21 November 2010

PE: My Story Part 6 - Disaffection

I knew I wasn't happy. I felt alone even in the midst of hundreds of people. I remember times that I would get out of class for the day and just feel so alone as I walked to my car in the hustle and bustle of the BYU campus. If I could have cried I would have. I'd always been told that sin is the source of unhappiness, so I figured it was because of my occasional drinking, lack of church attendance, and the viewing of pornography. I didn't want to feel alone and unhappy anymore. So at the end of 2009, I decided it was time to get my life back on track.

I began meeting with my bishop regularly. But right as I began that process, I came across information about church history. I'd always been disgruntled and uncomfortable about certain topics like polygamy and blacks and the priesthood, but I was like most people who clung onto whatever opinion that seemed to provide enough frosting to keep me from worrying, no matter how many holes it had or how untrue it was. But I had always avoided this stuff about early church history like the plague, just like I was taught.

Well, I am not someone who just takes another person's word for it. I might have done that as a child, but the older I get and the more experiences I have, I've realized that (as sad as it is) simply believing what a single person says without investigation of any kind is dangerous. So of course, I didn't just believe everything that was said. I did research. I needed to be sure. When I found out that the parts of our history that we never hear about in Sunday School were true, I was devastated. I felt betrayed. I felt like I was set up to fail. I felt like I been blinded by a fairytale made up to make me feel good.

I, like many members, had false expectations for Joseph Smith and the church. When you are taught that this man did more, save Christ only, for the salvation of man than any other person, you start to put Joseph Smith and others like him on this pretty high pedestal. While our doctrine doesn't teach that prophets are perfect, our culture sure does.

I was taught this formula: If A is true, then B is true. If B is true, then C is true, And D. And E, etc.

In translation it sounds like this: If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet. If Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's one and only true church. If that is true, President Monson is a prophet. If that is true, same-sex marriage is bad. Etc, etc.

Well, if you use that formula (and Mormonism is very much an all-or-nothing type culture) and your "A" happens to be based on half-truths, guess what the consequences are? The walls come tumbling down. The rains come down and wash the sand away. When I learned that Joseph Smith wasn't everything I was taught to believe he was, my world crumbled. Was anything true? I even questioned the existence of God.

Many people will say, "well- you were sinning and you read that crap, so of course that happened. You brought it on yourself. You were just trying to find justification for your sins." I can assure you that this was not the case. I may have been sinning, but so were you. I may have been sinning differently than you, but you were just as much a sinner as I was. I cannot describe to you the hopelessness I felt when I realized that God might not exist. I can not begin to describe the anguish. I wanted so badly for it all to be true. My entire world had been built on that idea.

I went to my bishop with my struggles with my testimony. With my questions and doubts. His reply? "Well, I am not concerned so much about your spirituality as I am about your commitment to the honor code (at BYU). You don't have to be a member to attend BYU, but you do have to abide by the honor code." I am not exaggerating. Those very well might have been his exact words. But I continued to meet with him. And the depression brought on by the realization that everything I thought to be true might be false continued to deepen.

At one point, I was so distraught with the lack of answer from God assuring me of his existence, I went to the bishop for guidance. He assured me that if I asked God if he loved me, he would answer that and then I would know. He said, "God will always answer that question." This is also what I had been told by members of the ward who were told to visit me. So I changed my prayers. I remember driving to the canyon, to parks, to empty parking lots, and begging God for an answer. I'd ask if he loved me on my knees, out loud, in my heart, in nature, in my room, and any place I could think of that might make me more susceptible to receiving an answer. But it never came. I tried for weeks. That's when my feelings of abandonment and hopelessness and betrayal turned to anger. Anger towards God, towards religion. This was the first time I began seriously considering suicide.

If God always answered that question, why didn't he answer me? Was I that dirty? Was I that unimportant. Was my pain that insignificant? I became agnostic. I figured that while there may or may not be a God, there was no way to ever know it. I had been betrayed and abandoned and no one would provide any answers for me. So I was done. I was done with religion. But the depression continued to worsen.

Eventually, after some long discussions with dear friends of mine, and my discovery of my appreciation for my patriarchal blessing, I began the road to recovery. I came to the realization that the gospel and the church were separate things. I came to understand that prophets are men who sinned and were imperfect. And though I still felt very betrayed, I began to see how I could make it back eventually. My journey wouldn't be the same. This time, my testimony would be built on Christ, and only on Christ. It would not be based on men or any earthly institution (no matter how inspired) and it would embrace complete, transparent truth. I wanted the raw, dirty truth. No more fairy-tales.

This was enough for me. My patriarchal blessing really became key in my discovery of the existence of God, independent of anything else. I no longer believed in that formula A = B = C. I believed truth could be found in many places and just because I found God in my blessing didn't necessarily mean that the church, and the book or Mormon, and the prophets, etc. were true (though I still believed they very well could be). All it had to mean is that I found light in it.

This helped for a couple weeks until disaster struck with a very good friend who had a schizophrenic episode. The next month was difficult as I did everything in my power to get her the help she needed. I talked to doctors, family, friends, psychiatrists, police. I stayed up nights and slept on the floor in front of her door to make sure she wouldn't do something that might endanger her. I spent hours in the hospital until she requested that I don't visit her once she was admitted into the psych ward. I learned how she betrayed me in so many ways, and that hurt. But I still had to do what I could to help. I learned how the mind could convince you of almost anything and how unreliable it could be. This story alone would fill a book, but it was nothing in comparison to the realization that came weeks later. The awful realization that I was gay.

2 comments:

"Lucky Jake" said...

I totally understand about being betrayed. I watched John Dehlin's video on why people leave the church, and it outlined some of these sketchy episodes from the church's past... but in a way where it was informative and so that those in the church could understand the feelings of betrayal. It did affect me for some weeks, but I tried my best and continued forward, and am now at peace with those things, similarly to how you described.

Anonymous said...

When I stopped believing in God and the church I actually felt very happy about it. I didn't feel depressed at all. The only damper on my happiness was that I knew my family wouldn't be to happy about it. I would call myself agnostic now. At first I said I am pretty sure there isn't a God. Now I have moved to thinking that I kind of hope there is a God. In any case I think if there is he isn't as terrible as religions tell us he is.

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