and I know there's no guarantee that I will ever leave it. I know that many people "check out" once they get to this stage. Some are in the purgatory of Stage 4 literally for years, perhaps even decades.

Part of graduating from Stage 4 and moving onto 5 or even 6 is not harbouring anger and resentment towards those who remain at Stage 3 -- and certainly avoiding any sense of superiority for doing so. For those of you who are or have been in Stage 4, you know how hard it is. And there's no magic pill to make you let go of the anger, doubt, resentment and sense of superiority. Even now that I'm able to put things into perspective and see a possible light at the end of the tunnel, I was reminded today as I sat in church and listened to people that I still have a very very long way to go.

Few will get past Stage 3 and probably fewer are able to leave Stage 4 once they enter it. I know that going back to Stage 3 is not an option. And I don't feel peace at 4. So the only way from here is up.

It's not about "getting my faith back." My old orthodox faith is gone and it's never coming back.

But a renaissance is possible. And who knows what it will look like then.

Maybe that's my glimpse into Stage 5. But it's just a glimpse.


Kate said...

FD, I'm so glad you wrote this post. Fowler's Stages has been the topic of discussion in our home for the past several weeks. I'm not sure if you ever post over at, but its a fantastic, uplifting site for folks who are going through this process. John Dehlin started it after he ended Mormon Stories. Highly recommended.

Anyway, I am still somewhat confused about where Stage 4 ends and Stage 5 begins. I went through the "anger" portion of Stage 4 for the past year, but am (finally) in a better place, accepting Dehlin's invitation to "take what works, and leave the rest". It took awhile to get there, but it is so freeing to be able to let go of the things that were tripping me up, and just accept the church as it is - taking what works, leaving the rest. I'm not sure I would say that I am Stage 5, since I'm not fully sure what all I will be "leaving". But, the anger is gone, gone, gone, and I am at peace.

Anyway, just wanted to give you some hope. It gets better, and youo don't have to stay angry forever. My DH is just entering into Stage 4 now, and its very frightening for both of us.


Anonymous said...

I don't think I want to get to stage 5. I think I want to keep struggling to understand better and keep raising provocative questions about my own faith and my own religion right up until I die, and hopefully thereafter!


The Faithful Dissident said...

Kate, I've been on StayLDS a bit, but haven't been able to devote as much time to it as I'd like. But I agree, it's a great site. And it's sorely needed for all of us stuck in the purgatory of Stage 4! :)

I think that the transition from 4 to 5 is usually pretty gradual. One thing I wonder about is whether we are prone to relapse when we're getting closer to 5. Now that you're at peace, it'll be interesting to hear whether you're able to maintain it or whether you will relapse. That will probably be your answer as to whether you're really there or not.

What there anything in particular that pushed your husband into Stage 4? Tell him that he HAS to listen to these podcasts. It's not going to cure his Stage 4 and it won't even help him avoid it, but it will at least help him make sense of it all.

Fire Tag, I can relate to what you're saying. I know I'm not ready for Stage 5 anyways, but there's a part of me that sort of enjoys 4 in a masochistic sort of way. LOL. I like being the devil's advocate and asking provocative questions, at least online. I don't do it at church.

Anonymous said...

I think the key is to feel that you are moving forward TOWARD answers even if you never expect to arrive. There have been times (frequently) when I wonder what my church could possibly be thinking!

I remember one official report that I would paraphrase as "Everything's fine; everything's fine; everything's fine; Dear Lord, if this goes on, we're doomed; but everything's fine; everything's fine."

So I find myself keeping surprising combinations of things from my religion, and tossing surprising combinations. But I still feel like I'm being led, and that seems enough to keep me moving.

ECS said...

Loved this post. I think this is my first comment, even though I check in regularly here and enjoy reading everything you write.

With respect to the OP, I've been in and around Stage Four since I can remember. I'd like to progress to Stage Five, but I can't seem to let go of the anger I feel towards the Church. The trouble is that Stage Four hasn't been a healthy place for me. I'd like to think that, while in Stage Four, I'm learning to move past my anger, but I seem to be spinning my wheels instead. This anger is destructive for me personally and also because I find it difficult to trust the members of my family who have no doubts that the LDS Church is "true" and who are fully committed to the Church and living according to its rules.

I think Stage Four can be constructive, but only if you're able to separate any negative feelings you harbor towards the Church and its members from your interactions with it and them. I envy Stage Four people who can ask questions respectfully and sincerely, because I find it so difficult to discuss the Church without obvious hostility, and with respect to its track record on human rights, utter contempt. (The Prop 8 campaign almost sent me over the edge)

Despite my hostile feelings toward the Church, however, I attend Church most Sundays with my family. I long to be free of the anger and hostility I feel whenever I walk through the doors and listen to the talks and lessons and comments with which I usually strongly disagree.

