Do any of you want to talk about where you're at with your faith? I'd love to hear radically honest answers, whatever they are. I don't need them to be faith-promoting; I'm sincerely interested in hearing about your experiences, positive or negative, and where they've left you in your search for goodness and that elusive enigma, truth.
P.S. I realize that the Board can be kind of a double-edged sword: anonymous and open in ways that other forums might not be, but also affiliated with BYU and therefore a difficult place to talk about belief, at least if it's not in line with Church doctrine. So I hope you'll be willing to share your story even if it isn't faith-promoting, but of course you should only tell as much as you're comfortable with.
I think my response to this question can be mostly separated into three general points:
1) It's complicated.
The Church's teachings and actions have, and still do, hurt me and people I care about. Why was there a priesthood and temple ban for black members? Why is there such a patriarchal structure? Why is the Church (often) such a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ people? A couple of those questions directly affect me, as a bisexual woman in the church. Other questions aren't quite as personal, but I have talked to, and read the stories of, many members of the Church who are heavily affected by those things. My heart breaks for some of my friends.
I could talk about my concerns with the Church for a long time, but I'd rather focus on sections two and three of this answer. Besides, I have a hunch that the person who asked this question is no stranger to the difficulties that can come with the Church.
2) I think I'll stay anyway, part 1: If I'm being cynical about it
Even though the church is messy, it still benefits me in a lot of ways. It offers me a built-in community wherever I live, a financial safety net, and a nice, shelf-stable supply of comfort and hope in the form of "you can't disprove that there is a God who knows you and loves you." Those are helpful resources! I don't want to give them up, especially in the weird, uncertain stage of life I'm in as a new adult.
I do have a testimony. I recognize that there's a lot of confirmation bias going into that, but I figure I might as well live it, just in case it's true. And there's a very serious possibility that religion is just a silly human attempt at finding meaning in life and comfort in grief. I have no way to disprove that, nor do I think it's especially unlikely. If that's all the Church is at the end of the day, then at least I had something to bring me a little more purpose, comfort, and community while I was alive. If the Church turns out to be true, then lucky guess.
3) I think I'll stay anyway, part 2: But I do actually believe in it though
I've never really understood people saying "I know" in their testimonies - maybe one day I'll get there. But for now, it's more like "I believe." I guess, I could say that functionally, "I know" the things in my testimony - as in, I act as if I know them, and I know them about as well as some other things which I take for fact. But I don't understand at this point in my life how I could actually know these things with certainty.
As an example - I "know" that climate change is real and our planet is suffering, and I act accordingly, but have I actually seen all the evidence for myself? No. So I can't really say that I know it with certainty. I choose to believe it, because it makes sense, and I trust the experts who are trained in this stuff and do the research, and because what harm could come from trying to be better to the Earth?
I feel pretty similarly about the gospel. I choose to believe, because the gospel makes sense and I've decided to trust the leaders who teach it to me. There are a few aspects of the gospel that seem especially inspired, like the doctrine of Heavenly Mother, the infinite atonement, and eternal progress. I believe in God and feel my Heavenly Parents' love for me through the people I interact with. I believe that Jesus Christ suffered through every affliction so that He could understand and atone for all of my actions and experiences in this life. I believe that keeping covenants and commandments helps lead us to safe and fulfilled lives. In short, I believe in the gospel.
So, I'm not leaving anytime soon. I'm not so great about some of the little/daily things, but I'm making a plan to help improve those so that I can feel more grounded in the gospel. I doubt that the Church will ever be easy, but I do think that there's a good deal more to learn about the gospel and to grow in my testimony, and I'm eager to make progress.
Feasting on the gospel and enjoying it like a really good meal is a whole lot easier when the food isn't being shoved down your throat. I have been enjoying learning the gospel and participating at my own pace.
I went through a really hard time. Every meeting gave me anxiety, I felt like I was being lied to, manipulated, and brainwashed. The Church felt for a long time like it really was a cult. And sometimes, I still struggle with the way things are handled. I still dislike the Church as an organization because I can see how it has so much power over our state and the people in it, in a way that I do not think is healthy. I can see things where I think, "In 20 years we're going to hate ourselves for talking like this."
But I believe in Jesus. I believe that He is the Son of God, and that He came and died for us, and even if none of that were true, He is still one of the greatest examples of infinite kindness known to mankind, and I am fine with following His example, because that feels like it's the right direction.
I believe that Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father look down at us and laugh sometimes, the way you laugh at a kindergartener for acting like they know more about something than they clearly do (I had a kid once try to convince me that his dad bought beach-front property on Newport Beach for only $50,000.) We pretend like we understand so much, like we have all truth, like we know what we're doing. But we really don't. We have little to no comprehension of the mysteries of God. They are bigger and broader than I think we understand at all. And honestly, I'm glad about that.
Right now, most of my faith is based on "Try your best, because God will understand your heart and your goals, and that is good enough."
And that means taking care of my mental health and not force-feeding myself the gospel. You choke when you eat too fast. I'm chewing each bite, figuring out which foods to try first, and trusting the chef will give me time to eat and enjoy it all.
I truly believe in God, and that all people have the same set of spiritual, all-powerful, all-good parents. When I pray, I often have an active sense of God listening, and responding. There have been so many times where a random thing is brought to the forefront of mind, and I am convinced it is due to God. This belief is a core element of my being, and I cannot imagine not having it. It would be as though all of mathematics were suddenly found to be faulty. My soul reaches out towards God with the same instinctiveness and hidden complexity as breathing.
All of that said, I would not say I believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is "true". I don't believe that any organization or even individual belief system can be "true". Flaws, distortions, misunderstandings, etc. are inevitable and a natural consequence of even the slightest human involvement. However, I do believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leads to truth, and is—as a whole—good. I firmly believe that it is where God would have me be. And I have sincerely questioned whether membership in the Church was God's will for me, opening myself up to the possibility that it wasn't.
