Changing Moralities: Did I Lose My Morals When I Lost My Religion?

I’ve been wrestling with my conscience lately and I’ve decided its time to hash out my feelings and thoughts in writing.  Throughout this whole journey of losing my faith and coming to terms with life outside of Mormonism writing has been my therapy.  For me, putting my thoughts on paper gives them credence.  It helps me solidify my views and helps me gain confidence that my opinions are valid.  So today I am tackling the extremely controversial topic of abortion.  

I think it is important to start with the disclaimer that I am not 100% set in my opinions on this topic, or really any topic for that matter.  One benefit of leaving religion is that you learn to be more open to being wrong.  I have not researched abortion at all so I’m going from my gut feelings right now.  There may be arguments that could still change my mind either way.

While I was a believing Mormon, and blindly agreed with any church teaching, I had no moral dilemmas when it came to the topic of abortion.  I was okay with it in cases of incest or rape or when the mother’s life was in danger, but otherwise I was completely against it.  When someone would argue that a woman should have the right to choose because it is her body I just fell back to the usual excuse of “unless she was raped, she should have made her choice before she had sex.”  I still agree with this partially.  I do believe that if you are not prepared to be responsible about sex, you shouldn’t be having it.  (But my opinion on the matter is not stopping anyone from having irresponsible sex…)  If you are irresponsible about sex, are you really going to be responsible about raising a child?  But the more I’ve thought about the whole abortion issue, the more I’ve realized that abortion is not all about irresponsibility like I had previously assumed.  In my mind, the only people having abortions were young, unwed, sexually promiscuous women.  And maybe that is the majority.  But its not the whole story.

I probably wouldn’t have given the issue too much more thought except that I just recently had my third child.  Having a third child was a big decision for me and my husband.  The hardest decision we had with our first two was when we wanted to have them.  We already knew we wanted at least 2 kids.  When the decision became not when to have another kid, but if we should have another kid, the narrative changed.  And when we no longer believed God wanted us to have lots of kids or that any pregnancy that might have happened was part of the divine plan for our family, the narrative drastically changed.

No more belief that there are spirits waiting to come to our family.  No more eternal family dynasties to be built.  No more prescribed stance on issues to keep me from thinking for myself.

So my husband and I finally decided that another child was something we actually did both want.  We were slightly hesitant, because as anyone with at least one child can relate to, we were still struggling to keep up with the kids we already had.

My first two pregnancies were fairly easy, but this last pregnancy was definitely the hardest. By the end of it, I undeniably appreciated the argument that a woman should have a choice about what she wants to put her body through more than I had before.  You see, even an “easy” pregnancy is not easy.  The physical and mental things a woman’s body goes through during and after pregnancy are not pleasant.  So when someone argues that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy should “just” carry the child and give it up for adoption, here’s what they should keep in mind: morning sickness (from nausea to vomiting to food aversions to smell aversions, etc), headaches, heartburn, sore back, sore feet, sore breasts, sore everything, exhaustion, constipation, gas and bloating, swelling everywhere, feet growing out of your shoes, acne, gagging when you brush your teeth or wear a shirt whose collar even brushes against your throat—these are totally normal and MILD side effects of pregnancy.  Then comes the labor and delivery.  I’m sure most people are familiar with the horror stories here, so I won’t go into the details.  But don’t forget the after-birth issues like post partum depression, breast engorgement and mastitis, bleeding for weeks and even months after delivery, stiches, hair loss, uncontrollable emotional outbursts, stretch marks, weight problems, more acne, more constipation, sore vagina and butt, etc.  9+ months is a long time to be miserable.  (I know it is not miserable for all women.  I know a few crazy ladies who say they love being pregnant.  But from my experience, that is the exception, not the rule!)

I knowingly chose to put myself through these things.  I knew it would be a huge sacrifice and I knew it would be worth it for my family.  But a woman who is not prepared to make this huge sacrifice should not be vilified.  It is not selfish or vain to say “no, I don’t want to have to go through that.”  I think women who do put their children up for adoption are true heroes.  But that doesn’t mean that the women who choose a different route are weaker or less brave or don’t care about others.  Having a say in what happens to you and your body is something that should be respected.  You should have a choice.

Next comes the argument of when does life begin.  As a Mormon, that was easy.  I believed in the pre-existence.  I believed that all people lived as spirits before being born into this world to receive a body.  There was no question in my mind that abortion meant you were killing a child.  A child that was meant to be a part of your life.  Without belief in the pre-existence, I don’t know when I think life begins.  From my experiences bearing children, here is how I personally see it. I didn’t feel anything for at least the first 5 weeks of pregnancy.  There could have been a baby growing or there could have been nothing.  I was not emotionally attached to anything more than the idea of a child.  Once I did feel something, it was not a child I felt.  It was nausea and headaches.  By this point, I had gone to the OB and had seen the initial ultrasound that yes, there was actually “something” growing inside me.  But with the first two kids, all I saw was a speck.  With my last child however, I had my first ultrasound at 11 weeks.  I was very surprised to see that the thing growing inside me actually looked like a baby already.  I never felt any of my children move until about 20 weeks.  So for me personally, I guess I feel like “life” started somewhere around 10 weeks.  But I had planned for and wanted these children, so I can’t say if I would feel differently if my pregnancies were not conceived under the same hopeful circumstances.

