About Corazon

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Help Thou My Unbelief:" My Journey Through Mormonism

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark we learn of a father whose son was afflicted with a "dumb spirit" that caused the child to violently convulse, foam at the mouth and seek death via fire or drowning (some sort of mental illness?). The father, who had already desperately asked Christ's apostles for help, but were unsuccessful in their attempts to assist the young lad, turned to Jesus in his darkest moment of need. After explaining the situation to the Lord, and pleading for his help, Jesus replied to the father that "If thou canst believe, all things are possible." The father, perhaps hoping to hide his frustration and apparent lack of faith, quickly replied "Lord, I believe." But after pausing, or perhaps perceiving that Jesus could sense his lack of faith, the father finally came clean and implored the Lord to "help thou my unbelief." Instead of condemning the young father for his deficiency of faith, or haranguing him on the importance of steadfast devotion, Christ took the father's son into his arms and rebuked the spirit from him, making the child (and almost as certain his father) whole for the very first time.

This "routine" act of kindness on the part of Jesus is common throughout the New Testament. Whether it be those afflicted with leprosy, blindness or "evil" spirits, thousands of faithful believers sought the Christ if for nothing more than to touch the hem of his garment, sincerely believing that such an act would cure them of their frailties. And more times than not, the faith of the afflicted made them whole. When I read these stories I grow to admire the unshakable faith of those who never wavered in their quest for Christ. They are to be applauded for their remarkable allegiance to the King of Kings in the face of tremendous personal difficulty.

And while I recognize the worth of these miraculous accounts, I personally find the story of the frantic, faithless father in Mark 9 to be of particular value. Not because I too have a son suffering from an incurable infirmity, nor have I made personal appeals for aid to God's chosen apostles. I love the frantic father because I too, while cowering in the coldest corners of my own soul, have implored of the Lord not for personal healing or spiritual blessings, but rather, in the naked honesty of my own shortcomings, I have issued this simple petition:

"Help thou my unbelief."

For those who know me, this admission may come as a bit of a surprise. Throughout the majority of my life, I suppose that I appeared very much like the typical "True Blue" Mormon. I attended church, graduated from Seminary, served an honorable two-year mission, married in the temple, served in the church, yadda, yadda, yadda. By all accounts I was very much on the path of "persevering to the end." But as is often the case with life, perception distorts reality and the truth really is stranger than fiction. Reality is that I have, for roughly a decade now, struggled mightily with my faith. It has been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to deal with. To make matters worse, it seems as though the Internet and other media outlets these days are filled with stories of people who have left the church, while the tales of those who have chosen to stay can be hard to find. Perhaps this is due to the fact that many members who have struggled with faith are reluctant to admit so, since some within the church choose to look down upon those who admit to having a crisis of faith. Whatever the reason, I too have been reluctant to "own up" to my own personal crisis of faith, but have chosen to "come out" here and now, in the hopes that my story might be a source of peace or hope to friends, family, eventual descendants and even strangers who tread the sometimes turbulent waters of doubt. To borrow from Enos of the Book of Mormon, "I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God."

With this being said, I must admit that my personal "wrestle" with the Lord has not ended with a profound heavenly manifestation, a voice from on high or any other from of absolute personal conviction. Instead, I have had to learn how to find solace in the ambiguous nature of faith itself and in the desolate gift (and yes, it is a gift) of honest doubt and uncertainty. What follows is my personal story of struggle and striving with the divine. Please note that you will not find a happy conclusion to my tale because this struggle is still ongoing with no apparent end on the horizon.  But instead of looking for that conclusion, I have found that it isn't a glorious end in sight that we should seek for, but rather simply finding joy in the journey.  I believe that this is what my story is ultimately about.  I have elected to not discuss the particular historical/theological issues that caused my crisis of faith, simply because I don't want to create doubt in others or to come across as "bashing" the Mormon church. In reality, I believe that the specifics are irrelevant, since a crisis of faith can be the result of any number of factors. The compelling matter at hand is how one chooses to deal with the crisis when it comes. Here is how my particular crisis played out:

