I suppose I should have no surprise about what I am going through. I have fought doubt for a long time, simply ignoring it over a more convenient, if more superficial, belief. If belief were less convenient, or rebellion more tempting, I would probably have probably come to this crisis long ago.
After about 15 years of adulthood I found myself more comfortable with facing the uncomfortable. It seems better to face now what will eventually have to be faced later since if I do not pass through this crisis I don’t think I will have a clear handle on the meaning and purpose of my life. Of course the danger and the fear is, that I am losing my direction and ability to recognize my purpose, and I am, at the same time, alienating myself from one of the greatest sources of meaning and inspiration I have known.
It’s a terrifying and even engulfing feeling. It turns out, that the feeling is utterly common among those who think deeply about faith and meaning in life throughout the history of the world. It is reflected in the scriptures on several occasions, the most notable of which is in the Book of Job, which depicts a man at his most confounded and conflicted, wishing for death and cursing the day he was born. It is iterated in the words of Jesus when he asked why his God had forsaken him on the cross. To accept and embrace that feeling is, to me, a critical part of accepting our humanity. I have come to accept the feeling as, at times, inescapable, and to reject position of some religious who claim that God will ultimately protect His followers from it.
Joseph Campbell, in a pithy section in the Creative Mythology volume of his series The Masks of God describe what he calls an essential problem of the Christianized Western World. Campbell explains how historical and scientific discovery has lead to a deep alienation in the Western Consciousness:
“Unhappily, however in the light of what is now known, not only of the history of the Bible and the Church, but also of the universe and evolution of species, a suspicion has been confirmed that was already dawning in the Middle Ages; namely, that the biblical myth of Creation, Fall and Redemption is historically untrue. Hence, there has now spread throughout the Christian world a desolating sense not only of no divinity within (mythic dissociation) but also of no participation in divinity without (social identification dissolved): that, in short is the mythological base of the Waste Land of the modern soul, or, as it has been called these days, our “alienation”.
The sense of desolation is experienced on two levels: first the social, in a loss of identification with any spirituality compelling, structuring group; and, beyond that, the metaphysical, in a loss of any sense of either identity or of a relationship with a dimension of experience, being, and rapture any more awesome than that provided by an empirically classifiable conglomerate of self-enclosed, separate, mutually irritating organisms held together only by lust (crude or sublimated) and fear (of pain and death or of boredom). “
This is appears to be where I am at. The general depiction of creation and simple acceptance of scripture and doctrine and certain historical accounts generally accepted among my fellow Mormons and other Christians seems inaccurate, incomplete or incompatible with other evidence and intuition that I trust. The dissonance puts a wedge between my own intellectual conscience and the Church and where I have always looked for greater hope, meaning and elevation. As Campbell mentions, the dissonance leads me, at times, to the cold reduction of all my thoughts, wonder and spirit into some materialistic theory based on a crude understanding of biology. I think intellectual discomfort with half-truth, unsound argument, ignored fact or manipulated logic is a force that is completely underestimated by those who don’t have it, or suppress in themselves. Thus the problem is not adequately (or ever) really addressed at church.
Mormonism during its short history has built a superficial mythology around itself that is easily punctured and has built itself up through a corporate structure that is often alienating. What people find when they dig is that the history of the church has been whitewashed by its leaders and members, which causes doubt and often a sense of betrayal, the Church doesn’t appear to be precisely what it often claims to be. Even if you ultimately can get past the use of propaganda to make the Church appear more appealing, the ignorance, myopia, or intolerance of some members of the church can make social activity unappealing and unsatisfying. A Mormon thus alienated is left in a waste land, having been disconnected from the perceived source of the most real spiritual experiences they have had, and left without direction as where to re-experience that spirit. Often this leads to the wholesale rejection of religion and God, feeling as if they were fooled by the Church they were equally fooled into thinking that their psychological reactions to the religion were real spiritual experiences.
The dissonance between the totality of evidence and the story of a faith makes me rethink my spiritual experiences, doubt my faith in God, distrust the Church, and leaves me alienated. It also leaves me without an effective way to explain my faith and my spiritual experience. If my faith has crumbled in some of the standard axioms of the Mormon religion, what can I make of my religious experiences, which have often been profound? How do I make sense of them in a way that enables me to maintain a connection with and trust in spiritual experience?
The prospects outside of Mormonism do not seem to be any better. At times it seems as if all religious belief is propped up by followers with self-deception and willful ignorance of history, science or reason (or all three). Veneration and near worship of religious texts can seem completely bizarre when considered from an outside perspective. The typical conception of God seems monstrous in light of what I believe about love and justice. The eastern and roman catholic churchs as institutions seem to be obsessed with dogma and shoring up the institution and push creeds that are impossible to swallow in the manner they are offered. The Bible is offered as the inerrant truth, and what it says in places can impossible to square with plausibility, morality or history. On top of this, the fact that there are thousands of religious directions available makes me doubt that there is a golden ticket to be found out there, that cannot be found within the sphere of the religion that I grew into. But some sort of search outside the context of my experiences to some new religion seems premature and fruitless if I cannot deal adequately with the fact that I have had spiritual experiences and even continue to have them. Ultimately I have to come to grips with the religious experiences I have had in order to understand how to interpret whatever experiences come my way in the future. Escape is not an effective option. Traveling away from what I have experienced does not help. I agree what Emerson said:
” He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. . . Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.” R. W. Emerson – Self Reliance
Lately I have come to believe that unless (or until) I recognize and deal with the “giant” that is my struggle for understanding and meaning of my life and my experiences with a diligence and dedication of thought, talent and effort I will remain in the waste land that I appear to have found myself in. I am optimistic that there is a way out.