Guest Post: Losing My Religion

cornBy Erin Moore

Mormons, like many other faithful people, are confident in their beliefs. In fact, strip away social graces, and we sound downright smug. During the most recent General Conference, Elder Ballard asked a world full of Mormons:

“If you choose to become inactive, or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do?”

Now if you’re someone like me that continually thinks about leaving the church, the answer is:

Lots of places! Other churches. No church. The beach. Disneyland. Maybe I’ll forsake society, roam the wilderness, and live off squirrel meat.

Indeed, the thought of redeeming 27 years of boring sabbaths is actually kind of fun. But in Elder Ballard’s mind, the question is rhetorical, and he would not have asked it if he believed there to be an acceptable house of faith (literal or figurative) outside the Mormon church. Again: pretty darn confident.

What Isn’t Missing from the Mormon Church: Reason

Typically, the church takes more heat for its lack of evidence than its lack of humility. Critics assert that what we say happened in the Sacred Grove, and many of the events that followed, are not possible. Also, the stories told in the Book of Mormon lack evidence and contradict what we know about early peoples of the American continent.

But part of surviving my so-called “faith crisis” has been learning to accept irrationality in Mormonism. I’m not going to find logic in a faith built on the story of an uneducated teenager who sees God and Christ in the woods, who later finds and translates a set of ancient golden plates. As in so many religions, the founding narrative is based on fantastic stories that defy mortal explanation. Demanding proof from such a narrative is like asking a fish to walk on land: that’s not what it’s designed to do, and you’ll be disappointed every time.

And yet many people, both within and outside the church, bring facts to their faith fight. Confronting the mountains of evidence discrediting Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, you’ll find a small but stalwart army of historians, archivists, linguists, anthropologists, and archaeologists who have dedicated their careers to proving the validity of the Book of Mormon. These are the folks who point out that the blue book has ancient literary patterns that were not discovered until after Joseph’s death, or that there was an actual city somewhere in the Middle East called Nahom, the ruins of which were also discovered decades after the translation.

However, I can comfortably claim that the majority of Mormons choose not to engage scholarship on either side of the debate. Challenge a Mormon on some historical fact, present a piece of evidence that weakens their claim, and you are far more likely to be met with impassioned pleas and probably tears:

“Look, those are tough questions, and I don’t have all the answers. But I just know Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Lord.”

But this post is not a plea for reason. As I said before, I don’t think the world of faith lends itself to most rational arguments, whether those stand to support or discredit the religion. What I’m missing in Mormonism isn’t rationality. It’s faith.

The World According to Religion

To understand how I can claim that my faith has no faith, we need to look at a broader narrative that is common to many religions. Often in church, you’ll hear this description of the world:

The Earth first “fell” with Adam, and it continues to deteriorate. Once grounded in the righteous traditions of the nuclear family and the holy fear of God, we have lost our bearings. Satan gains ground in the hearts of men every day. His workings are relentless, and things here on Earth are only going to get worse before they get better.

Dramatic, I know. And Mormons admittedly don’t play up the Satan thing too much. But most religions have reached consensus on this point: the world is a scary place.

And for much of human history, they were right. In ancient times, religion was humans’ frail attempt to assign predictability and order to a world that kept trying to kill them. It routinized daily life in the hopes that if people said the right chant, or burned the correct sacrifice, the rains would come, and the bears would stay away.

Today, we can track and predict weather patterns, and we can stave off bears. Yet most religious leaders and organizations continue to insist that the world is in trouble, perhaps no longer from bears, but deteriorating moral values, the “war on Christmas,” the “gay agenda,” and a myriad of other threats that would poison your children’s minds and impede the work of God here on Earth.

And with so many reasons to continue to fear, this sets them up to offer a solution: you need us. Churches offer grounding, stability, and the restoration of truth and order. And as previously discussed, they are overwhelmingly confident in their ability to provide that haven from the dangerous world.

The Actual World (For Some People)

I will freely and emphatically admit that for many people, life is indeed chaotic and dangerous. Political conflicts, environmental hazards, and economic destitution make every day uncertain for people throughout the world.

