Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I've recently been digging through some old files and found a short paper I wrote for a Doctrine & Covenants class at BYU. The teacher had a special assignment he always gave to his class. The assignment was: write a four page paper on how the Doctrine & Covenants relates to your major. He seemed to enjoy giving this assignment because he felt that his students learned a special lesson on how we can apply the scriptures to our own lives.

When I finally sat down to write my paper, this is what came out instead:
When I first set out to try and discover what the teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants had to do with my major, I didn’t expect to be able to find anything. I thought to myself, what could the Doctrine and Covenants possibly have to do with computer science? I then began my search. You can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a few very good verses of scripture. I read them again and again, and finally it occurred to me: the Doctrine and Covenants really doesn’t have the slightest thing to do with computer science! I suddenly realized that to try and pull the subject of computer science out of the D&C would be a doctrinal stretch that would make the Nicene Creed look like simple mathematical truth. I knew then that it would be easier to justify the World Trade Center terrorist attacks using the Doctrine and Covenants than it would to apply the D&C to my major using four pages.

“There’s plenty of material in the D&C about computer science,” says my professor. “I’ve received plenty of papers about computer science.” He gives me a sickening smile that seems to say, “It’s your problem now, isn’t it?” Is there something wrong with the logic here? He’s received plenty of papers about computer science, he says. Of course he has. It’s surprising what students can come up with just to get a grade. It’s what most of us like to call “B.S.” Of course that is precisely what I need to come up with, and I’m sure that next week I will turn in a nice little paper that I’ll be glad to be rid of if only to get the stink out of my backpack. He will take it and think to himself, “Ah, so he has discovered the truth. He has found application to his major after all,” and he will merrily go about torturing other college students. I would much rather ponder an essay question such as: “How can some professors possibly stand themselves?” Of course, that wouldn’t get me a grade now, would it?

I was still a strong believer back then, but religion classes seemed to emphasize and increase my cognitive dissonance rather than sooth it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Defending Dogma

David Brooks wrote a piece in the NY Times in the defense of strict, dogmatic religions. He starts out by describing some themes he observed in the Book of Mormon Broadway play, namely the hope for more open-minded and tolerant religious perspectives. I haven't seen the Book of Mormon play, but I've heard descriptions of it and it does seem to me that Brooks has accurately described some of the themes. He makes the case that although many would prefer the non-literalistic, non-dogmatic approach to religion, it is those types of religions that have more staying power. I can agree with that point. However, he further argues that dogmatic religion has an additional number of advantages. He says 1) it motivates people to perform "heroic acts of service", 2) it provide humans with standards of good conduct that they wouldn't otherwise be able to provide for themselves, 3) its principles contain accumulated wisdom over centuries, 4) it provides concrete assertions upon which to construct a worldview using logic, 5) it anchors people to their principals, making them less vulnerable to fad ideologies, 6) it provides unparalleled insight into life's mysteries, and 7) its rigorous codes of conduct build self-discipline in its followers. Let's look at each of these points separately.

First let's start out by clarifying the point that whether it is good for people to have a literal belief in religious claims is a completely different question from whether those claims are true. Brooks makes an argument for the former, and does not address the latter point. Now on to the specifics.

1. Dogmatic religion motivates people to perform "heroic acts of service".

This is very optimistic. The other side of the coin is that dogmatic religion often motivates people to perform diabolical acts of terrorism. This isn't just the case for religions, but for any ideology that is accepted incontrovertibly. Nationalism, for example, can inspire both the very best and the very worst of people. This is a neutral point. I think people should be careful of any ideology that is inflexible and strongly believed. Especially if the source of the ideology comes from a centralized organization. Choose your ideologies carefully.

2. Dogmatic religion provides humans with standards of conduct that they wouldn't otherwise be able to provide for themselves.

Brooks says, "No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don't have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own." It would be unfortunate if Brooks believes that humans need their worldview and ethics given to them in an authoritarian manner in order for them to stick. If this is not what Brooks is implying, then this point needs further clarification. Clearly people need their parents to teach them good morals and a community that reinforces them, but this doesn't necessitate an autocratic religion. Laziness can easily be a part of dogmatic religion, because wherever there is a comprehensive and strict set of rules, legalism runs rampant. People no longer need to decide for themselves what is okay, because it has been decided for them. Those areas where the rules are not as comprehensive get very little attention, and people end up ignoring ethical questions in less regulated domains. Moral priorities correlate with the rulebook rather than with societal impact.

