When faith dies, does history lie?

I found the following story on the internet, written by an old friend of mine whom we’ll call “Gary.” In this story I am “Elder Y”:

Eight years ago, last month, I met the Mormon missionaries in Austria, Europe.

In January of 1997, exactly twenty years after I was born, to the day, I flew into Vienna. I noticed on the plane, that there were Mormon missionaries on the opposite side of the DC-10 we flew in on–three Elders, and one Sister, as they called themselves. They spoke with a few of the people of my group of nine, but not with me.

At the time, I was studying with Brevard College in their study-abroad program so that I could enjoy being in Europe and learn German.

Unbeknownst to me, the Mission President for the Austria, Vienna mission of the Mormon Church had just opened the area I would be staying in: Altmuenster, which is one hour out of Salzburg.

Living in Austria was incredible and exciting, besides exceptionally cold. For two months, I struggled with the language and struggled with my beliefs.

The year before, I had stopped going to Mass, feeling a little less than worthy to do so. Also, I had strong reservations about what I then saw as contradictions between how I felt about what I had read in the Bible and what I felt I should believe as a Catholic. I felt the two did not match up.

After two months of being in Austria, around March, I met the missionaries at the foot of the apartment complex all of us Brevard College people were living in.

I was out dumping garbage, at the time, with nothing but a pair of pants and a t-shirt on. It was very cold, so we only spoke long enough to find out that Elder X–the younger of the two–was from Idaho and had been on the same plane as myself, and Elder Y was from England. They asked if they could stop by in about two or three days and I said, “Yes.”

That was it. That was the beginning of my new life.

When they came over, they talked about their beliefs in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and they spoke of one Joseph Smith, Jr., who I had heard about before… When I realized that these men, who were my age, were not some kind of religious nuts (as I before thought someone would have to be to dedicate two of their prime-time years to their religion), I began to re-evaluate what I had before thought about this Mormon prophet. I decided I would be skeptical in the strictest sense of the word: I would neither believe what they said, nor would I not believe it, I would simply hold judgement until I knew more.

As I read the Book of Mormon over the following weeks, I felt calm and peaceful. The book consumed me to the point that I neglected my studies, making B’s instead of A’s at subjects I then loved. Every spare moment I had was dedicated to reading this fascinating story, which I still believed could have been written (as opposed to translated) by a farm boy from New York.

By the time I got to a book called the Book of Alma, in Chapter 32 of that book, I found a verse which struck me. Up until that point, I had been reading the book for leisure, as if my eyes could not stop. I got so much out of it, but I had only rarely considered that its veracity as an issue.

Elder Y had constantly told me, to the point of annoyance, to “Ask!”, meaning to ask of God if the book were true, if it really was a God-given book (or just the allegorical dream of a farm boy).

When I read, “…if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place fore a portion of my words,” I felt it was time to ask.

Until that moment, I thought Elder Y was being whimsical to say that God could directly answer a question, especially one where I would have to receive a definite “Yes” or “No” answer. I had not realized how much I wanted to believe what the Elders were telling me because of how it resonated with everything I had come to believe on my own as both a faithful Catholic, a non-attending Catholic, and, most importantly, a Christian.

Not only could I feel that desire, but I also felt like I was ready for an answer.

When I knelt to pray out loud, for the second time in as many months, I asked for God to “please tell me if these things are true” and I closed in the name of Jesus Christ.

As I knelt there, all alone, I felt an overwhelming feeling of joy wash over me. I felt calm and happy, and I wept for joy. I felt that, the whole time, since the first page, I had known that the book was true. I felt its words seep into my soul just as I had felt the words of the New and Old Testaments before. It was the same feeling, nothing waivering from the Spirit of God I expected.

I can verify Gary’s story and the conversion he relates. We had no other tools to convert him other than the Book of Mormon and the promise that if he would pray about it, God would answer him. I read this story for the first time yesterday. Even now, eleven years later, I do not doubt that God answered his prayer. Gary’s was not a manufactured experience with the numinous.

Gary joined the church in Austria then returned home to the US. He studied at SVU then served a mission to the Caribbean before moving to Utah.