But privilege has made it so that is not the world I live in, and it’s not the American reality my very American religion exists in. Here’s the world as I see it:

Monotony, white noise, blandness. Conversations are shallow because no one is being themselves. All my food is made of corn. Every movie is a copy of the last. There is no bravery. There is no risk. There is no soul. We are all busy and stressed, but we’re accomplishing nothing. Classic problems fester. As we mindlessly consume, time slips silently past us, stealing with it our dreams, our passion, and our individuality.

Again, dramatic. But be honest: when you wake up in the morning, are you really stricken with fear that God will soon rain down fireballs of punishment on the wicked children of men, or are you bored?

What We’re Really Missing

From my perspective, the world still needs religion, but not for the reasons often offered by religion itself. Now instead of order and sense, we need church to usher the wonder of God back into our sad, dull lives. It should not necessarily be a source of certainty, but rather, hope. It should remind us that what we currently see need not and will not always be, that there is so much more for your curious heart to find. That you, and all things, can become better than you presently are. Those without love can find it. The invisible can be seen.

I want my religion to be frail and human, like it was in ancient times. I want it to be desperate, curious, and unsure of itself.

My thirst for wonder cannot be quenched by a church that regurgitates the same trite answers, just as the world mass produces simple, easy-to-digest garbage. And to add insult to injury, my leaders then publicly declare how impressed they are with their answers, and smugly ask how I could want anything better.

I’m disappointed to find that my church has become just as mind-numbing, repetitive, and hopelessly predictable as the world it purports to save me from. It is easy to be sure of one’s self when that self is one-dimensional. The church has gone the way of the world it promised me it would overcome.

Where is wonder? Where is Christ, and where are the infinite possibilities for change which he represents? What happens when we stop marveling at what might be, and settle instead into a quiet, comfortable, corn-fed coma?

Please, somebody save me from that.

Erin lives in Salt Lake City and works at the University of Utah. She loves any combination of writing, movies, politics, friends, and food.

 

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13 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    “we need church to usher the wonder of God back into our sad, dull lives. It should not necessarily be a source of certainty, but rather, hope. It should remind us that what we currently see need not and will not always be, that there is so much more for your curious heart to find. That you, and all things, can become better than you presently are. Those without love can find it. The invisible can be seen.”

    A thousand Amens. I’m so tired of such certainty being constantly professed over our LDS pulpits — certainty that the church is the one true church, that our leaders are doing exactly as God wants, that we have the only true restored priesthood on earth, etc. Give me some more struggle, some more grappling, some more sense of possibility and change and hope. Step away from the black and white, us vs. them language, dwell in and find some beauty in the complexities of life. I’m tired of the pap. Which is probably why I value venues like this. The three hour block is incapable of satisfying my needs for authentic, nuanced, complicated conversations about competing goods and difficult moral choices. It is what it is. And I’ll take it for the good that is there (good hearts, good people, sincere attempts to live moral lives). But I’ll look elsewhere for the sense of wonder and hope and change and struggle.

    • Nancy Ross says:

      I want to add some more Amens. Certainty is not faith, it is a shortcut to the hard work of faith and believing that masquerades as faith.

      • Kristie says:

        I also want to add that the overarching certainty that is professed by the Prophet and apostles makes me, as someone who does have doubts, feel like there is sometimes no place for me. That if I doubt something and question it, I will be rejected. There was a man in my old ward who questioned everything. He sometimes had some outlandish ideas, but I loved that he had the courage and confidence to be a dissenting voice that asked genuine questions in hope of learning. Unfortunately, he was most often met with scornful looks and eye rolls behind his back. I wish the Church encouraged questions, even radical questions. Maybe then I would feel less like an outsider looking in.

  2. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    I embrace Jesus Christ who was open to all, who was unafraid of difficult questions, who sought and found good in all whom he encountered, and who expects the same of us.

  3. Cruelest Month says:

    I too hunger for the curiosity and uncertainty of faith that hopes but acknowledges how little we know. When it comes to crisis I find little use in faith built on false claims of certainty.

  4. Emily U says:

    “From my perspective, the world still needs religion, but not for the reasons often offered by religion itself. Now instead of order and sense, we need church to usher the wonder of God back into our sad, dull lives. It should not necessarily be a source of certainty, but rather, hope.”

