Seeking Goodness

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

Am I an atheist now?

Someone I know recently asked me if I believe in God. I worked long and hard on the response- it’s very hard for me to put into words, but this was my collection of thoughts:

I do believe in God, and feel quite open-minded on the topic, but I do have doubts that he is a single anthropomorphic entity. I know everything I’m about to say will sound vague, confused/confusing, or unsure, but I really feel quite comfortable with where I am, and while I will continue seeking enlightenment on it, I will, as Candide says, focus primarily on “cultivating my garden”.

I view God as more of a force than a person- more like gravity than like a loving parent. But there are very few answers to the “God” question that would surprise me or that I would find uncomfortable/objectionable. I use the male pronoun for God because it’s easy and simple, but sometimes even that feels too specific and personifying for what I feel I know (or don’t know, to be more precise).

We still pray before bedtime and at every meal, using LDS language because it is familiar and comfortable, but to be honest, I suspect the net effect would be the same if we said “Dear Universe, We are grateful for ____, and have a goal of ____, amen”. Even when I was very Mormon, I believed God didn’t need our prayers nearly as much as we needed to say them. It’s a good, healthy practice to engage in, and I do believe there is a force bigger than us we need to be aware of and feel gratitude to. I have a hard time imagining that that force really cares much whether us mortals acknowledge/worship him specifically, other than the effect that worship- or lack thereof- has on our own realization of our potential. I also still find enlightenment in scriptures- perhaps more so now that I’m not trying to break my brain analyzing it as the historically-accurate word of God. But I don’t find it to be more inspiring than Kahlil Gibran’s the Prophet, or Les Miserables, or the thoughts/writings of the modern Dalai Lama. And to be honest, it’s a relief to freely admit that the scriptures were often a help- I couldn’t have gotten through middle school without Nephi’s psalm- but they were also a source of confusion, boredom, and sometimes even pain.
It’s not that I don’t belief in the Mormon God, it’s that I don’t even know what the “God of Mormonism” would look like- looking at the wealth of uncorrelated resources out there, the God of Mormonism is no single entity but rather this evolving, contradictory jumble of ideas about God, depending on what era of Mormonism you reference, or which speaker. Even Joseph Smith himself had a clearly evolving view of the trinity and God up until his death. It’s not that I’ve turned away from the God I used to believe in, I’ve just seen my understanding of him crumble away and leave only my personal experiences.

When I first lost my belief in the Mormon restoration narrative, I had to really ask myself what I did believe, and what my options even were. I mentally “tried on” atheism- MANY of my post-Mormon friends are atheist and I have a great respect for their approach to life, family, and morals-  but it was a bad fit for me. I’ve had too many amazing spiritual experiences in my life, including an incredibly strong spiritual confirmation that Mormonism wasn’t right for me at this point of my life. I feel like I still have a relationship with this God and “talk” to him on a daily basis, without particularly worrying about the nature of who is listening. For all I know I am talking to myself, and even THAT seems awe-inspiring and supernatural and amazing to me- I suppose I do feel like we all carry a spark of the divine, that it comes from both within and without. How’s that for new-agey vague theology? But it works for me.
I believe God has had a hand in pretty much every world religion including- or perhaps especially- Mormonism. I do believe he worked through Joseph Smith, flawed though he was. I believe there is a sort of cosmic justice -you reap what you sow- but I’m only really concerned about how it plays out in this life and not in an afterlife. I don’t feel particularly inclined to believe in an afterlife, but I just don’t worry about it much.

And that’s my real answer- I really just don’t know, and don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Or perhaps I do like thinking about it, academically, but I don’t WORRY about it too much, as my actions wouldn’t change much either way- if I believed 100% in an anthropomorphic white male God, or if I believed 100% in NO God, I’d still live my life to the best of my ability, for my own happiness and my families. My day-to-day lifestyle has changed very little throughout my faith “transition”- I lived my life by Matthew 22:37-39 before my testimony broke, and I continue to do so now. I’ve tried hard to focus on actions and not beliefs, since I have control over actions, and I’m open to whatever truth the universe throws my way but see theology/religion as more of a journey than a destination.. If I were to to die today and found myself standing in front of the God of the New Testament/Book of Mormon and found myself having to account for my life, I feel I could do so without fear or shame. I did not claim to “know” God, but I knew compassion, I knew family, I knew sorrow and happiness and guilt and potential and love. I pushed myself daily, I sought truth, I listened to the universe for answers, I desired growth and improvement, and I loved my fellow man with all of my ability. And if God doesn’t think that’s enough (which I doubt strongly based on my perception of my communications with Him), I’m not sure I care to know Him better. Michael Shermer (who claims to be “atheist in how he acts, but agnostic in belief”), summed it up well:

Lord, I did the best I could with the tools you granted me. You gave me a brain to think skeptically and I used it accordingly. You gave me the capacity to reason and I applied it to all claims, including that of your existence. You gave me a moral sense and I felt the pangs of guilt and the joys of pride for the bad and good things I chose to do. I tried to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and although I feel far short of the ideal far too many times, I tried to apply your foundational principle whenever I could. Whatever the nature of your immortal and infinite spiritual essence is, as a mortal finite corporeal being I cannot possibly fathom it despite my best efforts, and so do with me what you will.

And if that doesn’t cover how I feel, Albert Einstein might:

“The problem [of the nature of God] is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws.”
I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals or would sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere- childish analogies. We have to admire in humility and beautiful harmony of the structure of this world-as far as we can grasp it. And that is all.
You may call me agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.

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  • Jen W. says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey and perspectives so beautifully. My family of four left the church 6 months ago. Having spent nearly 40 years “knowing” the nature of God according to Joseph’s reported experience, my identity was deeply enmeshed with that. It’s been a complicated process of stripping away my former beliefs, and exploring what I believe at my core. I continue to search and read the writings of great philosophers. My idea of God is also quite vague. At first, I missed the certainty that I felt when I believed in the church’s foundations, but now the uncertainty is beautiful, and I feel like my heart and soul have expanded.

    May 21, 2014 at 6:59 pm

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