The "little" questions that I had been ignoring for so many years finally got the best of me about three years ago. I really owe it to a special friend of mine, a feminist woman who had the "gall" to question the church and it's patriarchal order. She was also a life long member and told me that she was "rethinking" her belief in the church, primarily due to its position on women's issues. I parrotted the response I had heard so many times, that is.... "you shouldn't question your beliefs once the spirit has spoken to you, once you have a testimony": I will never forget her powerful answer. "TRUTH SHOULD BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND SCRUTINY." I realized that I had many unanswered questions that I had ignored for years, since before my mission, that I had conveniently tucked away into a box in the back of my mind and pretended that they did not exist.
Another friend, who happens to be an XLDS, sent me a book called "A Gathering of Saints". The book is an interesting read about the forging of early church documents, specifically the "Salamander Letter" and the murders that occured in Salt Lake City in the early 80's. I remember reading a newspaper article about the murders in a local paper and scoffing at the biased journalism, always slanted against the church.... The book was the first publication that I had ever read that could be described by some as "anti-mormon". Others would disagree with that label as the book was not an attack on the church or its doctrine. But since it caused me to question the church and the bretheren, I think anti-mormon is fitting. While space prohibits me from a lengthy book report, let me say that I could not believe that the bretheren at the highest levels of the church were deceived by the forger Mark Hoffman, and that they tried to supress documents that, if genuine, might have shaken the foundation of the church. How could the Lord allow the First Presidency to be deceived like this? The book also made me realize the truth of the statement, "you are what you eat."
I had been bearing my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, that it was the only true and living church on the face of the earh, that God lived, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon was the word of God..... ever since I was 6 years old! I had said it so many times, heard it repeated to me so many times, that it had become true to me. Well... Pandora's box was open and the questions came flooding out and I found myself in great pain and confusion yet feeling free and relieved. I was about to start thinking outside of the box!
Stephen R. Covey would say that my paradigm was about to shift.
I had viewed everything in the world and in my life within the parameters of the doctrine of the church - "the box" as I began to call it. I had no idea there were so many questions that I had tucked away. For example, evolution. The time from Adam, "the first man" to today is between about 6,000 years according to the best biblical scholars. Prior to Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, there was no death on the earth. I had to come up with and believe the craziest ideas to support that "truth". My father taught me that the methodology used by scientist to date bones, fossils, etc was flawed. My priest's quorum advisor taught me that our earth may have been used in some other galaxy and brought into this galaxy for our use. My bishop told me that it was possible that this earth might be made up of parts of other "failed" earths from different universes. My LDS doctor and friend theorized that some kind of time warp had occurred. YUK, why is it so terrible to believe the physical evidence and let the fossils tell the truth? The "box" does strange things to your thinking.
The questions kept coming. At first the questions were mostly about the church. I wondered why the Lord would leave a prophet at the head of the church that was mentally incapacited for years, where did the horses and the steel come from in the Book of Mormon, where were all the swords and shields from the battle on the Hill Cumorah, was the Book of Abraham really a translation of something from the hand of Abraham or a common funerary scroll, was polygamy really an eternal principle, were the stories I had heard about Joseph Smith being a "money digger" and dealing with the occult true, could we have a corner on truth and be the only true church, etc, etc, etc. ????
After pages of questions about the church, I realized that for me there were even bigger questions. I decided that if I was going to examine my belief in the church that I would still have a box, a paradigm, and that box was Christianity.
Did the Christian God exist?
Many of my biggest dilemmas were with God, not necesarrily Mormonism. So I made a page of questions about God. Again, I felt alot of pain when I did this and an emptiness that I had not felt before. I was making an arguement that God, my Heavenly Father (not to mention Heavenly Mother) did not exist and that Jesus Christ might not be my savior. Oh well, I had set out on the quest and I was not turning back. My questions about God included Evolution, creationism, Noah and the ark., hell and eternal damnation, bow down and worship or burn in the end.... I had always been taught that we mortals were striving to become like god, more Christlike, more loving, more charitable, more forgiving and tolerant. One day I was substitute teaching a sunday school class of 8 year old kids. The lesson was about Noah and the flood. One of my students asked me how Noah caught the bears to put on the ark. It never occured to me to actually think the story through. Noah would still be catching animals today in order to get the millions of species on the ark. That night I thought about the state of anger I would have to be in before I would drown my own children or innocent animals.