My Faith Crisis

My crisis of faith began almost immediately after returning home from my mission to northern Chile. Like many return missionaries I decided to begin college (where I chose to study history) and attended my local single's ward and Institute program. As fate would have it, one of the courses I was taking on early American history discussed Mormonism in a way that I had never before heard. I remember listening to my instructor talk about some of the particulars regarding the origins of Mormonism and wanting to call my professor out for his "ignorance." I would leave class feeling angry, confused and determined to prove my teacher wrong. But as I studied the details further, I quickly began to realize that my professor wasn't making stuff up. Of course he may have left out a lot of the "meat and potatoes" of Mormonism from his lecture (this was an introductory class on American history so he couldn't dwell on it too long) but the gist of his argument was sound. As you can imagine, this revelation hit me hard. I immediately wanted to find credible answers that didn't come from "cookie-cutter" Mormon sources, so that I could refute what my professor was saying. But the more I studied, the deeper the proverbial rabbit hole went. I quickly found myself surrounded by mounting evidence that seemed to oppose the very church I had defended during my two-year mission.

Perhaps it was mere coincidence, but the class I had immediately following this particular American history course was Institute. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience to juxtapose what I was hearing from school with what I was being taught in Institute. The two were not agreeing and something had to give. In an effort to come to a resolution on the matter, I began to "conveniently" show up at the Institute building at a time when I knew the instructor would be alone in his office. I would then start up a conversation on Mormon history and would make certain comments that drove at the heart of my growing concerns. The institute director, who I believe really was an inspired man, could tell that I was beginning to question things, but to my surprise he didn't offer me the typical Mormon solutions to these problems. Instead of telling me to pray or fast about things, he provided me with copies of No Man Knows My History, Mormon Enigma, and other books that are well known for their emphasis on the less-than-pleasant aspects of Mormon history. To make a very long story short, these experiences started me down a path which led to my discovering virtually all of the ugly facts of Mormon history.

Side Note:
***I think it is worth noting here that my crisis of faith had NOTHING to do with some sort of personal sin or having been offended by a member of the church. Too often we Mormons assume that anyone who leaves or questions the church does so for these and other trivial issues. And though I am certain that many do leave for those reasons, I also know that many do not. Every day scores of good, honest and virtuous people leave the church for the very issues I am talking about here. These are real, factual and undeniable truths that are often extremely painful when discovered by the sincere believer.***

Over the next decade or so I kept my doubts private and chose to continue down the path of a "righteous" Mormon believer.  I held callings, attended the temple and did the other "dutiful" things that were required of me.  But the doubts lingered, like an itch on your back that you just can't quite reach.  Regardless of the doubt, I was able to effectively keep these issues on the back shelf of my mind, perhaps hoping that they would go away or that a magical answer would reveal itself as I continued down the straight and narrow path.

But the answers didn't come and the itch kept getting worse.  Fast forward to 2011.  I had recently completed my Master's Degree in history, writing a number of papers on Mormon history and always seeking to defend the church in each of them. But lurking in the private confines of my mind were those same issues that had plagued me for a decade. To make matters worse, I had nobody in which I felt I could confide. My dad, who was himself a big history buff, had died, as had the institute director that I had trusted in the past. I was hesitant to bring this stuff up with others because, as any devout Mormon will tell you, to publicly acknowledge one's questioning of the faith can lead to a number of problems. In addition, I had made the determination that I would NEVER be the cause of somebody else questioning their faith. The dark abyss of doubt and uncertainty can be lonely, ugly and incredibly depressing. I didn't want to introduce anyone to it.

For the first time I began to consider the possibility that I (and every other believing Mormon) had been duped into believing in a fraudulent faith concocted by the cunning of Joseph Smith's mind. This was a horrific thought to consider. After all, I had staked my entire personal tent of eternal salvation on the grounds of Mormonism. If this wasn't true, what was going to become of me? Was my family really eternal? Were my missionary efforts in vain? Were the ugly historical truths about Mormonism being covertly swept away in an effort to "perfect the saints?" "Was there even a God?"  If so, I needed to know. I didn't want to waste any more of my time, energy and money supporting a work of fiction, and I needed more than a "warm fuzzy" to answer these legitimate concerns. 

But as my mind continued to consider what I believed was a rational and objective approach to the history of Mormonism, my heart (or soul) was on a different journey. Despite all the ugly things I had learned, I could also recall the feelings of peace, love, community, joy, service, charity, sincerity and holiness that had been the result of my membership in the church. These feelings were every bit as real to me as the history I had been learning. They were the feelings that made me love going to church, want to serve a mission and attend the temple. I agreed with President Hinckley when he said that Mormonism makes "bad men good and good men better."  But were these positive feelings simply the result of happy endorphins firing off in my brain? Did I love the church simply because I loved the feeling of belonging? Something had to give. The objectivity of my mind was telling me one thing, while the sincerity of my heart said something different. What was I to do? There was only one thing I could do. Like the frantic father before me, I too had but four simple words to utter to God:

"Help Thou My Unbelief."