However, I do not believe that membership in the Church is the "right" thing for every person on this planet. Just thinking about it logically, if it was imperative that every person be able to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in this life, God would make that possible. This life is messy, and I think the point of it is to come as close to God as we possibly can; whether that journey be tied up with the Church is dependent on the individual. After all, if anyone genuinely believes that the Church is not of God, and they decide to follow it anyways, isn't that morally wrong? We all can only act in accordance with the belief system, knowledge and faith that we have. And the God I believe in will not damn people for simply misunderstanding how things work, but striving to do the best they can regardless.
The foundation for my faith is in God and Christ, not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What I mean by that is the source and inspiration behind my personal beliefs/faith comes from God. It's definitely enhanced by the Church, but the organization itself does not form the core of my faith. Because of that, I am much less shaken when I perceive flaws in the Church as my faith is not contingent on the organization being perfect, just God being perfect. I don't know if that will make any sense to readers, but it does make sense to me.
It was actually really interesting, but I was asked to give a talk last month on how General Conference drew me closer to Christ. I ended up talking about President Nelson's talk, "The Second Great Commandment". It was one of my favorite talks of all of conference, but it didn't seem to be a normal talk to speak about concerning my topic. But I got a strong impression to really share to the congregation why I loved it, and so I did. Literally a month later at church I'm still getting compliments from the members in my ward on how much they enjoyed mine and Carl's talk. Someone literally called us an inspiration, which really touched my heart. I was talking to two sisters at a Relief Society activity and one sister said they didn't remember me speaking, and then the other said, "Oh you must have been out of town that week, since you would have remembered her talk if you were there." Overall, I'm really grateful I listened to the spirit and let my vulnerable side show as I spoke about how I was being disheartened of family and friends leaving the church. But I talked about how all I can do is love them and cultivate my own testimony. So, I guess that's where I'm at.
If you'd like to read it (or skip it) it's in italics.
My husband Carl and I moved into this ward at the end of August. But with a lot of family nearby, we’re really good at being out of town going to baby blessings, Primary programs, and missionary homecomings. We also went to Tonga for two weeks right after we moved in since Carl served his mission there. So, don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize us quite yet! He and I met at and graduated from BYU. We’ve been married for three and a half years. Carl earned his Bachelors in General Business in April 2018 while I earned my Bachelors in Family History and Genealogy last April.
In my major, we had to do 50-hour research projects in certain classes that lasted throughout the semester, with other assignments sprinkled in. This October conference was my first time in a couple years where I didn’t justify in doing family history research while watching General Conference. But now that I’m graduated, I saw such a difference as I was fully participating in watching General Conference. I gave a simple prayer of wanting to be alert and focused throughout conference. Due to this prayer, I felt my relationship with Jesus Christ grow stronger. I felt the spirit testify to me that the words that were spoken at General Conference are true. While being fully attentive can’t be the case for everyone, I’m grateful that I got to really experience it at least once before the arrival of our baby boy in January... Since I have a feeling we’ll have our hands full for April’s conference!
The one talk that stood out to me the most was President Nelson’s talk from the Sunday morning session titled “The Second Great Commandment”. The reason why this particular talk resonated well with me is because I could not deny the spirit that I felt as President Nelson spoke about all of the humanitarian efforts that the Church of Jesus Christ has offered since 1984. This feeling reconfirmed to me again and again that this was Christ’s Church restored on the Earth once again. Christ established this church so we may have the knowledge and resources to live together with our families forever based on the Plan of Happiness.
Why this was important to me you may ask? In these last days, the words from Joseph Smith Translation- Matthew, Chapter 1 verse 22 is becoming more and more apparent in my everyday life. “For in those days there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if possible, that they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.” I am hearing more stories of those I love— like my sister, cousins, missionaries I served with-- that no longer believe in the Church… which is pretty devastating. All I can do is to love them and cultivate my own testimony. While my testimony is intact, doubts can float into my mind as I hear about these sad stories. But the power of President Nelson’s words helped remind me that the core beliefs of Christ’s church is what matters most in my developing testimony. We must be true disciples and adhere to the First and Second Great Commandments. We individually are becoming more like Christ as we serve, and we are greatly impacting the world with our time and efforts.
As I served a full-time mission in the South, I was challenged to know many Bible verses that helped teach investigators the signs of the true church. My companion and I often quoted Paul in Ephesians Chapter 4 as he talks about the establishment of Christ’s church by listing the necessity of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The verses that I relate to President Nelson’s talk are in that same chapter, verses 12 and 13. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God…”
President Nelson’s words made me feel so unified with each member of the Church. We each contribute a small portion to edify one another around the world, just as Paul proclaims. President Nelson stated in his talk, “As members of the Church, we feel a kinship to those who suffer in any way. As sons and daughters of God, we are all brothers and sisters.” I most definitely feel that way and want to serve to help others around me. I try to make a difference and help those on the other side by doing their temple work. If anyone has any questions or needs help with genealogy, let me know… since that’s what I went to school for. He continues, “We heed an Old Testament admonition: “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy.” We also strive to live the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew Chapter 25: “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: “Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me. … “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” It was very apparent to me that we as members of the restored church follow the teachings in this scripture as I heard this talk.
President Nelson stated that “living the second great commandment is the key to becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ.” If we are truly a member of his restored Church, we will love and serve one another. He also declared, “Giving help to others—making a conscientious effort to care about others as much as or more than we care about ourselves—is our joy. Especially, I might add, when it is not convenient and when it takes us out of our comfort zone.” I am sure the long list of humanitarian efforts that he included wasn’t easily done. It was by members who had busy schedules and lives that took time out of their day to help those who cannot help themselves. I know that the people we serve are grateful for our time, and we are both blessed.