    I love this so much. Amen to everything you’ve written. I’ve heard it said that the reason church/general conference is so repetitive is because the people are so disobedient/lazy/wicked and if we weren’t we’d be worthy of the greater mysteries. I think this logic would keep the marveling and the mystery at bay forever. I don’t buy it. More likely, it’s the fallen, human desire for control that makes our leaders say things like what Elder Ballard said.

  5. Thomas says:

    Excellently written and I agree and disagree. The church is full of so much wonder, so much depth. It is more and more left up to us to explore, to delve into the depths and to learn. The leaders provide the example, show the path, but we have to choose to walk it.

    • Tonia says:

      Yes, but it there’s a path it’s not really exploration is it? It’s just following. You have to strike out on your own to really experience wonder.

  6. Tonia says:

    Absolutely fantastic! Totally agree with the bland and boring world idea and the need for religious curiosity. Just when my mind starts to tunnel down a lovely religious rabbit hole, there’s inevitably a forthcoming conference talk to squash it…….sighhh!.

  7. Liz says:

    “It should not necessarily be a source of certainty, but rather, hope. It should remind us that what we currently see need not and will not always be, that there is so much more for your curious heart to find. That you, and all things, can become better than you presently are. Those without love can find it. The invisible can be seen.”

    THIS. Thank you for so eloquently putting into words what I’ve always thought! I wish it didn’t fall short so often, but there are times when my church experience totally hits that nail on its head.

    This is a gorgeous post, Erin. I hope you’ll write here more!!

  8. Moss says:

    Have you read Peter Enn’s new book The Sin of Certainty? It reminded me of your post. He states that the enemy of faith is certainty. I remember as a teen bearing testimony to a friend that I new the church was true because it “answered all my questions”. Looking back I see that I had fundamentally misunderstood the purpose of religion.

  9. Andrew R. says:

    Members need to take back their faith. Faith is what enables the Atonement.

    I believe is powerful. It implies that we are working towards a greater knowledge. That we are putting trust in the unseen, albeit hopefully Spiritual witnessed, Christ and His Gospel.

    I cringe at the “I know”s I hear. Especially when I know they certainly don’t know, and don’t live as if they knew. Worse still, is “I know without a shadow of a doubt”. If you haven’t actually seen the Saviour you must have a shadow of a doubt, or be incapable of thinking. Sure, you can exercise your faith and live as though you knew with not uncertainty, and be better for it I expect. But where humans do not have empirical evidence they have uncertainty – it’s part and parcel of being human.

    I love this from the OP “It should not necessarily be a source of certainty, but rather, hope.”

    Absolutely. We talk of Faith, Hope and Charity. But the reality is we spend more time extolling Faith and Charity. Of course we probably should, Faith is the first principle of the Gospel, and Charity is the Pure Love of Christ – something we should be aiming to emulate.

    However, Hope is essential. Hope is a driving force. It is hope of an Eternal Life that sees me keep my covenants. I made those covenants in Faith, but Hope of the associated blessings of Tithing, the Word of Wisdom, Sacrificing and Consecrating, etc. is what moves my on in my family, my callings, my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

    Have Hope.

  10. Mary G says:

    Please don’t take offense at my question, I mean no offense. If you constantly grapple with the decision to leave your church, then why don’t you leave? If you don’t feel that it is true, or that it fails to teach truth then why do you stay? If you are constantly uncomfortable with its teachings how can you feel connected? I honestly ask because so many people seem to have feelings like this yet they don’t leave, and on the flip side, they don’t have the desire to align themselves with the teachings. It seems to me a state of unhappiness and limbo. I honestly don’t see a problem with your Church Leders expressing confidence in what they believe. It would seem strange if they didn’t. I don’t see it as arrogance. They are simply professing their beliefs and teaching what they have been impressed upon to teach. That being said, you have the choice to believe and accept or not. Is it that you believe some of the doctrine but not all? If that is the case, it seems like some level of happiness could be reached. Patience and faith might enlighten you more in time. If you aren’t open to that, I wonder why you don’t seek for happiness in another church? Or the other places you suggested. I honestly don’t think God intends for it to be such a struggle for you.

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