And though I knew darn well that God wasn't going to rewrite history, nor was he going to give me my own personal Angel Moroni to sort it all out, I do feel as though this crisis of faith has taught me some key truths that I am forever grateful for.  They are:

1.) Doubt, Like Faith, is a Gift, Not a Curse: As Doctrine and Covenants 46: 11-14 teaches us:
For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.  To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby. To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.  To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
It is a mistake of Mormon culture (and there are MANY mistakes in Mormon culture) to quantify doubt with sin or error.  Doubt can be a powerful force for good in the world.  It is both right and proper that we humans question EVERYTHING about the world in which we live. I firmly believe that one of the greatest purposes of this life is to learn as much as we possibly can.  How is this to be accomplished without sincere doubt?  Is not doubt the primary ingredient to the scientific method? How can one possibly exercise faith unless he/she also has doubt?  As Joseph Smith himself taught, "By proving contraries, truth is made manifest" (History of the Church, vol. 6, Pp. 428).  Honest doubt is every bit as important as honest faith. Don't ever feel bad for questioning things. 

But as is the case with all things (the law of opposition), doubt can also destroy faith if taken to an extreme.  Much like peanut butter and jelly, we need equal and healthy doses of both faith and doubt to make the perfect sandwich.  In his book, The God Who Weeps (a book which everyone should read) Terryl Givens aptly illustrates the importance of both faith and doubt when he writes:
The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true.  There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads. The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. Fortunately, in this world, one is always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.  
The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we "get it right." It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without constraint, without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts. Like the poet’s image of a church bell that only reveals its latent music when struck, or a dragonfly that only flames forth its beauty in flight, so does the content of a human heart lie buried until action calls it forth. The greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom that exists between knowing that a thing is, and knowing that a thing is not.
2.) We Humans Aren't That Smart: Homo Sapiens consider themselves (appropriately so) as the dominant specie on this planet, but the arrogance of this declaration pales when we consider the immensity of the cosmos. Being the top dog on an insignificant little blue rock in the corner of an insignificant galaxy means little to the Master of space and time, especially when only 1% of our genetic makeup separates us from a simple primate. Yet despite this fact, we humans love to pat ourselves on the back for having "discovered" so much. We boast of our technological achievements as if we have become the masters of all knowledge. Reality is that we have as much to boast about as does the simple caterpillar, which does little more than crawl around eating whatever crap it can find to stay alive. We have forgotten the sound words given to us by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12, which states:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
The imperfections of humanity prevent us from seeing (literally and figuratively) the reality that surrounds us at every moment of every day. Now, I am not suggesting that we humans are incapable of ever discovering reality, or that our minds cannot be trusted. Humanity has made some pretty remarkable advances. In addition, humanity's small place in the universe doesn't negate Mormonism's problems by default. But it does help us to realize that there is much more than meets the eye. We caterpillars may be capable of nothing more than aimless crawling and scavenging (in the grand cosmic sense), but with the help of metamorphosis, we have the capacity to grow wings and one day soar above the trivial nonsense we once esteemed to be of great importance. But it takes a lot of work.

3.) History, Science, Mathematics, Philosophy, etc. are Wonderful Things, but They are NOT the Crystal Balls to All Truth: As somebody who has passionately studied history for several years now, it is sometimes hard for me to accept the fact that there are many things that we will never be able to explain about the past. In addition, much of history (and other disciplines) is subjective, meaning that depending on one's perspective, intentions, source material, etc., you can easily end up with multiple opinions for the same topic. Besides, we cannot forget the fact that these human disciplines are imperfect and will never be able to explain the deep abiding realities of human existence that many "professionals" esteem as "fantasy." Again, from the words of Paul:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
History, science, mathematics, etc. are all wonderful things, but they are not perfect things. There is much to our existence that cannot be proven or explained through the philosophies of men.