Then came the OB appointments were we needed to decide which tests we wanted to have done that could show certain genetic conditions.  I decided I didn’t want to know.  I really respect my husband supporting my decision on this.  I never really opened the topic up to much discussion, because honestly, I didn’t want to have to think about it or deal with the hard questions at the time.  In hindsight, I hate to think of the pain and internal struggle that less-than-ideal test results would have caused.  I have had the experience of knowing and loving children with severe disabilities.  But even in my ultra religious days I struggled with the idea that God would purposefully allow people to be born this way.  I’ve seen some of the struggles that their parents face and I can’t even imagine how hard that life would be.  Right now, as I am writing this, I feel extremely guilty.  I don’t want to even write the words.  But here goes.  If I had known I was carrying a child with a severe genetic disorder or birth defects, I would have very seriously considered terminating the pregnancy. (Please don’t hate me!)

The last experience that really caused me to question my stance on abortion is the experience that I am living right now.  Having three children has been a really hard change for me.  The thought of accidentally getting pregnant right now scares me to death.  Yes, we use birth control.  But the thought that we could be the .001% is enough to make me panicky.  So while I’m waking up at all hours of the night to feed my precious sweet baby who I love dearly, I’m wrestling with my opinions about abortion.  While I’m screaming at the other two children who I have loved and adored everyday of their lives to please, for the love of God, just do one thing I’ve asked them to do, I’m struggling with my morality.  While I’m listening to another mother say how she can’t imagine life without her new baby and I feel guilty because I can imagine my life with just 2 kids, I’m troubled about what my principles should be.  Raising children is hard.  More specifically, being a mother is hard.  Being the primary care giver for little humans who suck the energy out of you in direct correlation to the amount of joy they bring to your life is hard.  It is a lifetime commitment.  Every day.  You don’t get a day off.  Ever.  Even if you are not physically with your children, you worry about them, wonder about them, think about them, love them.  This is no small thing.  You should be able to choose this.

I guess the conclusion I’ve come to, for now, as I’ve guilted myself back and forth over my beliefs on abortion is this:

Politically, I am pro-choice.  Personally, I am conflicted.

When I came to the realization that I no longer believe in a higher power who is concerned with my moral choices, I was adamant that I would not be what my Mormon friends and family expect me to be: a person who wanted to “sin” and has left all morals behind.  I now consciously try to be a better person than I was before.  But I also try to think more critically and examine different points of view than I would have considered before.  My religious friends would probably read this and think I’ve lost my morals and turned into a baby-killing, ethically-delinquent sinner.  That is not me.  It has taken personal courage to allow myself this internal debate and I hope that can be respected.

To Tell or Not to Tell: Coming Out as a Nonbeliever to My Mom

About a month or so ago, my husband posted a link to my blog on reddit and I went from zero page views to hundreds of page views within a few hours. It was really exciting and intimidating all at the same time and somehow the adrenaline of that moment gave me the last push I needed to finally call my extremely devout Mormon Mom and tell her my story (well, not my whole story.  I’m not that brave/crazy!).

Over the past 3 years I played this conversation out in my head hundreds of times. I’ve written letters that never got sent, I’ve agonized over what to say, and anytime I saw “Mom” come up on my caller id my heart would start racing because what if this would be the time she would finally ask. I live a few hours from my parents and we only see each other a few times a year, but I knew she had noticed my lack of garments (even though I’ve been very careful about not being obvious about it) or at least suspected something was up. The anxiety I was loading on myself over this inevitable conversation was getting to be too much.

I am a list maker. If I know something needs to get done, I make a list and I have a very hard time having things on my list that are not crossed off. That’s how I get things done. Telling my mom about my nonbelief had been on my imaginary to do list for far too long, and for me, I felt like I needed to cross that off my list in order to move on with my life in a more healthy, less anxiety-filled way.

So I paced around the house with my phone in hand rehearsing phrases like “I just want you to know that this was not a decision I came to lightly”, and “I have never prayed and fasted more sincerely than I did after I came across these difficult things”, and anything else I could think of that would help her understand that I’m not just lazy. I kept rehearsing and pacing, stalling more and more as I psyched myself up to actually make the call. Finally I just closed my eyes and pushed call.

Unfortunately, the conversation went just as I expected it would. I said what I wanted to say, but I didn’t feel like she really heard me. She went on and on about how she had to study and pray a lot to get a testimony of Joseph Smith as if I hadn’t just told her that I did the same thing just with different results. She pulled the “I can’t help but feel like a failure” card and “this is so hard for me because I believe in eternity” and “are you still keeping the standards?” (btw, what does that even mean/matter as long as I’m still a good person…which I had to explain to her that I still am…). I told her I would answer any questions that she had, but I also would understand if she would rather not talk about it. I wish she didn’t actually take me up on the questions thing. When my mom asked me if I still believe in Heavenly Father and my real answer is “no” but I knew that would break her heart I ended up saying  “I don’t know, but I’m okay with not knowing.”  After lots of tears (mostly on her part) and mutual assurances that we still love each other (this should be a red flag about your religion if these assurances as necessary…), the call ended amicably with an unspoken deal to agree to disagree and pretend like nothing had changed–we don’t like to draw attention to anything awkward or unpleasant in my family.

Even though I had expected these responses all along and had braced myself for them, when I hung up the phone I was so angry with my mom. I was physically sick to my stomach and I definitely didn’t feel that weight lifted off my shoulders like I was hoping to feel. Isn’t everyone on the ex Mormon internet always so relieved to be open about finally being able to “live an authentic life”? The only relief I got was that I could finally cross this off of my to do list, but mostly, I just felt sick.

It’s a strange feeling to be so angry with someone and know you shouldn’t be. I was in her shoes once. I believed it all at one point. I can’t blame her for her reaction. In her mind, she no longer has the perfect family that she used to have, that she worked so hard for. She has done everything she was supposed to do. She dragged us all the church every week. We rarely missed FHE, family scripture study, or family prayers. She did it all by the book and I am the first one of her children to stop believing. But my lack of belief has no validity in her world. She cannot understand it. Its not her fault that she has been indoctrinated and programmed her whole life to feel this way. So why am I digging up all of these resentful and angry feelings towards her when I know its not her fault?