The humanitarian efforts within this talk included 400,000 food orders that are processed each year, an initiative that helped provide clean water in hundreds of communities in 76 countries, help for refugees that live in 56 countries, millions of pounds of clothing that are collected and sorted each year through Deseret Industries, “vision care for more than 300,000 in 35 countries, newborn care for thousands of mothers and infants in 39 countries, and wheelchairs for more than 50,000 people living in dozens of countries.” My heart was overflowing, and I was proud to be a member of Christ’s Church as I heard of these accomplishments. I felt the love of Christ and how we are all brothers and sisters working together to build up each other and the kingdom of God.
While these are great and glorious accomplishments, it is also important to remember the small acts of service as well. One way I was built up earlier this year was when my ministering sister was pro-active in serving me. One Saturday I was really sick, and Carl had an important place to be. I don’t remember what it was, but I didn’t want him to be late. The thing I really wanted most was a Peach Perfection smoothie from Jamba Juice. I was in no place to leave the apartment, but Carl was more than willing to be late to get me one. Right when we needed to decide, my ministering sister Viola commented on my Facebook post which indicated how sick I was. She insisted that she wanted to help me in any way possible by bringing me cold medicine, ginger ale, or anything of the sort. Quickly after, I texted her saying, “Actually there is something that you could do for me.... Is it possible that you could grab me a Peach Perfection smoothie from Jamba Juice?” And that, is exactly what she did. While a smoothie was such a small act of service, it meant a lot to me as I didn’t feel well enough to get it myself.
President Nelson started to conclude with, “the activities I have described are merely a small part of the growing welfare and humanitarian outreach of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And you are the ones who make all this possible. Because of your exemplary lives, your generous hearts, and your helping hands, it is no wonder that many communities and government leaders are praising your efforts. I have also marveled as world leaders have visited the First Presidency expressing their hope for the Church to be established in their lands. Why? Because they know that Latter-day Saints will help to build strong families and communities, making life better for others wherever they live.”
To me, the fact that non-members can see the goodness and the fruits of our labors testifies to me that this is Christ’s Church reestablished on the Earth once again. We are being noticed for our efforts to bear up each other’s burdens as we are God’s hands. As I felt more united with millions of members, I felt more united in purpose with Christ. He is our Savior and because of him we have the Plan of Happiness.
I leave my testimony with you that we are God’s elect. I testify that we have the ability and power to do great things individually and collectively. I have such a strong testimony of the importance of ministering to those around us, as doing the little things for each other make a big impact. We are God’s Hands, and through them the world will see our goodness and come into the hold. This is the living and restored church of Christ and will bring us joy as we are intentional with our actions. God is aware of our needs and will use those around us to fulfill them. General Conference is an amazing resource and blessing God has given us to help us navigate through life. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
But I'm similar to 9S below, as I've read critical things about the Church. Mainly due to my own curiosity as I served in the South and there was a lot of harsh criticism there. I mainly did this because I wanted to understand. But when I went to 'anti' websites to 'learn more,' I felt the Spirit immediately leave me. Once I got out of them the spirit would return. I think that's one of the main reasons why I'm not questioning things right now at this time in my life. I have a busy, happy life with a lot of other things to do. I realize that there will be things that I don't agree with concerning the Church. But I will put in my trust and faith that God has the bigger picture, and I'll understand it once I gain full knowledge.
Something that I’ve realized over the past year is that I don’t think I ever believed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I grew up in the Church, as did my parents, but I never saw going to Church as something done out of faith but more of a chance for socializing. While I often resisted going because I found it boring or didn’t agree with what was being taught, I knew that if I went there would be people that would talk to me and genuinely care about me. I recently talked with my dad about this “loss of faith” and he seemed to not believe me, saying that he remembers me talking about my testimony in church and how I was seminary class president. I don’t think that I actually believed but instead was saying what I thought I needed to say to be welcome in this community and get that social interaction I wanted. I do feel guilty about that now but at the time I think I confused the “acting” with faith.
Despite not believing, I still came to BYU because I was hoping I would become straight and gain a testimony since there seemed to be no alternative options offered. I wanted to be straight so I could feel like my parents were proud of me instead of just tolerating me. And I wanted a testimony because I really liked the sound of eternal families, I didn’t want to be the reason I lost them. But as you might’ve guessed, I didn’t become straight or get a testimony.
I want to have spirituality in my life, I really like the teachings of Jesus Christ, but right now I feel like I don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to fully explore what I believe. What if I give it a real shot and discover that I truly don’t believe? Then I’d feel even more disconnected from my family. Or what if I discover that it is true and I do believe? Then I wouldn’t be able to get married to someone I loved fully.
I’d say I’m agnostic with a touch of existential anxiety but outside of that, I don’t really know. Right now when I attend church, I feel really sad, isolated, discouraged, and anxious. So my plan is to take a break from the church after I graduate and won’t feel pressured to believe, but I don’t know if I’ll go back.
"i know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: i would thou wert cold or hot. so then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, i will spue thee out of my mouth." -revelation 3:15-16
Ugh, okay. I'd initially written this anonymously, but I admire how open everyone else has been, and if you've been reading the Board closely and long enough the unnecessary length and fancy-pants words are a likely giveaway. So be kind, please.
I'd hoped this response would be succinct and clear, but I've hoped that about a lot of things.
