Why I'm Taking A Break:
There are times that I think I would have been better off had I not read Rough Stone Rolling or started studying Mormon history in-depth a couple of years ago. But the truth is that I was already unknowingly in spiritual decline for much of my life, even though I thought I was rock firm in my faith. Something didn't feel right. I didn't fit in. Certain elements within Mormonism nagged at me for years and they remained unresolved until they festered and erupted onto the surface almost four years ago.
The pain and frustration I've experienced by being propelled into Stage 4 (see the sidebar for more information about Fowler's Stages of Faith or my earlier post on the subject) has been difficult to contain. I seem to waver between keeping it bottled up inside so that I don't "infect" others with my doubts, and desiring to force everyone in Stage 3 into Stage 4 so that they can feel my pain and admit that you can't just "forget" or "get over" it. Perhaps the most difficult part about Stage 4 is that you yearn for acknowledgment: from the Church, from your family, and from your fellow members, that yes, you have good reason to feel the way you do and you're not just "weak" or "bad" or being fooled by the adversary. It's hurtful and annoying when other Mormons dismiss your issues, while they themselves feel no need to pick up a history book or read anything other than official publications. Unfortunately, though, you know that you wouldn't have believed it yourself if you hadn't experienced it first-hand. This is something you have to experience in order to truly understand -- although John Dehlin's telecast "Why People Leave The LDS Church" does an excellent job of trying to educate others about what it's like.
So, religiously speaking, I've had a tornado rip through my backyard. I've lost my home and it's time to build a new one. It may resemble that old home to a degree and I may end up very happy in it, but it will never be that old home again. Instead of just fixing up the remains of the old one, I'm starting from scratch to build a new home for myself. I can lament over the loss of the old home I grew up in, or I can focus on building a better, sturdier one. But, by blogging about all the things I've been lamenting over (and there are many), I'm distracting myself from building.
In all honesty, I have no regrets about my intense participation in the Bloggernacle. I've learned so much and it has all had an impact on me that I think was necessary for growth. I wish, in fact, that more Mormons would get involved in online discussions because I think it's a great way to develop compassion, respect, and an appreciation for differing perspectives. You also learn so much about yourself and the people around you. The downside of the Bloggernacle is that it can be a vent fest. Venting is necessary, I think, but it can't be a permanent stage without being detrimental to the mind, soul, and therefore even the body.
My family members have been pretty good about my Stage 4 experience, but at times I've feared creating a chasm between some of them and myself, which I don't want to do. This prompted me to make the change that I now feel is necessary, by taking a break from this blog. Whether it becomes a vacation, sabbatical, or retirement remains to be seen. I will perhaps continue to post relevant thoughts or developments from time to time, as I know that I love discussing things too much to walk away from it completely. And I'm sure that you will continue to see me commenting around the Bloggernacle as I continue to follow my favourite blogs. I'm just going to try to have a more casual relationship to it all. I hope to use this blog to feature inspirational and thought-provoking posts from around the Bloggernacle that have caught my eye. So stay tuned for those.
The past couple of years have been a very intense personal study of all things Mormon and how I really feel about it.
What I've Learned:
The Church is nowhere near perfect, but...
In my opinion, the Church has problems with:
- Owning up not just to the good, but also the bad and ugly of its past (i.e. not just polygamy, but polyandry and post-Manifesto polygamous marriages, declining to ever issue an official apology for anti-black teachings, inflammatory rhetoric by Church officials that played a key role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, electroshock therapy on homosexuals at BYU, etc.). Moving forward is important and I think we're doing that. But acknowledgment of past mistakes is a key element to ensuring that the damage from such mistakes is not perpetuated. A willingness to openly discuss these issues, which is often lacking, is also a huge factor. It is what it is. So let's just quit trying to avoid that.
- Recognizing that some people do not, cannot -- and probably even should not -- fit the "Mormon mold," toning down hurtful rhetoric, inflexible gender roles, and exclusive teachings.
- Dismissing people with legitimate concerns, questions, disagreements, and theories (i.e. feminists, intellectuals, historians, gay activists, unorthodox members), sometimes going as far as to label them as "anti-Mormon" or "apostate."
- Building up the office of prophet -- at least culturally -- into an infallible post, although our history is rampant with examples of why it's not.
- Declining to make public the records that show how and where Church funds are being used, thereby closing the door to debate on the Church's involvement in certain ethically questionable and/or hypocritical activities (i.e. funding Evergreen International, making huge profits off the killing of animals in hunting preserves). Shutting the doors on constructive criticism or debate stunts growth and compromises integrity.
