Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Dark Side of Agnostic Mormon Mom--Part 2

In my last post, I admitted that my hope testimony doesn't necessarily include a hope for everything the LDS gospel encompasses. As I discussed there, I don't hope this is the "one and only true church". Well, guess what, guys? There's more I don't hope for. There's more to my dark side.

This is where I got married. Isn't it gorgeous? And look at that handsome guy!

Mormons believe that if they are "sealed" to their families in the temple, then they will be "together forever", meaning they will not be separated after death. This is one of the very best doctrines of the church. Who doesn't want to be with their loved ones for eternity?

So we're taught that we can have this wonderful blessing IF we're worthy, and that means a few things. First of all, we have to get to the temple and be sealed to each other to begin with. After that, we have to keep all the commandments, AND we have to hope that all of our loved ones do the same thing, because guess what? If they aren't worthy to go to the celestial kingdom, they won't be there, regardless of how righteous you are. If your dad or husband or child decides that he doesn't want to pay tithing, or he likes a cup of coffee in the morning, or maybe he just straight up doesn't believe this stuff, you're kind of out of luck. It doesn't matter if he is an honest, loving, hard working, giving, wonderful person. You will not be with him after you die. That's according to the doctrine the way it is strictly laid out.

Now, I understand that there have been a lot of statements from church leaders that soften this doctrine. There's a popular one from Joseph Smith. I particularly like this one from Brigham Young:

“Let the father and mother, who are members of this Church and Kingdom, take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang." (quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:90–91).

What I do hope is that Brigham Young's idea applies not only to children, but to spouses and parents and the whole human race. And pets! Because what I really hope is that there is a life after this one and families will be together there. I hope this is true regardless of what they believed here, or what building they were or were not in on Sunday (or Saturday) mornings. The loving Father I hope exists as our God would never separate people from their families based on choices they had little to no control over. He wouldn't separate families based on what belief system they happened to be born into or randomly encountered in this enormous world and throughout our very long history.

He wouldn't separate families. Period.

Being agnostic, I believe that we can't really know any of this one way or the other (at least not in this life). And since I believe that hope/belief is a choice, this is what I choose to hope:

Families are forever. No conditions.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Dark Side of Agnostic Mormon Mom--Part 1

Up to this point, my Mormon friends and family--and a lot of strangers, too--have been really supportive of my blog and my faith efforts. That makes sense. Mormons are inspired by the idea of a person trying to believe. (Thank you, Alma, for that.) But there's a dark side to Agnostic Mormon Mom, and this might be the point where I lose some of you (sorry, Mom).

My hope testimony is the view I have cultivated that allows me to participate in the Church and teach my children the gospel without feeling like a liar. But if I'm going to be completely honest, I have to admit that there are some things that I don't hope are true. Here's one of them.

One true church
Mormons believe that theirs is the one and only true church. This is, of course, based on their claim to exclusive priesthood authority. For any non-Mormons who may be reading, Mormons believe that there was a Great Apostasy after Jesus's apostles died. Basically, priesthood authority died with them and the earth was without that authority until Joseph Smith received it from angels. We call that the Restoration of the gospel. So, according to that kind of thinking, it makes sense that there can only be "one true church".

But I hope that's not true. For one thing, it's really divisive. Also, it's a bit too big of a claim for an agnostic like me to even hope for. But mostly, I just don't care. (See my post on truth.) It just doesn't matter enough to me whether we're "right" or not, and especially whether or not we're the ONLY ones who are "right". I don't care about "truth" in terms of where we came from or what God wants us to do here or what happens after we die, but I do care about "truths" that I think most of us probably do accept, such as:
  • We should love each other.
  • We should take care of each other.
  • We should be honest with each other.
  • We should work hard.
  • We should be kind.
  • We should think and speak the best of each other.
  • We should always be improving our minds, bodies, and characters.
  • We should be grateful for what we have.
I consider these things to be indisputable "truths", and many, many systems of belief--as well as people with no religious beliefs at all--possess these truths. So I just don't like the obsession with the "one true church" thing.

I don't hope that claim is true.

