I appreciated Chris H’s post and wanted to respond regarding the boundaries of Mormonism, the needs of individual and community, and especially the role of criticism within the Church. I hope to build on the deep respect that Chris and I have for each other and the positive tone of this site to foster a productive discussion.
The Role of Criticism and Needs of the Individual
To start with the most controversial of Chris’ points… the need to “shed the poisonous elements which claim to be part of Mormon liberalism, but which, in fact, have no interest in promoting faith and are in many ways very harmful to the [liberal Mormon] movement”. A few points we agree on: I agree that individuals who feel the LDS Church needs to be *destroyed* should not be a part of the institution. To be part of the institution with that perspective would truly constitute a double agent, wolf in sheep’s clothing, viper at the hearth. I also agree that it should be a given (though we too rarely implement the principle) that we should focus on the approaches that will most likely meet with success. I fully agree that we need to focus on loving each other, working together, and giving weight to positives.
I think we disagree, however, on the role of criticism in the Church. My question is, how do we parse problem and solution, distill poison from antidote? Though I agree with Chris that some approaches and tones are more productive than others, I feel that the hurt and frustration so many feel is also legitimate. And a closed forum seems like a reasonable place to share those views. The institution deserves love and loyalty, but so do its members… even more so I would say. I think the LDS emphasis on supporting leaders and the institution at all costs can be unhealthy and destructive, just as an overemphasis on the negatives can be.
Here is how I approach criticism. I am fully sympathetic and fully critical of the Church. I give full weight to all the positives and all the negatives. I think I have a gift for maintaining this tension, and I am not saying the approach is for everyone. But it is important to me to acknowledge fully the beneficial and destructive, good and bad, healthy and harmful. I see the whole, and love it. Now, I am critical of the Church *because* I love it. I want it to succeed. I cherish Mormonism and want as many people as possible to be able to benefit from it. I especially mourn when people feel unwelcome, that they don’t belong, when they feel the need to leave when , according to the principles of the gospel, they should not have to.
This topic is probably worthy of a separate post, but I “sustain” the Church leaders without always agreeing with them. And if I think Church policies and practices are harmful, I will stand up for my beliefs—in the most positive, productive, and loving way possible. I want to remain in the Church. But I also sincerely hope it becomes better and I want to be a part of the solution as much as I can. I have a model of revelation that makes this work for me—I think that revelation is given to us “according to our expectations”, and so the leaders of the Church are sincerely doing their best with the world views and understandings that they have. I think God gives them as much truth as they can accept. I also think they are wrong about some issues, caught in outmoded paradigms. I realize this is controversial, but I think scripture and logic support this approach.
I will meet Chris’ declaration with one of my own. I think that the differences between our faiths can foster productive exploration. I am grateful that Chris has “recently rediscovered [his] faith in Christ and come to terms with [his] Mormonism”.
I have not “rediscovered my faith in Christ”, though I do feel at peace with my Mormonism.
The question is whether I have a role in the community, as I define myself as a “Hopeful Agnostic Sympathetic Mormon”. Here is how it works for me (perhaps should also be its own post; thanks for bearing with me). I will preface this by saying though I am sincerely agnostic, I am also open to the Mormon narrative being true in many ways. I love the idea of Jesus as my Savior, Heavenly Father and Mother greeting me in heaven, and all the other Mormon beliefs I cherish. Functionally, in most ways I live like a believer. I hope that many of these ideas have at least some truth to them. You could say I live by faith while also thinking WAY too much about the limitations of knowledge.
Religion, Symbols, and Perception
First, I think everyone needs to be true to oneself. The same approach will not work for everyone, but I find this one to be very satisfying.
First, I believe in the symbols and meaning of religion even if I am agnostic about the referent of those symbols. I sincerely believe in the power of belief in God, the power of belief in the priesthood, the usefulness of choosing to live within a world view with loving Heavenly Parents and eternal friendships and progression and individual worth and indomitable hope. I love the Mormon worldview and I “live as if it were true” even though when I press the limits of my intellectual belief I admit I don’t know if I can accept it literally—in fact, if most of it were true it would be a pleasant surprise. I find love the parallel of religion to language—I delight in the dance of effective language and wordsmithing. Does it make a bit of difference that there is no objective correspondence between the letters I am typing and objective reality? Not at all.
