Once upon a time, I apparently had a “testimony.”
A testimony as to the “truthfulness” of the LDS Gospel. Just ask my mother. She loves to talk about how I clamored to bear my testimony every Fast and Testimony meeting, and bemoans it as a much more idyllic period then, say, NOW, where the only testimony I bear is the testimony that dentists are evil and algebra is practiced regularly by Satan-worshippers. (I’m having a hard time recruiting people to share this testimony. Well, not the dentist one but the ALGEBRA one. Folks. Letters and numbers do NOT go together. Only anarchy and chaos can result.)
I don’t really remember having a testimony. I think I just liked to stand up and talk to a captive audience. But somewhere around 14 years old, which is when most teenagers suddenly KNOW EVERYTHING and discover their parents are the dumbest humans alive, I found I had a few questions. Actually, I discovered I had more than a FEW questions. I started doing some research, something that is GREATLY discouraged among Mormon youth. I know why. Because my research resulted in even more questions and some pretty solid reality. After I grew out of my “know everything” phase, and into the phase where I realized just how little I actually knew, I ALSO realized something else.
I was okay with it. I really didn’t NEED to have all the answers. But other people? They were NOT okay with me not having all the answers. They wanted to tell me the answers, and have me listen to them, and accept their answers as undeniable truth. Truth proved only through belief, something that can NEVER be proved. What an interesting conundrum faith is.
Even now it fascinates me, and I continue to write about it in books and on this blog. And I continue to get harassed for my stance, as well. Goes with the territory, I guess.
Along the way, the journey that brought me here to my current place, I met a lot of other ex-Mormons who had rejected their “testimonies,” many of them having been handed them, as I was, as young children. “Here you go. Now don’t lose this. It’s the only true thing you will ever know. But don’t open it. Or look too closely. Just put it in your pocket, close your eyes, and pray and you WILL know.”
Some of us couldn’t resist looking in the pocket.
Choosing this course has never been an easy one. I know a great many cultural Mormons who have no strong belief, but live it and accept it because it is their culture. It’s what they know, what they were born with, what gives them comfort at night.
And I know a great many ex-Mormons, some still deeply closeted in the veil of secrecy we call disbelief. Sometimes, those ex-Mormons get together, and during one such conference, we were visited by William Lobdell, who at the time covered religion for the Los Angeles Times. The Exmormon Conference he attended was one of many small pieces that led to his eventual journey out of religion and into peace. Hence, his new memoir, Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace.
Bill describes his visit to the Exmormon Conference this way:
IN late 2001, I traveled to Salt Lake City to attend a conference of former Mormons. These people lived mostly in the Mormon Jell-O belt — Utah, Idaho, Arizona — so-named because of the plates of Jell-O that inevitably appear at Mormon gatherings.
They found themselves ostracized in their neighborhoods, schools and careers. Often, they were dead to their own families.
“If Mormons associate with you, they think they will somehow become contaminated and lose their faith too,” Suzy Colver told me. “It’s almost as if people who leave the church don’t exist.”
The people at the conference were an eclectic bunch: novelists and stay-at-home moms, entrepreneurs and cartoonists, sex addicts and alcoholics. Some were depressed, others angry, and a few had successfully moved on. But they shared a common thread: They wanted to be honest about their lack of faith and still be loved.
In most pockets of Mormon culture, that wasn’t going to happen.
Part of what drew me to Christianity were the radical teachings of Jesus — to love your enemy, to protect the vulnerable and to lovingly bring lost sheep back into the fold.
As I reported the story, I wondered how faithful Mormons — many of whom rigorously follow other biblical commands such as giving 10% of their income to the church — could miss so badly on one of Jesus’ primary lessons?
I recently heard from Bill, and am excited to pick up and read his book, about his own journey, which might be akin somewhat to mine. Who knows? But certainly, it will be worth the time spent to read the book.
I looked many other places, in all the corners, trying to find the “absolute truth” that I was always told was there, from the day I was old enough to comprehend. I never did find it. Because life is not absolute, and our universe and world are not absolute, and ABSOLUTES are and should be the death knell for anyone or anything. Including religion.
To find another rule, one only has to look in a different religion.
If you asked me, today, if I were an atheist, I would not answer yes. Do I know that God exists? No. Do I know he doesn’t exist? No.
Am I okay with this? Yup.
I’m not going to go off on a philosophical tangent here, because that would be boring and there are lots of other people who serve that purpose in this world. It’s not my cause, and never has it been, to tell you WHAT you should believe, and why. And it never will be.
But the journey? Well, I guess that’s my job. To chronicle the journey. To show both sides of the story. Good and bad. It’s why I write.
And it’s why Bill writes, and this really sums it up for me.
As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I felt used up and numb.
My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago — probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.
Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t. It’s not a choice. It can’t be willed into existence. And there’s no faking it if you’re honest about the state of your soul.
Sitting in a park across the street from the courthouse, I called my wife on a cellphone. I told her I was putting in for a new beat at the paper.
Keep writing, Bill.