I don’t know if I’m glad I came out and told her the truth or not. Part of me wishes I had just left it unsaid and let her think what she wanted. Then I wouldn’t have to feel this anger towards her and then the guilt for being angry at her. But I’m also the kind of person that still cares what other people think of me, and I felt like I needed to let her know it wasn’t just me being lured away by an easier lifestyle. There was nothing easy about losing my belief in Mormonism and I want her to know that. I can’t take it back now, so I just have to hope that she heard me even a little bit and be thankful it wasn’t worse. It definitely could have been.

Jane of the Nobility: An Allegorical Fairytale of Leaving My Religion

Once upon a time there was a young girl named Jane. Jane was the daughter of a very wealthy nobleman. She lived with her family in a great estate on a beautiful hillside in the country. Many other noble families lived on the hillside as well and Jane grew up surrounded by the wealthiest and most elite group of citizens in all the land. She was raised with the expectation that she would be presented at the king’s court when the time came. From birth she was taught the rules and the proper behavior of a royal. She was given daily tasks, exercises, and lessons to prepare herself for life at court. Jane was being groomed to become a queen. When she was a girl of just eight years old, she was betrothed to a prince.

Below the hillside where she lived there was a village where the commoners lived. Jane had been warned of the dangers of the village since she was a small girl. She had been taught about the great sorcerer who lived in the village. He was a wicked sorcerer and controlled the people of the village with his dark magic. He would put the people under his magic spells and turn them to beasts. The nobles knew the secrets to blocking the sorcerer’s magic. They washed themselves in magic potions made from lily petals, juniper berries and grasses every morning. They lived by strict diets to keep their bodies pure and strong. And most importantly, whenever they went into the village, they would wear special covers over their heads that would shield them from seeing or hearing anything wicked. This way they were sure to be protected from the sorcerer’s power.

As a young girl, Jane was rarely allowed to go into the village. Although she had never seen them herself, she had been taught that the villagers were too lazy to try to protect themselves against the sorcerer and therefore had allowed themselves to gradually turn to beasts. She heard stories of people who had the faces of animals but the bodies of humans and just looking at them could cause you to start growing beastly features yourself. She was told that they despised the nobles and because of their jealousy they would find ways to trick the wealthy people into taking off their covers. So when they needed to venture into the village, the nobles took great precautions. Finding her way through the village without sight or sound was awkward, but she learned to keep close to her known routes and rely on the experience of her mother, father, and other noble adults who had grown more accustomed to navigating the village without sight.

By the time she was grown, Jane was allowed to go to the village on her own, but she was still extremely cautious. Jane was still preparing herself to be ready to marry the prince. She led a very regimented life full of lessons, practice, study and meditation. Everything in her life was in order for her to join the royal family. She just had to wait for the day when her marriage would come. She didn’t know when the marriage would take place, but she had been assured it would be soon.

One day Jane was sent to the village to buy food for her family. As usual, she covered her face before she left the hillside and carefully followed the known route to the market. She collected the food and paid the villager who sold her the items, the transaction taking place without words. She carefully felt each piece of food to be assured of its quality and then turned back towards the hillside to head home. As she turned around, she bumped into another person, tripped and fell to the ground. Her head cover fell off her face and she could see her food spilled in the dirt. As she hurried to pick up the produce off the ground she saw 2 other people kneeling in the dirt beside her. At first she worried that they were trying to steal her food, but quickly realized they were helping her collect it and returning it to her basket. She could not stop her curiosity and took a quick glance at their faces, bracing herself to see the hideous beast faces she had always heard stories of. To her surprise, she saw no beasts, but friendly faces, smiling and apologizing for the accident.  She thanked the villagers and took one last quick peek around the village before putting her cover back on her head and continuing her walk back to her home.

For the entire walk home she could not get the image of the kind faces of the villagers out of her mind. She wondered how her experience could be true when she had known about the dangers of the village and evil spells cast on the people who lived there. She lingered on the pathway up the hillside, trying to understand what she had seen and heard before returning to the house. She was sure that no one in her family would believe her story if she told them, and she was embarrassed that she had been so clumsy to let her head cover fall off. She decided that she couldn’t tell anyone what had happened, not yet at least.

When she got to the house she quickly put the food away and avoided anyone who might be around. She was scared that they would ask her what had taken her so long and she knew she would have to lie, something that she knew was an evil act. She could feel their eyes on her as she tried to look calm while walking back to her bedroom. But once the door closed to her room, panic set in. She ran to her mirror to check for signs that she was under the sorcerer’s spell. Everything seemed normal. She saw no signs that she was becoming a beast. Just to be sure, she grabbed her magic potions and washed her body many times. She pulled out her books and began pouring over them, trying to find out more about the sorcerer and his powers, about the villagers, and the beasts they had become. All day she stayed locked in her room, reading, washing, and pondering, but the more she studied, the more confused she got. She realized that the only way to know the truth, was to go back to the village and take another look.

The next day she went back into the village. She wore her head cover, but this time she cut a small slit near each eye, just enough to let in the smallest bit of light and give her a tiny window to the outside world. As she entered the village she pretended to walk blindly, but found this hard to do when she could in fact see a bit of what was around her. She searched the faces of the villagers for any resemblance of the beasts she had expected to see, but she saw none. She saw people going about their day, shopping in the market, washing clothes in the stream, children running and playing. Nothing was as she had expected based on what she had been taught to believe. Feeling more confused than ever and more guilty than ever, she decided to return to the safety of her home. The confusion and guilt she felt upon arriving home was again too much for her to hide so she locked herself in her room once more and spent the rest of the day washing, studying and meditating. Trying to make sense of what she had seen and wash away any traces of it at the same time.

