If I had been keeping this blog all along, I’d just say “you want to know why I left the Church? Read my blog.” The whole point of writing this blog actually is to chronicle what I am thinking and going through, because it can be difficult to quickly summarize a long, difficult, and extrordinarily complex spiritual journey. But I only started this blog a few weeks ago, so there are some obvious blank spots. Normally I have no intention of tring to play catch-up; it’d be impossible, or would certainly take more time and effort than I am willing to devote. But I have no problem re-viting soemthing I’ve hashed through before if it’s on mymind again. Or, as in this case, if someone asks.
I grew up in the Church. Yeah, I had a period as a teenager of intellectual rebellion, but when it came down to it, I got my act together and went on a mission. On a mission, I developed a testimony, or rather I fleshed out the weak and small testimony I already had via fervent prayer and intense spiritual experiences. I came home from my mission, I got married in the temple to the most wonderful girl in the world, and stayed active in the church. We held callings, and tried to magnify them. When the prophet said “read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year,” we did it.
Then last spring, my brother called me and told me that he was struggling with his testimony and that he wasn’t sure that the Church was true. I reassured him as best as I could, and I bore what testimony I could. But I supported him- hey, if the gospel is true, and my brother is searching earnestly, he’ll come back around. Time passed, and we had a lot of in-depth discussions.
Eventually, the inevitable happened. In dealing with my brother’s crisis of faith, I was forced to examine my own convictions. I had to look at everything, which meant pulling out the doubts and concerns that I had been tucking away for years. The way to deal with doubt in the Mormon church is never to address it directly. It is instead to simply “get busy” reading your scriptures, saying your prayers, and getting active in the church until the things you were worried about don’t really bother you anymore because you feel so good about the Church and the gospel (you know the Church is true so you can trust that your doubts and concerns have answers even if the answers are neither apparent nor forthcoming).
Ultimately, it came down to testimony. When I said “I know the Church is true,” what was I basing that on? I was basing it on powerful emotional experiences I had in the Missionary Training Center and on general good feelings that I had developed toward the Church and its teachings over the course of my life.
When I looked carefully, I realized that these bases were totally unsatisfactory.
Emotional experiences are anything but dispositive. Emotion is certainly not a reliable guide to objective truth, or even always a very good guide for how to live your life. How many times have I been inappropriately angry, for example? Or disproportionately jealous? I know people who live lives entirely dictated by their emotions, and these people live in crazy land. Furthermore, what I know of the scriptures leads me to believe that powerful emotional manifestations are not necessarily manifestations of the Holy Ghost, which is described as a “still small voice,” not “surging, powerful emotion.”
General good feeling? The simple fact of human existence is that people who are fully engaged in anything are likely to feel generally well-disposed towards it. The busier you are, the more you are engaged, and the more you immerse yourself in something, the more you feel like you’re doing a good thing, like everything is clear and you have drive and focus. That doesn’t prove something is true because it works for everything. It works for homeless outreach programs as well as it worked for the Nazi Party. It not only doesn’t prove anything, but it isn;t even evidence of anything.
So there you had it. The rocks that I had built my house on were sand.
From that point on, I began to look at the Church a lot more critically. I had doubts, concerns, and criticisms, and I no longer felt like I needed to hide them in a drawer somewhere. I started looking at a wider set of sources to try and see what the Church really was, instead of just accepting what it claimed to be. What I found was found problem after problem but no satisfactory answers.
At the same time, I was in a position to try to figure out for myself what I believe. Ask a Mormon what they believe about any given subject, and they’ll respond with what the Church teaches about it (and if they don’t know, they’ll tell you they need to look into it before they can give you an answer). I felt like I needed to figure out what I believed, and let the pieces fall where they may.
Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. My brother, his wife, and most importantly, my wife, were all in it with me. All four of us were suddenly trying to figure things out.
In the end, my wife and I decided that we were not going to be active members of the Church for now. We’re not having our names removed or anything, but we’re trying to live our lives according to what we think is right, not according to what a church tells us is right. We finally came to the decision after going to the temple to do an endowment session after Christmas, and we just didn’t feel like the Church was right for us.
This is not a thing I have approached lightly. The Church is much more than a place I went to on Sundays, it’s a way of life and a way of looking at the world. Leaving that behind has been absolutely terrifying. On top of that, my extended family has not always been very understanding. I know they love us and they have our best interests at heart, but they’ve made the process a lot more difficult and emotionally trying than it needed to be (moreso for my brother than for me, but there’s enough uncomfortable-ness to go around).
The door isn’t closed on the matter. I’ll admit that I could be wrong, and if I find out that I am, then I’ll swallow my pride, repent, and come back. But until then, I’m looking elsewhere.