Seeking Goodness

Seeking goodness, as I find my way outside of the mormon faith

What I believe, April 23rd, 2012, or “Why I’m not as mormon as I used to be”

I have titled my blog “seeking goodness” because I’ve come to learn that seeking good instead of seeking truth will have to be the focus of this life: I am not sure I will ever again feel confident I know some ultimate, divine Truth (with a capital T). As Voltaire says, “Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.” So instead of seeking that certain Truth, I will seek something I do feel comfortable judging: goodness. Is it good for me, for my family, for the world? Will it lead to freedom, or regrets? Fortunately, having been raised as a mormon, I have a very different definition of freedom: freedom does not mean a life of no restrictions, it means using your free will in such a way that you will not limit your choices down the line, being free from regrets.

I have learned, to my great surprise, that faith and belief is not as much of a choice as I always thought it was. But action is. I am a rational, skeptical, and (I think it’s safe to say) reasonably intelligent person, and I’ve realized any solid faith/belief I could sustain will lean directly on the evidence I have. For much of my life, my faith was directly tied to the very strong evidence I had at the time. I was Mormon: thoroughly, bone-deep Mormon, because logic dictated it. Logic: “If A, then B”. Or, in the case of Mormonism: “if A, then B, C, D, E, F, G and H”. Even if I liked B (let’s say, the plan of salvation) and hated C (let’s say, homosexual marriage as a “sin”), my belief in A- the divine authority of the priesthood- dictated that I accept the rest equally. As a mormon might say, because I did not base it on faith, I built my testimony on a foundation of sand, and that testimony took a huge hit in the discovery of much of the real history and ever-evolving nature of the church. I’m not going to say B, C, D and everything else isn’t true, but they now must be reevaluated and stand on their own, based on their own goodness.
I do not believe that a belief system (or lack thereof) should be structured around bitterness, laziness, apathy, or rebellion, and I am taking great pains to not go down that path. But I do think we have to be true to ourselves, and me going through the motions and doing nothing but lip service would benefit no one. This may be a big lesson for me in all this: not worrying what others think and what assumptions they are making about any changes in my life. I’ll admit I’ve already been hurt by others’ assumptions about my intentions and my integrity, but that’s something I’m going to have to deal with and hopefully grow from.

I’ve always believed that God had given different versions and levels of the Truth to all his people. Much like God gave the children of Israel the Law of Moses- a lower law which suited them- I thought there were many “lower laws” floating around in the forms of other religions. Lord, forgive my presumption. I thought Buddhism is what suits Buddhists best currently, Islam is what suits Muslims best currently, but that in some future state everyone would find Mormonism (maybe some “higher form” of Mormonism) and it would suit us all best eternally. I no longer believe that. I think Mormonism suits Mormons best- a thoughtful, intelligent, and compassionate people, who do well with a religion that asks much of them and gives at least as much in return; a religion that you can spend decades learning about and still learn and grow within it; a religion that can make its demands and promises based on an ultimate authority. And I have no desire to bring people away from that belief.

At the same time, I’m content to know that I may never again have some solid faith in that ultimate authority, or any type of Universal Truth that applies to all mortals from here to eternity. Since I cannot control what evidence I am exposed to (no matter how much effort I put into it- and believe me, I have), the amount of control I have over my belief is actually quite limited. I can only nudge it certain directions but it is still largely dictated by the evidence before me (which includes SPIRITUAL evidence- the “holy ghost” or warm fuzzies or meditation or communion with God, whatever you want to call it). But while I can’t entirely control my beliefs, I do have direct control over my actions: living a life in a way consistent with my values, that takes into effect all of my experiences, in a way that I know will lead me to be the healthiest, happiest, best Jenn I can be. And I don’t mean a selfish, short-term, “eat, drink and be merry” kind of happiness, I mean the happiness one feels from a life well-lived. I want to live my life in a way that I can look back from my deathbed or from the afterlife with no regrets, proud of what I did for myself, my family, and the world with what I was given.

I don’t know if there is a God, and I can’t pretend to know anything about him, but I believe that there is a God, and I want to believe that he loves me and is aware of me, as he is of all of his children. I suspect he is beyond my understanding, which is why we all have different versions of him that suits us. I certainly believe that I have lived an incredibly blessed life in a way that would be hard to account for without a power beyond my own. I do believe in the overall concept of blessings or karma or whatever you want to call it: what goes around, comes around. If I somehow became certain tomorrow that there was no divine power, I don’t believe my lifestyle, priorities, or the way I regard my fellow men would change one bit.