She struggled between her desire to go back to the village and see more and her fear of turning to a beast. Her curiosity got the best of her and each day she would find excuses to go to the village and each day she would see more and more of the world that had been invisible to her for so long. She eventually stopped covering her ears and she could hear the sounds of laughter, singing, talking and arguing. She found her way down new streets. She started to learn that indeed, there were parts of the village that were dangerous, where she saw people acting cruel and vicious. She was surprised at how close some of these parts of town were to the paths she had stuck to her whole life and wondered at how she could feel comfortable walking those same paths now knowing their true danger.

The more she visited the village, the less trust she had in the things she had been taught about it her whole life. She knew the village was not full of evil beasts and began to resent the people who had always taught her otherwise. She began to grow weary of waiting for her marriage to the prince. She had been waiting for and preparing for this event her whole life and she started to doubt weather or not her betrothal was real. She tried to send messages to the royal family to get any news she could about the upcoming marriage, but her messages went unanswered. She wondered if they somehow knew her secrets and were avoiding her on purpose.

It was a warm summer day, about a year after her accident in the village that opened her eyes. Jane was again wandering through the village trying to learn for herself what was good and what was evil when she saw a small pathway into the forest that she had longed to go down many times before. It was on this day that she decided to venture down this new path.   Once she was well enough into the forest that the village was out of sight she removed her head cover. It was a feeling of freedom she had never felt before. Even though she was always uncovered at home, this was the first time she had ever fully removed the cover from her head outside of the safety of the hillside. She immediately realized the weight that the cover had been exerting on her and she naturally jumped to her feet and began to dance around. She danced and danced and laughed and sang, no longer worried about the sorcerer and his powers.

As she was dancing she didn’t even notice the young woman watching her from the edge of the forest. Jane finally ended her song and dropped down onto the warm ground to catch her breath. She was startled to hear the woman come up behind her and she was immediately afraid. But the woman was kind and friendly and after the initial fear faded, Jane asked the woman to join her. They talked and laughed as if they had been long time friends. Jane was curious to know all about the woman and her life in the village and the woman in turn was curious and about Jane’s life on the hillside. After hours of talking Jane knew she was expected to be at home and walked with the woman out of the forest, carrying her head covering, but not worrying to put it back on even when they reached the village. The new friends said their goodbyes and Jane walked through the village with her eyes and ears wide open for the first time in her life. She smiled and waved to the villagers as she passed them and was happy to be among them.

As she was walking home she saw a couple of the nobles walking home from the market, covered as usual. Jane quickly hid in an alley-way until they had passed, worried that they had seen her uncovered. She quickly realized that they could not have seen her, being covered as they were. She felt relief and sadness both that her secret was still safe, but also that her friends could not see the truth of what the village really was.

At home she was still trying to get word from the royal family about the marriage, but each day she was more and more convinced that even if the marriage were to happen, it was not what she really wanted. Jane loved her time in the village and the freedom she felt while she was there. She had a true friend in the village who opened her eyes to even more than she could see herself. She knew her future husband, the prince would never marry her if he knew what she had done. To break the engagement would be devastating to her family and their place in the social structure of the nobility. She would be shunned and possibly cast out from her home if she did not do continue her daily preparation for the marriage that she was not even sure would ever come. Jane was torn between two worlds, with a secret that was becoming too heavy to bear.

She could no longer pretend to believe in the sorcerer’s magic as she had been taught. She felt let down by all the deceptions she had been led to believe and sad for all the beauty she had unknowingly shielded herself from all these years. She still loved her family and friends on the hillside, but pretending had become too exhausting. After a few years of living in limbo, Jane finally decided to move out of the estate on the hillside and into the village. She found that the preparation to become royal had taught her many useful skills that were needed in the village and she found work right away. She made new friends, but still longed to be with her family.

One day as she was shopping in the market she saw her parents shopping for food. Jane called out to her mother and father and waved her arms. But they could not see or hear her. They would not see her smile or hear her story. They assumed she and anyone else in the village had become beasts, but their protective covers isolated them from the truth. Jane considered running up to them and pulling their covers off, forcing them to see her as she was, not as a beast, but as a happy woman. She knew this would be offensive to her parents though so she waited day after day for anyone from her family to come looking for her, to lift their covers and see her for themselves. Every now and then she would see a familiar face from the hillside, uncovered as she was and felt an instant connection to them. But her family was always covered, day after day. So she continued to wait and to this day she is still waiting.

Truth

Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Ever since I was a young child I was taught to dedicate my life to the cause of truth. Truth would bring me happiness, freedom, and peace. It was not until my early thirties when I started to question the truths I had been taught my whole life that I realized the world is full of gray areas, not just the black and white I was taught as a child. This realization led me to search out truth with more fervor than ever before. Slowly, the fervor melted away into acceptance that I would not be able to find the truth I longed for, ready-made and waiting for me. I would have to create it myself.

I grew up in an extremely devout and conservative Mormon family. Heavenly Father was the source of all truth and we could learn this truth from the Book of Mormon and the prophets. Priesthood authority came straight from God and could be trusted to solve any troubles that came into my life according to Heavenly Father’s will. There was no need for me to question any of the truths taught in church or in our home. I trusted my parents and church leaders completely. Their authority in my life combined with my positive emotions and experiences associated with church were all the convincing I needed of the truthfulness of their teachings.

“True to the faith that our parents have cherished,

True to the truth for which martyrs have perished,

To God’s command,

Soul, heart, and hand,

Faithful and true we will ever stand.”

