My Tentative Compromise

I have learned through sad experience that conversations online are sometimes incredibly toxic.  If you don’t know what I mean, check out the comments section of any post on The Huffington Post, or the Salt Lake Tribune, or Meridian Magazine.  We have all fallen prey to the sense that online communication somehow allows us to be more rude than we otherwise might be.  Even using my real identity doesn’t seem to solve the problem.  So I usually refrain from even reading the comments, let alone commenting.

But someone suggested I respond to John L’s post, rather than attacking in the comments, and even though I know I am on the wrong side of this dichotomy to begin with, I thought I would take a stab at it.  Usually, as I allow a little time for my thoughts to solidify, I realize that I am not necessarily trying to argue down or discredit someone else’s position, but rather I want to simply present a differing perspective.  I left behind the notion that I have all the answers for everyone a long time ago (if 4 years counts as a long time).  So at the outset, let me give my apologies if I have been too mean-spirited in my tactics with debating online.  I really don’t take myself as seriously as I sometimes make it sound.

So for my initial, longer response: in reading John’s experience, I see many, many similarities in our paths and stories.  I have also wrestled with doubts about the veracity of my Mormon faith since I was very young.  My mission experience was fraught with many uncomfortable moments, many times when I would bear testimony of the truthfulness of the church, while deep down knowing I did not know.  This recognition led to many years of struggles with depression, as I knew that the church must be true, and the fact that my testimony was not what I wanted it to be simply demonstrated that there was something inherently wrong with me, or my personal faith.

I view my first steps toward faith crisis as a simple decision to start to understand perspectives that were different from my own.  This ultimately led from me being an ardently conservative dittohead to my transformation as a somewhat wannabe progressive. And in the process, I learned to question and reevaluate everything.  I credit Mormon Stories and Mormon Expression for helping me along in this journey, and helping me see that not only was there nothing wrong with me, but that there were hundreds and thousands of people who had walked similar roads, and that I was not alone.

Where our paths seem to diverge is in the response we have gotten from loved ones, and other members of the church.  Of course, I have had a number of uncomfortable, conflictive, moments along this road.  And I cannot say with certainty that if I left the church today, I would not experience a considerable amount of blowback.  But so far, as I have been cautiously open about my doubts with members of my own family, and members of the church, I have been pleasantly surprised at the response.  I have questioned the prophet and the church to my parents, to my wife, to my siblings.  I have argued for gay rights with my ecclesiastical leaders.  I have even spoken of needing to stop going to church all together.  Rarely have I been treated with any less respect because I have had the audacity to voice these ideas.

Ultimately, as I have gone from one end of the spectrum, as a true-blue TBM, to the other end as a questioner of everything, I have realized that something in my personality makes me uncomfortable at both ends.  I have never been fully comfortable with exclusivist rhetoric.  And I am uncomfortable with thinking all (most, a lot, many) true believing Mormons are brainwashed.  I also get little satisfaction sitting only among people who think as I do, and believe the same ideas.

Similarly, as I have attempted to participate in certain groups outside of the “true church,” I have encountered an almost exact mirror image of what I dislike most about the LDS church – people who have “graduated,” so to speak, who for some reason are still just as uncomfortable with dissent, and differing points of view.  While listening to podcasts, reading and commenting online, and participating in a variety of forums, I have felt just as silenced as I may have felt in any Sunday School class, or Elder’s Quorum.  These problems are not unique to mormons, ex-mormons, or any other conglomeration of individuals.

Thus, when I arrive at the question of doing what is best for myself, contra-posed against the well-being of my family, and church-going associates, we have yet another uncomfortable (and I would argue false) dichotomy.  Are there really only two choices?   Leaving the church, thus allowing myself to fully be true to myself, or staying in the church, thus forcing myself to deny my individuality?

In my experience, associating with any group of people forces me to face cognitively dissonant realities.  If being a member of any group implies tacit approval of anything and everything that group chooses to stand for or do, then I am best served just being an island. I cannot be a democrat, republican, or independent.  I cannot donate money to Mormon Expression or Mormon Matters.  I have yet to find any group that represents everything I think is ideal.  For that matter, I haven’t exactly figured out what I think is ideal. But a large part of my uncomfortable journey is realizing that existing requires cooperation with people, which is something I have never excelled at doing.

Somehow, in my universalist-thinking kind of way, I think we are all learning similar lessons in life.  Some of us learn more slowly, and some more quickly.  And the vehicle for learning is sometimes totally different.  But we can resist the process, or we can accept it, and enjoy the ride.  Quitting the Mormon church is not going to save me from having to deal with jackassess.  It seems to me those people are everywhere.  They are conservative, liberal, atheist, christian, muslim, etc.  And whether inside the church or out, we seem to gravitate to the idea that whatever ideology we have adopted is so obviously more mature and enlightened than any other kind of dogmatism.  While I recognize this flaw in myself, and in humans generally, my intent is to try and navigate a path that leaves as little carnage as possible.  For now, I am still feeling like a bit of a blind optimist, trying to create a comfortable existence as a Mormon.  If the path eventually leads me away from that existence, I will follow it, somewhat rejoicingly, I am sure.

As we all follow our individual (and collective) paths, I hope we can find a way to have a respectful exchange of ideas, knowing that human beings are complex, and most people’s stories are extremely personal.  Everyone has a story, and most all of them have inherent value.  I appreciate the venue that allows me to share mine, while letting me hear those of others, especially those with whom I may not always agree.

P.S. A shout out to Richard of Norway, who I am sure will love this post.  I have always felt the need to grow a much thicker skin, and people like you are the best at helping me do just that!