Friday, January 12, 2007

Does Mormonism Encourage Honesty?

I secretly struggled with my doubts about Mormonism for many, many years. The only people I ever discussed them with were my parents and my bishop. My father seemed completely perplexed about my concerns. In his mind the church can pretty much do whatever it wants since God guides its prophet who will know if teachings and practices need to change over time to best meet the church's needs. So he didn't have a problem with the fact that the church decided to change temple ordinances that were supposedly revealed by God to his prophet who subsequently declared that they were a perfect restoration of lost ordinances. He felt that the changes were good and didn't see any problem.

I later expressed my lack of faith and doubts to my bishop. His response was a little disconcerting in a different way. He'd had doubts too in the past and told me that he didn't know whether it was really true or not, but that he believed it was true and that it made him feel good to believe. This was quite a contrast to the solid testimony that I'd heard him declare from the pulpit where he unambiguously declared that he "knew" that the church was true. He never gave a hint of uncertainty or doubt. He publicly professed a confidence that he didn't really have inside. I guess it depends on what your definition of "know" is.

Other than that I kept my doubts to myself. I had been taught at BYU in a religion class that Satan can't read your thoughts so if you don't vocalize something then he won't know. Part of me was afraid that vocalizing my doubts would put me in Satan's power who would then work on me even harder. But the bigger reason was that I was afraid of damaging other people's testimonies. What if I discussed my doubts with another member and I caused them to lose their belief? What if I subsequently overcame my doubts? How would I feel if I led one of the Lord's sheep astray? While I still had a shred of belief or even a hope of belief I just couldn't risk it. I definitely couldn't talk to a non-member for the same reasons. If it turned out to be true then I couldn't risk destroying the possibility of that person converting in the future. It was even more perilous for my family. I didn't dare damage their testimony while I held hope that it might be true.

It was all very strange. I was outwardly active in the church although I couldn't bring myself to attend the temple or pay my tithing. I taught classes. I was able to say all of the right things. I knew what the church taught and could regurgitate it and could even do so with conviction. My mind was split and I could go in and out of a believing mindset.

It led to some strange episodes. I remember being confronted by my elder's quorum president in the hallway of church between meetings. It seems he had discovered that I didn't hold a temple recommend. Actually, I'm sure that the clerk generated a list of members without current temple recommends (yes, they keep that information on the computer) for the bishop and my quorum president was instructed to get people to come in for temple recommend interviews. He challenged me to get one and start attending the temple. I told him no thanks and that I wasn't interested. He was irate. All this in a crowded church hallway mind you. The little guy has absolutely no idea how close he came to being the first and only person I've ever punched in the face.

What I feel worst about is that I never discussed any of this with my wife. She is rightfully hurt about this. But I believed that I was doing the right thing. I was doing what the church had taught me to do. There is a scripture somewhere (in the New Testament, I think) that says that it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown in the sea than to lead someone astray. It was partly a matter of pride. I'd had what I thought was a bullet proof testimony. If the issues I had could cause ME to doubt, then what would they do someone with a weaker testimony? If I was barely able to hold on it seemed likely that it would easily destroy a weaker testimony.

It wasn't until I finally got up the nerve to look my doubts in the face and confront my issues with the church that I finally reached a solid conclusion and then I wanted to share with her, But at that point I was afraid. All of my reading told me that these situations end in divorce more often than not. I was ecstatic to have reached my realization and desparately wanted to share it but didn't know how to and was terrified of the potential consequences. Then I was desparately crushed to realize that my wife didn't seem to be at all interested and didn't seem to even care about the truth and refused to discuss it with me. It turns out that she is far more valiant in holding onto her testimony of the Mormon church than I was.

In so so many ways I think that the church destroys our integrity and our ability to honestly face facts. It starts by telling people that have doubts to declare that the "know" the truth. It pressures youth to bear a testimony that they don't have with the promise that it doing so they will feel the Spirit and gain one. It puts extreme pressure on young men to dedicate two years of their life to proclaiming a gospel which they may have doubts about or which they may not believe. It makes temple attendance an important public performance from the age of 12, but conditions it on worthiness interviews. Not going to the temple becomes a very public sign of unworthiness which puts pressure on people to lie about their "worthiness" to enter the Lord's house. The social aspects of church encourages people to pretend to be people who they really aren't. The punitive actions of the church against intellectuals supresses honest expression of thoughts and beliefs among active members including challenging distortions and lies about church history and doctrine in church meetings and literature. It all conspires to cause a member to subtlely betray their integrity in order to be a worthy, active member.

Somehow that doesn't seem right.

8 comments:

Just one of many said...

Well written and to the point. I have known many to fudge on their answers to the Bishop during their Temple Rec. interviews. Satan can't read our thoughts...humm?? Sounds like another scare tactic by the Morg!

Sister Mary Lisa said...

This is a great story, Bull. Does your wife still believe and attend? What about your kids?

Fascinating, and hard too, I'm sure. I should read back in your archives and see if it's explained there...

Bull said...

My family is split along gender lines. My boys and I no longer believe or participate while the wife and girls do.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

That's gotta be tough. Do you ever get the wistful "I wish you would use your priesthood" comments? I remember having thoughts like that regarding my non-mo man, and it's not something I'm proud of today.

Holly said...

I can very much relate to the idea of having to lie during a temple interview in order to not be seen as "unworthy". when i was 14, a temple trip was coming up, and i had recently lost my virginity (such a bad girl...) my parents told me that i needed to the tell the branch pres. about it so that i would be able to go. of course, i didn't want to be looked down upon by anyone, so i didn't say anything to the branch president, and i told my parents that i told him... that way all was peachy with everyone. so yes, i was dishonest in order to receive my temple recommend. it's really sad too because i didn't even WANT to go to the temple or believe in the church, but i didn't want to let anyone down.

Anonymous said...

Funny. I don't know what I believe about anything. I feel that rejecting the problematical mormon church leaves me with nowhere to turn. All the churches I know of ask people to believe the unbelievable and strive for the impossible. I am not giving up one to take on another. And if there is no god what is the purpose of life? Philantropy and good works of any kind would be senseless unless I am seeking some kind of glory from the world. The only person important to me then should be me. Social conventions that inhibit me in any way must be ridiculous. Since there are already laws I may be lawabiding in order to escape the legal system, but only if it doesn't inconvenience me too much. What is the point? Why would I want to support societal norms like marriage or children?

Sounds like a pretty self-absorbed life with no purpose. How are you choosing your purpose in life?

I don't know what decisions are worth pursuing.

danceofthefireflies said...

Excellent article. I admire the fact that you are true to yourself. Thanks for writing this.

Julie said...

I've told very few lies in my life. I hate it, and I'm bad at it, and neither of my parents liked lying, and I loved them both dearly.

What burns most is that two of maybe five lies in my 72 years were in bearing my testimony that I wished badly that I had, but didn't. . . . Once at 14, and once at 17.

I left at 21, and haven't looked back. I'm currently more of a Quaker than anything else, and they fur shur wouldn't *get* lying for the Lord. . . .