Tithing was always a heavy medal. The weight caused the material it was pinned against to sag, and the constant flopping around with every movement soon began to be annoying, and the fastener constantly irritated the skin. But by God, as a devout Mormon it was a medal worth wearing.
After all, tithing wasn’t just a sign of devotion, of commitment to the one true God. It was also a commandment with a promise. The very windows of heaven were opened to one who paid a faithful tithe, and the blessings were pouring down in such quantity that there was hardly any room left to receive any more of them.
I was minding my own business when without having had any other recent conversation even remotely related to the topic, I received the following text from my mother. “Where do feelings of love come from if there is no God?”
On the surface, this is a very simple question, and one that has a very interesting answer. But as I thought about how I would answer it, I realized what it was she was really asking. She wasn’t interested in discussing evolutionary biology. She wasn’t interested in discussing brain chemistry. This wasn’t a question she wanted answered. This was, in her mind, proof of God. After all, since God is love, it only follows that the undeniable existence of love proves the existence of God.
A lot can happen in a year. Some years seem to pass without much changing. Other years, you’d never guess at the beginning of it that your life would be completely different 365 days later. For me, this past year has been of the latter variety.
Today is the 365th day I’ve been keeping this blog. I started it because I felt like I needed a safe place to work out my thoughts and my confusion. I was just coming to the realization that the church I had believed in my entire life was not true. I was beginning to question almost everything that I thought I once knew. In the past 365 days, I’ve figured out quite a few things, changed my life in several fundamental ways, and confronted new questions that I’m still struggling to figure out. I thought I’d take a moment today to highlight a few of those things.
I was talking with a Mormon I had met only that day. This was late December of last year, and my mother had asked me to meet with him because he was fairly knowledgeable about some of the problems with early Mormon church history and she was hoping that he’d be able to address some of my concerns about the veracity of the truth claims of the church. After all, she reasoned, if he knew some of the same facts that I did, but he still believed in the church, maybe I could find a way to return to faith as well.
We talked for quite some time; about three hours if I recall correctly. At one point I stated that I had started the wrong way round: I had tried first to determine if Mormonism was true when it would have been an easier process if I had instead asked if there was even a god. I explained that I had considered myself agnostic, but was beginning to identify more and more with the atheist label. When he heard that, he responded, “Wow. You have more faith than I do.” His point was, I think, that it would be just as difficult for me to disprove god’s existence as it would be for him to prove it, and that when anyone settled on the question of god’s existence, they were adopting a position where they take their desire for the result as the premise from which they begin their arguments. I remembered that in the preceding months I had also been frustrated with this idea of the fruitlessness of trying to prove or disprove god. Until I realized that it didn’t matter to me that it couldn’t be proved either way; at some point I finally understood that I simply couldn’t be bothered with the question.
I recently read a post on Deborah Mitchell’s great blog Kids Without Religion that discussed god as the enabler in a relationship with an addictive partner. In talking about how a politician named Mark Sanford took his recent win in the polls–despite having been involved in scandal after scandal that should have proven to the public that he was unfit for office–as a sign from god that he had been saved from his repeated sins, she wrote:
How convenient. His god forgives him. Again. And again. Like many folks, Sanford’s an addict and his god, the enabler. That’s the reality. Sanford knows that he’ll be forgiven as many times as he needs it. And God doesn’t even exact a punishment. Instead, he rewards him. “Saves” him, whatever the heck that means. How does Sanford know that he’s been saved? Did God tattoo a stamp on his derriere ‘SAVED!”? Or does he just know he’s saved because he’s won the race and he’s in his happy place? (The answer is the latter.)
She goes on to talk about the importance of taking responsibility for our own actions and not just continuing to harm others, trusting that in the end god will make everything right again. It’s a really great point and a good read as well. What really caught my eye, though, was slightly off-topic from her main points. The idea of finding signs from god in unlikely places kind of intrigued me, and I wanted to discuss that a little bit. As a Mormon, I knew the feeling of looking for god’s approval in signs similar to Sanford’s electoral victory.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately. It’s not really my fault, though. I’ve stumbled across a few blogs written by atheists and–purely out of curiosity, I swear–I’ve read a few of their posts. Most of the points they made were, to be honest, right on the mark. The ensuing discussions in the comment sections, however, made me want to pull my hair out. I decided I’d write a little about my perspective on it, but found myself up against almost insurmountable problems.