 I was born in the early 1980’s. My elementary school days were spent learning how to use the card catalog at the library. The ultimate source of academic truth was the set of World Book Encyclopedias. If you could not find the information you were searching for in one of the books in your local library, your textbooks, or the encyclopedia, you changed your research topic. For a young school kid, there was nowhere else to turn for information. Growing up, my family owned our own set of encyclopedias. They were prominently displayed on our entertainment center, a decorative collection, status symbol, and invaluable homework aid. On the shelf next to them sat our church books. All the information we could ever need was all neatly displayed in the heart of our home.

“Choose the right! Let no spirit of digression

Overcome you in the evil hour.

There’s the right and the wrong to ev’ry question;

Be safe thru inspiration’s pow’r.”

 My generation experienced the shift into the Information Age in a significant way. As technology evolved, so did our ways of finding information, and searching out truth. By my middle school years, the gold foil embellished encyclopedia set on our entertainment center had become outdated and purely decorative. We were originally taught to trust authority, mostly because we had no other options. But as more and more information became readily available to us, we were encouraged to question our sources and think more critically about the information we found.

I remember these latter lessons coming from two main sources; my high school and college writing classes and my church classes. The academic lessons cautioned against using information that was unverifiable and encouraged us to research the reliability of our sources while the religion classes warned against any religious information that did not come from the church’s official website or publishing company and outright taught us to never even consider any other sources as truthful.

“Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize

To which mortals or Gods can aspire.

Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,

Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:

‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.”

As a faithful Mormon, coming across any Internet article on Mormonism caught my attention. Curiosity to see what my Mormon and non-Mormon friends might be reading about my religion, I was eager and excited to read them. That is, until I came across an article that contradicted many of the things I had been taught my whole life. At first, I turned to my religious teachings that warned me that these sources were not to be trusted. But the contradictions were so troubling that I returned to my academic teachings which encouraged further research to confirm my faith. Instead of the confirmation that the claims of this particular article were false, I found multiple sources that confirmed these troubling accusations. My life was thrown into total confusion. For the first time in 30 years I questioned the truths that had been deeply ingrained in me since my earliest memories. It was terrifying.

“Where can I turn for peace?

Where is my solace

When other sources cease to make me whole?

When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,

I draw myself apart,

Searching my soul?”

This experience led me to deeply ponder the question of whether or not there is a source of universal truth—a source that could always be trusted. My first instincts were to turn to religion and God as this source of truth, as I had been taught my whole life. The problem with this perspective was that amid all the troubling accusations I had come across against my religion, I could no longer feel the emotional connection with the God I was taught to know. My trust in religious authority had been betrayed and not even God could help me reconcile this betrayal. With my faith on shaky ground, I could no longer justify my previously held convictions of truth.

“The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true,

And tells me it is true.”

If personal religious convictions are evidence of truth, then who am I to say that my religious convictions were more true than those of someone of another faith? How could I know that my religious convictions were truth when extremist Muslims have been willing to give their lives in suicide missions for the cause of their own truth?

“Let us all press on in the work of the Lord,

That when life is o’er we may gain a reward;

In the fight for right let us wield a sword,

The mighty sword of truth.”

A Pentecostal experience of someone of a Christian faith may lead them to believe that they know God’s will just as strongly as the Muslim. A Christian and a Muslim’s beliefs about the will of God are completely conflicting in many cases but each strongly believe based on their own spiritual convictions that they know the truth. The contradictory nature of religious truth claims seemed to negate them all as reliable sources of truth.

“Thus on to eternal perfection

The honest and faithful will go,

While they who reject this glad message

Shall never such happiness know.”

Since religious authority and convictions could not be my source of universal truth, I turned to science and evidence to lead me to truth. However, scientific findings are constantly evolving as new discoveries, tests, experiments and studies are being conducted. Science has proven itself wrong uncountable times throughout the history of the world. This can make many people wary of scientific evidence and words like “truth,” “causation,” and “proof” are used extremely cautiously in this field. While my trust in scientific evidence has always been strong, I have found that in today’s age of information, even experts with the most respected credentials publish opposing scientific findings, and these opposing viewpoints are easy to find. It can be extremely time consuming to try to find the truth about such things as global warming, childhood vaccinations, or the efficacy of fad diets or pharmaceuticals, particularly if you have not been previously trained in these fields of study. Knowing which side of the argument is more trustworthy can be very difficult to decipher, especially if you start your research with preconceived views about the topic. Our tendency to follow our own confirmation biases can often diminish the reliability of our findings, making universal truth an unstable element of invention.

Without religious authority or scientific authority as reliable sources of truth, I turned to faith. My ideas on faith have evolved throughout my truth-seeking process. I refer to a secular view of faith here. I have come to see faith as the act of moving forward in life with confidence that comes from any source that resonates with your life. It is being willing to experiment and try something differently. It is to be actively progressive in your own life, seeking out your own truths based on the things that you value. Faith is choosing to listen to and trust yourself and those who make the most sense to you when you come across authoritative contradictions. It is living life the best way that you know how, even when these inconsistencies in truth confront you.

“Do what is right; let the consequence follow.

Battle for freedom in spirit and might;

And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.”

After much consideration, I came to the conclusion that there is no reliable source for universal truth, and therefore, no use for universal truth. If we choose to seek truth in our lives we have to be willing to make our own personal truths and recognize that others are entitled to make their own truths as well. What we hold true may not fit the paradigm of another’s truths and we need the humility to not put ourselves above others. Personal truth is the only truth that I believe will bring happiness, freedom and peace.