4.) Truth, Regardless of its Source, is a Precious Commodity: It has always puzzled me when I see scientists, theologians, etc. arguing over who has the "most truth" or who comes closest to the truth. Truth is not a palpable track of land waiting to be staked, but rather is a pervasive, all-encompassing force that penetrates everything.  One cannot "claim" truth as being something that is exclusively theirs to distribute.  Instead, truth is to be found in the public domain for all to enjoy.  For me, this means that I am not confined exclusively to the truths of Mormonism, Catholicism, history or science, because truth is not in the domain of Mormonism, Catholicism, history or science.  Truth is truth, independent and free of all dogmas and disciplines.  It is our job to grasp hold of this truth, wherever we find it, like an iron rod. 

For Mormons, this notion has been somewhat distorted over the years.  Joseph Smith NEVER taught a rigid, dogmatic faith but was rather a Universalist at heart.  He created a Mormon faith that was a big tent with an open door to all, with any and all forms of truth being granted immediate entry.  As my all-time favorite Joseph Smith quote teaches us:
"We believe ALL things, we hope ALL things, we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure ALL things.  If there is ANYTHING virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, WE SEEK AFTER THESE THINGS(13th Article of Faith. My emphasis). 
Which truth claims was Joseph Smith NOT wanting to incorporate into Mormonism?  This should be a clear lesson to all members who want to sweep away the TRUTHS of evolution, science, physics, other religions, other holy books, etc.  Mormonism is but one small (yet beautiful and important) instrument in the grand symphony of life, and the music of that symphony is what we call truth.  The better we can all play our instruments in harmony with one another, the more likely we will be able to discover the truth that lies before us. For me, all truth really can be circumscribed into one great whole.

Should I Stay? Or Should I Go?

And though I would love to be able to report that my faith crisis has led me to a concrete and absolute assurity of the validity of my beliefs, I am forced to admit that doubt is still very much a constant companion in my life.  I question things all the time.  I occasionally doubt my own personal convictions. I regularly revisit the issues that bother me. But what I have learned, and believe 100% in, is that doubting is NOT a sin, nor is it the same thing as fear.  It is a gift to have a questioning heart.  Such was the case with Thomas, one of Jesus' original Twelve.  It wasn't enough for Thomas to simply see what appeared to be a resurrected Lord.  He had to touch, smell and examine Jesus before he believed.  But once he did believe, Thomas was the first of Jesus' apostles to fall to his knees and proclaim, "My Lord and my God." So, to those with a doubting heart I say, "God bless you!"  You are the gatekeepers who gleefully sift through the mire of blind religious devotion and staunch scientific rationalism to recover those small but precious pearls of truth.  Though Mormon culture may, at times, make you feel uncomfortable, know that you have a very special seat at the table. 

But most important, know that you are NEEDED! 

Mormonism has never been (or at least shouldn't be) about conforming to a very narrow view of life.  Jesus' original apostles were a diverse collection of fishermen, tax collectors, and political activists.  They argued, fought, disagreed and even betrayed/denied Jesus.  But they, like President Hinckley, understood what the main point of Jesus' message was: make bad men good and good men better.

We doubters may never have all of the answers to our legitimate questions and that's ok. We must always keep in mind that those answers (along with the questions themselves) are often irrelevant when the rubber of life meets the road of God. Remember, the first principle of the gospel isn't faith in Mormonism or faith in Joseph Smith, but FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Mormonism saves nobody. For all of their beautiful and inspiring messages, no book of scripture is capable of delivering you to heaven. Only the Alpha and Omega is capable of that.

So, what would I say to the person who has struggled with their faith like me? What would I advise the person who is at the crossroads of staying in the faith or leaving the church? Here are just 10 quick tidbits of advice:

1.) Time is on your side. Nowhere is it written that you must decide right now whether you fully believe or fully disbelieve. You may never fully make up your mind. You are in no rush.  Don't let pressures dictate your course of action.  This is YOUR choice so be thorough.  Be calculated.  Don't rush it.

2.) Don't shun the members. When people experience a crisis of faith (especially when it centers on historical matters) they often think to themselves, "If only the general membership knew what I know, then they might sympathize with my plight." This is nonsense. There are lots of good, faithful members who have been EXACTLY where you are. And even if you can't find any, it is wrong to assume that there are no members out there who care. Sometimes we doubters can become a bit cynical, assuming that all members are cut from the "Utah fabric" and therefore are unwilling/incapable of understanding where we are coming from. This is the wrong way to think. Most members really do care.