- Getting politically involved in things such as the ERA and Prop 8 because they're "moral issues," but remaining decidedly neutral on other moral issues such as the Iraq War and capital punishment.
- Making sure that members of the Church (particularly in America) are keeping politics out of church and ensuring that members are able to separate the pure Gospel of Christ from the personal political opinions of Church leaders and members. I'm pretty sure that Deseret Books would want to steer clear of any politically-charged literature about feminism or gay rights, so I'm not sure why Glenn Beck's "Arguing With Idiots" makes the bookshelf of a Church bookstore. The fact that so many Mormons are still under the impression that "good" Mormons have to be politically conservative and that the faith of liberal Mormons is often called into question for their political leanings is, in my opinion, a problem that needs to be dealt with before we lose more members over political disagreements.
- Giving people -- particularly the youth -- a sense of direction in their lives.
- Putting the value on motherhood and traditional values that they deserve (unfortunately, though, sometimes at the cost of cultivating diversity or understanding for individual circumstances).
- Building a strong sense of personal honesty and integrity.
- Stressing the worth of each individual as a literal child of God, cultivating self-esteem, and encouraging us to always aim higher and reach our full potential.
- Opportunities for development and sharing of our talents and skills via callings, activities and the different auxiliaries. There are also many opportunities for compassionate service that are hard to get outside of a tight-knit church community.
- Putting love, charity, and compassion at forefront of our religion. I think we're pretty good at talking the talk and even walking the walk, but we can do much better.
- I know the Church does a good deal of humanitarian and charitable work around the world. This is definitely something that should be commended, but taking into account the fact that the Church is worth billions of dollars and it does not make financial records public, it's hard to say whether or not we're doing a lot or way too little in terms of humanitarian aid. I fear that our image has become one of a Mormon business that runs churches on the side.
- "Clean living" is, in my opinion, something that sets us apart in a good way. In a world full of broken homes, infidelity, promiscuity, substance abuse, dysfunction, hate, and disregard for human life, setting a high standard for ourselves is important. I LOVE the Mormon way of life. I think that it is and should be a source of pride for us as a people. Sadly, though, we often let this pride translate into a haughty sense of superiority as we look at those who aren't sharing our lifestyle, either because of their own poor choices or the circumstances that they were born into. This, I believe, is to our detriment as a people and it is where we should be more Christlike.
- At the end of the day, despite our many shortcomings, Mormons are a pretty good bunch of people and are probably, on average, more compassionate and honest than most people in the world today. I think this is true about Mormons, from the most conservative and orthodox, to the most liberal and radical.
- It says something of the Mormon lifestyle when, despite all the disappointment and disillusionment that stem from the Church, I don't feel the need or desire to make any significant changes in my lifestyle. Regardless of where I end up religiously, I feel that this truly is a good lifestyle.
Religiously speaking, I haven't resolved much. In fact, I've probably gained ten problems for every one that I've solved. But on a personal level, I've been able to resolve some conflicts and develop an appreciation and understanding for those whom I've treated unfairly, such as my sister-in-law, my grandmother, and my own brother. Generally speaking, I think I've also gotten a much better understanding of my fellow countrymen (Norwegians), which took me a while to warm up to. As well, I've gotten a more realistic view of those whom Mormons often feel most threatened by: homosexuals, feminists, non-believers, "apostates," and ex-Mormons. And if I were to pick a personal "favourite" out of that bunch, I would say that I've been most touched and inspired by the many gay Mormon "faithful dissidents" who find themselves in between a rock and a very hard place. For those of you who are reading this, know that I value your perspective tremendously and that I've been blown away by the special spiritual gifts and intuition that you possess. My hope is that in time, the Church as a whole will take notice of those special gifts and take advantage of their potential to bring about positive change within the organization and in the world.
I was chatting to a good friend recently and she said that for her, the Church, religion, and faith are separate things. So how do I feel about each?
To use a marriage analogy, my relationship to the Church is very strained. I feel like I've been deceived in some ways and my trust has been broken in others. This relationship has been further strained by those who tell me to just "get over" or ignore the historical issues -- or worse yet, those who have denied them -- and those within the Church who desire to protect its image at all cost. As I said in our discussion about the hunting preserves, I honestly believe that there will always be someone there to defend it and rationalize its actions, no matter what.