3. Dogmatic religion contains accumulated wisdom over centuries.

Religion does not have as good a track record of "out with the bad, in with the good" as Brooks wants to imply. If it contains accumulated wisdom over centuries, it typically also drags along with it outmoded and false ideas that stick around for no other reason than that they've been codified into doctrine. Where is the built-in self-correcting system in a dogmatic religion? How do false ideas get corrected and replaced with new wisdom to be "accumulated" as Brooks puts it? There is no such system in place. There is only the natural death and replacement of leaders to drive the progress. Each generation is trained to stick to what they have been told by the previous generation. New wisdom can only be accepted if it fits into the old worldview.

4. Dogmatic religion provides concrete assertions upon which to construct a worldview using logic.

It is true that a very strict religious creed makes the world simple and easy to reason about. Religion provides a nice package of answers to a lot of otherwise murky questions, allowing for one to build a logical structure on top of these underlying assumptions that can dazzle the imagination for sure. There's nothing wrong with using models to understand things that are complex. The problem occurs when the model is over-applied or does not fit the data. Does the model get updated? What if a better model comes along? In a dogmatic religion, the model is inflexible. The data must be reinterpreted to fit the model since the model cannot be updated to explain the data. This inflexible approach is not necessary in order to use models as an aid for understanding the world.

5. Dogmatic religion anchors people to their principals, making them less vulnerable to fad ideologies.

It is interesting that Brooks would use the phrase "mindless conformity" as an example of what dogma helps to avoid. Put in other words, conforming to a strict religion helps you not conform to society at large. One must conform, it seems, to something, and it may as well be a strict religion because those people out there are out of control with their sex, drugs, Rock 'n Roll, and Justin Bieber. How about instead of outwardly conforming with anyone, we look inside and figure out for ourselves what to stand for? I can stick to my principles without a literal belief that they are etched into the fabric of the universe and backed by a wild foundational story. My principles are informed by my upbringing and my community, and they have been and continue to be refined by my experiences and observations. They are my principles, and though they resonate and share a core with all good people in this world, they are my own.

6. Dogmatic religion provides unparalleled insights into life's mysteries.

Out of all the claims Brooks makes, this is the one I understand the least. He says:
Rigorous theology delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us. For example, in her essay, “Creed or Chaos,” Dorothy Sayers argues that Christianity’s advantage is that it gives value to evil and suffering. Christianity asserts that “perfection is attained through the active and positive effort to wrench real good out of a real evil.” This is a complicated thought most of us could not come up with (let alone unpack) outside of a rigorous theological tradition.

I confess I cannot see what special insight there is to the idea that good can come from evil. Often the point is made that affliction can provide experience, opportunity, growth, perspective, etc. but it escapes me how this idea is unreachable outside of religious tradition. If anything, religious tradition would add to that some language about holiness, purity, being refined in a fire, etc. but even those are simple metaphors. Maybe there is nuance here that I cannot grasp because of my ungodliness? Somebody explain to me how strict religious tradition adds a depth of meaning to art that cannot be had without it.

7. Dogmatic religion's rigorous codes of conduct build self-discipline in its followers.

The example Brooks gives is a Mormon choosing to abstain from coffee. I never found it especially difficult to abstain from the list of proscriptions as a Mormon, because I found those commandments to be the easiest to check off, but maybe that is just a testament to my incredible self-discipline. Out of all of Brooks points, however, I think agree with this one the most, but with some provisions. It really depends on how this self-control is encouraged. If conformity to the religion's standards of behavior is brought about through guilt and shame, then this can backfire badly. Pornography is an excellent example of this. Addictive behaviors are fueled by guilt and shame, not deterred by it. People in strict religious groups have a lot of social pressure, and this can lead to stress and depression. As long as people freely choose to adhere to the strict requirements set for them, they can benefit from a community that respects and encourages it. Projecting these same sets of rules onto people outside of the religion, however, can get really bad.

In closing, Brooks shared a quick observation about how he observed that a blunt, right-and-wrong approach seemed to work better on an AIDS-ridden village in Africa than what he described as "vague humanism". I chuckled as I pictured in my head a small, soft-spoken, bespectacled philosopher trying to reason with a wild-eyed native about what actions will lead to the most beneficial outcome, and then some big, bible-thumbing pastor shoving the philosopher aside and yelling at the native, "THOU SHALT NOT!" I can see why the latter approach would be more effective.

