Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fighting Through the Darkness

Yesterday I posted on opportunities I passed on that could have led me out of the church at a much younger age. I detailed some of the difficult feelings I had when I first confronted evidence that conflicted with official foundational stories I had been taught at church. I now know that these feelings were nothing more than my brain reacting, trying to accommodate incompatible information that was at variance with other seemingly true church claims. Black can not be both black and white at the same exact time. The earth can not be both 6 billion years old and 6,000 years old at the same time...sorry folks but I’m just not smart enough to accept this. There can’t both be "no death" prior to Adam and "death" prior to Adam it has to be one or the other. I can't see where the Mormon God, being all-perfect, would use a tool of fraud to translate his so-called sacred scripture and then hide this fact from the general church membership. Yet these are examples of exactly what we were supposed to believe. It was obvious that these claims can not both be true at the same time. Just as two objects can not occupy the same space at the same time...two opposing truth claims can not both be true at the same time. Either one is true or the other is false. or both are false...but both can not both be true. Our minds are incapable of holding two conflicting notions as being true at the same time...we either embrace one or reject the other or merely ignore the reality of the conflicting claim. There is no middle ground.

As TBM’s most of us gave the church the benefit of doubt, at least at first. For me it was just unfathomable that this so-called organization that claimed to be the vessel of all moral, ethical and religious authority in the Universe could be anything other than what it claimed. Yet here I was as a young missionary being exposed to information that was 180 degrees opposite from what I had been taught...and to make matters worse the information seemed so could this be? Thus the cognitive dissonance and the swing into darkness.

In my own experience, it took years for me to accumulate enough inconsistent information for the scales to finally tip against the church. I fought hard for this not to happen. I compartmentalized, ignored, rationalized and excused everything that conflicted with the official church claim. And even then, I didn’t want to believe that the organization I had given my life to was based on a fraud.

I fought hard NOT to accept the truth. I’ve risked practically everything I value in this life...but in the end the accumulation of knowledge was so overwhelming that I had to finally accept it.

Those who have gone through a near death drowning experience say that once they accepted the reality of death, they found an unbelievable peace. In that place just between consciousness and darkness they find peace. Acceptance of their reality that life was over is part of finding this peace. They fight like hell NOT to die...yet in the end they find peace through acceptance. This is were I am with my loss of belief in Mormonism. I have fought like hell to maintain a belief in unbelievable things... I gave Mormonism over 40 years of my life... I NEVER wanted the church NOT to be everything that it claims to be, yet to my utter surprise it was only after I accepted my reality that I was able to find the light at the end of the tunnel and find peace with my life.

To all of you still fighting to maintain belief...take your time...fight like hell if you must ...but you will only find peace with acceptance of reality.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Missed Opportunities"

As I reflect back on my life, I’m reminded of several opportunities I had to see the church for what it is. I now view these moments as opportunities lost...opportunities I let pass...because I was afraid of what the results of a critical examination might bring.

The first missed circumstance occurred while I was serving my mission. An investigator family decided not to take my companions and my word on the historical claims of the church and did some additional research at the local library. The result of this research was the total rejection of the church by this family. Needless to say my comp and I were devastated. We had labored hard to teach this golden family only to have them discover lies about the church. When I pressed this family on their so-called research, they challenged me to read what they had discovered. I agreed to do so. I had a perfect knowledge that the church was all it claimed to be...nothing could dissway me of its truth...or so I naively thought. They presented me with a copy of the Tanner book “Mormonism: Shadow or Reality”.

Nothing in my years of seminary, institute and other church education had prepared me for what I found contained within the pages of this book. To be honest with you, its contents sent unbelievable chills of fear and pain up and down my spine. Every page I read presented me with information that caused my mind to react in a manner I had never experienced in my life. I felt my world literally collapsing in upon itself, literally imploding. Like a car quickly entering a dark black tunnel...yet there was no light at its exit, the foundational basis of my life had disappeared in a flash. I remember the room I was in literally spinning out of control around me. I closed my eyes to gain my balance; my world had turned to blackness in an instant. Looking back now I know that what I was experiencing was a major case of cognitive dissonance.