Tears, Tears, and More Tears: My Story, part 3

Somehow, I was able to sleep that night after the infamous conversation, but the fear returned the next day when I was left alone with my thoughts and reflections of the previous night. It is in this moment that I recognized my spouse’s frustration with the organization that I held so dear. I thought of my marriage and wondered if it could survive that one simple question. My marriage that I thought was so strong, that I prided myself on and even imagined caused envy among my friends; where was it headed? I collapsed to the ground in tears. So this is what betrayal feels like. Would my husband betray me and our children out of the eternal family we promised each other? Would he choose an easier lifestyle over eternity with me? Tears turned to uncontrollable sobs. I gasped for breath. My chest tightened. My throat closed off and I wondered if this is what a panic attack was. My fears completely took over and I could no longer think clearly. The only thing I could think was what if, what if, what if…

After about 15 minutes of uncontrollable aching, I dragged myself up off the floor, knowing that I had things that needed to be done. I blew my nose, wiped away at the tears that were still silently streaming down my face and finally caught my breath. I told myself that I was overreacting and slowly I was able to calm my runaway thoughts. I got dressed for the day, feeling slightly guilty for judging my husband unfairly and letting my fears blind me against the wonderful person I share my life with. I resolved to listen to and trust my husband before jumping to anymore conclusions.

My day went by in a blur with errands to run, children to take care of, and chores to do. I wondered how everything could just go on as usual when everything in my heart and mind was so confused. Finally a free moment opened up in the afternoon and I jumped at the chance to find answers. I got on the computer and immediately searched lds.org for information about Joseph Smith and polygamy. The day before was the first time I had ever heard that he had any other wives besides Emma. My search brought up nothing and I didn’t know what to do. (This was before the church published the polygamy gospel topics essays.)  I was sure that if I googled the topic I would only find anti-Mormon sources and I didn’t know what to trust. I decided to search for primary source material only and make my own conclusions. I quickly found that there are primary sources that confirm Joseph’s polygamy, but things were still vague and could be interpreted in different ways. The confusion only deepened and the frustration of not knowing the truth brought me to tears again. I faintly wondered how I still had tears left to cry.

By the time my husband got home I was emotionally drained. He had been researching as well and we compared notes. He was more adventurous in the websites he was willing to read than I was, so he had more information to share. None of it was promising. He told me about 14 year old wives and women who were already married to other men. I was reaching for explanations and hoping that he was wrong. I found it hard to trust his judgment, even though he’s never given me reason to question his analyses. He usually won’t even buy a simple product without first extensively researching it. But maybe his mind was clouded by anger. He was definitely angry, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. He wasn’t himself.

That night before bed we decided to start reading the Doctrine and Covenants together. We pulled up the church institute manuals and read those as we went so we could get the “real” facts. Together we prayed and asked God to help us understand, to find the truth, and to know what was true and what was not. We asked him to strengthen our testimonies and help us work together to find the answers. We read together and waited for a feeling, any feeling. I got nothing and felt guilty, as if just by entertaining the idea that the church hadn’t been completely truthful I had cut myself off from the spirit. Each night we prayed together, read together, studied together and felt nothing but more uneasiness and frustration. I didn’t understand why the search, ponder, and pray formula was not working for us. Fast Sundays took on stronger meaning as I begged for answers, understanding and comfort, and fasted more fervently than ever before. Every time I tried to research further, beyond church authorized sources, I ended up in tears. My whole world was crumbling and I was desperately trying to hold the pieces together.

My husband remembered that he has a relative who dabbled in church apologetics. I’d never heard the term, but it intrigued and excited me. Maybe this is where I would find the answers I had been looking for! I vaguely remembered the FARMS building at BYU. I used to walk past it on the way to campus each morning. I figured that if they were associated with BYU then they had to be trustworthy. Finally, a source of information that I felt was safe. I immediately immersed myself in the website, looking for information on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. I quickly found many articles on the topic an devoured them. However, they were not as satisfying as I had hoped. They confirmed many of the most troubling things I had heard and this frightened me. Some of the apologist arguments made sense to me, but some seemed to be a far stretch. I now had confirmation that the church has been dishonest about this part of its history. Maybe not outright dishonesty, but definitely “lies of omission,” a term I’ve heard many times in church lessons throughout my life. To make things even worse, I found other articles on the apologist website about things like multiple versions of the first vision, anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, translation problems with the Book of Abraham, inconsistencies in the restoration of the priesthood, and many other troubling topics that I had never heard about before. I was torn—intrigued, confused, angry, sad, excited, curious, and distraught all at the same time.

Then my husband started working the night shift and I found myself with even more time alone with my thoughts. My thirst for truth was unquenchable. I scoured the internet for any information on Mormon history I could find until 2 or 3 in the morning, night after night. Reading new things I never knew about the church before was exciting and exhilarating. Church history had always been boring to me in the past and I realized that is because I was never taught the real history. I found the real history fascinating. Which also made me feel guilty because the real history is not faith promoting. When I finally pulled myself from the computer and collapsed into bed, I’d cry and cry. I’d let out all the ugly emotions that were pent up inside me while I laid there in my bed alone.

I went to church, unusually prepared for the lessons, and looked at everyone and wondered if they knew what I knew. I listened to the lessons more closely than before and I noticed inconsistencies. It irritated me. Part of me wanted to stand up and blurt out the things I had learned, to tell everyone so I wouldn’t have to be alone in my confusion and frustration. So I could feel like maybe someone else out there might understand what my husband and I were going through. But I knew that they would not believe me. I didn’t believe it at first either. I thought my husband had been influenced by Satan’s powers when he first came to me. If I thought that about the person I know and love most in this world, what would these mere acquaintances think of me? I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t think anyone would understand.

I wondered if I was a bad person. It didn’t make sense though because I had never prayed more, fasted more fervently, studied more intently and read my scriptures and lessons more carefully than I had been these past few months. I kept all the commandments, yet I still couldn’t get the one answer I had been searching for, begging for. Is the church true? I prayed and God was silent. My studies left me in shock. The thought of losing my eternal family still sent me into panicky sobs. But there was no warm feeling. No burning of my bosom. No still small voice. No peace.