So far, this story is Ensign-worthy. There is more to tell from those weeks in 1997, tales of prophecy and revelation that would strengthen our faith in the Lord’s care for his scattered sheep. Unfortunately, things soon take a different turn.

The conversion story on Gary’s blog dates to April 2005. Less than a year later, Gary wrote the following:

Well, I saw this coming from a mile away: Jen and I broke up.

Thankfully, she brought it up first–something which I always dread doing. All of the reasons are on my side. I was not as up-front and straight-forward as I would have liked to have been.

My dilemma is pretty simple, in that I love my beliefs, I love the church I go to, but I’m not all that religious to begin with, and after a year of being “disfellowshipped” (one step above excommunication from the Mormon Church), I’ve actually been debating whether to come back as a full member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at all.

As I’ve been thinking about this in December and January, I decided that I do not want to come back to “full fellowship” status. It’s just too much.

I was born without religion, but with an ambitious soul. I was raised Catholic, and more specifically, American Catholic, which is another way of saying “very free-thinking Catholic”.

When I became a part of the Mormon Church, I wanted to do everything right, keep on the path, make my way to become whatever the Church wanted me to be. After serving a Mormon mission in the Dominican Republic, I was excited to go out, get married, and have a family, which is the highest calling of life in Mormon doctrine.

Two and a half years and about 100 dates went by before I started feeling depressed, lonely, and completely alone, in general. It’s not that the Church wasn’t helping me out, and it’s not that I didn’t have good friends, it’s just that I did not fit.

By nature, I loath authority. I respect it, but I loath bowing down to authority, unless I must (or unless I’m feeling particularly cowardly). I kept on finding myself thinking about the things I used to do before becoming Mormon that helped me to loosen up and enjoy life. Good friends and good times, usually with alchohol as the social lubricant. This goes against the authority of the Mormon Church, but I don’t give a damn.

Most of the darker times in my life have came when I imagined I was doing everything I was supposed to do. The darkest time in my life came when I completely abandoned everything I was supposed to do for everything I was not supposed to do. That was over two years ago, now.

It seems that in tipping the scales from good to naughty, I find balance and moderation are best (even though the moderation part is a bit difficult sometimes).

The bottom line? I will still be as active as I wish to be in my church, but my church is not my life. I would rather be happy doing things I’m not “supposed” to do than be miserable doing everything I’m “supposed” to do.

Today, Gary’s Facebook profile lists him as an “agnostic.” Last month he wrote this on his blog:

Inasmuch as there are prophecies, scriptures, dogmas, doctrines, offerings, meetings, recitals, churches and/or things that frankly creep me out, I am not interested in religion. As far as there is nature, love, acceptance with justice, mercy, and hope, I am for those things. Still, I’m not for formal religion. Not anymore.

It seems his path away from the church is complete, eleven years after his conversion in that little town in Austria, three years after writing that first post.

Gary’s story is devastating to me. Not because I fear for Gary’s damned soul — certainly I empathise with his loneliness as a single convert in a family church and the terrible struggle this must entail — but because it taints an experience which meant the universe to me all those years ago. I have not asked Gary whether he now doubts God’s revelation to him regarding the Book of Mormon. I suspect he still believes that that moment was endowed with meaning, just not ultimate meaning. Still, our encounters with the divine are so fleeting that when they lose their full power, something rare is lost. Why is conversion so fragile? Gary was the future of the church outside of the inter-mountain legacy; his loss of faith breaks Elder Y’s heart.

Comments

  1. This story causes further anxieties, all of which are easily overcome in the abstract, but Gary is too close for me to think rationally.

    If Gary’s church experience has been a net negative, is that my fault? Would it have been better never to have met him? Is there more I could have done, even though we were an ocean apart (I lost contact for about 2 years)?

    In a mission that saw few baptisms, Gary was a shining light for all of us, the mission president included. If we cannot keep Gary, is the whole effort futile?

    I know these questions have answers, but I am too sad to articulate any.

  2. California Condor says:

    This is difficult for a returned missionary.

    Perhaps even more difficult is what a stalwart French Mormon told me: a missionary who had taught him the discussions had gone inactive.