My young Uber TBM mind could not even fathom the alternative truths contained in that book.Within a split second my life had forever innocence was gone...despite my denials I knew in my heart that there was something very very ugly and very very secret at the core of Mormonism.

I was an extremely focused, Uber missionary at the top of my game. I was the senior zone leader and I had loved every moment of my mission up to this point. But dear God was it all a lie? How could this be? I turned to God for an answer. I fell to my knees and prayed with ever fiber of my being, demanding that God send me a sign that what I had discovered was not real...I demanded that God put my reality and life back together. At the very moment I was ready to accept the truth, pack my bags, return home and confront the people in SLC who had lied to me, my years of programming kicked into action. And God answered my demand for a sign. I told God that He must move the Tanner Book across the room from where I had placed it prior to my entering my prayer. Upon completion of my prayer...God had in fact answered my prayer...when I entered my bedroom the book was in fact across the room (in the hands of my companion) But holy shit God does work through natural means doesn’t He?

That experience didn’t answer any of the problems I discovered in the Tanner book, but it was enough for me to discard everything I had discovered. I dismissed all of it as anti-Mormon lies. It was my first missed opportunity to discover the truth behind Mormonism. But a seed had been planted.

The second missed opportunity came a few years later during the Mark Hoffman fiasco. Following my mission I had successfully placed all of the difficult discoveries in an airtight compartment in the back of my mind. I had effectively sealed it up with no intention of ever having to repeat that awful experience I had survived as a young missionary. But little did I know that there were microscopic fissures in my testimony and reality was about to make another major frontal attack on those weak spots.

I was serving as a fanatical Elders Quorum President when Mark Hoffman's story erupted or should I say exploded into my life. But this time I was somewhat prepared for the assault to my faith. Those who remember these short but difficult months will remember that we as members of the church had to redefine just about everything we had believed about the foundational claims of the church.

Thanks to Mark Hoffman, church members now had to adjust our understanding of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It was my first exposure to the folklore, back woods occult and magical worldview of the Joseph Smith Sr family. As members we had to somehow find a way to assimilate and accommodate a new worldview, the “White Salamander” changing into the Angel Moroni. All of the “Cog Dis” I thought I had safely placed in the far distant back recesses of my mind were starting to bubble and ooze forth and rumble in the pit of my stomach like a bad Mexican dinner with each new Hoffman discovery. I decided then and there that I had to know the truth, church be damned.

I started on a new mission to discover and examine the foundational claims of the church. I bought and started to read Michael Quinn’s “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View” and I booked tickets to Nauvoo so that I could explore and see first hand what the historical claims of the church were.

My wife and I arrived in Nauvoo on a beautiful October afternoon. The fall colors were at their peak and as fate would have it...the local newspapers were awash with a major breaking news story. Mark Hoffman had just blown himself up in Salt Lake City. Police where pointing their finger at him as the perpetrator of other bombings that had plagued Salt Lake City throughout the preceding months. With this revelation his whole fraud/forgery scheme was testimony dodged another bullet and lived to testify another day. The seed, unbeknownst to me, had spouted roots, but would take another 18 years to bare fruit.

I often wonder what might have been had I focused then on church claims and started my discovery of truth. Maybe I could have had a greater influence on people I love...maybe I could have lived a more fuller life...but there is no way I can ever know what might have been.

I now live my life as true as I can... with the heartfelt desire to face reality, enjoy this earth and humanity, be sensitive to others in need and show true compassion and understanding to those who are seeking the truth about Mormonism.The transition out of Mormonism has not been with out its trials...but by “standing for something” (as Gordon B. Hinckley has stated) I hope to set an example for generations to come...that sometimes being “true” is more important then caving into social and cultural norms.