I love my family, not just my own wife and kids, I dearly love my parents, siblings, in-laws and numerous cousins as well. There are some I’m closer to than others, some I see more often and some not so much. Some I hardly ever see and some I have never met. We really are a numerous clan, the first cousins alone number in the hundreds. On my wife’s side her parents are converts. On my side of the family as far as I know everyone is a member, we go back five generations to the very beginning of the church. It’s not a family name that is commonly associated with Mormon royalty, but when you dig through history it pops up in various locations, such as the conversions in Salem where the church went looking for gold, sharing homes with such well known names as Lorenzo Snow, and being there when Brigham Young took on the appearance of Joseph Smith.
My great, great, great grandpa converted to the church back when it was very small. For doing this he was disowned by his family and rejected by his friends. After baptism he sacrificed much of his personal wealth for nascent religion and ended up dying of illness at winter quarters. He even warranted an ensign article for his contributions. I am confident that he did so because he believed he was doing the right thing. His oldest son at at age 18 brought his mother, an amazing woman in her own right and 11 children across the plains with the pioneers without a father to help them along. He had a son that founded homesteads in both Utah and Oregon. His son, my grandpa died in an accident when I was very young. I remember members of my family remarking about how the haystack that fell on him looked as though a giant hand had pushed it over and how God must have needed him back in heaven. And you have already read about the courage and bravery my father has taught me. You can see I come from a long line of strong willed men and women. People willing to sacrifice and even die for their beliefs, willing to take the heat for their integrity.
In the church we often applaud the new convert that is willing to suffer the gossip from their own family members, we tell them they are brave and courageous to testify about what they know to be true in spite of the fact their family considers them a lost soul or a sinner or even just crazy to follow the Mormon religion. Their rebellion to what they were taught is celebrated as a good thing. But one man’s rebel is another mans traitor. Now that I am the one declaring openly the things that I have found to be true, it’s most definitely not celebrated. Why? Because the truths that I reveal contradict long held beliefs.
How do I know this? Because I once held those same beliefs. I know the church teaches the person that left only does so out of sin and some need to justify their un-pious ways. I know the holy book at the core of the religion draws a ‘you are either with me or against me‘ line in the sand. Simply put, there is no reasonable reason to ever leave the church from the inside, to do so is as culturally as disloyal as it gets. From my families point of view, I’m not the rebel my ancestor was, I am a traitor to the family. There are some hints in the church of willingness to change this. It’s difficult because the concept is reinforced in scripture. But in the last general conference, Elder Uctdorf contradicting the canonized reasons for leaving the faith said:
“Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple.”
He goes on in his talk to obliquely say that there could be other perspectives when a person researches the history that could lead to doubt and unbelief in the foundational claims of the church. Then comes the famous doubt your doubts meme that flooded LDS social media last October. That meme was so popular that I think the average member totally missed this tidbit:
“In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth.” -Elder Utchdorf
Please consider the idea that my conclusions have come from an honest search for truth. I am proud even now of the strength of character that my relatives have shown in standing up for truth the way they see it, do you really think I would turn my back on them just to get an extra day off in the week and a 10% raise? It broke my heart to come to the conclusion that I was mistaken, that the promises of the church to families were simply made up philosophies of men. I desperately wanted it to be true, more than anything. But being completely honest with myself if I judged the truth of this religion with the same critical eye I did others, it had no more validity than those I believed were founded on the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.
From my perspective I really did discover that it simply wasn’t historically true, it might teach good things and even today I still love many of the doctrinal concepts. But I honestly do not think it was started by God himself as I was once taught. I realize that you disagree, I realize you still have faith and I respect that, I still remember what it was like to have that unshakeable belief. I hope that my friends, families and all those that know me will please give me and my family the benefit of the doubt on this thing and possibly accept that from my perspective I didn’t leave because I was hoping to sin or couldn’t handle the commitment. From my perspective my beliefs changed for very valid reasons.
If you need to, put me on your shelf, hope that you might understand my perspective sometime in the future. I know that considering the possibility I may have a point and legitimate reason for leaving is uncomfortable, so shelve me and my reasons if you need to so that you don’t assume the reasons I left. Consider the fact that church leaders already advocate this shelving of the uncomfortable truths rather than dwell on them.
“Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.” -Elder Utchdorf
If you want to keep believing I truly think this is the best possible thing for you to do. For me personally, listening to the dictates of my own conscious, I felt I was being dishonest to myself. More so the more I set things aside and chose to ignore them. At the same time I think I can understand the effort and leap of faith that a person takes in doing that very thing. The reason I feel I am qualified to understand this is that I took that same leap for years. But how long should we ignore the obvious? Forever? How many doubts should we shelve? All of them? At what point is enough enough and we are willing to think critically about our own presumptions? I know that many of my family members complimented me on my faithfulness for many years before my shelf collapsed. There wasn’t doubt back then that I was fully convinced of the truth of the church and completely willing to make the sacrifices required by it.
