Once you leave a belief system where you have always been provided with stock answers to difficult questions, it can be a little disconcerting engaging others in serious conversation when you haven’t been given a play book ahead of time. To get a sense of what I mean, ask a couple of believing Mormons the same theological or philosophical question and most likely you’ll get the same answer almost word for word. Out in the real world, you have to develop your own take on the tough questions.
So, to help out fellow thinkers with that transition, here are a few questions, answers and responses I’ve found to be either engaging or an easy way to put an end to the inquisition:
Set the tone
Before you even allow yourself to be pulled into a conversation, start out with these 2 questions to set the parameters of the rest of the dialogue:
Obviously if the answer is no then you can stop right there. Some people really can’t engage in such a hypothetical thought game like this. If the answer is yes, then you move on to question 2.
Q2: Hypothetically speaking, if Mormonism weren’t true HOW would you know it? (variation: If God didn’t exist, HOW would you know it?)
You’re asking them to set the standards by which they will be able to dismiss or accept any facts or evidence in your discussion.
Responding to the Standard Dialogue
Believer: I know the Church is true.
Non-believer: That’s not a statement about the Church, that’s a statement about YOU.
Believer: But, you used to have a testimony.
Non-believer: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
(I Corinthians 13:11)
Believer: Oh no, you’ve fallen away.
Non-believer: No, I’ve risen above.
Believer:Don’t you want to be with your family in the afterlife?
Non-believer: Not if they won’t allow me to think my own thoughts.
Believer: But the three witnesses never denied their testimony.
Non-believer:O. J. Simpson never denied his testimony either.
Believer: Then how do you explain the Book of Mormon?
Non-believer: Can my explanation be just as absurd as a guy translating secret golden plates by putting a stolen peep-stone into his hat?
Believer: Do you think you’re smarter than the leaders of the church?
Non-believer: I don’t think I’m smarter than the College of Cardinals but that doesn’t make the Catholic church true.
Believer: But what possible reason could Joseph Smith have had for making it all up?
Non-believer: You’re an intelligent, creative person; I bet you can think of ten possible reasons all by yourself if you put your mind to it.
Believer: How can you turn your back on the gospel for which your ancestors sacrificed so much?
Non-believer: I suppose in the same way those ancestors turned their backs on the faith of their fathers when they converted to Mormonism.
Believer: What if you are wrong?
Non-believer: Then, I’ll change my mind as soon as there’s a smidgeon of evidence to suggest otherwise. What if you are wrong? What if there’s another belief system out there that is actually true?
Have you found any other questions or responses helpful?
Six months ago I posted my first confessional of all my terribly grave gay post-Mormon Dad sins. It seems about twice a year I have my own Spooky Mormon Hell Dream and I need to bow my head in shame for all the ways I don’t conform to societal norms. Yup, once again I’ve been Jonesing for that post-confessional high that can only come with confession.
So, here goes:
1. I sometime pee sitting down… In the middle of the night when I don’t want to stir my brain more than necessary over the act of aiming, I sit down. I keep my eyes closed, finish and return to bed and am back to dreaming again in minutes. If that makes me less of a man, then tough. In the daytime I pee like a regular man. I’m sorry Bishop for not using the gifts God gave me to their full potential.
2. My favorite word right now is “shart” and yes I’ve taught it to my kids. (See the movie Along Came Polly). We all laugh when the Sara Bareilles song Uncharted comes on. It sounds like she keeps saying “I sharted”. I know it’s childish Bishop.
3. I sometimes still pray even though I don’t believe in a God. It’s a habit that calms me and prepares me mentally and physically. I suppose it’s my meditation. I think I’ve been hardwired for that sort of thing and it doesn’t bother me at all that I’m talking to something that doesn’t exist. The procedure and results feel exactly the same as when I believed. I even use “thee” and “thou” LOL! Forgive my hypocrisy and blasphemy Bishop.
