Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The View From Here

You don't shuck off the influence of a lifetime spent in Mormonism overnight.  Or even over the course of a year.  It will probably always be there.  I'll always be interested in what Mormons are doing and saying.  But I'm to the point now where, for example, when I hear about BYU TV programs featuring BYU religion professors sitting round a table earnestly and seriously discussing details of some Book of Mormon passage or issue, I almost start to laugh.  Because it's like watching Trekkies debate the finer points of Galaxy-class starship hull design.  Interesting to those who've bought into the story, but to those that see the wider real world, the Trekkies or the BYZoobies are just amusingly disconnected.

For all its pretense to have the answers for everything, the Mormon church sure seems not to know about a lot of pretty important stuff.  And it seems to obsess about a lot of other things that really aren't so important.  The mess it's made of dealing with the whole gay issue is almost without parallel in church history.  First it taught this, then that, then being gay went from a relatively benign less than optimum to an excommunicable offense regardless of whether the person had "acted on it," now it's just fine to be gay as long as you don't do anything about it, which is like saying it's okay to need oxygen as long as you don't actually breathe, and being gay is just a "temporary mortal affliction" that allegedly won't exist in the next life.  Well where the hell did that come from?  Sheer speculation from a couple of GAs desperate to neuter an issue that seriously threatens the stability of the whole LDS house of theological cards.  What a godawful mess.  There's no way on earth such a botched job of zig-zags could be inspired, though every LDS leader claimed to be when they preached things about it that contradicted other LDS leaders who also claimed to be inspired.

One thing that has struck me pretty forcefully of late is how fragile Mormon "testimonies" seem to be.  The church seems to be on constant alert against threats to members' "testimonies," warning against contact with groups not "in sympathy" with Mormon teachings, fostering a culture that ostracizes anyone who looks too far outside approved channels to learn about different perspectives on Mormon teachings and history, making it politically incorrect to express doubts or even say just "I believe" rather than "I know."  Teaching kids to fake it till they make it. 

But I always thought, and was taught, that truth is very robust.  It can take a beating and still stand up for itself.  It shouldn't fear the most relentless examination.  So why all the paranoia?  Why the desperation of apologists like those at the Maxwell Institute and FAIR to avoid implications of things like Native American DNA or the real translation of the Book of Abraham?

Well,  actually, the answer to that question is pretty simple.  Anybody who's honest and looks at those issues, objectively, no results pre-determined, will concede that the evidence is pretty strong against the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.  Compelling, in fact.  And if they're not what the Mormon church claims they are, then what happens to the whole edifice?  To all the careers, the investment of time and money and work and lives spent building it all up and spreading it?  Nobody wants to think their lives or efforts have been a waste, or have been spent trusting a sham.  So the Maxwell Institute and FAIR and other self-appointed apologists chug along, more and more on defense as the Internet has stripped the church of control of its message and "the rest of the story" is available with just a few clicks.  Once one sees the full picture, it's hard to understand how Mormon beliefs make sense.  Because they don't.

I recently read a story of a Mormon man who gradually came to this same conclusion over a period of years.  One of his tipping points was Grant Palmer's book (which was the tipping point for me).  He reached this conclusion while his son was on a mission.  Shortly after the son returned, they took a road trip together and dad brought along a few books he'd been reading which were on the heterodox side, including Palmer's.  The son read Palmer's book from cover to cover as they drove.  Dad didn't say much, just let his son read.  When he finished the book, the new RM son sat silently for a little while, looking out the car window.  Then he said "It was a clever hoax, wasn't it."  And dad said "Yes."

I hope I never lose the feeling of liberation.  The feeling every day that there are amazing adventures to be had out there, that the world is a marvelous, beautiful, dangerous, chaotic, messy, miraculous place and I am so incredibly lucky to have had the life I've had so far, with so much still left to learn and do.  It's like I spent my whole life inside a tiny one-room house and then suddenly stepped out and found myself on a mountaintop with incredible views stretching for miles in every direction.  Or like I stepped out onto a broad beach, so wide and vast that I can't see the ends or how far inland it goes, but I can see the vast ocean of undiscovered truth in front of me, and an amazing blue sky above stretching to eternity.  The fresh air and the open space to explore, and the feeling of boundless adventure and learning and growing and thirst for more and more of all of it--priceless.

1 comment:

  1. I'll say 'Amen!' to this, even though I'm not religious! :o)