16 November 2014

A Lesson in Respectfully Stating One's Disbelief

One of my roommates from BYU just came out of the closet. Not the gay closet, the non-believer closet. It has been heartening (and I know believers would find the use of that word in this situation weird, and perhaps evil) to consistently run into people from my mission and from my BYU wards who have left the LDS Church. Some of them are people I would have never thought would leave- Relief Society Presidents, Elders Quorum Leaders, hard-core every-fiber-of-my-being type believers. It's really hard to state your disbelief when you grew up in an LDS environment. Those who leave the faith are viewed as enemies. They threaten the faith of others simply by their own disbelief and so they are often cut out of the lives of friends and family. Members of the Church automatically discredit anything the person has to say about the religion, even if the person spent most their life devoted to the religion. So, you see, it takes some bravery to be honest about your disbelief.

Some people handle it better than others. Members of the LDS Church always use the phrase, "you can leave the church, but you can't leave it alone." It is a phrase used to "prove" that those who leave the faith actually know its true deep down and so they can't just quietly move on with their lives.
Again- an example of how the Church invalidates those who leave and refuse to believe anything they have to say- even when its about their own life. It is an interesting attitude for a church that sends tens of thousands of missionaries into the world to preach their beliefs to people (I was one of them) and often encourages the membership to flood the internet with "faith-promoting" material. It's interesting attitude for a church that also looks to the example of "Lehi" who, once tasted of truth, immediately desired to share that with his family so they could know it too.

I have not always communicated my disbelief in a respectful way. I'm still working through forgiving the Church for the deep harm it caused in my life. But I am grateful for examples like my old BYU roommate who I think handled it very well. I wanted to share that here:

"I want to preface this by saying this is as much as you’ll hear on the subject from me unless you ask to talk about it. I feel this is important to preserve my relationships with friends and family.

It’s been quite a while since I realized I didn't believe in God, but the recent media blitz about the lds.org essay revealing (some of the) truth about Joseph Smith makes this seem like as good a time as any to let everyone know. It’s kind of a relief, because if I had brought up what is said in the essay a few weeks ago, I would have been called a liar. Many of my friends and family would have said I’d been led astray by Satan for believing those things.

I’ll leave my thoughts on the specific Joseph Smith matter in a comment on this post, because it sort of detracts from the general message of this post ([My wife] is a great editor).

My disbelief really had nothing to do with Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Finally letting the truth of it all sink in just strengthened my resolve. I’ve adopted a policy of only believing something if I have a good reason to, such as evidence. There’s no more “choosing to believe” for me, a concept which I think is nonsense. I do not see believing something without evidence, or “faith", as a virtue. I honestly think it is dangerous. Yes, in most cases it's harmless and even leads people to do wonderful things in the name of the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, etc. But it can also lead anywhere from racism (as evidenced by the church’s history with black people, as outlined in another recent lds.org essay ADMITTING THAT THE CHURCH WAS WRONG AND ESSENTIALLY LED FAITHFUL MEMBERS ASTRAY), to terrorism, as evidenced by the buildings-flying-of-planes-into that I'll mention in my comment below.

I don’t have any intention of proselytizing my non-belief, but I don’t think sending out a huge force of missionaries into the world puts you in any position to demonize those who do.

I’m sorry to anyone I’m hurting. I love my friends and family who still believe in the church; I love my brother and sister-in-law who are serving LDS missions, and I hope that my relationships will remain in tact. But I’ve heard too many stories, from others who have lost belief, about parents and spouses saying “it would have been better if you had died”, so I don’t think all of my relationships will make it out of this one. I'm shaking with fear of the consequences even as I type this. It saddens me, but I’m weary of pretending I know what’s going on week-to-week in my ward or biting my tongue when people say ignorant things about politics or homosexuality that are clearly influenced by their faith and not reason. I need to live authentically.

Do not take this to mean I don’t respect you if you believe. You have to remember, I believed in the church for a very long time. I know what you’re feeling. I know what it felt like when someone said the harsh things I’m saying now. I don’t like you any less, and I don’t think you’re dumb. The most brilliant people I know- geneticists, biologists, computer scientists (ok one of them is all three of those things), some of whom are my best friends- are believing Mormons, and I doubt they’ll ever stop. I will always love them and I do not view them any differently.