4. I let my kids sleep in bed with me. I know the conventional wisdom is that there’s something wrong with that, but I don’t care. They naturally choose not to at around the age of 10 or 11. Before that, they find it comforting and it doesn’t bother me in the least. For kids of divorced parents they are incredibly well-adjusted. I think this has helped.
5. I don’t hover over my kids like conventional wisdom tells me I should. I think the way parenting evolved into this idea that kids can’t walk home from school alone or they’ll be kidnapped and molested is damaging. It’s also statistically incorrect. Kids are more at danger in your car than walking home alone. I firmly believe my kids are better off now that their Mom works than if she were at home all the time. I’m sorry I don’t buy that the entire world is evil trying to get my kids.
6. I find gay Mormons who still believe and go to church baffling. They remind me of high school where the band geek tried to hang out and be accepted by the jocks on the football team. They don’t want you and you don’t fit in. Just because they let you be the waterboy doesn’t mean you’ve changed or achieved anything. Embrace your dorky band status…it’s cool…those band people actually grew up to be interesting adults. I’ve met more fascinating and accomplished gay men in the last 5 years than in the previous 20 attending priesthood meetings. Bishop, I’m sorry that my personal honesty trumps loyalty to the church.
7. I have an unhealthy love for my current colorful and varied collection of underwear. Some of you will get this right away. If you don’t, never mind. Bishop I apologize for not spending a millisecond missing my temple garments.
8. I sometimes default to the guilt-inducing martyr techniques of parenting that I grew up on. I’m sorry kids. As soon as, “It’s fine! I’m not going to force you to spend time with me” comes out of my mouth I regret it and I try to remember not to do it again. Bishop, I’ll let your religious legends be the only martyrs in my kids’ lives.
9. I have one or two “friends” I stalk on Facebook. You know, those people I’ve never actually met in person but through common interests or experiences one of us ended up “friending” the other. SO good looking and seemingly intelligent and witty … and straight. I’m sorry Bishop for lusting after my neighbor.
10. Guilty pleasure…I LOVE Bethenny Frankel. Smart, courageous, ambitious, funny, savvy. And speaking of lust, I could watch her husband Jason Hoppy all day… ahem. I’d be proud to have one of my daughters turn out like her. I’m sorry bishop for admiring a strong woman. I know I should value only her baby-making… but hey, she’s done that too…and all this other stuff. Imagine that!
I’ve tried, but my amateurish attempts last about 90 seconds at best. I realize of course that the reason I can’t sit still for that long is the very reason I need it. Meditation is like public television. Everyone claims to be into it in one form or another, but most people rarely, if ever, actually do.
In fact, when I say meditation, I’m not really even sure what I’m talking about at all. Mormons don’t do it. They “ponder” instead (but they really don’t do that either).
I know there are many forms and techniques. I find it ironic that “a meditation” can mean “a discourse to guide others in contemplation,” but that the act of meditating seems to be defined as a complete absence of contemplation. At least that’s the meditating that I’m talking about. It’s the kind where you focus on your breathing, or on one single thing, and push everything else from your mind and somehow reach an enlightened state of spiritual awareness.
I was trying not to say that word… “spiritual.” It gives me the willies.
That first experience on my mission when my companion was described as the “most spiritual missionary in the mission” taught me that “spirituality” can’t be seen, measured or felt by anyone other than each individual himself/herself. I’ve since seen so-called “spiritual giants” such as stake presidents, other Mormon leaders, admired ward members get caught for lying, cheating, abusing and stealing. I don’t think I knew any Mormon intimately that I’d call “spiritual” (but my whole point is you can never know, right?). I remember my ex-wife wanting to be like some of the “spiritual” women in the ward… and then I usually found out they were just pumped up on antidepressants or just extremely good fakers.
I’m even guilty of purposefully faking “spirituality” as a Mormon and getting kudos for it!