I grew up really happy with the Church and Church activity. I prayed about the Book of Mormon as a freshman at BYU in the dark, empty, welcoming Madsen theater and I felt like I got an answer that it was true, a feeling of deepness in still waters. I added this to the general happiness I got from the Church and went on a mission. For the most part, I enjoyed my time in South America and believed thoroughly what I was teaching. I deeply enjoyed the sense of camaraderie I got from being a missionary and loved living and working in a different culture—a mix of the country and missionary culture. The last bit of my mission was rough, and was probably the first time I've experienced depression—I was trying harder than I'd ever tried at anything, but with recent mission trends pushing us as far as we could possibly go, I felt I wasn't enough. I'd break down crying outside of view and earshot of my companion, sobbing into the brown-tiled stairwell that led down to our front door.
Near the same period of time I finished rereading the Book of Mormon and prayed to know it was true.
This time, I didn't receive an answer. Not a feeling. Not a thought. Just... silence (also! a superb and highly topical Martin Scorcese film).
It wasn't a big deal, though, and I finished my mission successfully, working hard until the last moments. My parents picked me up and we toured my mission, and I found some people were doing great, and others were, well, already un-findable. Still, I'd been as obedient as I could manage, probably a bit obsessively, as I tend to get about things important to me.
Back at home, I returned to BYU and once again found a sense of camaraderie and belonging in my wards. Dating was, well, dating, and in retrospect I'm surprised I dated as often as I did. School was eviscerating at times, but I don't think this played, necessarily, into my feelings of religiosity. At the time I graduated, I attended church dutifully, if partially, and unenthusiastically at times.
Graduation was a terrible moment whereupon my social circles evaporated, and I leaned in to my new YSA ward as somewhere I could belong, commuting several hours most weeks from the place I lived and worked to attend meetings.
(Occurring in this time, but not meant to be read as a causative thing to the following statement: An intensely disheartening moment was learning during Alumni weeks that Gimgimno and Watts, among others, had left church things.)
Some time later, not really related to the previous—much has happened, yet nothing has—I find myself here... wherever this is. I've cycled through attending church and not attending church for weeks, or months at a time, but somewhere along the line it seems things have changed. I've entered and never really left The Ongoing Quarter-Life Crisis, which subsumes every aspect of my life.
Key characteristics of The Crisis include:
1) No longer being all that sure that God exists, though feeling like there's enough metaphysical room for Him to do so, because I guess that's always been the point of such a God for me
2) Testimony=> ?
3) No longer believing in an afterlife
4) A keen awareness of my own pathetic mortality
5) A disheartening and bewildering loss of purpose
6) Consequent disemboweling of long-held goals
7) Evisceration of willingness and ability to date, despite a desire to have a close, meaningful, intimate (esp. emotional) relationship with someone I trust
8) Participating in risky behaviors and activities, like binge watching seasons of The Great British Baking Show (Mary, I didn't know what a mirror glaze was, but now my continued existence is apparently predicated on replicating one perfectly..? thanks a lot)
9) Torschlusspanik, literally, "gate-close-panic," the feeling that opportunities are slipping away, especially as one gets older (I get that I'm not old, except in relation to many of the newer writers, but in regards to the hyper-specialization required by career and dating opportunities it's hard to not feel trApPed).
11) Crying profusely, intensely, briefly, intermittently
Turning and turning in the widening gyreThe falcon cannot hear the falconer;Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
-"The Second Coming," W.B. Yeats
I've had conversations with my mom, who grieves that two of her other children have completely disassociated from Church things, and a third (not me) is probably there before long. More than once, she has told me that she doesn't even care if I get married—not actually true, by the way, it's ofttimes wistfully mentioned—the "most important thing to [her] is that I stay active in the Church."
This makes sense, according to the way my mom believes, because this means I can be with my family eternally. Thinking anything short of it is to risk losing me in perpetuity. So one the one hand, I get it.
On the other hand, it feels like a punch to the diaphragm. Is that really the most important? Is it enough for me to appear this way, to fake this appearance my whole life, but I end up being miserable and lonely--lonelier--because of it?
Dating, at this point for me, is an absolute mess, at least it probably would be, if I dated more consistently. I feel dating where I'm at—geographically and therefore culturally—necessitates defining yourself as "MORMON" or "NOT Mormon," and so I flounder in the gulf between. The people I'm interested in dating are typically Mormon—cool values, no drinking, smoking, drugs (nor are they 'ethically non-monogamous', get a grip, Tinder, you're a garbage fire), but having watched in a family where my parents are mismatched in their desire to do Church things and seen the frustration it causes for both of them, I don't feel like I can date someone who has different ideas about what it means to be successful, what success means. I've already had a conversation on Ye Olde Mormone Datinge Appe where someone has asked me if I was "active", and presuming it to be about Church activity, I told them I was, but that I struggled and doubted sometimes—
—they didn't respond after that.
But perhaps it's not always so polarized. In the same way that religion doesn't inherently make someone good or bad, there's probably people who have similar ideas about what they want out of life, where religion, one way or the other, isn't a deal-breaker.
Alas, this crisis of juncture may remain hypothetical: I routinely self-sabotage promising friendships and relationships, more out of self-loathing than malice—this isn't a defining feature of The Crisis as much as it is my entire life—so the likelihood of me reaching a point where this kind of conversation is important seems slim at best.
Or do I self-sabotage because I don't want to Decide?
It's nice to feel like you have all the answers, like you understand what the purpose of life is, and I'm glad that a number of the other writers feel that way, I really am.
But I don't know that, any longer, no longer sure I ever did.
While I have my political, doctrinal, and historical quibbles about the Church, same as anyone else, probably, I think more than anything else I just don't feel as interested in it. There's more than one important thing to care about, isn't there? And isn't nearly three decades of my projected seven enough? I'd probably be okay with showing up to my two hours a week, being nominally involved, but were I to get married to someone to whom the Church is v. important, and we raise children, do I just act as though I believe and then one day my kid comes to me, deeply troubled like "Hey I'm not so sure about this," do I just say "jk lol samesies... for two decades?"