  3. Depressing. I feel like offering you the same condolescences as though there had been a death in the family. By his own words, he enjoyed “naughty” and chose deliberately to infuse it into his life, which I find so much more painful to watch than someone who loses faith after a more legitimate struggle with intellectual or social puzzles.

    Nothing about his story invalidates his conversion experience, though.

    I’ve known three people well (one personally, two through intense historical research) who convinced themselves that their conversion experiences had been misunderstood, or simply had not happened, to the point where they rewrote their diaries in two cases, and recast his published history in the third. In all three cases it was as though they couldn’t bear to face a personal record that ran so overwhelmingly against their current view of themselves. I wonder how long Gary’s conversion story will be part of his public record.

  4. You know, this isn’t necesarily the end of Gary’s story. Like a moth to a flame, he may fall away and come back more than once in is lifetime. As an adult convert myself, I can easily see how this can and does happen.

    When we have those amazing (yet all too fleeting and fairly rare) moments of pure clarity with God, is can be easy to rationalize thier non-existence as time goes by. Those moments of clarity with God are like a bonfire when we are right next to them, but with time and distance, they can become so dim, we start to doubt the heat of the fire as something we surely must have imagined.

    It’s like looking at a star on a winter night. You know, scientifically, there is nuclear fusion taking place out there somewhere, but the heat hardly reaches you, staring into the cold night.

    We need to come upon new bonfires regularly, to maintain our testimonies. Especially if you are the sole member in your family. This is very alone place to be.

    Gary’s story is not over. As long as he is alive, it is not over.

  5. Thomas Parkin says:

    Why is conversion so fragile?

    19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
    20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
    21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
    22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

    When I was still in Seattle a gentleman joined the church – I can’t recall his name. He said in preisthood one time that one must be willing to so this thing all alone. It was in the context of reciting Pres Hinckley’s admonition that new converts need a friend. And so he was contradicted a little – no, we can’t do it alone, we need a friend. But, this brother was right. We will certainly find ourselves alone at certain points in time.

    ~

  6. I think that if you really want to understand Gary, you need to speak to him. Trying to understand his motives and current understanding/feeling of religion and the spiritual from a couple of blog entries is fraught with danger.

    A question that comes to my mind, and in general is a summary of all of yours, is why do we take decisions and actions of others so personally, particularly when we have no control over those actions? It’s easy to intellectualize that another person is their own agent, and are responsible for their own actions. But why does it wound us when another’s actions (particularly another with whom we have a close bond) are in disagreement with what we would have chosen for them?

  7. I’ve had similar experiences with dear friends (people I taught on my mission, old companions, roommates, buddies) who have denied their previous spiritual experiences because those experiences didn’t fit in with the life they were currently living. A few have been shocked by history. One by extraordinary family tragedy. It’s heartbreaking. Free agency is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, easy to accept for ourselves, but I find myself constantly struggling to allow others the right to choose the wrong. The more I love someone the stronger my temptation to try to strong-arm them into doing the right thing.

    I am so sorry that your friend is taking this detour. Tracy is right though. Our ward has an amazing man who left the church with wild enthusiasm in his youth and came back in his fifties. He really, truly is a great man, good in every way I can think of. In spite of his detour.

  8. I think there’s an element of deliberate mercy of God in these things too. If we no longer want to believe, then God doesn’t want to impose himself on us by force. When we wish he would go away, so that we can pursue sin, or for any other reason, then he does. And his going away includes the memory of our times of communion with him fading from our hearts, so that it appears as only a dream or wish.

  9. Ronan, even I, as an investigator, feel the pain in this story.

    My good friend has encouraged me to call the missionaries, and I’m waiting to do so for a few reasons. First, I want to call when I’m already quite sure that I want to join the church. I don’t want to be a disappointment to someone who will invest hope in me. Second, I want this to be a true commitment, one that will not waver in the vagaries of life.

    I have read and am still reading, and I am incorporating some LDS practices into my life now. Just a few days ago, I began reading the Book of Mormon. I’ve only gotten through 2 Nephi so far, but it is hard to understand how Laman and Lemuel could have the experiences they did and fail to remain faithful. Multiple times.

