Since writing my other post earlier this month about leaving the church alone, I have made a more conscious effort to reduce the amount of time, intellectual as well as emotional resources I dedicate to thinking about Mormonism, and even religion and God in general.
I’ve come to realise that one key part of healing and moving on is simply reducing the resources you allocate to thinking about something. It’s in the achieving other things, trying to learn other things, meeting friends and having good times by living in the moment. Now I re-visit the topic briefly for reflection on some positive movement.
I had a dream
My whole life I’ve been interested in dreams. I’ve kept an extensive dream journal that started in my teens, through my mission and until today. I think that dreams are significant because they can reveal and give us insights into our deepest thoughts, emotions and fears. They are like an unconscious canvas that our mind freely paints stories on, stories it uses to process and understand life experiences.
Just last night I had a beautiful dream which I want to share that demonstrates several significant things about how I am feeling about the church at the moment.
In my dream I was back in South Africa (I grew up there and was brought up in the church there, so you could call South Africa my LDS spiritual root) — I was with my wife and we had gone to a massive stake conference type of meeting. It was in one of those meetinghouses where they open up the back to increase capacity. Because I felt uncomfortable sitting in the congregation, I decided to go to the kitchen. There were many dirty dishes there — so I decided to wash them. While I was washing dishes a kid came by who was ten years younger than me. We had a general chat, and I asked him if he was preparing for a mission, he said he’s not sure. I told him it’s up to him whether he goes and we’re friends anyway.
I asked him who his seminary teacher was — it turned out to be the same as mine when I was a teenager. He pointed to her in the congregation where she was chatting with her friends in the same bubbly way she usually does.
A little later she approached me, and asked me “Shawn, how are you doing in the gospel?” — without hesitation or trepidation, and fully authentically, I answered: “The good values and principles I’ve learned from the gospel are always at the centre of my heart”.
I felt really good about my response to her. The emotions I experienced in this dream are much like what we, as Mormons, describe as “the Spirit”. It was a moment of clarity and a clear declaration of belief; exactly like a testimony. Actually a bit later on in my dream I was planning on bearing a testimony, in which I would say:
“I am going to share a somewhat different testimony than the ones you usually hear. I’d like to bear witness of the goodness that I’ve experienced growing up in this church. And I’d like to testify that the principles and values of the gospel are a great foundation upon which we can build a life of productivity, effectiveness, and happiness.”
That is the sum of the “testimony” that I would share at the moment. A testimony is a statement of belief, not a statement of unbelief. Mormons don’t stand up in testimony meeting and testify how Zeus, Ra and Thor are not real gods. They testify of what they actively believe. My current testimony therefore constitutes a belief in the core values I’ve learned through my experience with Mormonism, and in the goodness I’ve experienced there. But that’s the limit of it — the rest of it has no relationship with Mormonism. (For instance, my pursuit of greatness, or belief in principles like the 7 habits)
In sharing this I am doing no more or less than other people have done for centuries; finding common ground, which involves empathy. When a Mormon meets a staunch Christian they talk about Jesus as a common belief. When a Mormon meets a staunch Muslim they talk about belief in God as a common belief. So now I can talk with a believing Mormon about the values and principles of the gospel. We share these in common.
I can honestly say that 2015 was the toughest year of my life. The only other time akin to it was the first few weeks of my mission which were really tough. 2015 involved about 8-9 months of the feelings of “those first few weeks”. But now, reflecting on this dream and where I’ve come I can see healing is really progressing.
I’ve come to a stage where I don’t feel the need to justify or evangelise in my position. If people want information and thoughts (about Mormonism, God, “this niche”, etc.) presented honestly and authentically, I can help them. But I don’t really care whether people continue to believe in anything, so long as:
- They don’t think others have to believe the same thing to be “right” (AKA, they don’t proselyte)
- They work to minimise the harm they do to society (psychologically and socially), and
- They maximise the benefit they give to society (in all aspects). They try to make a positive difference in the world.
Closing thoughts: values
People leave a belief in the church’s doctrines, and the church itself, for different reasons. I’ve heard it categorised into two major categories:
- The “round peg in a square hole” scenario; the teachings and doctrines in the church don’t work with them. For instance; they discover they are gay and struggle to reconcile this with their doctrinal beliefs. These people tend to first have the gospel “not work for them”, and then tend to later on learn things that cause them to disbelieve it.
- The enquirers; (like me), the gospel worked fine for them, but they had to, for whatever reason, conquer doubts by learning or even inadvertently they learned of things that concern them. These people don’t leave for “personal” reasons. They leave because they simply cease to believe in the doctrines.
I am category 2, but due to being this, I have come to a place where I definitely no longer judge category 1 people. The programming of the gospel is that if you have a problem with the gospel, then it’s your problem, because the gospel itself is perfect. I no longer believe that. I think it works well in many situations, but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to life.
I have no personal gripes with any particular friends or family who are believing and in the church. Generally speaking I feel that they reach out to me in ways that make sense to them and I appreciate their love. Certainly, there’s always a lingering feeling that people who still believe “just don’t listen”, but I think the predominant emotional reaction to that should be empathy and love, and that becomes possible as we come from a place of security ourselves.
I believe in the values and principles that I’ve learned in the gospel — and they have been complimented by other learning from reading other books in various areas. In a kind of ironic way, I am “taking the truth I’ve learned in Mormonism, and adding to it”. 🙂
In fact, a very honest outlook on how I feel currently is summarised well in this video by Alain de Botton: Atheism 2.0:
I think religion has codified and systematised the teaching of good principles. Atheism currently lacks this kind of system. But I think we are entering into a new age where, within the next generation, something like this will emerge in the area of atheism. I’m supportive of this movement and even think positively of getting involved.
I feel good about my life and my decisions. I am beginning to feel more secure and happier in my new worldview. I embrace what I don’t know, and what it appears that we can’t know, as deep and profound mysteries.
Yeah… that’s it!