The Church is largely to blame for the faith crisis among segments of the Mormon community. It promoted a black and white worldview where Truth is self-evident, and it supported this view with “faith-promoting” narratives that ignored the messy facts of history. One of the fruits of this approach is having this very mentality reflected back on the Church—when joining the Church is an existential choice, leaving it can likewise be existential. Disillusionment with the Church oddly does not necessarily lead to disillusionment with its black-and-white positivist worldview. So, many of the disaffected are “Truth-seekers”—just following wherever the (self-evident) evidence takes them.
I think it’s this that frustrates many Mormons such as myself. We find the black and white mentality problematic whether it’s within or without the Church; and you can reject this mentality while still remaining in the Church. Truth is not self-evident. The world is not simple. Fowler’s stages of faith, and all that crap.
A common response to what I’ve stated is that my view is at odds with the Church, even if I desire to remain a part of the Church. In other words, the Church itself still holds to the black and white narrative. My view does not accord with how the Church presents itself. And so staying in the Church either requires too much cognitive dissonance or too much mental gymnastics—the Church fails on its own terms or it fails to provide room for mine. I understand this line of thought, but I don’t think it’s altogether accurate.
Terryl Givens and Adam Miller have written letters to “a doubter” or “a young Mormon” (I suppose the singular is meant to make the letters feel more personal). I’m not as eloquent as Givens or as smart as Miller, but I figured I’d try my hand at it; even if what I say ends up being quite irreverent.
I received your recent letter, which explains some of the problems you have with the Church. In part you object to adopting a more complicated view of the Church, stating, “But that’s not how the leaders of the Church present the Church.” Pardon my frankness here, but so what? You know who else doesn’t perfectly present the communities they belong to? Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. That’s right. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. You really think “there’s nothin’ you can’t do” in New York? That “these streets will make you feel brand new”? If so, you haven’t spent much time in New York. Try finding a Big Gulp and a street that doesn’t smell like piss. Brand new, my ass.
Lest you feel that I’m unfairly singling out Jay-Z and Alicia, let’s look somewhere a little more close to home. Let’s look at your mom. No, I’m not going to insult her; I think she’s great. I’m just trying to make a point about how common experiences of misrepresentation are. Remember that cake you made for Mother’s Day when you were eight? The one you spent three hours making “all by yourself”? The one your mom said she loved? Well, it tasted like shit. Your piano recitals (Every. Single. One of them.); like nails on a chalkboard. And in the event that you still think you’re any good at soccer, well… there’s a reason your mom stopped encouraging it after middle school. Let’s face it, kids suck at pretty much everything; and most adults are only mediocre. So next time you want to talk about “lying for the Lord,” think first about how your mom lied to your sorry ass for the sake of your fragile ego.
And while we’re on the subject of dead people, let’s talk about funerals. You remember Uncle Bobby’s funeral? You remember how his son, Bobby Jr., called him “the best father a son could hope for” in his eulogy? Well, you might think that Bobby Jr. is either blind, dumb, or dishonest because Uncle Bobby is just about the worst father a kid could have. The lazy son of a bitch wasn’t even there when Bobby Jr. was born; and I don’t think he did a single thing to make that boy’s life better.
Yup; but if you stop and think about it, most funerals are like this—people highlight the good, hide the bad, and portray the person they wish they knew. Ceremonies are a lot like this too. Weddings are a pain in the ass to plan; yet when the first dance happens, the couple and their parents hid their fatigue with smiles that say, “I hope this night never ends.” The reality is that just about everyone at the wedding has some desire for it to be over. You see, that’s how people are. We project our hopes out into a world that doesn’t often permit them. We construct communities we want to belong to that are often in tension with the ones we really do belong to. We can bitch and moan that our portrayals of our communities do not map on to actual experience, but we can’t escape that fact—the fact that the person I present to an audience will never be the person that I am. We can shout that the king isn’t wearing any clothes, but we ought to recognize how nude we all are.
Now, you have legitimate reasons for leaving the Church or any community you feel has betrayed you. What isn’t legitimate, however, is normalizing that experience to say that I should leave too because you’ve found “the Truth.” See, I don’t mind if you don’t want to live in New York, but don’t counter the Empire State of Mind with a “New York sucks” mentality. As Jay-Z says elsewhere, religion (and I’d say many parts of life) is very much about imagination. Actually, wait… I think that’s another Jay-Z.
With Irreverent Sincerity,