    Perhaps some of us have a “fatal flaw” that prevents us from accepting the gifts offered to us, and I do understand that the power of experience can weaken in time. Still, I prefer to rely on voluntary exercise of agency. You teach. It is my choice to learn. And if I do indeed learn, it is my responsibility to apply what you have taught me. I admit that I am fearful of knowing what is right and being too cowardly/lazy to choose the right. That is, however, my failing and not yours. You did your part honorably.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with Ellen’s insightful comment–it’s all about agency–even if that realization doesn’t immediately salve the pain of such a loss.

  11. Matt Thurston says:

    Devastating? Death in the family?

    Why must his story been read according to a “lost, then found, then lost again” narrative? I see Gary’s journey as “found, then found, then found again.” Gary is a seeker, and his journey has brought him into contact with a variety of people and faiths that have enriched his spiritual life and informed his understanding of self and the world.

    So what will Gary’s next chapter hold? He may find a faithful Mormon girl and return to being an active, orthodox member of the Church for the rest of his life, or he may find another path. But the Gary that springs forth from this entry appears to have a strong head on his shoulders and will likely find himself (and God) again and again, wherever his path takes him.

  12. Matt,
    What I have not quite expressed properly is my realisation that this “devastation” is largely selfish. These stories are not supposed to turn out this way and it’s thrown me.

  13. MikeInWeHo says:

    Ronan,

    Thanks so much for sharing this. In a few respects, I can relate to your friend’s story. There are times when I think about Elder NotFromWeHo who baptized me, and how supportive he was when I was an investigator and new convert. He almost certainly has no idea what became of me, but I’m sure he’d be horrified beyond your current devastation.

    Yet whether he realizes it or not, he brought a message that changed my life forever even though I am no longer active in the Church. I will never regret meeting him, his companions, and their mission president who confirmed me after baptism. My guess is Gary feels exactly the same way about you.

    So please go easy on yourself. I agree with Matt Thurston. There are many chapters yet to be written. And aren’t you the one who is going to break down the walls between the kingdoms? Some of us are counting on that.

    Regards,
    Mike

  14. Norbert says:

    On one hand, I suppose you feel like you had a spiritual experience in connection to his conversion and now you wonder what it all meant: that’s certainly how I felt in a similar situation. On the other hand, we as an institution ascribe meaning to the conversions of individuals that is, as you identify it, selfish. Gary shouldn’t need to be a shining light to the missionary program.

    But Tracy’s absolutely right: this is a moment in a young man’s life. At 25, after having been a missionary and BYU graduate, I described myself as an agnostic and could have quoted his statement about religion with all sincerity. As I look on it now, it was an important part of my spiritual development.

  15. Ray Agostini says:

    Gary wrote in April 2005:

    My dilemma is pretty simple, in that I love my beliefs, I love the church I go to, but I’m not all that religious to begin with, and after a year of being “disfellowshipped” (one step above excommunication from the Mormon Church), I’ve actually been debating whether to come back as a full member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at all.

    He’s criticising religion here, which includes some negative assessments of the Church. Nothing in his entries appears to deny his spiritual experience in reading the Book of Mormon (for the record I was the same). Note his first entry:

    When I knelt to pray out loud, for the second time in as many months, I asked for God to “please tell me if these things are true” and I closed in the name of Jesus Christ.
    As I knelt there, all alone, I felt an overwhelming feeling of joy wash over me. I felt calm and happy, and I wept for joy. I felt that, the whole time, since the first page, I had known that the book was true. I felt its words seep into my soul just as I had felt the words of the New and Old Testaments before. It was the same feeling, nothing waivering from the Spirit of God I expected.

    Nothing about Church there. It’s important to note too that he was not religious “to begin with”:

    My dilemma is pretty simple, in that I love my beliefs, I love the church I go to, but I’m not all that religious to begin with, and after a year of being “disfellowshipped” (one step above excommunication from the Mormon Church), I’ve actually been debating whether to come back as a full member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at all.

    He was also uncomfortable with Catholicism.

    Ronan wrote:

    Why is conversion so fragile? Gary was the future of the church outside of the inter-mountain legacy; his loss of faith breaks Elder Y’s heart.