(For the record, the only thing I've cared for is a lemongrass plant, which died a horrible, emaciated death after I informed it I wasn't altogether sure about the existence of Thailand).
Philosophically, I relate with the concept of absurdism, wherein we have "the Absurd: the apparent meaninglessness in a world in which humans, nevertheless, are compelled to find or create meaning" and encouragement "merely that the individual live defiantly and authentically in spite of the psychological tension of the Absurd." Selectively copy-pasting obviously won't cut it, but as I now approach things:
a)they're pointless and real sad-like
b)so why not try and spend quality time with people I like
c)and try and do something that might help other people,
4)but not at the self-sacrifice of my entire life, because isn't it okay to enjoy life sometimes?
Maybe there's some hint of epicureanism, too, in my brain, but there's certainly a resigned defiance.
I'm culturally Mormon—this word deliberately chosen, I don't feel like my religious identity should randomly redefined because of someone's naming preferences—but as is probably evident I don't have a lot of religious connection right now. Even so, were someone to hand me a survey, I'd probably mark the box that says "somewhat religious." I go to church, sometimes, but overwhelmingly for the social aspect and sense of community, which I crave. When I go to the other meetings, it's not often something resonates with me. Familiar pathways of "I know because I feel" and feeling in a spiritual sense now feel hollow and empty. What do you do when you no longer feel? And what should you do when you're no longer feeling it?
I'm self-aware enough to know a number of people in my situation have ended up disassociating at least informally, and I'm aware of some others have renewed their subscription for the prospective future. I'm encouraged by past professors who study ancient scripture and continue, and by past film professors who are cool, and my friend who studies Church history for her job and believes. I'm encouraged by the dentist I met today who is Mormon but in a way that seems both confident and relaxed—not worrying too much about things—and things like Fowler's Stages of Faith, which allow for progression and nuance while simultaneously holding religious identity.
Finally, I'm encouraged by a variety of both religious and non-religious folks who appear to have lives that, while not devoid of difficulty, seem filled with ritual, meaning, enjoyment, even peace and fulfillment.
If you've noticed, I haven't said "welp I'm peaceing out of Mormon things," and it's deliberate. I'd like to retain at least the notion I can still choose the path I believe to be right, or, at the very least, acceptable. It's not really as if this is new, either, and I've been in some version of this for the past four years. I don't know where to from here, because I don't know where "here" and "there" are (but either way there had better be cookies). For now, I'm trying to not rush anything, keeping my options open, and trying to figure out how to extend myself some long-withheld self-compassion.
You've lead me into this disclosure with a question, and so I leave you with a request. If you aren't just skimming this, if you are reading it, actually reading it, I would ask you to listen to the following songs, which aren't about any specific things, except perhaps a mood, a feeling, a frustration, a hope, a fear, a wish.
Broken Bells - "After The Disco"
Broken Bells - "The High Road"
Sir Sly - "&Run"
Bob Moses- "Heaven Only Knows"
ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. -matthew 5:13
As I've mentioned before, I no longer believe in the Church. It's been a three year long journey that began with the temple and polygamy, turned to current feminist and LGBTQ issues, and ended with hundreds of hours spent pouring through historical and doctrinal books. I went through the grief cycle as I lost my faith, so for the past few years I've been a mess of anger and depression when it came to the Church. I feel like I've finally got past that. I feel so much calmer and happier now, and mentions of Church issues don't make me want to pound out a ten page essay on everything I'm furious about. At this point I honestly want to just fully move on and discover myself and my beliefs without the looming presence of the Church.
So where is my faith? I really don't know what I believe in at this point, but I'm working on it! While I want to believe in a higher power, I see so many issues with the different varieties of god - for example, it's hard to believe in a god who cares so much about my lost keys but doesn't care about children being killed in Africa. And organized religions are, essentially, a natural result of when people adapt former beliefs to address current concerns and gain power. Many religions suppress scientific advancement while encouraging sexism, racism, the patriarchy, prosperity gospel, child abuse, violence against minorities, etc. And even if people take issue with things their religion does, they often stay silent or fall into line, trusting that God will make it right in this life or the next while ignoring people who are suffering in what may be their only life. But like all manmade organizations, it is rarely all bad. It can be absolutely fantastic and helpful for many people - hence why I don't try and convince my family and friends (or you, dear readers) to leave the Church. It helps them, and I think that's amazing. But it's not for me.
So god? Life after death? I don't know. But I'm excited to discover the answers for myself.
-guppy of doom
My least favorite scripture is in Matthew, chapter 14. After walking on water, Christ invites Peter to join him. Peter experiences doubt and begins to sink.
Verse 31 reads: And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Perhaps Peter was to blame for having doubted in the first place, for having first-hand knowledge of Christ's goodness and divinity and having personally witnessed miracles, and for still not being able to persevere.
But I don't have that knowledge, and sometimes it feels like I'm drowning. I believe in God, I believe in his benevolence and mercy, but I'm sinking with the weight of things I don't understand, things I don't agree with, the supposed doctrines that mean nothing to me. I'm over my head in the black, churning water. I can see the light above me, I can see the happiness and purpose and betterment that the gospel is supposed to bring, but I'm helpless to pull myself out of the rolling waves.
And I haven't seen a glimpse of that strong, steady hand of help and comfort and support. I haven't seen it at all, let alone immediately.
When I first began to feel the lapping of the waves, I was terrified. As time has gone by, I've gone from terrified to inquisitive to bitter to apathetic. At this point, I'm accustomed to the inky darkness, the constant flow of the water surrounding me. I can sense that there's lightness somewhere, but I don't know whether there will ever be a hand reaching out to me.