The Book of Mormon musical may have been overly optimistic about people's ability to take value from religious narrative without complete literal acceptance of the truth claims, or maybe it was just projecting a hope that the world could be more like that. We have all been children at some point in our lives, and in the beginning we need a lot of yes and no, right and wrong, do this and don't do that. If our parents raise us well, we are eventually able to decide for ourselves what we should and should not do, and hopefully we can do that without harming ourselves or others.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Carson's Guide to Keeping Your Testimony

Hello there! So you are still a believer in the LDS (Mormon) Church and you would like to know how you can avoid my fate and keep your beliefs intact? Well, if you stumbled onto this blog somehow then you're probably doing it wrong, but you may want to read on anyway, because this post is exactly what you need! I have intimate knowledge with the process of losing belief in the church and I made many mistakes in my attempt to salvage my faith. Since then I have learned a lot about the pitfalls leading to non-belief and how to avoid them. It's too late for me to take advantage of these tips, but you still have time! I can tell you what you need to do to hold on to that iron rod for all you're worth! I have compiled a list of dos and don'ts below that may not be immediately intuitive to you, but nevertheless are very important for keeping your testimony.

Do not read unbiased or brutally honest accounts of church history. Many people have fallen by the wayside into non-belief as a result of looking into church history. Any examination of church history should happen only through the lens of modern church publications. Not even all the books you'll find at Deseret Book are safe, but most of them are. I do not recommend reading Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman. I sincerely believe that book has caused more people to leave the church than any single book written by a non-believer, simply because Richard Bushman is an active, believing Mormon, and therefore the book is thought to be safe. You may be able to get through it with your testimony intact (as I know many have), but why risk it? Some things that are true are not very useful. If you want to feel a closer bond to Joseph Smith or some other church historical figure, there are plenty of books out there written by general authorities.

Stay away from the Bloggernacle and Internet Mormons. If you get bored with the Ensign, you might be tempted to search for faithful LDS blogs and articles that are intellectually stimulating yet still faith promoting. This is what happened to me. I wanted something more than the shallow fluffiness found in the Ensign and conference talks, and I wanted some stimulating conversation in a purely faithful (read: literal believing) context. Let me tell you right now that no such thing exists. If you want compelling, deeply-thought-out material, you have to give up some of your literal, orthodox beliefs. There are believing members out there writing plenty of blog posts, but the most interesting of them are the ones that pose the most questions, and those that pose the most questions attract the most liberal of believers: the Internet Mormons. They are wolves in sheep's clothing, whereas we non-believers are are just plain wolves. They believe differently than you do. They are more aware of church history and all the inconsistencies in widely believed Mormon doctrine. They lean a tad bit feminist, and they're slightly more empathetic with the gay movement. They make up their own minds about what is being said by the leaders of the church, and sometimes that means they have to diverge or re-contextualize what a leader has said. They have a more metaphorical understanding of the scriptures. You should be very careful about reading and engaging with Internet Mormons, because your testimony may not survive the step from being a solid conviction of the literal exclusive truth of the church's claims to being merely the love of a metaphor. The only other option is to go the apologist route, and that requires an obscene amount of mental acrobatics.

Use confirmation bias to shore up your beliefs. No, don't look up the term "confirmation bias", just do exactly what President Eyring says: count your blessings. Actively look for things that God has done for you in your life. Remember these things, and even write them down. Do not pay attention to the bad things that happen, or the things that don't make sense. Look at the flowers and the rainbows; ignore the eyeball-eating parasites and the starving children. Pray constantly for good things to happen, and whenever they occasionally do make sure to remember that God answered your prayers and thank him for it every day. Never forget how much you owe to God. Think of all the times in your life when you were financially stable and had enough food to eat; attribute that to God and make sure he gets his 10% cut. Think of all the times when you were injured or got sick but eventually became well again; attribute that to God and never forget it. Make sure you know how to point out all the little miracles that happen amidst any disaster. Keep a teleological perspective with you at all times. If something good happens to you, attribute it to God. If something bad happens to you, ask God for help and then when you get past it thank God for helping you. If you pray about something and it works out, attribute it to God. If it doesn't work out or you get no answer, attribute it to the wisdom of God in letting you figure it out for yourself or allowing you to go through hardship in order to grow.

