Wednesday, March 24, 2010

“Did you pray with full intent?”

“Did you pray with full intent? Did you actually want an answer? Did you go down on your knees to pray? I'd try doing these things before saying that you didn't feel anything since I know if you do then you will feel that it is true.”

It’s curious how loaded words like “full intent” and “actually” can be used in the context of your comment to imply that the other person is not sincere enough. I could just as ineffectively make the equivalent comment:

“Did you *actually* want the truth, or did you just want an answer? Did you apply your complete awareness with *full intent*? I’d try doing these things before saying you didn’t understand anything since I know that if you do you will see that it is true.”

(For the record, I never said “I didn’t feel anything.” I would actually claim the opposite. There is much to be felt in any religion. But these feelings are not exclusive to any one religion, and it is astounding to claim that they are exclusive to religion at all.)

It is not some sort of insincere or selfish desire to believe what we want that leads many of us past religion. It is, in fact, the opposite. What we discover is often unexpected and/or upsetting, but at the same time, more plausible. When religion prevents outmoded understandings from being replaced with more plausible and more functional understandings, we are placed in a difficult dilemma: (1) Risk the potentially painful consequences (psychological or otherwise) of questioning our religion or (2) find a way to put our questions back on the self (suspend our incredulity).

Susceptibility to religious affect does not make one mindless or somehow less human. I could iterate a thousand times that I know what it feels like to believe in this church and how, from within that belief structure, it does not feel like manipulation. When you believe in it, it feels as though it would have to be some kind of perfect fraud in order to not be true. I just happened to unwittingly contemplate two key questions to their ultimate (and dare I say, unexpectedly euphoric) extent: (1) If this church isn’t what it claims--if it is the perfect fraud, would I want to know and (2) how would I be able to know?

But to answer your questions: yes, yes, and yes.

If this church is the perfect fraud, would you want to know? Would the tools and environment offered by this church allow you to know?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Describing My Disaffection Again

It’s sort of ironic that Seminary, of all things, introduced me to some of the finer points of philosophy. I remember getting a note card sized handout with a list of philosophy terms and their basic definitions. The one that stuck with me the most was "Epistemology: How do we know what we know?" It would be a while before I ran into the classical epistemological Venn diagram, and even then, my internal LDS filter (which was running on something like autopilot) would not have been phased by something so simple.

It was the consistently resurfacing definition and question, "How do we know what we know?"—that and a whole lot of idealism injected by meaningful people (many of whom happened to be church members)—that guided me out. Idealism that kept me asking things like:

"Wait, how are unconventional sexuality and gender roles immoral[?]... because no person or thing has convincingly explained this to me yet? Why were certain races (those bearing the “mark of Cain”) punished for some “provisional” period of time? But no, really, why is the ability to understand these sorts of things not a part of who I am? Furthermore, why am I engineered with a tendency to recognize just how wrong this (church history, narcissistic self-righteousness, shunning of critical thought) is becoming to me? Why do you all seem more and more like these self-righteous Zoramites you insist on warning me about?"

Normally, I would only ask one or two of these questions at a time. It was like each question or idea was a single book off of a shelf. I would read a few pages, ponder, and put the question/curiosity back. Even though the attempted answers were ineffectual, they were merely singular questions. It didn’t require a huge amount of cognitive dissonance to put them back on the shelf. I could always revisit them later.

Eventually, the questions became so numerous and constant that it was as if I had books (thoughts) freely scattered on every surface. I was an unwitting researcher on the verge of a most important discovery. My thoughts began to congeal and interconnect, and I could not continue to fit them back on the shelf, but that began to no longer matter because the closer I got to a unified explanation, the less I began to worry about the consequences of a cluttered workspace. If what I was about to discover was true, a mess of books and papers was the least of my concern.

It was with that earnestness that I decided to look into the temple endowment ceremony. At that time, making the bold decision to read it seemed to require my entire accumulation of ideas and convictions (the beginnings of an expanded paradigm). This is because I had previously convinced myself that reading the ceremony in a state of alleged unworthiness would have been "unthinkable," and perhaps even unforgivable. However, if what I was about to discover was true, a mess of self-perpetuated beliefs would, again, be the least of my concern.

I found the temple ceremonies and their permutations throughout church history to be disturbing (I mean disturbing in the sense that a part of me wasn't quite expecting them to be so hollow and meaningless—so shockingly able to take back years of vain attempts to connect the LDS church with reality). I breathed out one last prayer that night. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it could have easily gone something like this:

"Dear Heavenly Father, I accidentally know too much now, and I think I've realized that several major pieces in the Plan of Salvation don't fit. I certainly wasn’t expecting this turn of events, and I don’t even know why I’m talking to you when it’s as good as obvious that I can’t talk to something that doesn’t exis... "

I reached a fulcrum that night. In one prayer, I went from trying to convince myself that I was talking to a god to realizing that I was talking only to myself. It took a couple of years to begin to find words to explain the madness of it.

Even still, I continue to find new ways to appreciate life. I aim to keep it that way.