Following or Pioneering
Whenever I talk with my father, I get a rush of feelings. I feel somewhat embarrassed because of his unorthodox beliefs and exploits. At the same time, I feel somewhat grateful that he’s not orthodox (I can’t say I would prefer him to be a standard ho-hum Mormon instead of the weird chimera of synchretic mysticism and science fiction with LDS foundation.) I feel scared because I wonder if that kind of susceptible or trusting nature is something I might develop like a genetically predisposed syndrome. But I also feel a sense of awe because I know he genuinely feels something out of it all — as do billions of believers in whatever belief worldwide inevitably feel out of each and every one of their faiths.
I am perplexed though, by something he says…he claims to be worried for those who leave faith or spirituality. Those who rationalize the mystical. He doesn’t follow any orthodox view (and his views probably wouldn’t fly in any Sacrament meeting), but he insists that nonbelief and unbelief are weaknesses of personal character. Those who don’t believe in the church (or in anything — he is a critic of atheism above most other things) are simply following worldly trends. They are too insecure, he says, to pioneer in their own spirituality.
It makes conversation with my father difficult, even though I know that we have a good relationship. When people talk about “bad parents,” I know I don’t have bad parents. I know (and appreciate) that I don’t face the familial implosions many ex-members face. And at the same time, I feel that I have to prove myself. I have to prove to him and others that I am not devolving into sin; I am not devolving into relativism that makes me prey to any deception. I am my own person and I am strong. Just because I don’t believe in the Mormon spiritual framework (or in any such framework) doesn’t make me a slave of “worldliness.”
I was gravedigging By Common Consent and looking at a rather early article (or at least, early in the archives). I don’t even know if this entry itself was particularly insightful with respect to what *I* took from it, but I started thinking about why I left the church.
I agree I did not have anger. For me, I was never a big believer, so historical mishaps didn’t affect me. (It only recently clicked to me that some people literally believe the Native Americans are actually descendants of Lamanites or that people try to figure out exactly where Nephi and friends spread in the Americas.) I don’t quite think, however, that it was boredom that drove me away. I mean, I’m not saying that the church is the most exciting thing, but boredom does a disservice to the true feeling. It was instead a sense of…stagnation.
Church always felt intellectually and spiritually stagnant. It was very basic…as if people took “milk before meat” to heart, and never got to the meat.
Beyond that, the church seemed very much like the guidebook to following the crowd, and as an organization of order and a tremendous hierarchy, I admired that. I just came to a realization that just being a well-greased organization wasn’t a sufficient reason to buy — I feel rude to say — a primitive or maybe even harmful spiritual framework.
It seems strange when people like my father (but certainly not limited to him) say that leaving the church is following the crowd. It might be for nonmembers who never join (but even then I’m not so convinced), but for we liberal, cultural, former, ex-Mormons or whatever you want to call us, it’s never like that. I fit comfortably neither in a Mormon nor non-Mormon context — our entire goal is to pioneer — pioneer another way.
At the same time, I recognize that for people like my father, the church *is* spiritually engaging. He enjoys the meat of the church, and he flavors it with foreign condiments (I wonder if the creator of Battlestar Galactica realized people would take his work to heart?)
Where do you think you’ve had to pioneer most? Do you think you can just “follow” where others before you have gone? Who are those others, then? Do you think your friends and family who still are LDS are personally pioneering in their lives?
I think Mormonism has an interesting dynamic of encouraging conformity and non-conformity at the same time — and individual Mormons vary in terms of emphasis on following (vs. ignoring) the crowd. I talked about this a bit in part I of my deconversion: the fact that I liked and identified with the Mormon attitude of going against the grain.
I’d say it’s crazy to say non-believers are just “following worldly trends” considering that non-believers are a minority and are notoriously disorganized, lacking any kind of coherent movement. Yet, there’s a perverse way in which skepticism can be seen as “following the crowd”: insisting on accepting only facts that are based on objective evidence means only believing things that are accessible to everyone.
Your father might be interested in Mormon+Mystic and (more to the point) Can Atheists Be Spiritual?