Do not apply the the same critical thinking in church that you would apply at work or at school. When you step into the chapel or you transition from a normal conversation to talking about the gospel, make sure you also make the step into a ritualistic mindset as well. This should be like a switch in your brain. Don't analyze what is being said too much. Just participate in the ritual like everyone else. Learn the phrases and tone of voice to use, and the appropriate demeanor. Learn to appreciate the familiarity of it all and derive comfort from that. One of the problems I had was that I enjoy mental stimulation too much, so instead of zoning out for three hours, I decided that since I was there I might as well pay attention and give serious, critical thought to what was being said. Once I started paying close attention to what was being said in the meetings, it was all too easy to poke holes. People will get up and assert anything as long as it is said in the right format, and everyone will validate them. In truth, Sunday school is not a place to learn, but to promote the shared community narrative. If you try to critically examine topics in Sunday school with the purpose of getting to the truth of the matter, you will only become frustrated, and everyone else will be frustrated with you.

Forcefully reduce cognitive dissonance by continuously asserting the truth of your beliefs to others. If you outwardly declare the truth of your beliefs with no apparent external justification for doing so, a psychological process occurs in which you will internally justify your actions, thus reinforcing your own beliefs. Testimony meetings are a good way to artificially reinforce a set of beliefs in your mind with the help of the community.
As Mormons, we know well the monthly experience of sitting in fast and testimony and listening to speaker after speaker say basically the same thing in almost the same words. With no effort we can produce a list of the common phrases and topics. The repetition of them often gets boring and many wonder why we don’t vary our language and subjects. More than we realize, imbued in this tiresome treadmill of language and formality are vital processes which cement individuals and the congregation to the Church and its teachings. - David Knowlton, Sunstone Magazine

Internalize an us-versus-them mentality towards those who reject your beliefs. This is actually one of the easier ones to do. We humans do this so naturally, it takes some effort to not do this. Don't associate with people who outwardly disagree with you on items related to your beliefs. Block them from Facebook, ban their comments on your blog, and don't befriend them in real life. Especially gay people. Do not get too close to gay people. If you don't avoid them, you may be in danger of empathizing with them. The accusations that they are trying to destroy your religious freedom will fall flat. Remember that you are on a team. You are on God's side, and they are on the Devil's. Always keep in mind that you are constantly engaged in a spiritual battle against wicked people. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is one of the best ways of all to keep your beliefs intact. If you like to browse the web, be very careful of blogs such as this one you are reading now. Make sure to thoroughly vet any blog you subscribe to or any community you join.

Don't read FAIR articles. Not unless you've accidentally stumbled upon some disconcerting information about the church and need help putting it on your proverbial shelf. FAIR articles exist in order to ease your mind about all the pesky issues that critics keep bringing up. They do a really good job of cataloging all of the various questions and issues that critics have, and the articles themselves are calculated to make you feel as if the critics have been refuted. In actuality, many articles are a series of independent nitpicks of small factual errors that critics have made, with a lot of effort put into carving out an infinitesimally small realm of possibility that the church's claims are true. Kind of like how I could argue a small possibility that we can fly using our minds, but we just haven't learned how. The fact is that if you read FAIR articles too carefully you might not come away quite as assured of their arguments, and if you read too many FAIR articles, they will raise more questions in your mind than you had in the first place. It is best to only use FAIR in case of emergencies, and when you do use it, just stay on the site long enough to be comforted by the fact that they have addressed every one of the problems you have in mind, and don't stay long enough to find out exactly how they're being addressed.

Always remember that someone smarter than you believes. Don't think about the actual numbers or statistics, just focus on a few solid, smart, intellectual people that you know or have seen who still fully believe in the church. There are plenty of them out there. If you went to BYU, then you can probably name a few professors you admire. Remember that they are smarter than you and that they still believe in the church. Comfort yourself with that thought. After all, what problems could you possibly have that they haven't already thought of or addressed in their own minds? Surely they would have a very wise and well-thought-out response to any doubts you might have. Remember that this stuff that the critics bring up isn't new; it's been out there for a long time. Surely if these few people you admire still believe even knowing about all these issues, then it must be true. Tell yourself that if you were to stop believing in the church, then that essentially means you think you're smarter than they are. You wouldn't dare.