I do not know if Joseph Smith was a divinely-called “prophet of God”, but I believe that I am a better, happier, and healthier person for what he started and his influence on my life. I do not know if the Book of Mormon is a historically accurate depiction of the life of real-life men such as Nephi and Moroni, but I do believe the book is good. I’ll admit, I do not even know if the bible or its accounts of Jesus are true (though I’m pretty sure the old testament is historically hogwash), but I believe that emulating Jesus, fictional or not, divine or not, is going to do me nothing but good. But I also suspect a study of Buddha may also do me much good.
I do not know if the ordinances performed in LDS temples, which theoretically bind a family together for eternity, are eternal and necessary for salvation. But I believe they are sacred- not because of the authority behind them (though it might be real, I just don’t know), or because of the eternal nature of them, but because of what the people bring to them. A couple or a family promising to value each other always, to place that as their highest priority, to rejoice in the faith they have in common- whether or not the ritual carries into eternity, those things certainly will last. I see nothing but good in that.
That goes for almost every aspect of Mormonism. If it is Holy, it is because we make it so, because we allow it to be a tool for the betterment of ourselves and mankind. Take prayer for example (and I’ve believed this even while I was a full-fledged mormon). We do not pray because God needs to hear our thoughts- he’s omniscient. We pray because WE need to organize our thoughts, realize what we are grateful for, realize what our priorities are for, and recognize that some things are simply not in our control.

If Mormonism is just a construct made for mortals to find balance and happiness and joy, what a wonderful construct it is. It does it marvelously well for so many people. But I do not believe that it is the only way, nor that it works for everyone.
And I still believe there are many more in the world who would benefit from Mormonism (and who would benefit the organization of the church in return). I do think in general, mortals aren’t great at finding their own path- but I’m learning that it’s much more do-able than I ever thought. This may be extremely overly self-assured, but the Lord gave me a brain, and a heart, and in 27 years of “training” as a Mormon, I feel I’ve become pretty good at listening to both, and I’m willing to step out on a ledge and follow my own path for now.

I suspect I would continue to learn and grow within the church if I could do so with honesty about my lack of certainty, but the culture and organization of the church are not very permissive of doubt: if you doubt, it is because of some flaw, some lack of faith, and all you are lacking is prayer and meekness to get the “witness of the truth” so many Mormons believe they have received.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets that witness, or they get a witness of a different truth.

I will continue seeking answers, not because I hope to find answers, but because the act of seeking does me good. I realize I may sound directionless, but I feel quite the opposite. I feel freed of the cognitive dissonance that was weighing so heavily on me; I feel humble in an amazing, open-minded way because I can say “I don’t know” and be ok with that. I feel very connected with God: I feel approval and warmth and love, knowing that the path I’m on is right for me. I know I must tread this path carefully, and am grateful for external resources that keep me grounded, but part of me just wants to sing from the rooftops that I am happy and optimistic and fully love myself for perhaps the first time in my life.
I am so grateful I was Mormon for the first 27 years of my life. My favorite parts of me come straight from that background. I am not discarding those parts of me- I’m just evolving and growing into something else. I will not say I will never return to full-fledged Mormonism. I sincerely hope that is not the case. But I must explore so that wherever I end up (if I do, in fact, “end up” anywhere), it is somewhere I can feel 100% committed to being.

Category: Testimony
  • Dayna says:

    Wow. This post mirrors so exactly what I’m feeling and going through right now. I’m so glad you chose to write this down. I love the quotation by Voltaire you cite at the beginning. It is certainly difficult to doubt, but it also feels humbly and very, very honest. I love this. Thank you!

    April 24, 2012 at 6:57 pm
    • jooniper says:

      Thanks so much for your kind response! It means a lot to know that there are others who feel the same.

      April 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm
  • jardin says:

    This reflects exactly where I am in my spirituality. Thank you for your cogent and thoughtful description of your belief. As a convert in my early twenties, I wasn’t raised in the faith, and I suspect never fully believed in the absolute truth of the church. Still, I felt a certain level of panic as I finally admitted to myself and my husband my doubt. Now I feel at peace with where I am spiritually and much more open and receptive to God and His children.

    I wonder, what was the impetus for you, and how open are you with your family about your faith? (I understand this is very personal, so don’t feel you need to respond)

    May 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm
  • annegb says:

    I became curious reading your comments at MM. In a way, I’m where you’re at, although I have chosen activity and (relative) conformity. I also believe in the gospel, despite my (further) belief that (like you said) a lot is relative. I personally believe God is better than we can ever understand and that most of us are not going to be damned. We talk too dang much about damnation in our church. Mormonism is how I choose to express that faith. I cross my fingers during the temple recommend question about “the only true church.” Because I believe there is truth everywhere.

    June 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm
  • Robert C. says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, struggles, triumphs, etc., and for facing them in such a mature — and I dare say “faithful” — way.

    If you’re interested in a theological understanding of Mormonism that is rooted in a view of goodness more than capital T Truth, as you put it, you might try recent books by Adam Miller or Jim Faulconer. Or, try Salt Press if you just want to think through Mormon scripture in more thoughtful ways than you’ll find in a typical Sunday school class (the Alma volume, in particular, talks about faith and knowledge in ways I think you might enjoy, and elaborate on what I mean by “faithful” above). Good luck!

    July 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm
  • Joel Nielson says:

    I appreciate your candid thoughts. Things aren’t always crystal clear for me. I think there is a reason for that. A lot of strength comes from struggle.

    Thanks!

    Joel

    P.S. I have found direction in the temple. I made this tracker for me, but feel free to download it and print it. Take a peek.

    http://www.joelnielson.com/temple-attendance-tracker

    December 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm

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