I think this is why it is disheartening to me to learn that a year after I opened up to my family that the gossip about why I left still goes on. Some still think it was a dark reason, that I was fooled and went down this path because I wanted to sin, because I needed to justify my own desires. This simply isn’t true, not from my perspective.
If you really think that is the case, please have the respect to talk to me face to face about it. I’d love the chance to answer the question why of my own accord rather than have it assumed. Ask me why I concluded what I did. I will do my best to explain it without offending you. Sure my viewpoints are now different, I don’t see sin from the same perspective as you anymore, my morals are dictated internally and I bet on the all the major facts we still agree. For me this change is part of learning and progression. I realize you still feel the pain of losing a son or brother or cousin to the ‘dark side’. I can feel the sadness of your perspective because I once shared it.
Sometime after opening up about my disbelief I found out that I have cousins that have been warned to not associate with me, why does this happen? Why is it about family right up until we don’t believe the same thing? Can’t you see this thought comes from the religion? Can’t you see you are being taught by the doctrine to think that way? We have zealous genes in our DNA, I know that we tend to dive in with both feet when we commit to something. It is that commitment that causes us to internalize the doctrine that leads to this treatment of family members. It is that same zealous DNA we share that drives me to speak up about things I have found out, doing so even though I know it means being branded as an outcast and a pariah. If you don’t believe my search for truth was honest please ask me about it, give me the chance to explain in private message, in person or however you wish please give me the chance to make my case before you assume the worst, that is all I ask. If you can’t bring yourself to ask, then please put me on your shelf and hope to understand one day.
In my last post I indicated a truth that I felt makes a lot of sense to me, made by a completely fabricated person named Obi Wan Kenobi. Just because he is a fictional character doesn’t mean we can’t realize the value in this statement.
That value is recognizing there is a different point of view, one that if we strive to see it will help us understand that person better. Sure it means some risk to our closely held beliefs. We may be afraid that we might end up like them, it is possible they might be right about some of the issues. But if we don’t try to learn why they came to the conclusion they did and instead just gossip about it aren’t we denying them the very benefit of the doubt that we would want if the situation were reversed? I have a good friend and we grab lunch together every week often we talk about religion, he believes what I don’t and yet we are able to have meaningful dialog and understand each other better. I think we have become much closer friends now than we ever were because of this simple fact, we reason together both seriously and jokingly. It is possible to completely disagree and still respect another persons point of view. It is possible to joke and even mock each others position when you know that the reason you are talking is because you desire to understand each other better. When you realize that you aren’t criticizing the person when you criticize the belief that is how you have meaningful dialog. Dogma can be questioned, your sincerity cannot. Not when you trust a person.
Of course that is my own point of view. I can see how others would take it in ways it wasn’t ever meant to. To some the very premise of this blog is sacrilege. It takes deeply held beliefs and puts them in a silly light using sarcastic humor. There are several people now that post on the door of the Fridge, we keep in semi anonymous (it really isn’t all that hard to figure out who is the creator of it) because we feel the concepts are universal and don’t apply to a single individual, we keep it silly because we never ever want to be taken too seriously. The whole point is to question what you have always assumed and be open to learning new things.
The greatest lost to humanity is when smart, intelligent people think they already have it all figured out and stop looking for more. It is that desire to reach, that desire to go beyond our own bounds that makes humanity special. It is the ability to have faith that contrary to what the majority in your own community thinks that you could be onto something new, something that can make the world a better place. Look past the rails of your preconceived notions, get outside the box you were born in and start thinking for yourself. It matters not if it is the Fridge you believe in, or Christianity or Islam or Secular Humanism or any other of the 20 plus major religious categories or hundreds of sects we have created to differentiate our beliefs. If it helps you be a better person, that is a good thing. When it tears apart families due to differences, that is not so good. If it seems like I am saying take your own religion with a grain of salt, I am.
The mormon religion historically has been a very black and white faith, recently however they are becoming more moderated, in essence by example the church is pointing out even their scriptures can’t be taken too seriously and can be ignored and disavowed if the ideas lead to bad stuff. Maybe this is a sign that more moderate heads are prevailing in the leadership, maybe it is a reaction to the growing loss of believers from their ranks. We don’t really know. But pointing out that even the guys you are taught trust implicitly don’t always channel the word of God, that they don’t require your undying loyalty in spite of it going against your better judgement is a good thing. The articles the church keeps slipping into the limelight lend to the idea that when the prophet speaks, the thinking is NOT done. Consider this, if the scripture that said skin color was a curse can be disavowed then is it really too much to let go of the holy writ that declares all those that leave the faith sinners and lost souls? Is it really wrong to give your own family the benefit of the doubt?
The world at large will be a better place the more we learn how to get along in spite of our differences. I may have lost my faith in an all powerful being guiding us along a path to greatness, but I still have faith that humanity at large is destined for exactly that because of the amazing beings that we are. So you see while our faith may differ in the driving cause, we both believe the future can be great. What do you say? Shall we start from there?