In the Book of Mormon, Nephi accuses his brothers of being murderers in their hearts, right after that he says the following:
“Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words…”
In a recent discussion with an old mission companion about the validity of the Book of Abraham as a literal translation I posed a tough question. But rather than answer my question, he accused me of embracing Sherem.* He also warned me that this expanse of knowledge would lead to depression, anxiety, divorce, suicide, fear, doubt, disobedience, and loneliness.
After this diatribe, my friend bid me goodbye with a “take care my friend.” I suppose he wanted me to feel the loneliness part of his warning as soon as possible. This companion had also been my zone leader during a time of trial in my life, he earned my respect then and I still appreciate his leadership at that time. Later in my mission we were companions and became friends. Sure we drifted apart in the 20+ years that followed, but I always remembered our adventures together fondly. So when he signed off abruptly in our conversation, it meant something. It made me think of the scripture above. I still think of scriptures even though I don’t attribute them to divine origin anymore. Comes from the decades of likening the scriptures to my life I suppose. This one came to mind because I remembered on our mission that if we ran into an investigator that wasn’t persuaded by our testimony we figured they were ‘past feeling’ and moved on. Right or wrong I got the impression that this is what was going through my friends mind as he typed that final sentence. To him, I was ‘past feeling,’ to him I wasn’t worth the effort anymore.
All I had was one question about the Book of Abraham that was really hard to answer because of all the conclusions an honest answer leads to. I get that difficulty, I remember clearly being in his position. The uncomfortable feeling as you try to make it all fit together so you can cling to your faith. I truly feared then all the things he described, I even passed through some of them.
Depression, does losing ones religion lead to depression? Yep I think it does. Discovering the organization you trusted and supported with significant time and money was not honest with you is pretty depressing at least temporarily. Also if you have to hide from your coworkers, friends and family how you really feel about the church, that can be pretty depressing too. I know some that are still in the closet in terms is disbelief and I do think it makes them depressed to be there. Coming out and being honest with others is the best way to lift that depression. Of course you are taught in the church to keep your doubts to yourself. If you don’t believe me try bringing up something that questions the validity of the church in Sunday school, see how people respond.
Anxiety, yep you will feel that too. Of course you are anxious if you think reveling your disbelief might lead to divorce. Which it does in some cases. Luckily in my case it did not. We are still together, but I do know some who have left the church and yet still live with a spouse that regularly attends. Their husband or wife secretly judging the one who left by all the doctrines in the scriptures that call them anti-Christ’s. Thinking they are of the devil for simply not believing. That would cause a lot of anxiety if you chose to stay married to a spouse in this situation. If you are as lucky as me and your spouse decides to search it out themselves rather than simply discounting outright what you have found then there is a chance you will get past the anxiety stage. Anxiety comes from the fear of speaking your mind.
Divorce, disconnect between religious ideals often leads to divorce. That is true. Maybe this is the reason marriages between atheist couples are less likely to end in divorce. Other reasons this may occur is because of the pressure put on by the church to get married quickly. I know many couples that got married because they were supposed to, it was expected as part of the religion. So when religion failed them there really wasn’t anything else keeping them together.
Suicide, does a loss of belief in the church lead to suicide? Think about that statement for a minute. If you stop believing, then you will kill yourself. What kind of incentive to believe is that? What kind of threat is that? Sadly though suicide related to religion is true. Just this last week a man committed suicide in a temple in Las Vegas. Why? Is it possible that the church has ingrained an ideal in them that they can’t live up to? We know one young man committed suicide on church grounds because he couldn’t change being gay and be the person the church expected. Personally I think coming to terms with the fact the church is man made can prevent suicides provided his or her family accepts the non believer.
Fear, does not believing lead to fear? Well in my case it did and still does. I still fear my disbelief might affect my job and my ability to support my family. I certainly feared telling my parents of my disaffection. It was one of the scariest moments in my life. I fear how my kids will be treated at school. I don’t think I would fear any of these things if I didn’t work for a Mormon run business or live in Utah though. No doubt there is some fear even now. I take courage however because I believe speaking honestly is still the right thing to do even if it is scary.