    Conversion is fragile because it’s complicated. Powerful spiritual experiences aren’t always going to be followed by life-long devotion to church. He may also now have a different view of his spiritual experience, without denying the reality of what he experienced. It’s, I suppose, something like falling love and marrying. So many people do it, and then later wonder about what they initially felt, the emotional aspect. As one divorcee commented, “my wife and I were happy for 20 years – then we met”.

    You may think this comparison flippant, but you have to remember that we are also emotional beings, and much of our life is guided by emotion. Not everyone who reads the Book of Mormon is going to feel or react the way Gary did. He hasn’t denied anything, and I think his general apathy to religion is a big factor here. The spiritual part was great, but getting into mechanisms of “church” was more complicated. Think of the Three Witnesses. None ever denied what they felt and saw, yet they all became alienated from the Church at some stage. Gary also says he’s now agnostic, and there’s nothing wrong with being agnostic, even in regard to former spiritual/emotional experiences.

  16. Ronan, I had a much more compressed experience. My favorite investigator of my entire mission joined the church under frankly beautiful, miraculous circumstances, filled with power and promise (I fully anticipated that he would be the first afro-north-american GA). His conversion triggered an avalanche of horribly tragic bad choices by people around him that culminated in his withdrawal from the church within twelve months. I mourned that for years.

    And in terms of the very relevant comments from Matt Thurston and MikeInWeHo, I think what Ronan mourns (and certainly what I mourned) was the loss of a particular shared intimacy with the divine. For me it’s not a story about who’s getting inducted into or kicked out of heaven, it’s a story about with whom do we share a vision of divinity based in shared experience, and the loss of a fellow traveler can be sad without requiring a selfish stipulation about the normative shape of others’ lives.

    It’s okay to cry, Ronan. I certainly did.

  17. Very one sided presentation. I’ve been through similar to “Gary”. I suspect from Gary’s perspective, the church left him. We are far too authoritarian for what the shrinks call green (creative) thinkers, about 1/3 of humanity. So greens vote with their feet. I see over and over again less actives are dominated by greens; whereas, blues (judgmental) and reds (analytical) are dominant in the LDS leadership. Very sad.

  18. anon,
    Read again. I have not criticised Gary’s disillusionment. Indeed, there’s something grimly inevitable about it.

    Sam has it spot on.

  19. Matt Thurston says:

    #12, I understand. Sometimes we learn the most when things don’t go as planned, or when “stories are not supposed to turn out this way.” It is obvious that you shared something pretty special with Gary back in 1997, that he taught you as much as you taught him. I’m hoping his recent decision will yet be another special learning experience that will bring you closer together, rather that push you apart. I look forward to a blog entry in the future that details your ongoing friendship with Gary.

  20. Matt Thurston says:

    Ray #15 brings up some good points. My beliefs have become so heterodox that they would likely be unrecognizable as “Mormon” to my fellow ward members were I to share my true self. That said, I would never deny any of my spiritual experiences as a more orthodox believer. I feel bad when post- or ex-Mormons feel the need to re-cast their past experiences as empty or delusional. In that regard I’ve always repected the Three Witnesses for not denying their past experiences AND for having the courage to follow their later convictions.

    Though Gary clearly has some issues with the corporate Church (or all organized religion), and some of its teachings, it does not appear that he has denied or rejected his past experiences.

  21. This morning in a special MTC meeting, someone shared a story about several new missionaries who arrived from Mainland China the day of that horrendous quake—which occurred very near where two of the missionaries were from. What would it be to begin one’s mission on the day of a quake near your hometown, and to know nothing of how your family had fared? These missionaries had already tried calling home, but there was no telephone service. They tried again from the MTC, but service was still down. They made one last effort, and their calls went through. They were able to talk to their family members, who wanted to know how they had been able to call, since all phone service was down. Nobody was getting through except for these missionaries.

    Little miracles, tender mercies–which, of course, can be recast as “temporary service” and dismissed. But these missionaries are not likely to read them that way. Not right now.