I also don’t regret growing up in the church. My most valued friendships, including the one with my wife, would have never happened otherwise. I have so many good memories from church activities during my childhood and teenage years that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Lastly, the dumbest thing you can possibly do is accuse me of being lazy, offended by someone in the church, or desiring to sin. These are ways many who leave the church are painted, and it’s ridiculous. Sure, I’m lazy in many aspects in life. I love to sit around and watch TV, but when it comes time to work I do it hard. Ask my employers.

I’m also not easily offended. Ask anyone who's made a crack about any of my many flaws.

As for desire to “sin”, alcohol and drugs never interested me growing up. I was perfectly happy to observe the tenents of the church for the rest of my life. I always loved the smell of coffee, but it wasn’t as if I felt I was missing out on something (turns out I was, though), and coffee would be an awfully stupid reason to give up your eternal salvation, wouldn't it?

I’m happier than I’ve ever been. My life has done nothing but improve since I made this decision. Shortly afterward, I became motivated to learn a very valuable skill and am now in a career doing something I love. Also, my wife and I continue to be more in love every day. Our Sundays are spent with each other (and our daughter/my stepdaughter every other weekend) doing fun, exciting things rather than sitting through 3+ hours of hearing the exact. same. things. I heard 52 times a year for the first 27 years of my life.

Sure, you’re welcome to believe I’m not truly happy, that instead I'm deceived by Satan into thinking I’m happy. Just don’t say it out loud, because that's what people in cults say.

[BYU Roommate]
P.S. Here, read this: http://cesletter.com/

His comment (mentioned in the text above):

I learned some of the nasty facts about Joseph Smith a few years before I stopped believing. It hurt my feelings and I dismissed it as lies and noted to myself that he was a prophet and if it was true, God had a reason for it: maybe it was all done to try Joseph’s faith or the faith of people like me, etc, etc.

Okay, real talk time.

Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was killed because he ordered the press of the Nauvoo Expositor (a newspaper) destroyed when it was about to print the very information outlined in the lds.org essay. I don’t condone killing, but it shows that he was not an innocent martyr killed for righteousness’s sake by any stretch of the imagination.

Joseph Smith married children and other men’s wives, and lied about it. Those are facts. If you want to rely on what you believe is a spiritual confirmation that this was okay because it was commanded by God, that’s your deal. But I don’t find those feelings valid, because people of every religion have very similar feelings about what they believe. In fact, I’m willing to bet everyone who’s ever flown an airplane into a building had a stronger spiritual confirmation than you’ve had about Joseph Smith. There are many who view Warren Jeffs, leader of the FLDS church and polygamist currently incarcerated for sexual assault of a minor, the same way you view Joseph Smith because they’ve had a spiritual confirmation. When you disregard unreliable emotions, you’ll see they really aren’t that different.

I’m also not sure why so many are willing to believe that Joseph Smith’s marriages were not sexual but Brigham Young’s were. That, combined with the fact that many denied Smith was even a polygamist while accepting that Young was, makes me think on some level they know there’s something wrong with Mormon polygamy in general.

I also believe, with all my heart, that the church needs to denounce, not excuse with stories of angels and swords, 37-year-old men marrying girls when they’re 14 (or as the lds.org essay puts it, "several months before her fifteenth birthday." How about we just settle on “several months after she was 13”?) because it will lead to more present day justifications of such behavior, like Warren Jeffs. Just say he was a prophet but that he was wrong about that, like Presidents Brigham Young through Harold B. Lee were wrong about blacks and the priesthood. Please?"


It is hard to realize we've been fooled by someone we trusted. I put my trust in Mormonism and its leaders. I defended my faith. I brought other people into my faith. It is extremely painful to come to the realization that your deeply held beliefs are based on lies and manipulation. I've tried to process that as best I can. I hope I can learn from those like my old roommate. I think the key is forgiveness. Somehow I must find the courage to forgive a Church that will likely never apologize for the damage it did to me and for continuing to do damage to others. 


Andrew said...