I don't know whether I've given up trying or whether I've accepted that apparently this is where God wants me to be. I don't feel a strong connection to religion, and my main connection is a periodic prayer asking God to help me know if I need to change my ways. It's been years and I haven't felt any need to change.
So I'm not sure if I have faith. I possess the basics of belief: a belief in God, that my actions have a purpose, that being like Christ is a good way to be a good person. I believe in a lot of the theological aspects of the Mormon church, particularly the general lack of eternal punishment. I don't have any strong feelings about the Book of Mormon, but I love the idea that God has talked to more of his children than those we have written record of.
My current religious philosophy is openness. I have no idea what the future holds for me, whether it be reconciliation with organized religion, continuing in passive apathy, or any other options. I'm not closing any doors, but I'm not currently knocking on any doors either. I'm accustomed to the dark waves, and I'm not sure what it would take to lift me out of the water.
I didn't really face any serious challenge to my faith until three of my four siblings stopped attending church about three to four years ago. Two of those three were very open about the various historical and doctrinal issues that proved irreconcilable to their sense of belief in the restored gospel--much of which was new to me. After some deliberation I decided that if the fraudulence of the Church was as obvious as it was made out to be, I ought to be intellectually honest with myself and at least make an honest attempt to determine that for myself.
So I started reading. I won't say I stuck exclusively to "church-approved" sources, because I didn't, but I tried my best to stick to sources that were reputable. I think it's fair to say there's a lot of nonsense with no sources on both the "faith-promoting" and "faith-damaging" sides of the table.
It's hard for me to sum up what the results were. I don't think "faith crisis" is accurate, because I never really felt like I was in crisis, but a lot of information was new to me, and it took time for me to process. Furthermore, I'm still a fully believing and communicant member of the Church--I never encountered something that shook me enough to make me question that. But it did require a lot of learning, study, and reflection. I started to realize just how many unconscious assumptions I had baked into my understanding of the gospel, and examining those assumptions--and changing them, where necessary--was a long and difficult process.
Looking back, I feel like I didn't know anything about the gospel before my mission. (I didn't know very much during it, either.) I don't just mean that in a generically devotional/faithful sense but also in terms of more secular (for lack of a better word) subjects that we don't discuss much--think historical or textual knowledge of the Old Testament, or a better understanding of the history of the Doctrine and Covenants.
I say that because my testimony is deeply intellectual to me, not just spiritual. There are those who shrug and say that subjects like genre in ancient scripture or the theological oddities of ancient mystery cults or the textual transmission of the Hebrew Bible are all esoteric subjects totally unnecessary to salvation, and perhaps they're right. But the more I dig into world history, comparative religion, and the textual history of ancient scripture (to name just a few of the things that fascinate me), the more resonances I find with the central theological tenets of Latter-day Saint tradition, and the richer and more meaningful I feel my faith is. The grand and sweeping vision of existence, the all-embracing response to truth, and the robust and essential nature of moral agency envisioned in Latter-day Saint thinking all comprise, in my view, the only theology strong enough to account for the suffering and inescapable imperfection of the world we live in. So here I stay, because here is hope, and light, and peace. That doesn't equip me to answer every single question I would like, it is true. Every field of study suffers from want of answers to unresolved questions, and church history is no different. But ultimately, I have felt the love of God. I have felt something apart from and much larger than myself. So I press on, eagerly awaiting the day in which all will be made known to me.
I feel like only in the last year have I really come to grips with the implications of 2 Nephi 7-8:
Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
These words don't apply only to the Gentiles who reject the Book of Mormon, even though that's the obvious reading. The Lord's rebuke could just as well apply to those of us today who assume that because we have got a Book of Mormon, there cannot be any more Doctrine and Covenants, or Book of Abraham, or private revelation from our own personal supplication. In other words, the gospel--the good news of God's grace, to put it a little more ecumenically--isn't just bigger than the Bible. It's bigger than our canon, too, and our church. Everything that is good testifies of God, Moroni says elsewhere. If we're willing to look, we'll find resonances with the true and the beautiful everywhere, in and out of the church, and the more I learn, the more of these resonating threads I seem to find.
That's a little further afield from my opening than I intended. I guess for me the answer is that ultimately, the historical minutia and the open questions didn't really matter. Again and again I find myself coming back to one particularly strong and persistent thread: charity. In the end, just like the apostle Paul says, all things will fail and vanish away, save charity alone. I am firmly convinced that the single most important reason I served a mission was so that God could teach me to understand charity, which is so inexpressibly important precisely because all of us see through a glass darkly and will inevitably have cause to misinterpret, contend, and disagree with one another about even our most fundamental experiences. At the last day, I'm fully prepared to be wrong about things that are important to me, because my glass is as dark and dim as everyone else's. I want to speak lightly here, because I can't speak to everyone else's experience. I don't know why some find the case against the Church to be self-evidently damning, while others find it to be weak and unconvincing. I don't know why one person I grew up with described his church experience as thoroughly toxic, perfectionist, and damaging when I attended the same ward and had an experience that couldn't possibly have been further from his own. But I am confident that there is a God and that He loves and understands every one of us, even (and perhaps especially) those with whom I have serious and deep-seated disagreements. All of us are wrong about something, after all, and most likely a lot of somethings. That's why all God ultimately asks of us is to be the best people that we can be, relative to the light and knowledge which we have. The call to faith is not a promise of absolute and certain knowledge, and it isn't meant to be. As the brilliant Latter-day Saint writer Terryl Givens puts it:
I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, for only in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally “enticed by the one or the other,” is my heart truly free to choose belief or cynicism, faith or faithlessness. Under these conditions, what I choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who I am and what I love.