    I have seen several spiritual journeys in which my friends have gone to high realms, and then have either fallen or carelessly stepped away. The saddest thing is to watch someone forget a sacred moment, or re-invent it. I have a letter from a friend which explains why he is returning to the Church. It says, “If I thought the things I see here in San Francisco were all there was in the world, I’d jump off the Golden Gate bridge tomorrow. But I have turned my life over to Christ.” Soon after sending me that letter, he went on a mission, then married in the temple and began raising a family. But he gradually stepped away, and finally hurled himself into big somersaults leading away from what he had once believed. His filter changed, and he began to hate the Church.

    The link between these paragraphs is my sense (and I’m writing this after a very difficult week for my own faith) that the whole world can change and even crumble, and yet there are miracles in the crannies of fallen hopes. Just because someone has forgotten doesn’t erase the reality of a sacred space. Calls still get through.

  22. I was assigned as a home teacher to a family that had been inactive since they were teenagers. They had met in Idaho/Utah (I can’t recall which), got married, and moved away from home until they eventually reached my ward. I had a variety of companions over time, but we visited with them for about a year, and eventually, they consented to hearing a spiritual message. After about another year they started coming back to church. There was a push in their eyes to see their oldest child (turning 8 soon) to be baptized. The wife became pregnant and they blessed their child in the church, started taking temple prep classes, the whole 9 yards. We had a great relationship, and even though I was on companion #4 at the time, I had been their home teacher for about 4 years at the time.

    It all came crashing down on the day that they had their baby blessed. It was fast and testimony meeting and I said something in my testimony that he didn’t care for. When I called him up 2 weeks later to set up a home teaching visit I was shocked to hear him say that he was still very angry about my comments in fast and testimony meeting and that I was no longer welcome in his home. No matter my protestations to the contrary the phone call was over. I was devastated. Ultimately, a priesthood leader counseled me that they were looking for an excuse out and I gave it to them (this was eventually confirmed when I spoke to the wife 1½ years later), it was a bitter pill to swallow. Some people I had grown to love and view as good friends decided to leave and burn all bridges behind them, and for a long time I felt that I was the cause.

    I don’t know what the issue was that drove them away (I have some guesses), but I still pray for them on occasion, that they will find a way back. I hope that when I move back to that old ward in a few months that they will still be there, so I can stop by and see them, for old times’ sake if nothing else. No matter how personally invested in them I was, no matter how much I tried to just talk to them, they made a choice. I hope it isn’t irrevocable, but I have faith that they will come around one day. Watching people you care about slip away is tough. Although I wish his choice was different, I respect that he made the choice himself. I would rather have him take his time to come to terms with his life, than live a lie, even if the path is dark.

  23. It breaks my heart too. I feel very sad and disillusioned when others lose their faith. I still have a piece of me that is filled with a child-like naivete that places real hope and joy in the faith and conversion of others; so that when the faith is gone, I really feel empty. I’m sorry, Ronan.

  24. Ronan,

    Thanks for this post. I have wrestled with this over and over again. As you say, the devestation may be largely selfish, but it is devastating all the same. Every sentiment you’ve expressed here strikes a cord. I’m sad to know it’s not just me.

  25. Ray Agostini says:

    No need for all the sadness and devastation, though I can understand it. If a child left my home, I’d be sad too, but it’s their choice. You know the saying, “if you love something/someone, then let it go”? The Parable of the Prodigal Son is popular, but not everyone who leaves will be a returning Prodigal, and high expectations for this can lead to more sadness. Bear with me as I repeat a joke that we “departed” (sounds grave) make, poking a little fun at the true believers:

    Seymour was a good and pious man, and when he passed away, the Lord
    himself greeted him at the pearly gates of heaven.
    “Hungry, Seymour?” the Lord asked.
    “I could eat,” said Seymour.
    The Lord opened a can of tuna, and they shared it.
    While eating this humble meal, Seymour looked down into Hell and noticed
    the inhabitants devouring enormous steaks, pheasant, pastries and vodka.
    The next day, the Lord again asked Seymour if he were hungry, and Seymour
    again said, “I could eat.”
    Once again, a can of tuna was opened and shared, while down below Seymour
    noticed a feast of caviar, champagne, lamb, truffles, brandy, and
    chocolates.
    The following day, mealtime arrived and another can of tuna was opened.
    Meekly, Seymour said, “Lord, I am very happy to be be in heaven as a
    reward for the good life I lived. But, this is heaven, and all I get to
    eat is tuna. But in the Other Place, they eat like Kings. I just don’t
    understand.”
    “To be honest, Seymour,” the Lord said, “for just two people, does it pay
    to cook?”