3.) Scripture may be bad history, but history is terrible scripture. And yes, there is a difference. Both have their place, but both are not dependant upon the other. One inspires, the other informs.  History has its place but so does scripture.  Use them both and know their purposes.

4.) Don't follow the crowds. This goes for those who leave the church and those who stay. There is no reason to become the stereotypical Mormon or anti-Mormon. For all of its teachings on communal harmony and responsibility, I am convinced that being a good Mormon means being an individual. You are the captain of your own ship. Decide what Mormonism means to you and then do it. As Dr. Seuss said, "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." And if you choose to leave, don't become the cynical post-Mormon who leaves Mormonism but then can't leave it alone.  And if you decide to stay, don't get on your high horse, acting like your decision was somehow a reflection of how wonderful and virtuous you think you are.  Be an individual and not another member of the pro or anti-crowd.  Own your decision.

5.) Pray like you mean it. The last person you should try to sugarcoat things for is God. Be raw. Be real. He can take it.

6.) Humility ALWAYS pays off, but is a pain to practice. Remember that you don't have all the answers and never will. Get over it. The fact of the matter is that you aren't entitled to all the answers. God doesn't owe you an explanation but you owe him every explanation. Even if you choose to leave the church be humble about it. And if you choose to stay, be more humble about it. Your experience, and the knowledge you have gained, make you no better than anyone else.

7.) The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Don't lose sight of this. The church isn't about missionary work, memorizing scriptures, giving cool talks/testimonies or having "high" callings. The church is about Christ.  Mormonism saves nobody. Christ is where salvation is to be found. Mormonism may be the vehicle to get you there, but in the end it is just an imperfect means to a perfect end. Keep your sights where they need to be and don't get distracted by the rest. Learn to separate sound from noise. Christ is the purpose behind every flavor of Christianity. The rest is just colored bubbles.

8.) Prophets Aren't Perfect.  Too often I have heard from people who leave the church that they were "appalled" to discover that J. Smith, B. Young, etc. weren't perfect men and did questionable things.  And though I can understand why they feel that way I have to ask: where is it written that a prophet must be a perfect man?  Quite often the opposite is the case. Many prophets are (frankly) pathetic men.  Abraham was, at times, a coward, Moses killed an Egyptian and then covered it up, Enoch was sort of dumb and not a good speaker, Jacob stole Esau's birthright, Jonah wanted God to kill everyone in Ninevah, David slept with Bathsheba and then sent her hubby to the front lines to die, Peter denied Jesus 3 times, Paul killed Christians and was often a jerk, and yes, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, etc. were often messed up as well.  But remember what the Lord told J. Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 124:
for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the WEAK THINGS OF THE EARTH.
Perhaps it would be easy to believe in Herculean demigods as the Lord's chosen prophets, but when he chooses the weak and the simple...now that requires some faith.  What other reason would God have to tell us all to receive the words of the prophets, "in all patience and faith" if not because he knew they were imperfect men? (Doctrine and Covenants 21:5)

9.) The Lord Expects Progress, Not Perfection. We all need to beat ourselves up a little bit less.  I for one am the GREATEST offender of this.  There is no harsher critic of each of us than the man/woman staring across from us in the glass.  We would all do well to take a collective chill pill.  We serve a loving, caring God, not a lightning-throwing, finger-pointing jerk.  The god that endowed us with reason and intellect doesn't get pissed when we choose to use it.  As I have said before, doubt is a gift.  But when things do get a little too much to handle, just remember the words of this famous nursery rhyme:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horsemen and all the King's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again...

God will work wonders with you...if you let him.

10.) There is Beauty in Desolation. I think that anyone who has undergone a crisis of faith can relate to feeling as though they were walking through a spiritual world of desolation. Prayers seem to go ignored by the heavens, "inspired" leaders give no inspiration, scripture provides no guidance, fasting just makes you hungry and blessings/miracles seem to disappear.  In short, anything divine feels more like a fairytale than reality.  And though I think much of this boils down to perspective (there can be an abundance of faith, inspiration, etc. if we open our eyes to it) there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling the emptiness of desolation.  In many respects, desolation can be sanctifying.  It's easy to have faith when there is an abundance of faith-promoting/spiritual experiences taking place in one's life; it's quite another thing when we experience desolation.