Having left the church, I finally identify with my Mormon pioneer ancestors. As you imply, people who leave the church need to be self-determined. If not, we wouldn’t deal well with the judgments and scorn that Mormons send our way.
Yeah, chanson, I think when my father, for example, speaks about following the crowd, he speaks of a skepticism that is becoming more popular.
But I am willing to accept your understanding — it’s not just popular because people are losing values or whatever. It’s because there’s *objective evidence* and this kind of knowledge is *accessible to everyone*.
It irks me when people assume that because I don’t believe in a god, I don’t believe in anything. People think that because I don’t have their values, I don’t have any values. Instead of trying to prove myself to them (because why should I do that?), I explain that I have many strongly held beliefs – just not the same ones as they have. I believe in justice, mercy, equality, compassion, love, peace, joy, intelligence, intuition, logic, and reason. I believe in the interconnectedness of humanity. I believe that there is value in doing good for its own sake, and not for the sake of earning me tokens to get into heaven.
Usually when I explain people have this kind of “Oh!” moment when they understand that I’m actually not awash in this sea of perpetual confusion and torturous emptiness.
Re 2: Jonathan,
Somehow I missed your comment when I had responded to chanson, but wow — my dad would DEFINITELY love that Mormon+Mystic group. I’ll forward him both links; I think he’d appreciate them.
Re 4: rebecca,
I understand your sentiments, but I don’t think I’m quite getting the “Oh!” that I’d like. Yet.
Yeah, I’ve had that problem too.
It’s funny that your father is willing to grant individual thought and pioneering to, say, people who believe what they’re taught in a megachurch and not to atheists.
I think that your father’s position is probably influenced by contact with you (even if you haven’t been too open with him about your beliefs). He clearly sees skepticism and unbelief as the biggest threat or competition for Mormonism. A megachurch holds no allure for you (or anyone he knows) so he hasn’t spent any time worrying about the perspective or position of the people who attend one.
re chanson @ 7:
The way my father looks at things, he sees that there is some kind of power that pervades throughout the universe that is evidenced (even if science doesn’t know how to detect it sufficiently yet). This power has been used throughout history by many great people (so it’s not necessarily confined to one religion), but he would say that the church and its doctrines are a reliable way of living that cultivates and invokes this power.
So, for him, atheism is rejecting real phenomena of the world and universe. He would say that atheists refuse to see with their own eyes, and that they instead think real patterns are “coincidence” and “delusion.” (I’d respond by saying my father probably just has a serious case of confirmation bias, but I like to humor him, if only because of the blog material).
He wouldn’t necessarily say that skepticism and unbelief is a threat for *Mormonism*, but rather that it is a threat to *me* (or any other person). I think he’s the person to say something like what Rebecca noted — that someone who does not share his values is hurting themselves in the long run.
He isn’t about following a megachurch (not exactly), because he has his own individualist streak that puts him at odds with some orthodox positions of the church. He would be a big advocate of personal revelation, but he would say that that personal revelation never points to atheism. He probably would be opposed to *labeling* himself as a new order mormon, because he says that level of *open* rebelliousness would be unbecoming.
What I meant was that he spends time worrying about unbelief because it is a source of distress in his personal life (because of his conflict with you over it).
Even if he believes in a supernatural power that is cultivated by all religions, there’s a good chance his perception of “which is worse?” might be different if one of his children converted to, say, evangelical Christianity and was telling him that his belief in the teachings of Battlestar Galactica is wrong because it contradicts the Bible.
re Jonathan at #2:
Having left the church, I finally identify with my Mormon pioneer ancestors.
I agree with this. It used to drive me nuts when friends would admit to me that they didn’t really believe the church was true, but had to stay “because of the sacrifices their ancestors made in joining the church and crossing the plains, blah blah blah.”
So I’d say, “The sacrifice your ancestors made was to leave an inadequate belief system for one they thought would give them greater happiness and opportunity. Imagine where you’d be if they had the same attitude to their old church that you have to yours.”