    It really isn’t all that bad. Many of us feel we have reclaimed our lives, our individuality, and our creativity, though you beg to differ. I’m sure “Gary” had many more reasons for his decision, not perceived nor outlined by Ronan. The real question should be: Is Gary happier now? Or is he moaning over a Lost Spiritual Paradise? And does he go to bed at night worrying about his unbooked seat in the CK?

  26. I’m sorry. When I had a close friend leave the church, I had a hard time reconciling my desire for him to stay with my desire to support him and that which he felt would be best for his family. I know this sounds sick, but I almost wished that it were some family, life, or worthiness issue that, when resolved, would “fix” his testimony. It was hard when I realized there was nothing broken–he just interpreted his “religious experience” differently than I did.

  27. Ray Agostini says:

    Kade wrote:

    I know this sounds sick, but I almost wished that it were some family, life, or worthiness issue that, when resolved, would “fix” his testimony. It was hard when I realized there was nothing broken–he just interpreted his “religious experience” differently than I did.

    It doesn’t sound sick at all. You just wish there was an easier way to resolve very complex issues. That’s a natural human tendency. When I hear a rattle in my car I often wish it’s only going to be a $10 fix, and not a $1,000 repair job. Sometimes I even pretend I don’t hear the rattle.
    I have an amazing capacity for imagining the best outcome.

    I wouldn’t call Gary’s a “religious experience”, but a “spiritual experience”. This happens to people who read the Bible too, quite often. Even Napoleon Bonaparte couldn’t resist it. The Book of Mormon is a catalyst to such experiences as well, even if one decides not to erect his tent in the Church that gave us the book, or to withdraw his tent from said Church.

  28. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ray,

    Your joke gets it completely backwards. The sensual life is ultimately empty, for anyone. The abundant life is made possible when we can experience the richness of the wolrd as a clean being, with all our sensors and connectors having had a good bath. The correct langauge for your sumptious feast is ‘a mess of pottage.’

    24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the bfruit of the tree.
    25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
    26 And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
    27 And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
    28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.

    ~

  29. StillConfused says:

    It is interesting how one’s life taints things. I read “Gary”‘s posts and felt an understanding with him. I don’t feel things as strongly as he does but I feel a sense of understanding. It is hard for me to be in a church which, well meaning of course, focuses on my shotrcomings and all the wrong in my life. I understand the reason for this but at the same time, for my personality type, this is hard. There are times when I have to take a little “break” from Church services. During that time I focus on all of the positive in my life and in the world. Once I have built my positive “energy” back up, then I go back to Church.

  30. Ray Agostini says:

    Thomas Parkin wrote:

    Your joke gets it completely backwards. The sensual life is ultimately empty, for anyone. The abundant life is made possible when we can experience the richness of the wolrd as a clean being, with all our sensors and connectors having had a good bath. The correct langauge for your sumptious feast is ‘a mess of pottage.’

    Thanks for that observation, Thomas. I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere before. :)

  31. Thomas Parkin says:

    Stillconfused,

    It seems to me that the intesne tension between what we are and what we can be, or should be, is only good for us if we are looking to Christ. Let me repeat an image that has been halping me a lot lately.

    I’m having one of the most difficult times of my life. We have slipped out of the middle class. I’ve lost pretty much everything, as well as a good part of my family’s money. It has been a nightmare consideribly in excess of my worst-case scenarios. There have been many weeks consecutively when I haven’t had more than three or four hours of sleep a night. Week and after week where I’ve had thousands of dolalrs of bills to pay, and no idea how I’m going to pay them.

    I imagine that I’m moving in space. It is dark and empty, and my head is down. Then I lift up my head and look around for the Saviour. Seeing Him and then hearing His voice, I move straight away in that direction. And my burdens are lifted.