But have no fear.  This is normal.  Even the great Mother Teresa confided to her journal that she felt as though "heaven from every side is closed." and that she had "Such deep longing for God" but that she was repeatedly "repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal."  Before partaking of the desirable fruit, Lehi reported that he was forced to travel "for the space of many hours in darkness." (1 Nephi 8:8).  And before experiencing the amazing wonder of seeing the Earth rise over the lunar horizon, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin described landing and walking on the moon as, "Magnificent desolation":

And make no mistake; desolation can be magnificent.  As C.S. Lewis stated:
God allows spiritual peaks to subside into (often extensive) troughs in order for ‘servants to finally become Sons,’ ‘stand[ing] up on [their] own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish… growing into the sort of creature He wants [them] to be.
How else are we to be molded and shaped if it isn't through those tough, desolate times?  There are many ways to make a sword, but the best way of all is by using fire to manipulate the metal.  Sometimes the fires of life appear as desolate valleys instead of triumphant mountains.

And to the member who rebukes, belittles or in any way judges the individual who walks the path of doubt, or has chosen to leave the church, I offer up this small critique:

Do not allow arrogant presumption to convince you that all who question/leave the church do so because of sin.  This simply isn't the case.  In fact, over the past few years, the church has witnessed a massive exodus of some of its finest members.  As former Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen stated:
Maybe since Kirtland, we've never had a period of - I'll call it apostasy, like we're having now...It's a different generation.  There's no sense kidding ourselves, we just need to be very upfront with them and tell them what we know and give answers to what we have and call on their faith like we all do for things we don't understand.
The overwhelming majority of those who choose to leave the faith do not make this decision lightly.  It is usually a heart-wrenching decision that causes extreme stress in their lives.  You may not be able to understand it but you should be able to respect it.  For thousands of devout Mormons, the intellectual and spiritual shock at discovering the ugly aspects of our faith simply becomes too much for them to handle.  As a result, their spiritual and mental shelves cave in.  And don't fall into the trap of assuming that you are somehow more choice because your shelves are intact.  Some of Mormonism's best and brightest have elected to depart.  What they need is love, support, charity and kindness, not judgement, finger-pointing and accusations.  Now is the time to practice your faith: "Love one another as I have loved you."

And to those who choose to leave, I say this: you will be greatly missed!  I kid you not when I say that you are among the best and the brightest; the cream of the Mormon crop.  You are/were leaders, thinkers motivators and disciples.  But please know, the door is ALWAYS open for your return.  Do not allow cultural and social factors to be what keeps you away.  And yes, I will be the first to agree that Mormon culture is often misguided.  But if you do choose to stay away, please do so without malice in your heart.  Whether you like it or not, Mormonism is a part of you and always will be.  Don't let bitterness cloud your mind.  It does everyone harm, especially you.  Depart in peace, knowing that many still admire you and consider you a friend. 

Folks, we are all in this boat together...every single one of us.  The believer and the doubter; the saint and the sinner.  We all need each other.  Besides, in one way or another every single one of us is a doubter.  We all need that extra hand to sweep down and scoop us up when we fall out of the boat.  Life is tough, but there is no sense in making it tougher by passing judgement, making accusations, pointing fingers or allowing personal prejudice to blind our senses.  And when things seem at their worse, and we have nowhere else to turn, when all hope seems lost and we've reached our breaking point, know that you, like the frantic father spoken of in the Book of Mark, can always find solace by proclaiming to the heavens:

"Help Thou My Unbelief."


Ignacio M Garcia said...

I appreciate Brat's words and his willingness to open up. As someone who has dealt and continues to deal with those issues, I have found that sometimes it is better to keep those issues to myself or to those who are close to me. They rarely serve a purpose when you air them out except to add fuel to the fire of both camps. I say this only because it has become more common to talk about the "problems" with the church than to pubicly defend it in a serious, mature and spiritually intellectual way. We need to find something of value in the gospel--not the culture or the politics--and show why we find it profound and liberating. If we don't believe what is there because we are consumed by what is not there, then we are simply working on weakening our faith. The reality is that in all searches, we choose the direction in which to go for the answers. If that direction does not take us to Christ and his church then we are going the wrong way. If it takes us to Christ but not the church then we are not in the right church for us. I do agree wholeheartedly, however, that loneliness and pain are a big part of our spiritual journey--I teach that in sunday sunday every chance I can--but I think there is a lot of loneliness and pain that has little to do with doubt but simply with living the gospel to the fullest. So it is imperative that we find answers or that we put aside--at least periodically--our search for our own answers while we serve others and live by the admonitions of Christ and the prophets--even while we acknowledged that many of them also fell short. I pray for Brat as I hope he prays for those like me, who have a couple of decades of advantage in terms of searching simply because of age. Thanks and may God be with you till you meet Him again and he heals your pains and that of all of us.