Don't set out to prove your non-believing friend or family member wrong. This has backfired countless times. You may have a close friend who stopped believing, and they may point out to you some problem with church history, like the Book of Abraham. You start out with the tragically naive notion that if the church is true then the evidence will bear it out, and you decide you're going to prove your friend wrong and help them see the error of their ways. Do not do this. The church has given you perfectly good reasons why your friend has stopped believing. They have either been offended, they've left to sin, or they've been tricked by Satan. It shouldn't be too hard to pick one. If they've been tricked by Satan, then remember that the tactic here is not to try to un-trick them by actually looking into the same thing they looked into. That's how they got tricked in the first place! Rather, Satan must be fought with prayer and testimony. Maybe skip a meal or two while you're at it. If that doesn't help your friend, then write them off as a lost cause, and keep conversation with them to a minimum.

These are some of the most important things you can do to avoid losing your belief in the church. I guarantee you that if you follow them they will work, and if they don't I promise you an 11.11% increase in your yearly income. You can't lose!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Discussion With My Parents

My parents called me on Sunday at 6:26pm. I didn't answer, of course. Our landlord was here to fix the bathroom fan. My dad left a message: "Hi [Carson], it's Mom and Dad. We'll... try to call you back later." He didn't sound very happy. I was not interested in talking to them over the phone, because I didn't know what kind of attitude they were going to take towards our coming out as unbelievers yet. Anything was liable to happen in a conversation like that. Just hearing his voice in the short message gave me the chills.

The next day while I was at work my mom sent out her weekly family email. At the beginning of it she wrote:
I want to let you know, [Carson] and [my wife], that your email did sadden me, as you knew it would. I look forward to a time when Dad and I can chat with you to understand your decision better. Of course, Dad and I will continue to love you both very much.

She then continued on with all the goings on of the week as usual. After I finally got home, I sent an email to both my parents saying: "Do you have any questions that we can answer via email?" I was hoping to avoid starting the discussion over the phone.

I got no answer from that email, but my parents called again yesterday evening (Tuesday) while I was at the gym, and my mom left a message asking if there was a time we could talk on the phone and that they'd be available the rest of the evening. They had not responded to my email asking if there were any questions we could answer via email, so we concluded that they just were not going to go that route. It had to be on the phone for them. So we called them last night.

After some initial small talk, my dad was like, "Okay let's cut to the chase." Yeesh! He said, "We would like to know what happened." A small awkward interval of silence ensued, and then I made myself start talking. I said that it was a long process. He said, "It usually is." I said that there wasn't one big reason, but a whole lot of reasons. I told them that it started over three years ago when we were living in Virginia, and that both my wife and I had our own doubts and concerns at the time, but didn't necessarily know about each other's concerns. I said that the questioning process started with a lot of prayer and scripture study and then lasted all the way through the time we spent in Indiana as I was going to graduate school. At one point while we were in Indiana, we opened up to each other about our doubts and disbelief, and the process continued until it stabilized while we were still in Indiana. They asked what I meant by "stabilized" and I told them it was when we were no longer wrestling with our doubts or questions and we had reached a fairly solid conclusion about it all. I told them that I didn't want to go into any of the specific reasons because I didn't want them to feel on the defensive or feel like we were attacking them. They seemed to accept that and didn't pry for any details as far as reasons are concerned.

They asked if we had had any contact in the ward here in Seattle, and we told them no. My dad wanted to clarify something he saw in our email about leaving the church, wanting to know if we formally resigned or not. We told him no. He wanted to know if we were going to. We told him that we had no current plans for doing so, but that in the future it could be a possibility. My mom wanted to know what we do believe in, like God, Jesus, etc. I said I believe in a whole lot of things, however I do not have a belief in a deity. My wife tried to explain that she still thinks that humans have a spiritual aspect, basically trying to dodge the god question, hehe. In the middle of this I realized that I should really explain to them that we still have values, morals, etc. so I interrupted and emphasized the living crap out of the fact that we still believe in all the good things we've been taught by them, that I consider them to be exceptional parents, and that this is not a rejection of them or the values they've instilled in me. Throughout all of this they never betrayed a reaction. They kept all of their feelings about our answers to themselves, and were just calmly asking questions, hearing the responses, and then moving on to other questions. I imagine they probably resolved to approach it this way, asking but not reacting. Although it would have been interesting to know what there inner reactions are, I think this suited us just fine.

