Guest Post: Losing My Religion
By 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.