The only comfort I found was in talking to my husband. He was the only one who knew my deep, dark secret. He was the only one who understood. He was feeling it all too, right along side me. We spent hours and hours in deep conversation. I never realized the lines of communication in my marriage had been so closed until we started to share your deepest fears and hopes. Faith and religion were the gateways that opened communication to all other aspects of our marriage and life. We learned how to really talk to and listen to each other and now everything was easier to discuss. We grew closer than we ever imagined. We learned things about each other that we hadn’t known in our previous ten years of marriage. The marriage that I was so worried about that morning a few months ago had become stronger than ever.

One day my husband sent me a link to a Mormon Stories youtube video he had come across entitled “Why Mormons Question.” I watched the video and once again, my conflicting emotions get the best of me. I finally realized that we were not alone in our questions. I was no longer alone. I was not crazy. There were many other people going through some of the exact same experiences I was facing. There were people out there who understood my pain. They were real people and their intentions were genuine, just like mine. I finally felt the weight of guilt drop from my shoulders. Again, I found myself sitting on the kitchen floor sobbing. Sobs of relief. Sobs of sadness. Sobs of joy. Sobs of pain. Sobs of frustration. Sobs of anger. Sobs of loss. The weight of my questions and doubts was the heaviest trauma I had experienced in my whole life and this video had finally given me confirmation that it was not my fault.

Through the video I learned about podcasts and communities of people on the internet who discuss the issues and experiences that had been tormenting me for the past few months. I listened to podcasts every moment I got and was fascinated by the history and personal stories I heard. Some podcasts made me angry, some gave me hope, some were reassuring and others were offensive. I devoured them all, hearing as may perspectives as I could.

I was now focused on a new goal—to find out the truth for myself. This had been my goal all along, but I really decided to focus on myself. I was extremely worried that my husband’s conclusions would influence my own so I spent enormous amounts of energy digging into my own soul. I formed my own opinions and studied the resources that spoke to my heart. I continued to pray, yearning for God to just give me the answers so I could feel sure again. I was determined to make up my own mind so that no one could accuse me of just going along with my husband and so no one could accuse him of leading me astray. But there had been no divine support since that fateful night and that fateful question; “If the church were not true, would you want to know?”

One night as I was praying I finally got the courage to ask the question I had known for a while that I should be asking. Maybe I was not getting answers because maybe no one was there. The mere thought that God could have been in my imagination this whole time opened the flood gates in my eyes and the tears that I had become so accustomed to these past few months were again streaming down my face. But I needed answers so I asked. “Please God, if you are real, let me know. I need to know if you are there. If there has ever been a time in my entire life that I need to feel your presence, it is now.” Then I waited, still on my knees by the side of my bed. I waited and waited. I asked again. I waited some more. The tears of sadness were uncontrollable. I was begging now. One simple question. No answer. Suddenly my concerns and questions about Mormonism seemed naive in comparison.

A few weeks after this, I found this song on my pandora station, and I’ve never felt a deeper connection with a song in all my life.  Needless to say, there were more tears, lots more. (And maybe even a few more tears as I listened to the song now, a couple years later, while writing this post…)

A Conversation: My Story, part 2

“Hey babe?” the husband says in an insecure tone as if he’s asking my permission to speak, unsure of how I will respond.

I look up from my phone at my husband sitting in the chair across the room.

“There’s something that has been bothering me the past couple days and I really need to talk to you about it.”

I don’t immediately grasp the level of seriousness this conversation will hold. I’m waiting for a response such as “I’m not sure about the path I want to take in my career,” or “I’m having a hard time dealing with the pressures of work.” Of course these would be serious topics, but they would not be out of the blue or life-shattering.

“What is it?” I ask, ready to console my husband and tell him everything will be okay.

“Did you know Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and some of his wives were as young as 14 years old?” he blurts out as if the words have been swelling up in the back of his throat like vomit he could no longer hold back.

I am still calm, not sure where this conversation is going yet. “No. Where did you hear that?” I ask in disbelief.

“There’s this article that popped up in my newsfeed the other day. Of course I was curious because it was about Mormons. It said some pretty crazy stuff. But the scary part is, I think a lot of it might be true.”

“Like what?” I am sitting up straight now, my mind and body on high alert. My internal defense system has been triggered.

“Well, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, for starters. And some other stuff. Like, did you know that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by looking at a stone inside a hat?”

“I thought he used the Urim and Thumim. I’ve never heard of a stone in a hat. I don’t believe that.”

“I can send you the article. But what is really bothering me is that I need to know the truth. I can’t believe I’m 33 and I’ve never heard of this stuff. I feel like I’ve been lied to my whole life. I need to do some research and get to the bottom of this.” The husband moves from the chair to the couch and holds my hands in his. “I don’t want to live a lie.”

I am now in panic mode. I wonder if he is really saying what I think he’s saying.

“What do you mean?” I ask, not sure whether I want him to answer that.

“I mean, if the church wasn’t true, would you want to know?” he asks.

My mind says yes but my gut says no. My logic wins out and I hesitantly say “yeah, I…I would want to know the truth.” The words hang in the air as my shoulders fall and my body slumps down along with the sinking feeling in my gut. A voice inside me cries “No, no! Don’t let things change.” But that voice is stifled by the curiosity and reason in me. I know I gave the right answer, even if I didn’t want to.

“Me too,” the husband whispers as he pulls me into an embrace that hides the tears streaming down his face, and mine.