My dad asked what we would do if two home teachers showed up at our door. It's like they had all their questions written down. I told them that we would probably explain to them that we don't need home teachers. My mom asked if we would be offended if she sent us books from Deseret Book or subscriptions to church magazines. We told them that we would not be offended, but that it would be unnecessary. They asked about my parents-in-law and if we'd talked to them yet. We told them no we haven't but that my mother-in-law had responded to a previous email she had sent about some gardening thing, so we assumed that perhaps they weren't as bothered by it. My dad said he was sure that they were just as distraught about it. He really doesn't know what he's talking about here, as I don't think he understands that my wife's parents don't share his hardline, orthodox perspective. My wife talked about how she felt her mom had seen some signs of it from talking on the phone (my wife has an inner raging feminist) and that she probably wasn't as surprised because of that. My parents then told us that they had also seen signs. We were both tempted to ask what exactly they had seen, but we decided not to because to us it is an amusing question and I don't think they'd join us in laughing about it. Basically, my wife couldn't keep her raging feminist from leaking during the Christmas break when we were with my family. I'm sure that's the biggest sign they had, but I'm awfully curious as to what signs they might have had from me. I kept my mouth shut pretty well.

My mom asked us if we were still committed to each other and to our son as a family. Ha! We assured her that we definitely were, and that we've grown even closer as a result of being honest with each other about our issues.

Towards the end, my dad told us that there had been a lot of tears over the weekend because of this. I was silent, and my wife filled the silence by saying that we knew it would probably make them sad but that we thought it was important to be authentic. I wanted to say: "I'm still waiting to hear what your point is. I'm sorry if the fact that I can't bring myself to believe in this has made you cry, but that is your problem." But I didn't say that, which I'm sure you'd agree was probably a good decision. We all exchanged "we love you", my dad told us that Heavenly Father has a plan for us, my mom said she really wants to visit us, and that was pretty much it. Overall I think it was a good conversation. It sounded like they were very careful to not react to our answers; they just wanted to run down a list of questions and let us do most of the talking. This is definitely better than all those worst-case scenarios that have been dancing around in my head for the past year. It certainly helps that my wife and I are both in this together, and also that we don't have a ward that we need to extricate ourselves from. I consider myself lucky.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Two Good Responses

We received two emails last night, one from my sister (which I'll call sister#1 -- the one who I talked with on the phone yesterday was sister#2) and one from my brother-in-law (BIL#1) and his wife (SIL#1). They were both good. They both showed understanding, love, and respect, and it made for a good ending to a day of emotional turmoil. Seriously, I couldn't eat as much or do as much weightlifting yesterday as I usually can because of all the anxiety.

Sister#1 said she wasn't surprised. I figured she probably wouldn't be surprised that my wife (DW) doesn't believe because DW never was quite able to keep her feminist opinions bottled up during the Christmas break. It is curious to me that sister#1 wasn't surprised about me (at least that's what I think was implied). She is rather observant, and I can't help wondering what she observed about me that made it so that it didn't surprise her. From the description that sister#2 gave me of the household yesterday we had completely knocked the socks off of everyone else. Maybe she felt an evil spirit about me? :-P

Sister#1 also said that she respects our intentions and our search for truth. That earns her a big thumbs up in my book. It feels good to know that our relationship with her is still intact.

BIL#1 also emphasized that they love us and value their relationship with us. They asked for forgiveness in case they unconsciously give offense during this transition.

Both emails expressed love and a desire to continue relationships despite our differences. I'm impressed with them both. I hope that the rest of the family can be as understanding as they have been. No doubt my dad is composing one of the hardest epistles he's ever had to write. I expect this will show up in the inbox within the next day or two.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

We Just Came Out

Today, March 26, 2011 on the anniversary of the day that the Book of Mormon first came out, so are we. We sent out our announcement email to the entire family:

Dear family,

We hope this letter finds you well. Unfortunately, we need to discuss something that will likely not be pleasant for you. We are telling you this because we value our relationship with you and want that relationship to be built on authenticity and mutual understanding. With that, we need to tell you that we no longer believe in the church.