What stands out to me in BYU roomates' letter is a recurring theme of the word "Church." He goes on to say "I believed in the church" and mentions that word several times. Notice how God is entirely absent from the conversation. It's all about the religious experience of the ward, and of a mortal man a sinner himself Joseph Smith. Faith in the church isn't going to be sustainable. Nor is faith in a mortal man. Getting folks to follow a ward, or a mortal man, isn't adhering to the great commission. The calling to follow Jesus Christ the living God who was, is, and is to come, is an entirely different matter, there are no pews involved in that. There are no talking points. There are no matters of belief. Regarding the spiritual battle of this world, the last three words of the most famous 'spiritual human being' whether you call him God or not were, "It is finished." Not, "it is finished only if you believe."

As for logic and reason, everyone should read Immanuel Kant's critique of pure reason and then come back to the conversation. Logic is limited. Albert Einstein said, "The eternal mystery of the world is it’s comprehensibility." Charles Darwin said, “I regret that I suggested a theory, and that gullible men gobbled it up, as though it were fact. I never intended that.” Martin Rees a British astronomer said, “It looks surprising that our universe is initiated by a finely tuned impetus almost exactly enough to balance the deceleration tendency of gravity. It’s like sitting at the bottom of a deep well and throwing a stone upwards just so that it comes to a halt exactly at the top. That’s our universe.” Roger Penrose, also a British scientist philosopher said, "If our electric magnetic force, 10 to the power 36, was slightly different, life could not have evolved anywhere. With the Geodetic effect , Nuclear force efficiency - the amount of energy released from the conversion of hydrogen to helium 0.07% - if it’s changed by one or two percent, we don’t get carbon and ‘the bang’ goes out." This is all to say that the best and brightest minds of our time in unison all point to one similar pausing point. That there is this deliberate shadow behind everything that science has observed.

Lastly, to say that men who drove planes into buildings had any ounce of spirituality, even in an a metaphor, is absolutely disgusting. Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Oklahoma federal building in 1997 was over taken by pure evil. The students who shot up columbine high school were taken by pure evil. The preaching of Fred Phelps was over taken by pure evil. The ISIS terrorists in Syria that beheaded 19 people this last week were taken by pure evil. Hitler's war on Jews was pure evil. If anyone says only a cult would call those acts evil, is not accustomed to reality. We live in world where evil is present. Certain aspects of the Mormon church are not except from that reality. Spurgeon a famous preacher once said, ""If your religion does not make you holy it will damn you. It is simply pageantry to go to hell in." This is not a literal quote, this does not mean you will go to hell if religion doesn't work for you. Spurgeon's point is, that if you got lost in religion, you may end up kicking God out of the experience all together and never truly had a hold of Him in the first place. It's true for many Christians today. Drowning in rituals. Isn't it amazing that this Jesus addresses this in his day, and that it is echoing all the way to today.

Most merciful God, Give us true knowledge of other people in their differences from us and in their likenesses to us, that we may deal with their real selves, measuring their feelings by our own, but patiently considering their varied lives and thoughts and circumstances; and in all our relations to them from false judgements of our own , help us to be one people through all the seasons of life. Amen " ( ~ George Ridding 1828)

Jonathan Adamson said...

Andrew- Thank you for that thought-provoking comment. I really enjoyed reading and thinking about what you said and am glad you took the time to write. I've noticed in the past how, within Mormonism, most people get wrapped up in the truth of the "Church" or of the "Book of Mormon" or "Joseph Smith." You can't really blame people- the Church itself sets those things up as the foundation of a testimony of the gospel. "Read this book. Pray about it. If you feel good, it means it's true. If it's true, Joseph was a prophet. If Joseph was a prophet, the Church is true!"

But as all that comes crumbling down, people are left scrambling to pick up the pieces rather than realizing that their religion wasn't really connecting them to God... it was connecting them to religion. Christ indeed rejected the religions of his day and condemned religious leaders. It is interesting that we have built a model of Christianity that seeks to replicate the very institutions Christ condemned.

Billy Bob said...

Good point Jonathan. Christ would recognize what he sees in the church today in what he saw in the Pharisees. Just try asking or mentioning a non approved question in church and see what happens. Joseph Smith would have the same problem. He said the prominent difference between mormonism and other faiths is that they put down stakes and say go no further, something he didn't subscribe too. The church today has laid all kinds of stakes down. Just try going further with a non correlated question and see what happens. Where does the holy ghost have room to inspire in such a rigid setting?

Post a Comment