So my feelings towards the Church as an institution can perhaps be compared to a wife whose husband has broken her trust, but does not desire to sever ties because of family implications and the fact that she really still loves and admires him in many ways. Although it's understandable that a breach of trust can justify walking away from a relationship or a church, in some cases forgiveness and reconciliation can make it worth not cutting off all ties. Although I have a sincere understanding and respect for those who leave the Church over issues of trust, I'm not ready to walk and feel that I need to give it another shot. I may be able to retain my relationship to the Church for the rest of my life and it may even become a happier one over time. But the 100% trust is gone forever. And realistically speaking, it's probably the way it should be.
I'm fascinated by religion and I hope that I always will be. But I have mixed feelings about religion. More so now than in the past, I feel disdain for religion because of the religious dogmas that harm individuals, both within and without Mormonism. When my relationship to the Church was good, I either didn't notice or I downplayed the harmful effects of certain dogmas. Now it's like I have an ultrasensitive sixth sense for it. So I think I've gotten a pretty good idea now of why so many today (particularly here in Europe) avoid religion like the plague or pursue a personalized spiritualism rather than an organized religion. Religions and churches like to blame the people for their wickedness, but for the most part, I think that religions and churches have to share the blame for their mistreatment of certain people and hypocrisies that have led to a decline in participation by the public because of resentment and mistrust.
While my views on the Church and religion are somewhat cynical these days, I have higher hopes regarding faith.
Do I believe that the Church is everything it claims to be? No. Do I believe that the LDS Church is the only path to God? No. Do I have major problems with Mormonism? Yes. But I also feel that there is something very compelling about the Mormon faith. It's my religious home and I am Mormon on my own terms. In the end, aren't we all?
Recently I re-read George Orwell's novel 1984 and got thinking about the concept of Newspeak. The ultimate goal of Newspeak was to limit language such that it would eradicate the ability of the citizens of Oceania to conceive or process any thought that would threaten the image and power of Ingsoc. As human beings, I think that we are are confined to a Newspeak sort of existence on this earth. Although I believe that we can make personal connections and receive inspiration from God, I think that our perspectives, thought processes, and understanding are limited because our mortal state prevents us from having an "expanded, perfected vocabulary," spiritually speaking. Although we may be evolving (as opposed to regressing, which was the case of Orwell's utopian society), I fear that we do ourselves and our fellow human beings a disservice by assuming that we know with certainty the essence of God, what he want us all to do and how to be -- at least on any more than a very personal level -- because of our limited, fallen, "Newspeak" spiritual vocabulary.
I still believe firmly in God and my concept of him and the afterlife are still very Mormon. I continue to attend sacrament regularly and my lifestyle is pretty much the same as it's always been. But instead of being of the mindset that I know that's how things really are, I simply exercise the faith that, at least at this stage of my life, it's where God thinks I'm best suited to be -- much like Mother Teresa's place was within Catholicism, and Gandhi changed the world through his Hindu traditions. Who could argue that these individuals would have been better people anywhere else? It's not that I feel that I'm anywhere near the same league of people of such stature, but perhaps my personal potential, whatever it entails, is from within a Mormon frame. I guess only time will tell.
Over the past couple of years, I feel like I've gotten to know some of the "apostates," "dissidents," "liberals," "homosexuals," and even a few atheists and ex-Mormons. I feel privileged to have gotten a glimpse into their world through communicating with them and trying to view things from their different perspectives. Some of these individuals are the finest of people I have met and I am happy to be able to call some of them my friends. Although I may not always agree with everything, I admire the courage and integrity it takes for some Mormons to speak up and voice their disagreements or objections when they are outnumbered -- often at the risk of being ostracized in their wards, having their families broken up, or even losing their jobs if they are employed by the Church.
Where Do I Go From Here?
Whenever I find myself thinking about "the good old days" in my life as a secure TBM, I can't help thinking about the following passage of scripture:
"And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.Like Adam and Eve, I've fallen. Some would say that I've fallen big time. It's been a tough road and I've lost the security of "Eden" when I was secure in the Church. But even if I could go back to that state, I don't want to. I really am thankful for what I've learned and how it's forced me to look at the world without those rose-coloured glasses that were impairing my view of other people.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient."
(Moses 5: 10-11)
I don't really think anymore that the whole point of this Mormon experience is to follow all the rules so perfectly that we lose ourselves in the process. All of us who have tried to fit ourselves into that little box that just doesn't have room for us know that it's painful -- as painful as if that box was physically real and our bodies were being literally crushed inside. Even though I have no idea what it's like to be gay, I see so many parallels in my life with the lives of gay Mormons. And that is why I sympathize with them so much. It's not a political thing. It's an emotional thing. I get the pain, even though it's in a slightly different way.
