So, a crazy thing happened to me last week. I was randomly checking an email account I don’t often use when I saw that I got a message from someone on LinkedIn. Now, I’m never in this email and I’m never on LinkedIn. Turns out, the message was from one of the missionaries that taught and baptized me when I was 16 years old, a full twenty-four years ago! We have been in contact very infrequently through this time, including a few months before the start of my faith crisis in 2017. Even so, this was a surprise! Or tender mercies, calling me to repentance and reactivation in the church, as the case may be…
After seeing his message, I messaged him back. We shared phone numbers and ended up switching over to text. I gave him a brief update about myself and my family. I mentioned that I had stepped away from the church but that we didn’t need to talk about it if he didn’t want to. He said he was open to talk about it. I mentioned that I had participated in a podcast episode about how to maintain relationships between believers and former believers of the church. He listened to it the same day. Eventually we set up a time to talk over video.
The hour-long conversation we had was really positive, ranging from family, to work, to faith. I mentioned I wrote a blog on my faith transition, and he asked for the link. I suggested several articles that I thought were “safe” or that I thought would be appreciated. He read those and a few more. I’m not exactly sure which ones he read but he said some were a bit difficult to read. I agreed. Instead of preaching at me, he validated that he could appreciate that I wrote about what I was going through at the time and not necessarily what I would write now, considering I have moved forward in time (three years) as well as in healing. His approach was immediately supportive and caring, and for that I hope he knows I am extremely grateful.
After discussing some thoughts he had about the blog, he mentioned that I “owe the world an updated post” in order to show where I’m at now. So, for Elder Thompson, I will deliver.
I must admit, I went back to meticulously planning for this post. It has been almost a year since I reported in the blog that I had been a part of the podcast episode, and almost two years since I have personally written an article of any length or substance. I’ve had so many ideas over the past months about what to write if I did choose to write another article. I’m not sure what to include in this one or where to begin or what will end up on the cutting room floor. Most of my plans, most likely.
What I hope will come through is that I have come a long way. Maybe that’s where to begin, actually. With how I am doing now. I believe I am firmly in Fowler’s Stage 5, from his Stages of Faith, which I discussed in one of my past articles. Stage 5, or Conjunctive Faith, occurs for a person when the difficulties of the previous stage of their faith journey are largely relieved. Some answers have been found but there is also a realization that there is a lot we don’t know. Some answers may never be known, and one must be okay with that. We get to put the pieces of our previous understanding back together, based on new information received, in a way that we feel fits the best.
There is also a realization that while in the past there was great importance placed on individual research and self-reflection (largely individualistic experiences), there is a need for community in this journey. There is an openness to others religious and faith perspectives. This is at least partly due to the possibility of experiencing the many positives and insights that come with others’ beliefs, with the potential to enrich your own knowledge and perspective.
I have Christian friends with whom I am extremely close. I have attended church with some of these friends. For me, it was a positive experience. I have friends that are more spiritual than religious. I have chatted with people that are Muslim. I can encourage each of these people to engage with their beliefs in ways that bring them increased fulfillment in their lives.
I continue to be very close with several members of the LDS church. At times we don’t discuss the church at all. At other times, we talk about difficult things. And at other times we talk about our differences in perspective and it is so comfortable, it’s enjoyable.
That’s one of my main goals now. To be able to engage with people that have different beliefs and be authentic while also being supportive and respectful. I can say that I don’t believe the same way without it becoming the focus of the conversation. I can also support and show appreciation for the benefits individuals get from their engagement in their faith and religious community.
Now we get to see a portion of what was left on the cutting room floor. In preparation for writing this, I read my entire blog over again. All 27 articles. As I did, I wrote notes about what I could write for this post. I wrote jot notes on the best evidence for why I no longer believe the truth claims of the church as well as Christianity and, I suppose, theism in general. Many, but not all of these are contained in the body of the blog itself. In the past I wrote notes on my issues with the Bible and Christianity, including information from modern Biblical Scholarship. These were not included in the blog at all, but I have enough that I could write a separate post on just these things.
I believe that to include these here would not only be beating a dead tapir, but it would also go against where I am now. If you believe in the church or Christianity, and it honestly and truly brings you happiness, I’m happy for you. I can support you in that belief because that’s probably what you need most from me.
I also wrote jot notes on what I believe a Stage 4 or 5 belief in the LDS church would look like. A mature faith as it’s called. In the past I have thought about writing a full post on this. But me telling believers what I think they should believe isn’t how someone gets to Stage 4 or 5. You have to do it for yourself.
However, I will say a few things to those still active and believing in the LDS church. I suppose it could be for Christians or theists in general as well. I promise to keep it broad rather than specific. I do it because these are things that I strongly believe to be true. And not just true to me, objectively true.