Brad Hart said...

Thanks, Ignacio, and I couldn't agree more. We do (especially the doubters) need to dwell more on the positive aspects of Mormonism. You are what you eat. =)

Thanks for the comment!

Brian Tubbs said...

Brad, I commend you for your courage in writing this and for much of the wisdom that it contains. Though I differ with you on some of the specifics, I think many will be blessed and encouraged by sharing your spiritual journey. All spiritual journeys must take people through doubts and tribulations, or else, the journeys really have no value in the end. Thanks for writing this.

Richard Huffaker said...

I appreciated your raw open thoughts on the topic of doubt. If you ever stop doubting, you stop growing. The mind is like strength training. Give it resistance, and it can grow. Let it turn to mush and it becomes like a caterpillars. I do think the human pride is our fatal flaw. This goes for both the critic of those doubters, and the doubters themselves. If pride is replaced with humility as you suggest, then growth can occur. And those being critical of others can then be filled with love for the critics and their small compassion tanks can grow to hold more of the stuff.

Brad Hart said...

@ Brian:

Thank you for the kind words, and yes, I agree that ALL spiritual journeys (if they are REAL spiritual journeys) will include at the very least the occasional doubt.

@ Richard:

I couldn't agree more. The call to faith really is like the call to the gym. We need to "work out" our souls in order to grow, and doubt does give us that chance. And you are right about pride, which is one of the central lesson in the BoM.

Good stuff, guys. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This post about questioning and faith is without a doubt the best thing I have read on the subject. Thank you for revealing your honest feelings. It certainly hit home in my heart and made me feel like I am not alone. I actually feel so much better after reading this. I usually feel like I am a defective or a sub-standard member of the Church because I have questions and I do not KNOW what most other members state they KNOW as fact. I can relax and take a deep breath and realize that it is okay if I have questions as it just makes my faith even more valuable. I don't have to feel less than anyone else but I can hold my head up and embrace the Church that I love so much....even though I don't have all the answers. The thing I know for certain is that the Church is good! I love being a member...and now after reading your post, I feel that I am a member on equal footing with the members who have perfect faith! God bless you for taking the time to compose such a thoughtful and heart felt journey into the valley of doubt. I have been lifted as a result of reading this. I am printing out the entire article to have a hard copy to keep close so I can reference it. Thank you again and I reiterate my prayer for God's blessings to be with you. You may have doubts, but your love is obvious in every one of your words.

Brad Hart said...

Thank you, Anonymous. Those were some very kind words. And yes, you can MOST CERTAINLY hold your head up very high at church, even if you struggle with all of the "I know's" that seem to be almost expected of every member.

God bless and keep the faith!

Kerry Moody said...

"We believe ALL things, we hope ALL things, we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure ALL things. If there is ANYTHING virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, WE SEEK AFTER THESE THINGS" (13th Article of Faith. My emphasis).

Brad, Methinks this was probably pulled from a much older text...1 Cor. 13, I appreciate your transparency here. I wrote a 27 page letter to my family some couple of years ago when I left the faith. I researched for the truth of scripture for many years and found it wholly lacking in its profound demonstrable truths.

Yes there are many worthwhile concepts, as there is to be found in Aesop's Fables, but issues from canonization to contemporary support for scripture forced me to accept that I had believed and followed the teachings of obscure, mostly uneducated bronze age thinkers.

Nice to read your thoughts and I hope to have more to contribute over the next few days when I am off the road for a bit.

All the best,


Joe Shawcroft said...

Brad, You're a great writer. It's been too long and I think about you and your family often. You've always been very open and that is something I've always appreciated about you. Every single person is on a journey and although every journey is very different, for those who believe in a Supreme Creator, each journey is to the same destination. Too many of us think we are on our own separate journey and so it must be taken alone. Really, we should all be there to strengthen each other through whatever path our individual journey takes. You will always have support on your journey. Love you and your family (always have). God Bless!