Doubt, well it all started with doubt didn’t it? I am unclear why doubt is such a bad thing though. To me truth doesn’t fear doubt. If something is true it will stand up to doubt. Doubt is just a willingness to examine your reasons, a desire to check yourself and see if you were really right in your understanding. So doubt is definitely part of the process. In my case I became more skeptical in general. Being fooled once and figuring it out will do that to a guy. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Once you gain a little healthy skepticism, you realize that fantastic claims require fantastic evidence. Does it take a little magic out of the world? I think it does. What kid isn’t a little depressed when they learn there is no Santa Clause. Magic tricks are fascinating till you know how they did it. Is it really such a bad thing to question the validity of what people tell you? Maybe… but I doubt it.
Disobedience, interesting that this comes up, because disobedience is relative. It depends on perspective and what code of ethics you are using for judgement. Is it possible to disobey a rule that you don’t believe in? If you think drinking wine is a sin and to do so means to disobey your leaders then it does mean you are disobedient. But what if they are not your leaders anymore? What if you no longer believe they speak for God for that is the ultimate authority you are appealing to? Christ drank wine, so did Joseph Smith, every other religion on the planet says coffee is ok but Mormons, even though Joseph Smith drank it. If I have a cup though I am being disobedient. To who? Your God or some other persons? I realize that in the church we are raised to be obedient, we are supposed to follow the leaders without question. To me this runs so contrary to the idea that we are here to learn to think and reason for ourselves. If we are here as gods in embryo and we are learning to be gods one day, if we make it to that point who will we be obedient to then?
Loneliness, it can definitely lead to loneliness, especially since the members tend to shun those people that do not believe. In this day and age though a little internet searching and you can find others that have been through the same disaffection as you. The loneliness used to be one of the strongest binds the church had on people because we humans are social creatures. Not so much anymore thanks to how easily it is to connect socially with others that aren’t in the same physical location as you. Personally I think this is one reason the church is losing members at an unprecedented rate. There are ways to find new friends when the old ones shun you.
I have a good friend that no longer believes in the church. He told me once he wished he had never learned the truth and had remained ignorant. I have thought about this a lot because there was real pain in his eyes when he told me that. I would have to say in his case he is currently suffering many of the things listed above. Things that I personally have gone through as well during my journey out of the church. For the most part I’m beyond them now and feel quite at peace with my new direction in life. So I pondered why he was not. I think it is because he still has a foot inside the door. His wife doesn’t know he doesn’t believe and every Sunday he goes to church to support her. I think I might be the only one who even knows how he really feels. So I do think he’s lonely, very lonely. It is probably depressive for him. He certainly doubts, he has fear and anxiety that if he were to come clean to his wife about his disbelief that she might leave him. The question is, is it his fault that the history of the church doesn’t stand up to examination? Is it really his fault that he can’t overlook the repeated falsehoods the church has passed on over centuries? Or is it the fault of the church that teaches members to avoid those that doubt, to chastise them for not having enough faith to ignore the obvious and just believe?
So yeah, my friend warned me the future would be filled with depression, anxiety, divorce, suicide, fear, doubt, disobedience, and loneliness. He said he had seen it happen before. Honestly, minus the suicide, I did feel every one of those things on his list, but for the most part they were fleeting and passed. For some they continue to exist, but they only exist because the church made them exist. The things on that list are threats of the church alone, if you stop giving the church power over you the threats disappear.
To me this entire journey was due to one aspect of my personality, the need and desire to know truth. Ironically this is the very thing I taught as a missionary of the church. I taught you can know the truth. I taught that the truth will make you free. Never did I expect that when I discovered new truth that ran contrary to the claims of the church rather than answer the questions raised by them the council I would receive from a trusted friend would be. Don’t look at that. If you do terrible things will happen.
What happened to the beauty of finding truth? Why as soon as there might be a conflict or criticism does the negative come out? And why is the answer to doubt simply, oh don’t think about it. Just have faith? Is God really so powerless, his church so weak that its members and leaders can’t handle a critique with at least a modicum of respect? Instead of a rational answer you are simply accused and threatened with dire consequences that only occur because you believed in the church in the first place.
Nephi accused his brothers of being murders in their hearts and that they were past feeling. This is the same Nephi that chopped off a drunk mans head as he lay in the street with his own sword. He calls his brothers ‘past feeling’ because they might question things for themselves, they might doubt and that is bad. I think my friend is simply following Nephi’s example.
Personally I don’t think I am ‘past feeling’ for one simple reason. I had a friend, sure we met because of the church, but we were friends none the less, good friends. I am hurt because if I doubt the church openly then I fear we won’t be friends anymore and that is something I definitely feel.
*I had to look that one up, I don’t know the names of all the scriptural anti-christs all that well.