Not every single aspect of the church is true. We have been taught in the past that the gospel is perfect, even if the leaders and church may not be, so this idea shouldn’t be too hard to swallow. This is applicable whether we are talking about faith promoting stories or the characters in those stories. It’s applicable to material stated as doctrine or information supposedly straight from Jesus’ mouth (the woman caught in adultery story, or the Pericope Adulterae as it is known, was a later addition/interpolation to the Bible, not added until the 300s AD, so didn’t happen!). Therefore, we get to decide for ourselves what is true and what is likely not.
It is possible that Joseph Smith was inspired by God. But the way in which he was inspired may have only been in the same way that Muhammad or Krishna Dvaipayana Veda Vyasa (yes, you’ll need to look him up) were inspired. So, take those aspects of what Joseph produced that make you a better person and allow them to do so. With those aspects that do not make you better, leave them behind. Joseph was not infallible; I think we can all agree on that.
Prophets (both past and present), as well as scripture (both ancient and modern) can be wrong. At least some of what they say does not come from God. This is another situation where we get to decide for ourselves what to do and believe. I wonder sometimes, assuming God is real and the Mormon church is His true church, which group of people God was most pleased with in 1977. Was He most pleased with those that agreed with and supported the position of past prophets that black people were cursed, or those that were vocal about wanting equal rights and pushed for that, even though it meant going against the doctrine of the church at the time? We may never know.
Each and every believer, whether they are part of the LDS church or other denomination, not only should but gets the opportunity and blessing to do a certain something. They get the privilege of mindfully, rationally, and prayerfully engaging in their own free agency. We all get to decide what to do, follow, believe, and agree with. I believe, and I think everyone would agree, that this is an inalienable right. Please use it.
Wow, that was much more general than my jot notes!
As for me, I’m still firmly agnostic, leaning towards atheist. I’m still hopeful that there’s something after this life but I don’t think there is. If there is a higher power out there somewhere, I’m next to positive it’s about as non-interventionist as it gets. I do, however, see myself less as a hopeful agnostic and more as a supportive agnostic. I can support any person with any other belief out there, as long as it isn’t hurting anyone.
As such, I can talk freely with anyone about their belief without it becoming confrontational. I hope and expect to be able to engage in this way when my two currently serving missionary nephews come home in three and nine months. I want to be in church for them when they tell the story of their mission. I want to congratulate them on doing something that was very hard but something that they believed in. It’s likely no one will ask how things are going now that I’ve left the church. Eyes will furtively glance at my new tattoo but few if any will acknowledge how freaking awesome it looks. I’m honestly okay with that now.
I can appreciate and support the members of the LDS faith in the way they need me to. The majority of members are good people with a very strong sense of morality and community. Their involvement in church and the myriad programs it provides can be amazingly positive. The emphasis on being a good person and building strong families is exemplary.
Yes, I believe that some of what the church teaches and does is harmful. I’ve already talked about those issues in a separate post. Although, one subject that I am passionate about is the LGBTQ community. I wish the church would change its stance on these amazing people. They should not be touted as contributing to Satan’s plan as was insinuated this past General Conference. I still hold out hope that in time the church will change. If it does, I hope believers will embrace the change rather than fight or argue against it. Be like those that fought for racial equality rather than those that simply sided with whatever the church taught at the time.
As for me, I’m in a place of acceptance with my current situation with the church. Not much has changed with my relationships with members of my LDS family and friends, nor with members within my current ward boundaries. I wish that ward members realized that rather than leaving a treat on Fathers Day to show they care that they would shoot me a text and invite me over for a board game night. That they would actually try to have some kind of relationship now that I’m not in their physical sight each week. I should concede that some have done this, and I want to acknowledge their effort. I could also put in more effort, so this kettle possibly shouldn’t have anything to say about the pigmentation of those pots.
If I allow myself to be a bit honest and vulnerable, it continues to be hard to find a community outside the church. It was so easy and built in before. Now it’s not.
I do have a growing group of friends, of which I believe I am just a part of their circle while they are my entire circle. I envy them and these relationships they have cultivated over the years. I have lost many of mine. But it takes time and it’s getting there. Each time I go for another brewery tour, to the dueling piano bar, or even just out for lunch, it helps. It’s definitely getting there.
I think I’m done for good with this blog. I know I’ve said this before, but I think I mean it this time. I must have something in my eye, hold on a sec…
That’s better. Anyway, I don’t think there is anything left to say. The idea to write a blog began in early 2019 and I had several hopes for what it would accomplish.
In part it was for understanding. I don’t worry as much as I used to about that.
I have no reason to try to influence others. This would have no bearing on my life one way or another.
It was for healing, and I think it has accomplished this.
I will ask one thing before I wrap things up: What is the purpose of religion? Of belief? Of faith? What is the intended end result? It seems to me it is to become a better person. To take better care of self and others. To live a fulfilling and happy life.
I am trying to choose a path where these things can come to pass, even though it may take me away from religion and faith. I still have beliefs. I believe in many things. I am certain that the things I believe in will lead me towards this improvement to self, others, and life. I hope and trust that others’ paths are doing the same for them.
For anyone reading this, I wish you the best. I wish the very best for you in whatever path you choose. I hope that any interactions we have together from this point out will lead you to believe this as well.