Last week, I posted some thoughts entitled “To a Doubter, From the Fringes.” As I was writing to friends and others (based on what I think would’ve been useful for me earlier in my faith remodeling), I want to expand a bit on what I wrote then, based on some questions and thoughts that people have shared with me. Again, this is by no means a catch-all solution to dealing with doubt and questions concerning truth claims of the Church, but some suggestions based on what has worked for me.
Here’s a relevant quote from my post last week that I’ll build on for my first thoughts.
“My first moment of “faith crisis” occurred in high school. I started wondering if God was real. I’ve always been a curious sort and I value truth and knowledge quite highly, so I figured I should probably come to some sort of conclusion (particularly given the decisions that I would be making shortly as a young Mormon dude). My crisis was internal and intellectual at this point. After some time of thinking through possibilities, I decided to pray (how else would a young Mormon find answers to theological questions?). My goal was two-fold; to learn if God exists and to learn if the Book of Mormon was true (I didn’t really think about what that meant at this point). I prayed and asked if God loved me (decided that if God existed, but didn’t love me then I didn’t care about Him/Her/Them). I was immediately enveloped in what I can best describe as a divine embrace, I felt warmth and pure love run through me (that remains one of the most powerful spiritual experiences that I’ve had and one of the few times that typical prayer resulted in an answer like that). I then asked if the Book of Mormon was true and the feeling stayed. I know that God loves me.
That experience continues to serve as the cornerstone of my faith. Could it have been some sort of mental trickery? It’s possible. Did I hallucinate? Perhaps. How can I know that it was God? Honestly, I don’t know. Except that what I felt, felt so good and so pure that if it’s not God, it should be.”
So, like I said, this confirmed for me the existence of God and His/Her/Their love for me. But, what does this mean about the nature of God and God’s relationship to humanity as well as the Church? Those are some bigger questions that I have thoughts about and things that feel right, but am less certain about. Part of this is using the word “God.” It’s somewhat unorthodox, but I like to think about God as referring to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother together, like saying ‘The Parents’ or something. That makes it a bit difficult to use pronouns with, especially given the typical connotation of God referring exclusively to Heavenly Father. Obviously, based on my comments here, I believe in an anthropomorphic God. It feels right to me and I love the idea of humans being Gods in embryo, so it makes sense for God to be anthropomorphic.
Given that I felt God’s love, I also tend to view God as personal, being interested in our lives. However, I don’t really view God as being interventionist (more of my thoughts on that here, if you’re interested), but caring intensely.
Does this experience suggest that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true Church? Depends. What does it mean for a Church to be ‘true’? Is it a physically tangible and provable something? Does it refer to the teachings and doctrines of the Church? Does it mean something about the saving ordinances of the Church and their efficacy being unique to Mormonism? That question is one I still don’t quite know how to answer. I do believe that I feel God’s love by participating in Mormonism and through the priesthood, which suggests something unique about Mormonism, but all I know is that I feel like Mormonism is where I belong and where God wants me.
Some asked me about physical or tangible answers to prayers that cement my interpretation and feeling that I actually felt God’s love and not some set of confirmation biases. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to respond to that query. Particularly since the examples that readily came to mind could be passed off as coincidences by those of a mind to doubt my interpretation (which I understand as a generally skeptical individual). Anyway, here goes.
- When I was younger (10 or 12 probably), I remember thinking one day that if I needed to serve my mission someplace where I did not baptize a single person, I could do that. Looking back I frame it as a sort of covenant making experience, where I told God that that would be ok. Guess what? I served in Lithuania and never had an investigator baptized while I taught them (two that I did teach were eventually baptized). A small, possibly coincidental example of a physical evidence of prayer and the reality of God.
- As a missionary, there was one day I was on a bus, with my companion, who was holding a keyboard. We had a 30-40 minute bus ride ahead of us and were standing, just wanting to make it to our apartment. Shockingly (read: utterly unsurprisingly), a drunk man got on the bus behind us and started muttering in our direction, building to a yell, that was getting progressively more and more violent. I was terrified, given our lack of escape route, my scrawny build, and the keyboard that we were carrying—if he came for us, we were toast. After 10-15 minutes of this, I prayed and suddenly felt myself filled with Godly love and sorrow for this stranger that I had been terrified of. Immediately, he stopped and just muttered to himself for the next 15 minutes or so.
So there’s that. I don’t really have personal sorts of experiences with finding lost keys or whatever (for a number of reasons; I don’t lose stuff that often, I usually just look for it myself, since I think God gave me my brain and senses for a reason, and when I have lost things, I don’t think it’s a big enough deal to ask for divine intervention). Yet, those experiences and other less tangible ones are good enough for me.
Now, briefly on to what is left in the Church itself, if the narratives and traditions that you believed in collapse. This deserves more attention than a short (relatively speaking) section can do full justice, but some thoughts seem fitting here.
This goes back to what I said earlier about the Church being “true.” I think once stuff starts to fall apart, you need to reevaluate what it means for something to be “true.” That process can be painful, but I think will typically lead to a more nuanced view of the world in general and Mormonism in particular. Truth for me is more of an abstract ideal, than a connection to facts and logic. I find truth in film and literature, both of which are built on fabrication. Regardless of historical concerns and shifting views of prophets and prophetic fallibility, Mormonism holds beautiful truths as ideals that remain.
I think it’s important to hold on to feelings. Truth and life is way more complex than facts and figures. Emotions and feelings are huge part of our lived experience, so think about how things make you feel. The sheer amount of goodness in Mormonism (in the people) is worth something (not suggesting that such goodness is exclusive to Mormonism, but that its presence is worth holding onto). If you’ve felt beautiful things being Mormon prior to the shifting understanding you have, then there’s probably beauty there still. For me, related ideas to this are expressed by Eugene England in his fantastic essay, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.” The Central thesis of the essay is that by serving in the Church and interacting with others, we are forced to perfect ourselves, thus the Church itself helps us progress, in combination with the Gospel. This may become even more true as you remodel your faith and become farther and farther removed from a traditional Mormon perspective.
Rather than discount everything using the paradigm that you had in place before, think about how you can recontextualize information and still hold on to things. Part of this for me has been dropping the “I know” rhetoric and focusing on belief. That provides me with a decent amount of wiggle-room that I feel more comfortable with. Also, shifting how I understand truth and the role of prophets.
That’s a woefully inadequate beginning to addressing a hugely complex issue. However, I understand that and simply intend these ideas to serve as the beginnings of future thought and discussions. It’s important to note that everyone’s faith journey is highly individualized and the concerns that I have may not be the biggest issues for you or your friends/loved ones. Or vice versa, what isn’t a big deal for me, could be a huge complication for you.
Faith remodeling can be painful (usually is), but the results are worth it. There’s a more nuanced and (for me) rewarding perspective that comes from going through a serious examination of your beliefs and determining what you actually believe for yourself. Again, if you need someone to talk to, throughout your faith restructuring, I’m willing to chat. And know, that you’re not alone. God loves (that sounds hippy-ish, which I’m totally cool with. Nothing wrong with some hippy vibes).