I’m relatively new to atheism. I’ve only stopped believing in God within about the past twelve months. Because of that, I still have a fairly fresh memory of my previous absolute certainty of God’s existence and His glorious nature. At the same time, though, I feel so stupid for having believed it. Was I really that gullible? So I understand that people who feel compelled to defend God are acting out of complete sincerity and are doing so only because they are deluded and don’t know the truth. Which, in turn, is exactly what they think about those of us who no longer buy the story. And the comments on the blogs kept revolving around this central issue: “I’ve got the truth and you completely refuse to see it.” The rebuttal to which, of course, was: “No, I‘ve got the truth and you completely refuse to see it.” Is there no way to find common ground? Is there no approach to this issue that works for both sides? And then I realized: the atheists have got it wrong.
This week a team that was initiating a new project at my workplace came into town, and as part of the initial get-to-know-you activities, we all spent an evening together at a local sports bar. I decided that this time I would order an alcoholic beverage. However, I hadn’t thought it through beforehand, and when I stepped up to the bar and the barkeeper asked me what I would like to drink, I had no idea what to say. “Um … something with alcohol in it?” didn’t exactly sound like the sort of thing one says at a bar. So instead of ordering, I said, “Yeah. Gimme a minute to decide.” I spent the next few seconds searching deep into my lore of alcohol, and coming up empty, I texted Girlfriend: “I’m at the bar and have no idea what to order. Any suggestions?”
While waiting for her response, my coworker arrived and sat next to me. He effortlessly ordered a Blue Moon, and I quietly explained my dilemma to him: “I want to drink something, but I’ve never ordered at a bar before. Got any ideas?” He told me since I’d never drunk beer before, I probably wouldn’t like the flavor, but recommended maybe I start with Coors Lite, since it would be the mildest. I asked if he enjoyed any other kinds of drinks than beer, and after considering it a moment, he said his favorite was probably rum and coke. Short of any better ideas, I decided I’d give it a try. I placed my order and as I was waiting for the drink to come, my coworker asked the obvious question: why had I decided to drink that night? I mumbled something about having left the church, and he asked the next obvious question: what had caused me to abandon my religion? I’m sure he must have thought he had somehow been transported to the local aquarium, because I did my best impression of a fish: wide unblinking eyes with my mouth opening and closing several times without saying anything. It was only then that I realized: I have no idea how to be the ex-Mormon in the elevator.
There is a certain sense of safety, security, and comfort that those who believe in a loving God retain in their lives even amid great change and uncertainty. Just knowing that God is there, that He is aware of you, that He loves you, and that He knows the trials and tribulations you are currently facing will ultimately prove to have been for your good … how can that not help you face whatever comes with anything but hope and optimism and added strength? And conversely, how can you face even small difficulties in life if you lack the conviction that it all means something, that it will all work out in the end, that somehow God will even the score, even if it has to wait until the next life? That’s one of the more difficult questions that I’m asked, and because of everything that I’ve lost when I lost my belief in God, this has left the biggest hole and I still find myself mourning it from time to time.
Yet I have found a place I’m comfortable with. Perhaps it’s not quite Abraham’s bosom. Perhaps it’s not even the location of my final destination in my relationship with deity. But it’s a place that I’m comfortable with today, from which I can face each new day that comes with a sense of optimism and hope. At least for now, it’s my view of Life, the Universe, and Everything. If you’ve got a few minutes, I’d love to share it with you.
Late Sunday night my sister and her family stopped by. They were headed back from a family outing, and since they were close, thought it would be good to stop in and see us. As we were sitting in the living room chatting with them, my daugher whispered to me, “Have you told them you were released?” I shook my head, but then started thinking about it. Why not tell them that I was released? I didn’t have to go into the whole backstory; I could just say that I no longer held the calling that I had held previously. That’s a fairly common occurence in the Mormon church. You get callings, and you are released from callings. Totally normal. Nothing to be afraid of. I could say I was released without saying that I no longer believed.
So as I was talking to my sister a little later, there was a lull in the conversation, and so I said, just as casually as I could muster, “Oh, I was released from the bishopric today.” Continue reading
I don’t really know where I’m headed. After Mormonism, what?
Because I was raised as a Mormon and spent my entire life trying to follow its teachings, my world felt like it crumbled when I realized it wasn’t true. Although it began as a question only about the veracity of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, I feel now like I have to question just about everything that I had previously accepted only on faith, including the very existence of God. Continue reading