I've been stuck for so long in Stage Four that I'm worried I'll be angry and cynical for the foreseeable future. I'm not happy in Stage Four, but I'm beginning to wonder whether I enjoy the familiarity of this Stage and that's why I haven't tried harder to progress out of it.

Hmmmm.. Lots of thoughts here. Thanks for writing a thought-provoking post!

The Faithful Dissident said...

ECS, thanks for the kind words!

I can relate to the anger part big time. The whole Prop 8 thing was one (not the only one, but a major one) catalyst to my opening this huge can of worms (i.e. Church history, breach of trust, feelings of anger and resentment). I have HUGE issues with the whole "prophet will never lead you astray" culture and although I don't believe that I'll ever believe/look at things the way I did when I was in Stage 3, I have hope that I can make peace with it all. Listening to Tom and Dan's story on the podcast gave me hope and a sense of direction. Before, I was "crashing and burning," as they called it. Tom was saying how when he was really deep in Stage 4, he would look at people in Stage 5 as sell-outs. But now that he's getting there himself, he's come to understand it.

So, I'm not happy in Stage 4, but I'm not quite ready to get it completely out of my system. I honestly have no idea what I'm going to look like spiritually in 5 or 10 years. Or longer. That's the scary/exciting part.

Kaylanamars said...

FD, I will have to put the faith lectures on my to listen to list! Then I'll be able to comment more effectively! Beautiful post, thank you!

Kate said...

FD, My hubby was catalyzed into Stage 4 by my "announcement" of my disaffection/stepping back/whatever you want to call it. He started reading church history to figure out where *I* was, and as a result, started dealing with some serious cognitive dissonance. Surprisingly, the "angry" part of my journey didn't affect him as much as my decision that I wasn't going to try to jump through mental hoops anymore.

I'd like to hope I am moving towards Stage 5. My only question, though, is that I thought Stage 5 was defined by an ability (and desire) to remain part of a organized religion, despite the paradoxes. More, I think I am just breaking off on my own and making decisions based on my internal moral compass, rather than by anything the church or prophets say. And I reject some notions entirely - such as the Proclamation on the Family, and the need for the temple. So, I am really not sure what the difference between a "happy Stage 4" and a Stage 5 are. Or if Stage 4 requires anger.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Good questions, Kate. I'm not really sure how to answer them since I don't know anything about Fowler's theory aside from what was covered in the podcasts and on Wikipedia. I'd really like to get my hands on a book, or something.

I could be wrong, but I'm not sure that Stage 5 requires adhering to organized religion. Perhaps it has more to do with one's personal faith and relationship with God? But perhaps those who get to Stage 5 see the value in an organized religion as a vehicle to getting them closer to God despite the paradoxes.

I tend to think that whether or not Stage 4 includes anger depends on the individual. I would think that for all in 4, they must go through a certain amount of doubt, disillusionment, etc. But some are able to resist anger. I would say that I'm "sort of" able to resist it. I see some people around the Bloggernacle get really really angry and although I can totally understand why, I don't really feel bitter. Well, not that much, anyways. :D

"More, I think I am just breaking off on my own and making decisions based on my internal moral compass, rather than by anything the church or prophets say."

That's exactly where I am. I'm putting more confidence in my internal moral compass than I ever have. I believe that personal revelation holds the trump card.

"And I reject some notions entirely - such as the Proclamation on the Family, and the need for the temple."

I wouldn't say that I outright reject too much, but I sort of feel "agnostic" about it all. It may be true, it may not be. I, however, currently reject the notion of "the one and only true Church," and my idea of prophets has changed dramatically after studying Church history. I can regard them as inspired, but not in the infallible way that we are taught (at least culturally) to regard them. Because of this, I outright reject things such as the priesthood ban or polygamy being inspired doctrines. I believe they were at best gross misinterpretations of revelations that were possibly flawed to begin with.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Here is a critique of Fowler's Stages of Faith.

Mark said...

Thanks a ton for this post. I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and I am quite impressed.

I'll be checking out the podcasts, you can be sure.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Mark, thanks for stopping by! I look forward to your comments.

Sunflowercalm said...

FD - I'm so glad you liked the podcast by John Dehlin and the ones about Fowler's stages of faith. I just finished listening to the 3rd one and I really appreciated Dan & Tom sharing their stories. I feel like Fowler's stages provide a bit of a roadmap. Also, knowing that others have been able to successfully find meaning and direction after landing in Phase 4 is inspiring for me. I loved what you said about the time of renaissance - once the "genie has been let out of the bottle" there is no going back to phase 3. But I loved their thoughts that they are better people now that they were in phase 3. I know that I am a much more tolerant, less judgemental person than I was in phase 3. And so who know, maybe something really beautiful can come from this journey we're on!