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.