The odds would have it that I would get 10 hours of free time on America Online.
I stumbled onto the Religion and Ethics forum and was facinated to find the bulletin boards dealing with atheism, agnosticism and even "Recovering Mormons". I subscribed to "Free Inquiry" a wonderful quarterly magazine full of great articles and then purchased back issues all the way to the the beginning of the magazine. I traded E-mail with friends who had already walked the trail I was on and found a support group to help me along. The more I read, study and communicate with others the more convinced I am that I have been believing a lie. I consider myself agnostic. Given that I cannot travel throughout the universe looking under every rock for God, or some supreme being, or some higher power, I will not deny the possibility of the existence of such, but I do not believe in the Christian God of the Old Testament. That God is way too tyranical for me.
I refuse to believe in a god that would drown his children, allow untold suffering and injustice to others, give the truth to a few and then damn to hell the rest of them who refuse to believe and do what he says. I'm sorry, but that does not compute.
So where does that leave me today? The short answer is "in the closet but working my way out". All of my family and many of my friends are active members of the church. To call them up and tell them I no longer believe would inflict major pain. My wife and I have had brief discussions, but she thinks I am going through a phase that scripture study and prayer will cure. I am living a double life in many ways. I did not renew my temple recommend and refused to accept a calling as a gospel doctrine teacher. I do have a ward calling, but it does not require me to teach, pray or bear my testimony. Luckily, I travel extensively and am able to miss church 3 out of 4 weeks. I don't home teach and my home teachers are the ones that come once a year and claim they only missed us once.
The most painful part to me is dealing with my wife and children. My wife is a wonderful woman who was also raised in the church. She wanted a family and to raise young boys to be missionaries and young girls to be mothers, see them marry in the temple and carry on the tradition that we both inherited. Needless to say there is growing conflict in our home. She hasn't finished 1st Nephi one time but has a testimony that is "beyond a shadow of a doubt". She traces her testimony to tears and "feelings" at BYU education week, funerals and church meetings. The spirit spoke to her. I know how she feels, for I had the same feelings. I sang "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, Come Come Ye Saints, I Know That My Reedeemer Lives and got the chills too. I wept, the "spirit" spoke to me and I had a testimony. Then one day I was watching a re-run of that great olympic hockey game when the US beat the USSR and low and behold, I got a testimony of hockey. Then I was listening to the Star Spangled Banner before a high school basketball game and got a testimony of basketball. Not long after I was listening to a CD of Les Miserables and my body reacted in the same way as it did to Come Come Ye Saints and I had a testimony of opera music. It never occured to me that my mind and body were conspiring to bring me spiritual experiences, that my limbic system and endorphines were giving me the chills, the warmth, the tears.
Where do I go from here? Who knows. I cannot live like this for much longer. Things are likely to heat up when I encourage my kids to go to college instead of a mission, when I resign from my callings, when I take my garments off. The good news is that I have many wonderful friends out there that will accept me for who I am, not what I believe.
The bishop called me in for an interview just a few weeks ago. He told me he was inspired to call me as the gospel doctrine teacher for our ward. I declined and he of course asked why. I repeated to him many of the questions that I have shared in this letter and he had no answers other than the standard cop outs that I refuse to accept, such as "God's ways are not man's ways" and "someday we will know the answers to these questions". He cautioned me from doing to much critical thinking and said we had to "live by faith alone". I'm sorry, but if there is a god and he created me and my brain, I expect that he would expect me to use it.
He then went on to threaten me with a "disastorous event in my life or in the life of one of my family members that would bring me to my knees and back, weeping to the church" if I didn't repent and come back willingly.. From concern to the lowest form of manipulation.
I don't harbor any ill will toward the church, in fact I believe it helped me stay away from drugs, tobacco, alcohol, STDs, and teen pregnancy. My mission taught me to love people, dedication, a great work ethic and the ability to live with others at close range, to be able to speak in public, and a million other things that I am grateful for. Unfortunately, none of them nake the church true or cause me to believe in the God of the bible. Ironically, my favorite saying is still scriptural.... "The truth shall set you free". I feel free now, free from the box, free from believing that I am right and that everyone else is wrong.
My best to each of you in your journies.