Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hello, Gander. It's me, Goose.

I'm feeling a bit introspective and guilty today.  Probably because it's gloomy and cold out.  I'm all irritated and frustrated by a comment left on my last post and even more so by my response to it.  Dave* commented,
I would be in the same situation as you IF I never had certain powerful spiritual experiences. I would have written off the demands of being a Mormon if I had never felt the spirit so strongly at certain times in my life. 10% tithe? Fast offering? Hometeaching? Sunday morning meetings at 7 am? Volunteer work in the ward? No way if I had never felt the spirit testify to me that this church is true. So I can appreciate how you have come to where you are in life.

If I had to pick the number barrier to experiencing the spirit in a powerful way it would have to be humility. At times when I've been arrogant in my life I never felt the spirit. It was only when I humbled myself before God that he allowed me to feel the spirit strongly.

I wish I had the spirit to inspire me more often. I want to feel and experience on a daily basis what I felt during the times that I've felt the spirit strongly, but this requires continual humility before God and it is not something I am good at right now. The result? Angst. Sometimes I ask myself, "I know He is there, but why isn't He talking to me now." In that way we are kind of the same.

Best wishes. 
My response was not very nice and I'm not proud of it.  I wrote in part,
Thanks Dave! It's so generous to wish me well even though you clearly think I'm arrogant.

No, really. I know you mean well. But, diagnosing my problem as a lack of humility (having never met me), is...not so nice. Also, kind of arrogant. Your belief couldn't possible be irrational so, there MUST be something wrong with me. 
I'm like this.
Really, it doesn't matter whether I think his belief is rational or not.  Dave and I are both guilty of re-framing each others experiences.  I'm not sure if this practice is human nature or unique to Mormon culture.

Dave expresses a couple of the most common Mormon responses to apostasy (or becoming inactive, leaving the church, etc...).  First, there is the acknowledgement that membership in the church demands a lot - it's time-consuming and expensive.  He mentions tithing, meetings, home teaching and more.  I'm not sure why he addresses this issue.  But, I suspect that it's because Mormons are so well-indoctrinated to believe that one of the three major reasons people leave the church is because they just don't want to do the work.  I didn't mention anything in the post about how demanding church membership is or being particularly bothered by it, and yet he admits that he would be in the exact same situation had he not had some spiritual experiences.

Dave then says that when he hasn't been feeling the spirit, he attributes that to arrogance.  Here he's going right to one of the other reasons the Church gives for people leaving. People leave because they are proud (or offended or some other variety of arrogance).  Now, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was genuinely trying to be helpful by implying that since his past experience was a lack of humility, perhaps that is my problem as well.  But, it feels like a passive-aggressive way of saying essentially, "Your problem is that you are just too arrogant to be open to hearing the spirit."  Incidentally, that's probably true of me now.  I don't believe in "the spirit" so, I'm not looking to ascribe my emotions to it's promptings. But, that wasn't true of me when I actually went through my non-faith crisis, described in the post.  I was at an absolute low emotionally, and with my self-esteem.  I wanted to believe in God, and I wanted to hear the spirit.  I realize that in my post I describe sort of giving God an ultimatum (kind of arrogant), and I was, but I was also pleading for Him to make Himself known to me (pretty humbly).  I was fluctuating pretty rapidly, but I wasn't totally prideful, just desperate.  Perhaps I didn't make that clear enough.   

I sort of feel like Dave's response to MY experience is defensive.  And, I'm just not sure that I understand WHY people in the Church get so defensive when former members relate that our experiences with it were different.  I describe my younger, active years in terms of never receiving any confirmation that God exists.  He just wasn't speaking to me in the way that others have experienced Him.  So, Dave apparently feels a need to provide an explanation, a possible reason that I wasn't receiving comfort or confirmation - maybe I just wasn't humble enough (but that's okay, he can totally relate).  Could be, I suppose.  Maybe I wasn't righteous enough.  I don't think either of those are accurate in my case, but Dave couldn't possibly know that.  And that's sort of my point.  It wasn't Dave's experience.  It was mine.  His experience was different and it's fine that he shared it.  But his last thought is what makes me feel like he is redefining my experience or my conclusions about my experience in order to make it fit into HIS worldview.
The result? Angst. Sometimes I ask myself, "I know He is there, but why isn't He talking to me now." In that way we are kind of the same.
That's like the exact opposite of the point of my post.  I never knew He was there.  I wasn't concerning myself with why He wasn't talking to me, in terms of trying to determine why I wasn't worthy of His communication, because I had concluded that if He wasn't talking to me, it was because He doesn't exist, because I knew what Dave cannot, which is that I was sincerely doing my very best to live in accordance with the Gospel and had been for a very long time. I describe being at the end of my rope and telling God that I just couldn't justify continuing to speak to Him if He wasn't speaking back, even in a moment of desperate need.  Dave and I are NOT even kind of the same in that way.

But, my response was equally defensive and I also resorted to re-framing his experience, implying that perhaps his belief is irrational.  I also have just now in this post admitted that I suspect his response is informed by the generally accepted explanation for apostasy in the Church and not from his own thought processes. That was not kind.  Dave, if you read this, I apologize.  I shouldn't have implied that what you experience or feel is something other than what you interpret it to be.

So, here's where audience participation is desired.
Stay in formation.
WHY do we need other people to either share our experiences or, barring that, to re-frame and reinterpret their experiences to fit with our own?  I spend a lot of time trying to understand why some people interpret their experiences as spiritual while I would interpret their experiences as confirmation bias.  I don't know why I can't just accept that we see things differently and leave it at that.  I would like to be charitable in that way.  I would like others to be charitable towards me in that way.  

*Not to call anyone out but...you could look at the comment and figure it out anyway.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Faith Crisis?

Someone recently asked me when I had experienced my crisis of faith.  My answer was about a dark period in my very early 20's.  But, I've been thinking about it further, and I am not sure if I ever had a crisis of faith.  I never had that confirmation of the spirit that people talk about.  I never really felt God's presence in my life.  I never experienced anything I considered to be miraculous.  I never had any emotional warm fuzzy feelings surrounding a "spiritual experience" (at least not any that I didn't attribute to hormonal fluctuations.) I tried to have faith.  I wanted to believe in God and I threw myself whole-heartedly into the gain-a-testimony-infinite-loop-trap. I followed (almost) all of the rules. I magnified more callings that a young woman should ever have. But, the testimony never came.  So, during the very dark period when I was 20-ish, I gave God sort of an ultimatum.  The deal was that I had done everything I could think of to get a confirmation of His existence with no luck.  And, I found myself at a point in my life when I really needed His guidance and comfort.  So, I told Him that if He was there, I needed to know it and that I felt I had held up my part of the bargain. So, if He couldn't be counted on to comfort me in my darkest hour, I was going to stop trying to believe and just embrace atheism.  That's what I did.

But, is that a faith crisis if my problem was that I never really had faith?  I had hope, so maybe it was an hope crisis?  Perhaps an existential crisis? I have tended to think of it in more positive terms, as an awakening or more appropriately, as self-realization/self-acceptance and embracement of the finite nature of my existence.  I only started to think maybe it was a "crisis" after I had heard almost everyone else describe their experiences in that way. Thoughts?

What I do know was that, when I finally gave myself permission to stop searching and trying to believe something for which there is no evidence, I felt that warm, peaceful feeling.  I don't attribute that to anything other than whatever tangled mess of biochemical signaling that occurs in our brains when we experience the emotion we call relief.