One thing that kind of irks me sometimes is the insinuation that those of us who have taken an unorthodox path either don't care or don't think about the eternal consequences. But, personally speaking, this couldn't be further from the truth.
I don't really think that I'm a morbid person, but I think a lot about death. I probably think about it even more now than I used to. Certainly my spiritual musings have caused me to ponder it more, but I'm also surrounded by things that make it a constant theme in my life. For starters, I work in a nursing home and someone is always at death's door. As well, I've been thinking a lot about my grandfather and my husband's family members, most of which are older and in poor health. Of late, I've also had a couple of co-workers who have been on my mind. The first one is a young man, barely 20 years old, who has very aggressive brain cancer that has metastasized and whose last hope is alternative treatment in Germany. The other is a woman who just lost her husband to cancer, only 42 years old. As I was talking to her a few days ago, she talked about her husband's belief in "the circle of life" and took comfort in that concept. A few years ago, I would have probably felt sorry for her in the sense that she didn't "know" what I "knew" and there was no need for uncertainty in terms of death and the afterlife. Now that that certainty has been replaced by ambiguity, I find myself in much the same boat as her as I think about the mysteries of God. It's humbling and it's difficult, but it's also made me look at this life in a new way. And while I don't think that it's reason enough to simply "eat drink and be merry," it does give new meaning to "men are that they may have joy."
I still think about life in terms of an eternal progression. But instead of it being a "one-size-fits-all" path, I think that we find ourselves in different stages and circumstances for a reason. Whether he has had an active, intentional hand in our lives or whether his approach is more Deist by nature, I think that if God wanted us to be all the same, he would have made us that way. Otherwise, it would seem that many of us are at a severe disadvantage in the journey to exaltation. In my opinion, there has to be more to it than that. The enormity of this world, its people, their individual lives and tremendously varied experiences, indicate to me that while Mormons may have much goodness and a portion of the Truth, we make up such a tiny, tiny fraction of the souls in the history of this universe. Surely all the others have had a deeper purpose than to simply get a body.
If I had one wish for Mormons and non-Mormons, believers and non-believers alike, it would be that people would really take time to really try to see things from a different perspective. Personal contact and communication is what breaks barriers of fear and mistrust (or builds them, depending on how we act). When I think about how I used to fear apostates, feminists, or gay activists, I now feel pretty silly about it. We only fear what we don't know, but now that I feel like I have a better grasp on what makes those people tick, most of it doesn't feel so threatening anymore. They're not bad people. And I only wish that those who feel threatened by Mormons would take the time to look below the surface and see that we're not all a bunch of bigots or fanatics. I wish that we could all see each other for what we truly are before we let judgment fall.
To the TBM's who will say that I have let pride get to me and that I've "apostasized," I say that my pride has been shattered as I lost the one constant, firm foundation that was always perfect in my mind. In its place has come compassion, understanding and love for those on a much higher level than I experienced before I found myself in the depths of Stage 4. Was it a fair trade-off? I don't know, but I will make the most out of it. Never say that it can't happen to you.
"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."I think we all underestimate that verse. I don't pretend to have the gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, all knowledge, or even have the strongest of faith. But I sincerely hope that I have a bit of charity and so I try to make that verse my personal Gospel.
(1 Corinthians 13:2)
I think I'll wrap up this post for now and I wish you all well in your individual spiritual and life journeys. I've had the pleasure of getting to know some of you personally on Facebook. If you're interested in connecting with me there, you can send an e-mail to the address in my profile. Please tell me who you are and I will send you the link to my profile. And please keep in mind that I do not publicize this blog or its name in any way on Facebook. For personal reasons, I intend on keeping it that way and I ask you to respect that.
For those of you who are interested in politics, I recently embarked on a new project called "The LDS Left," which is a quarterly PDF publication and this corresponding blog for Mormons from varying degrees of the left side of the political spectrum, as well as those with a heterodox/unorthodox faith. Perhaps a little more subdued than what you're used to from me, it's a compilation of leftist and unorthodox writings from a faithful Mormon perspective. We've released two issues so far and welcome your submissions. You can find information about requesting back issues or submitting articles on the blog.
I look forward to continued interaction with many of you around the Bloggernacle.