After my mission, I was a “zone coordinator” and teacher at the MTC in the late 80’s. One time, at a zone coordinator’s meeting, we were asked to practice giving the new first discussion so that we could teach the missionaries to do it more effectively. We all sat in a circle and our director would point to one of us whereupon that person would begin giving the discussion until the director pointed to someone else. Everyone but me spoke the same language, Spanish. My target language, Portuguese is similar enough to theirs – in the same language family, but I could understand them better than they could understand me.
He pointed to me precisely at the beginning of the First Vision Story “I saw a pillar of light…” or “Vi uma coluna de luz…” I poured it on. I knew I was acting the whole thing as if I were emotionally touched by the story. And why not, I was onstage right? It’s a natural instinct. But it was a total act.
Don’t get me wrong, I believed it at the time, but I also knew I was being less than genuine to get a reaction. I knew how to cause an emotional reaction in an audience.
Afterwards, our director went on and on about how strong the spirit was while I was speaking even though they couldn’t understand every word. I thought, “Wow, if I could do it anyone can…Gordon Hinckley, Tommy Monson and Joseph Smith!” Of course I turned that thought off immediately!
I grew up believing strongly in the spiritual leadership model … that church leaders were somehow more “spiritual” due to their righteousness, prayer, study and obedience. Their “spirituality” somehow put them in a position to advise and guide others. I have experienced just too many holes in that model to lend it any credence anymore. At one point, I read all the biographies of LDS Church Presidents* that I could get my hands on in an attempt to learn “spirituality.” But all I found were a few nut-jobs and some others who were tailor-made for corporate leadership. I’m not saying they were void of spirituality. I’m saying I don’t know and neither do you or anyone else. They were just rather unremarkable people in my book.
So, I know “spirituality” CAN be faked and others easily deceived.
Still I have to admit that I think there’s something to the quest for “spiritual things.” To be clear, I’m not talking about a quest for God in the traditional religious sense or even in the pseudo-religious New Age sense either.
To be real, it has to be a quest and an achievement by myself and for myself.
What I mean by spiritual” is the calm, peaceful, I-can-handle-anything and I’m-prepared-for-anything state that comes via tapping into some unknown physiological sensory.
I’m one of those Post-Mormons who did have what I’d call “spiritual experiences” while Mormon (the MTC experience above wasn’t one of them). I don’t discount them now that I don’t believe in Mormonism. I just don’t believe they mean what I was told that they meant. They’re just part of being human.
So far I have found that everything one might consider good in Mormonism is accessible outside Mormonism. I’ve been able to find and substitute the pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all good stuff for what I would consider even better stuff of my own choosing… social circles, family traditions, service to others. Except I haven’t found a replacement substitute for the inner spirituality that I occasionally felt while Mormon.
I also recognize that these past experiences often had nothing to do with Mormonism… the birth of my children, love and sex, being alone in nature, moments of intense expressions of friendship were all exploited by the church to make me think these were felt as a result of Mormonism being true.
I laugh at even having typed that. I am embarrassed that I once believed spiritual experiences could point towards truth.
“He’s so spiritual” means nothing to me anymore. I’m not searching for anything that others might recognize in me or admire at all. I’m not looking for a connection to God, in whom I don’t believe. I’m an atheist.
I’m not trying to get in touch with something “out there”, but only to strengthen and enhance the potential of what already exists in here.
I think so, but I haven’t discovered it for myself yet.
*Note: Biographies of LDS presidents that I have read:
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff ,Joseph F Smith, Heber J Grant, George Albert Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, David O McKay, Harold B Lee, Spencer W Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W Hunter, Gordon B Hinckley
(Howard W Hunter was the only one I even remotely felt any sort of connection with… but in the end it was more pity than anything. He seemed to have so much going for him and yet he sold his soul to the LDS corporation.)
The following video is funny…and so true. I can only link to it. How do I embed it here like I did with Hitchens? I somehow re-posted that Hitchens video a few weeks ago and now I can’t remember how I did it.