As I said before, I see religion as a shortcut to access metaphysical principles we don’t fully understand. So I can enter a different state of being and thinking that is a religious worldview and find meaning and benefits in that state of being. There are real benefits to believing in a caring deity, to prayer, to believing in the potential of every person we meet. There is power in accessing a mythical framework to forgive yourself and transcend limitations. At the same time, I fully acknowledge the weaknesses and potential damage that these same principles can do…. The avoidance of responsibility being one of the greatest among them.
Do I wish that I could just believe in things literally again? Sometimes, kind of. But not really. Because this approach allows me to consciously choose the very best of religious tradition and put it together into the way I want to conceptualize myself and the universe, kind of like a form of metaphysical home decorating. And I am aware of the hurt and negatives that come with my cultural conditioning, and I can reject them and live a model of my religion that represents the best of its potential while putting aside damaging elements.
Second, I am realistic about the fact that we cannot engage with reality outside of our own perceptions (and our conceptions, though we can change those). This is a big philosophical reason I am agnostic, but it also helps me interact with literal believers with love and integrity. I realize that the way they see the world is REAL FOR THEM. Thus I can engage with that reality honestly and respectfully even though I personally don’t believe it in the same way they do. This is where my ideas of precise communication and “translation” come in. I don’t want to shatter their productive worldviews with my doubts, though I can find opportunities to challenge unhealthy aspect of culture and religion. But by focusing on the underlying principles of the literalistic stories, I can communicate with integrity. So if I were speaking about the Atonement, I could speak fervently about the power of the Atonement to overcome our weaknesses and find peace and transform our characters… For me, the Atonement works as a sort of cosmic drama with different parts of me playing the role of sinner and savior. But I can translate it easily over to the person who takes it all literally.
And here is the central idea… whether Jesus is objectively the Savior or simply a very effective symbol, IT DOESN’T MATTER. It doesn’t matter because the only reality we can engage with is the intersection of our perceptions/world views and others and the outside world. That is the reality of others that I engage with. Meaning transcends explanation and carries its own truth, a truth worth respecting. Thus I can be an agnostic active Mormon and engage with literally minded members and still have integrity to what I believe… and have a hard time believing.
People have asked me if I am “really a Mormon”. Here is a partial response: For me, I am Mormon because I believe the Church and its leaders and its history are all inspired of God. I am Mormon because with all its faults, I don’t know of any religion better, especially once you factor theology and potential into the mix. And most importantly, I am Mormon because this is my faith language, my heritage, my people. I love this community and religion and want to do all I can to make it as healthy and good as possible.
I realize many will feel uncomfortable with this model, but I have a question:
If the alternative were between someone rejecting Jesus or accepting this model, which would you prefer as believers? Can reality be affected by our beliefs? If Heavenly Father and Mother, Jesus Christ as our Savior, all the elements of the Gospel…. if these are true, there is nothing we can do to change that.
What we can do is choose what we believe. We can choose to live in a world, live a life where all these things are true for us. And those beliefs will interact with our lives for the better, and in that space of personal experience, the reality is unquestionable. This is what living by faith is for me; I just happen to be someone who needs to work out all the details as much as I can. I am trying to craft and approach that is resiliant because it works no matter what happens to be “real”.
These views could be harmful. They could be dangerous. But I also seek to promote faith… just a resilient, aware, conscious faith.
Do I and those like me deserve to be “shed” from the body of liberal Mormonism?
I realize that my views are
1) Hard to wrap one’s head around
2) Easy to be misunderstood
3) Seem paradoxical to the point it is hard to accept someone could believe them sincerely.
Perhaps these are fatal flaws, but I find this approach useful, and I think the tension and detail lead to productive exploration.