How do I cope with it? I just don't subscribe to it. Simple as that. I believe that religion is (or at least it should be) a personal, private experience, and this is MY religion. This is MY Mormon experience. A typical Mormon worldview doesn't support the idea of picking and choosing among the body of Mormon beliefs, but I'm not a typical Mormon. This is how I'm both involved and honest, so...there ya go.

Stay tuned for more things I don't hope are true.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Flexibility--The key to faith?

I live in Northern Virginia, so I am surrounded by lots and lots of trees. My house is in some woods that are quite dense, which means the trees are tall and the trunks are thin. We get some pretty exciting thunderstorms around here, and even the occasional hurricane, so I have seen these trees swaaaaaaay. Oh boy, have I seen them sway! Sometimes I fully expect their very tops to touch the ground and then slowly lift back up into the sky.

Can you imagine if these trees weren't flexible?  With their height, the slightest breeze would snap them all in half, halting their growth for good as they crashed to the ground. Indeed, they wouldn't even have survived long enough to grow to their current heights.

My natural tendencies are dangerously rigid, so it makes sense that my faith would be as well. You can see it in my teenage righteousness.  Some people look at my story (super Mormon girl turns agnostic after a run-of-the-mill life tragedy) and conclude that I must not have had a "real testimony" in the first place. After all, when my faith was tested, it couldn't stand up against the heartbreak, confusion, and questions.

I maintain that my faith was quite strong before tragedy crumbled it into a heap of hopelessness. My faith was very strong...but rigid. So when the winds of devastation and doubt came, my tree just snapped. It's roots were deep and well-nourished--it was a strong tree. But none of that mattered, because it couldn't sway with those winds.

I propose that the key to keeping your faith at all is keeping it flexible.

So what does flexible faith look like? 

Well, when something hurts, or doesn't make sense, or doesn't fit with new information or experiences, blind/simple/unthinking faith shrugs its shoulders and recites platitudes. "Everything happens for a reason." "He's in a better place." "Maybe God is just testing my faith." Unthinking faith doesn't like to feel too much. It's easier to just accept what he's been taught until his questions don't bother him anymore. Unthinking faith is like a perpetual sapling in the woods--wind can't possibly damage it, but it never grows or matures.

Rigid faith, when it can't answer the tough questions honestly, starts to believe that maybe faith doesn't have the answers. Maybe he was wrong all along.

But flexible faith shelves its unanswerable questions, or maybe even tweaks itself a little so that its possessor can keep a handle on it. He doesn't shrug off his confusion, but he doesn't toss his faith out the window. Not yet. It's just..."on hold" for the time being. Or perhaps the hoper learns to look at the question in a different way. Maybe this new information or experience can actually illuminate the gospel principle in question, rather than obliterating it altogether. Or maybe not.

Flexible faith doesn't take everything quite so literally, or even in the way things have always been taught. It considers other interpretations.

Flexible faith loves a good bargain. "Well, this principle makes little to no sense to me, but I'm going to keep practicing it because I value what I receive in exchange." Flexible faith chooses to obey the Word of Wisdom, even if it makes no sense to him and kinda cramps his style, because he values the opportunity to attend the temple with his wife. Flexible faith attends his meetings, even if he feels bored sometimes, because he values the sense of community he achieves by being consistent. Flexible faith teaches his children the principles of the gospel, even if he's not completely sure of them, because he believes that such teaching will make his children better people. Flexible faith hopes for unbelievable doctrines (like that of the atonement or eternal families) to be true, because he likes the idea of having a plan that will right his wrongs and fill in the gaps of his imperfection. He likes the idea of his family relationships continuing in another life--it's much better than the idea of being cut off from his loved ones at death. It doesn't make much sense in light of what he knows intellectually, but he hopes for it anyway, rather than rejecting it altogether.

Flexible faith remembers that, even though religion often makes no sense, science is wrong a lot, too. Science recants. Often. Flexible faith realizes that there is no way to definitively answer these big questions in the affirmative, but neither is there any way to definitively disprove them. So it keeps hoping. It shelves its questions and revisits them regularly, but it hopes. And it hangs on. It bends with the wind instead of rigidly resisting it.

And in so doing, it continues to grow.