This is not a sudden or recent event; it is a process that we've been going through for over three years. It was painful at the beginning because our belief in the church was something we both held dear and took very seriously. We deeply appreciate our upbringing and the values we have been taught, as well as the opportunities for growth that you and the church have provided us. Our decision to leave was not made lightly. We simply can no longer proclaim faith in good conscience. We love each of you and enjoy hearing about all aspects of your lives, including spiritual and church-related experiences. Hopefully this news will not cause you to draw away from us and we will be able to love each other in spite of our differences.

This email does not include a laundry list of reasons why we no longer believe, but we assure you that we have not been offended by anyone nor have we left out of a desire to sin or slacken our commitment to what we hold to be true. Our lives will continue much as they did before. If, by chance, you have any desire to discuss the "why" we are happy to do so, but hope that this can be done after any initial shock has subsided to some degree.


We sent it off around noon and went to run some errands. At about the time we were finished with our errands I got a call from my sister. We had decided to not take calls from our family, but this was the sister that we figured was the most likely to not be judgmental, so I answered it. I was not disappointed.

She came out to me that she had gone through her own tribulation-filled journey of faith and had finally come to a testimony of her own. From this experience she learned that everyone has to make that decision for themselves, and she did not fault us for our decision. It was a good call, and I felt that we connected in a closer way than ever before.

Unfortunately she described to me that the scene she had just left at home where the rest of my family is was a depressing sight. My dad was speechless and everyone was in shock. Not good. I knew this wasn't going to go very well. At this point I'm just glad that I have one dear sister who I can count on to be understanding and non-judgmental. Bless her heart.

I didn't go too much into the reasons why we don't believe over the phone, but I did some. I constantly emphasized that I had no intention or desire to stomp on anyone's testimony or to offend or personally attack anyone. I think she understands. When the conversation was over she had just gotten back home, and who knows what conversations are happening there now. I don't know if I'd even want to know. Mark my words, my dad is going to be pretty defensive about this at the start. I do not think it is a good idea to talk to my parents on the phone for a while.

At this point I don't yet feel the exhilaration of being free and out yet. I still feel nervousness and anticipation about how my family is reacting and will react. It's going to get worse before it gets better. I don't know how much of an influence my sister can have on the rest of them, but at this point I think she's the only one I'm willing to talk to over the phone. I really don't think anyone else in my family has had their own journey yet as she has, and I don't think any of them besides her are going to be capable of showing much understanding at this point.

Wow! To have everybody be in shock like that! She said that my brothers were in tears! My brothers! In tears! It's just so wrong. Have we really turned their lives upside down today? They're going to have to re-position their entire view of us in their minds. We go from being on the good list to the bad list. Suddenly we can't be their example of a righteous family or whatever. It's as if we'd died in an accident. I guess we'll see what comes of this after the shock has worn off.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Family Communications

Okay I'm going to go ahead and use some standard acronyms here. My wife (DW) and three-year-old son (DS) had a video chat with her mom (my mother-in-law - MIL) today while I was at work. At some point MIL asks DS what he did yesterday. Apparently even though the word "church" was never mentioned in the conversation beforehand, DS said that we went to church and he had fun there. He's so silly. DW neither confirmed nor denied this to MIL. Now MIL thinks we went to church yesterday, and nothing could be further from the truth. We haven't gone to church since we moved here and won't be going to church.

Later this evening we got a family spam email from my dad. This is extremely rare. In fact, he used an email address I haven't seen before so it must be new. He basically talked about some history books he was reading about war and tragedy, and he expressed his gratitude and humility for not having to go through such horror. He wonders why he has been so blessed. He believes that Jesus will comfort those who have suffered and help them accept the truth in the end. He exhorts us to live the gospel and ends his epistle. His written communications are always rare, but usually dramatic like that.

So now all we need to do is send off a letter saying "Hey guys we don't believe in any of this crap anymore! But we love you!" to top off the evening, eh?

I don't know how people can just happily go without telling their families of their disaffection. People will sometimes ask me, "Why do they need to know? Just don't tell them!" Some of these people are ex-mos and I just don't understand how they can pull that off. Do their families never ask them about church? Does the subject never come up? Do they censor themselves whenever they talk to family? Do they never get invited to weddings, temple trips, or to say a prayer, bear a testimony, or give a blessing? How can they cut themselves off from their families so cleanly like that? We live far away from our families yet there is no way we can go without them knowing without a ridiculous amount of hiding involved. I want to live authentically. I guess it's time to start drafting that announcement email.