Since I'm not privy to the experiences and expectations of others, the best thing for me to do is to be loyal to the best in myself while encouraging others to be true to the best that they know. I am serenely confident that in the end, the final judgment will focus much more on our desires and sincere actions than it will our assent (or lack thereof) to a specific set of theological, historical, or sociological propositions and that no one, regardless of their belief or unbelief in the restored gospel, will be treated with anything less than the utmost fairness, kindness, gentleness and empathy. I remain largely orthodox in my belief and I'm happy that way, save perhaps some grumbling at the state of our shallow and oversimplified scriptural curriculum.
In short: scholarship has changed my faith considerably. I'm a lot more likely to take a more cautious, informed approach to questions of ancient history, scriptural literalism, and scriptural interpretation in general. But my experiences have kept me firmly planted within the Church, and I'm happy here.
Dear Thank You,
I'm at a place. There are some days when I feel the Spirit so strongly and I want to keep doing what it takes to feel that spirit, even if it's hard. And there are other days where I'm crying and yelling to my husband about all the things that I don't understand and that make no sense and that I feel are false/wrong. I've been in the Relief Society presidency in my ward for the past several months, and I've really liked it. It's a calling that's really just about loving and serving others, and I love that. I'm all about that life. But at the same time it feels hypocritical sometimes because shouldn't the first counselor be someone who never doubts that what the prophets say is revelation? Shouldn't the first counselor in the Relief Society be someone who doesn't often feel meh when they read the scriptures? I don't know. Sometimes I think that it's good to bring different perspectives like that to the Church, and to realize that even without any sort of perfect knowledge people can still do good things and be helpful in the Church. Other times I think that someone who isn't as ambiguous/confused as me should have this calling instead, because I don't think I make a particularly inspiring leader in regards to my thoughts about the Church.
Is there even room for someone like me in the Church? Do Church leaders want someone like me? I don't know. Some leaders give talks condemning people who are lukewarm in regards to the gospel, and say you can't pick and choose what parts you like and what parts you don't like, and there's the whole, "if you're not for us you're against us" mentality that paints it all to be very black and white. But I hate how much that feels like an ultimatum, because I believe in Christ, and I believe in loving and serving others, but I don't agree with every single policy that the Church has ever had, and I don't agree that everything Church leaders do is infallible, and I think we overuse the word "doctrine" too much when we talk about stuff in the Church. I don't think those disagreements mean that my testimony of Christ and the atonement is invalid, but sometimes all those talks about how you're either all in or not in at all make me feel like maybe Church leaders would think my testimony is invalid because of those disagreements. My favorite talk is Elder Uchtdorf's, "Come, Join With Us," because it's the one that makes me think that maybe at least some of the apostles wouldn't mind me staying in the Church because I believe in some of it even though some of it makes me deeply uncomfortable. It's the talk that feels the most like Christlike love and acceptance to me, more so than the ones condemning people trying to continue on with what little faith they do have.
Anyway, seeing some parts of the Church as vitally important, and other parts as honest mistakes at best and deliberate maliciousness at worst, is hard and I hate it. I wish I could see the whole thing as shades of gray instead of some of it as white and some of it as black, but I don't. I've been living with this discomfort about what my beliefs really are for years, and sometimes I feel like it's fine and I can handle it, and sometimes I feel like the cognitive dissonance is going to rip me apart. Sometimes I wonder if I only stick with the Church because the possibility of leaving is terrifying and I don't want to disappoint my whole family and feel the guilt of them thinking that I'm the one ruining the chance of an eternal family. Is staying in the Church the cowardly thing to do because I'm too scared of the consequences of leaving? Or is it brave to stay somewhere that I feel helps points me to a good life and morals even though it's personally hard to do so at times? Sometimes I wonder if any religion is even real, or if it's all just mankind desperately hoping for something beyond the void to explain away the terror and darkness of life. But I'm also inclined to believe that every single religion is true, and that the parts I dislike just come from people interjecting their own prejudices and predispositions into life. So overall I'm a mass of contradictions and questions.
Most Christian churches have a lot of things in them I greatly dislike, and yeah, it's probably mostly just cultural stuff instead of doctrinal stuff. But honestly, I would love to be Sikh or Buddhist or Taoist. A lot of Eastern religions resonate with me and I would love to be part of them. But despite my cultural disagreements with Christianity, Christ is at the center of all my beliefs because this entire existence seems pointless and hopeless without the atonement. So here I am, too Mormon to leave and too filled with questions (and dare I say doubts?) to feel like I belong. Should I become one of those people who's "spiritual but not religious"? I don't know. How many times have I said, "I don't know" in this answer? I don't know, but the point is that I'm confused and don't have any answers. Where this all leaves me is just trying to be a good person who follows the example of Christ to help and love others, and is very much in the dark about what's "true."
I'm sure that my mom will read this and think that she just needs to be a better example of faith to me or something, but it's not about that. It's just about the fact that in the Church we often like to say that things are simple, but really nothing is simple. Nothing was simple since the Garden of Eden when Eve was told to not eat the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, but also to multiply and replenish the earth. Why give conflicting commandments??? The more I learn about all the conflict inherent in the gospel, the more conflicted I feel (just call me Captain Obvious). So where am I? I don't know, but it's a hard place to be.
Dante. I've been reading Dante's Inferno. The straight and fast path to heaven is blocked, and Dante must pass through the nine levels of Hell to find God. The Roman poet Virgil is sent to guide him, but can only take him so far. Virgil, representing human logic/worldly knowledge, has his limits. There are times when he can't explain what's going on, and they come to a point when Virgil has to pass Dante off to a higher guide. In relating myself to Dante, I don't mean to flatter myself or Dante. He's a pretty messed up character when you get into it. But Dante (the character, not the writer) believes his journey is a pursuit of knowledge. He thinks he's just trying to find truth and philosophy. But what he doesn't really comprehend, is that he is also being watched and tested. Dante's experience through Hell is an allegory for everyone's passage through life.