********************************************************************************************

After reading this post, my husband claims that I make it seem all very abrupt, as if he went from one question about polygamy to total disbelief in no time at all.  He assures me that is not how it happened.  But this is MY story and how I saw it.  Obviously, its not the exact words we said and was written long after the actual conversation so I may have mis-represented him, but I can verify that it accurately portrays how I felt.  Maybe I can convince him to tell his side of the story at some point!

Damn You, Mitt Romney: My Story, part 1

It’s all your fault. I blame you, Mitt. I was totally innocent in all of this!  You see, Mitt just had to run for president, sparking “the Mormon moment.”  And that’s where my story begins.

At the time I was a good Mormon girl. I went to church every week, held callings, held a temple recommend, and even occasionally read my scriptures. I wasn’t a spiritual giant, but I was going through the motions with full belief in it all. No doubts. I knew the church was true.

The election of 2012 was the first time I had really decided to get politically involved–thanks to Mitt. I didn’t want to be that Mormon who unquestioningly voted for a guy just because we knew the same secret handshakes. I wanted to be sure I voted for the person that had the same political beliefs as I did. I didn’t have anything against the guy, I just wanted to be objective. See, I was just trying to be a responsible citizen here. Who could blame me?

At the time, I lived in a state where the Republican candidates campaigned heavily for the primaries. This afforded me a unique opportunity to attend quite a few rallies and town hall meetings.  I even got a picture with the man whose campaign caused my spiritual dominos to fall.

It turns out that questioning your political beliefs is a great way to practice critical thinking skills. It’s also a great way to open your mind to different perspectives. Before this I was lazy about controversial things, mostly because the Mormon church (or at the very least, Mormon culture) tells you exactly how you are supposed to believe when it comes to controversial topics. But now my brain welcomed the exercise. I enjoyed the high that came from forming my own opinions and owning them.  Even if (or possibly because) they were a little scandalous by Mormon standards!  I said I was a good Mormon girl, which is true, but I liked to think I was on the fringe.  I laugh now when I look back at the little things that I thought were so edgy…I had no clue!

At this same time, the husband and I started to talk about our hopes for our children. Our oldest daughter was only three, but her personality was really starting to show. She was so curious and creative and the thought of putting her in school to sit at a desk and be forced to conform the rest of her life made us sad so we started to research homeschooling and non-traditional schools. Another step in the direction of thinking for ourselves.  Little did I know I was caught in the perfect storm for a faith transition. All the ingredients were coming together and I was ripe for the journey that lay unseen ahead.

Awakening

A lifetime in a deep sleep. Pleasant dreams and happy memories. Everything in its place and as expected. A prescribed path. A safe way. My dream was all I knew. I was safe and happy.

I was suddenly awakened.

Disoriented and confused at first. I tried to will myself back into the pleasant sleep, back into my dream but I couldn’t quite get there. I closed my eyes and desperately tried to squeeze out the brightness that burned my tender soul.

But my sleep was over. I gave in and eventually forced my eyes open to the brightness.

Squinting at first until I could adjust to the new light around me. For the first time I saw the world through new eyes. Things that were so clear in my dream were now fuzzy and out of focus.

I saw through the eyes of heartbreak, the world blurry through tears. Distorted. I couldn’t tell which way was up or down. But somehow, the tears were cleansing, refreshing, renewing.

On the other side of heartbreak was beauty. No longer in a trance-like state, the colors of the world were richer, deeper. New details I had never noticed before came into clearer focus.

I saw through the eyes of freedom. When I looked around, I saw many paths now, instead of just the one in my dream. There was beauty along so many of them. I felt free to wander among the different paths.

I saw through the eyes of injustice. I saw prejudice and inequality. But seeing it made my world richer. New purpose brought clarity and vision. I saw myself in a way I never had before. Stronger, empowered and validated.

I saw through the eyes of anger. A bitter taste I had only sampled as small bites before was now force-fed by the mouthful. I learned the flavors of anger and grief. Sadness and resentment and blaming and despair. Hurt and questioning and mistrust and doubt. All these flavors added nuance to my world and if I had to trade them all back I would miss them for how they shaped my new perspectives.

I saw through the eyes of a lover, allowing another to see me truly as I am. Conversations that I never considered or had only played out in my mind were spoken aloud in real life. Hours of talking and sharing. Truly seeing a person who I never knew I could know so much more deeply. Allowing deep personal thoughts and feelings to have a voice in our relationship.

I saw through the eyes of fear. The shadows and darkness of fear only served as contrast to the beauty around it. Acknowledging my fears helped me to see where my love and priorities truly lie. The fear of loss accentuated the importance of meaningful relationships that dot the landscape of my life.

I saw through the eyes of a doubter. Allowing hard questions a seat at my table. Deeply hearing them out and pondering as never before. Realizing that answers are not the answer and accepting that most may never come. No longer hiding from the mysteries and discomfort of not knowing. I learned to embrace these questions as my dear friends and cherish the journey they have forced me to embark upon.

I saw through the eyes of nonconformity. Looking at the world through different lenses helped me to see that the common solution is not the only solution. I saw my own opinions as worthwhile even when they didn’t conform to the group mentality. I recognized other nonconformists and I appreciated the powerful changes they made in the world.

I saw through the eyes of acceptance. People and circumstances that I did not allow into my dream roamed freely around me now. I learned to recognize them for their goodness instead of shy away from them in fear or distaste.

I was finally truly awake. But my dream never fully left me. It is just bigger now, and more inclusive. With brighter features and darker shadows.

I realize that my new awakened state may just be another dream—a richer version of the first. I can find peace in this dream and I accept it for what it is. I will let it take me where it may and if I am awakened another time, I will remember this version with fondness and be more willing to embrace the new insights that undoubtedly lie ahead.