For me, it feels like some are granted passage on the direct path. They just know. Doubt seems to have no interest in them and they just progress through life believing in God, breathing air, and then they die. I'm not one of those people. I have learned that I'm more of a Dante. I'm just the kind of person who is always going to have uncertainty nipping at my heels, but that I'm also the kind of person who is never going to give up the path I've started on. I will go through anything to find God. But I often have phases of absolute dissolution and questioning. I'm grateful for those times, because I'm always better after them. But they are painful. During those times I rely on my own Virgils (logic, mostly. but also previous experiences, testimonies of others, and world philosophy) as far as they will take me. Virgil usually gets me to the point where I can again choose whether or not to believe.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. I'm going to lay down some logic and philosophy that attempts to describe a few reasons I believe in God. I think you will see in it exactly the process I described above. I have experiences, I use logic to make sense of them, but somewhere along the way I always run into faith. Also along the way, I am constantly making logical choices that have more to do with me than absolute truth. For example, as you read, you will probably notice I'm inclined towards believing. Logic poses dangerous questions, but every one of my logical choices in response to those questions is inclined toward faith. Anyone could mark that down as bias, self-soothing, and begging the question. But I can't get away from it. Faith is a constant constant choice, all the way down to how we use logic. Logic, to me, is the ground we land on when we take a step. Just as Dante is being watched as he makes sense of eternity, I believe faith is tested with every logical step we take.
Moments of overwhelming gratitude towards life, the universe, everything. This could be a rush of dopamine, but I don't think so. Gratitude implies perceived intent. If we feel gratitude toward something, we must think that something intended to benefit us. If there is intent there must be a mind. If there is a mind to something, that something is actually a someone. When I feel gratitude, I think it is something in me attributing goodness to a universal mind that cares about me. This depends on some confidence in the capacity for human logic to prevail over neurochemical phenomena. It also depends on me trusting "something in me" to know something I don't. I call it a soul, spirit, or memory of a pre-existence. But I haven't done the philosophy on why I believe in that yet.
Conversation. I have conversations with that universal mind; some verbal, some emotional. Some verbalizations come to mind without prompt. I believe I am not the source of the other mind. The logical backup I have of this is how different it sounds/feels from my native ideation. I'm also used to acting on hunches and vibes, trusting that my subconscious has picked up data that my conscious is not aware of. But the conversations/promptings are different from hunches and vibes. The conversations and thoughts I attribute to God are those which I have no data record of (memory). None. Not even subconscious. I can't dismiss them as subconscious data finally fruiting into thought, because I was never in the place, the situation, or read the book that could have led to that thought.
Of course, to rely on these conversations as a source of faith, I have to have some confidence in my familiarity with my own mind. I believe I know what is mine and what is Other. I believe that if I search back for a possible data source that could have created the Other thought, that I would find it if it existed. I also haven't done the philosophy on why I believe in my own memory and self-awareness. But for now, I don't mind saying that at some point you have to trust something to get along in faith and philosophy, and trusting myself seems as good a start as any.
"Where I'm at with my faith" is that I believe in God, and my relationship with Jesus Christ. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has brought me closer to them in so many ways, which I believe is what a church is for. I am constantly testing the teachings and questioning the social structure of the Church. The core teachings have withstood my scrutiny impressively well, including the doctrine of authority and covenants. There are social constructs in the Church that don't hold up, and I anticipate improvement and seek to influence it. I trust those who leave the Church to find God in their way, and I respect the pain involved. However, I believe the Church is an overwhelmingly net benefactor, not harm, to society. I do not believe that my activity in the Church makes me complicit in any societal harm. I trust others to trust me that I have done the mental and emotional work they have done, with competence and sincerity. I trust them to trust that my faith is not mental acrobatics, a contortion of irrefutable facts, but an expression of who I am; my hopes for the world and my work for it.
TL;DR I take the long way around when it comes to faith. The long way around is through philosophy and logic. But funnily enough, even after all that kerfuffle, faith is still a choice--not a reward, or end result. I tend to make that choice. I make it over and over again while I take the long way around (while I logic and philosophize), and then again at the end when I completely run out of logic and philosophy to get me anywhere.
So there have been 3 things that have really upped my faith/spirituality levels:
- I'm taking Christ and the Everlasting Gospel from Hank Smith and it is an absolute treat. He's so funny, and is great at explaining all the historical and cultural context of the scriptures. Taking a deep dive into the New Testament has helped me feel like I know Christ a lot better now and I have really enjoyed it.
- Last winter semester I took World Religions from Alonzo Gaskill and it was one of my favorite classes at BYU! I enjoyed learning about other faith traditions, and I really like a lot of their perspectives. I feel like some religions offer unique perspectives that we don't always get in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and I enjoyed incorporating some of those into my own belief system.
- My girlfriend and I read our scriptures together every night and go to the temple once a week. Before I had been struggling with those habits, but we lean on each other and it really helps us both. Also she's helped me stay awake in sacrament meeting so that certainly helps as well.
I feel like that for most of my life my faith is pretty inertial, which is to say it doesn't move much unless something is causing me to move it. Stuff like deciding whether or not to go on a mission, preparing for the temple, serving a mission etc have all helped me take a proactive approach and grow in faith. Otherwise my faith just kinda sits on the back burner, it's there but it doesn't play much of a role in my life. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it is what it is, but I've really enjoyed some of the faith building experiences I've had this past year.