    I was praying the other night, begging to know what to do next, and for the strength to do it. I got no answer as to what to do next. But the Holy Spirit filled not only my heart, but the whole room. And I heard the familiar voice “you are a kind and generous man.” There are no words for how that made everything bearable – I tell you I will never look at a poor person in the same way again. We have to go through what we go through to get where we need to be. We can opt out, but the cost is so dear.

    ~

  32. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ray,

    Here to help. ;)

    ~

  33. Ronan,
    This post brought tears to my eyes, not for all the people—friends and family, acquaintances and people I taught or mission companions who have lost faith, but for myself. I haven’t lost faith, but I could. Faith is fleeting. When I see people I view as powerhouses of faith, who have had such and shared such wonderful manifestations of the spirit fall, I am reminded that faith is not unshakable. I wish there was some point I could strive for and reach where I could say, and we all could say, “I’ve arrived! My faith is now unshakeable.” The reality is that there is no such point that I know of (I’m still hoping for one) in this journey. When someone I love loses faith, I see my own weakness in their weakness. I hope and pray, literally, that I won’t lose faith, that I will remember all the manifestations of the spirit in my own life when doubts come. And they will, and they do come. My only integrity lie in that I choose to believe that those manifestations really did happen, that they were from God, that I didn’t make them up. Indeed, faith is fleeting.
    It is always helpful then too to remember the tender mercies of the Lord, and simply remember that there is hope.

  34. StillConfused says:

    Thomas, YOur attitude during your challenges serves you well. I have those kinds of experiences when I am one on one with the Savior — but not really when I am at Church.

  35. Ronan,

    Sorry for any misunderstanding. I meant that likely from Gary’s perspective, the product sucks and he has little use for it. Most blame the member instead of looking at the product. Related to this, why don’t most members do missionary work? Because they don’t have enough confidence in the product to peddle it to others. Of course, they won’t say that in a meeting, but that’s what they know in their hearts. Our Sac Meeting format and sad music program says it all. Other churches just do a better job on the piratical side of things than we do, such as keeping sinners welcome in the church.

  36. I’m thankful for the principle of repentance. It was available in our pre-mortal life, it is available now, and will be available in our post mortal life.

    Heavenly Father will render a perfect judgment–we can count on that.

  37. We forget.

    That’s why God keeps on telling us to remember, and asks us to re-read the scriptures, and attend our meetings, and say our prayers.

    We forget.

    God wants us to remember.

  38. Related to this, why don’t most members do missionary work? Because they don’t have enough confidence in the product to peddle it to others.

    I think a better answer is that we Mormons are, effectively, Mac fanbois, and we fear how we will react when we’re rejected for a Gateway.

  39. I’m grateful for someone somewhere on the bloggernacle who pointed out that it can take years to adjust to a spouse leaving the church. It’s given me strength to hold on after my husband started having doubts a few years ago. Like you said, even though my testimony is strong, seeing him discount spiritual experiences we shared together is very difficult. Like others have brought up, the impulse to solve the doubts or “fix” the problem is strong. But people ultimately have their agency, and we believe in eternal progression. Eternity is a long time.

  40. I haven’t read all the comments, but #15 (Ray’s) resonates with me.

    In the story Gary didn’t say he stopped believing, rather he said he chose to do things he wasn’t “supposed to do”, because he felt better that way, and enjoyed life more.

    Gary’s story is a bit similar to mine, so maybe I’m reading too much of myself into it. I joined the church in my early 20’s, served a mission, then went inactive, requested name removal, then came back after 15 years away. I never stopped believing/knowing that the church/gospel/BoM were true. Like Gary, I chose to do things I knew were wrong, mainly because that’s what I wanted. Doing so, I lost the Spirit. And without the Spirit, it is difficult, even painful, to put up with the church program. Without the Spirit as insulation and armor, all the normal friction and minor slights between people get magnified, church gets boring, callings become impositions, and authority appears domineering.

    If Gary’s experience continues to parallel my own, then after a few years, he’ll realize that those things he’s choosing to do (that he’s “not supposed to do”), really don’t make him happy in the long run.

    I don’t think he’s lost his testimony. He’s just choosing to live contrariwise, and he’ll eventually realize the long term consequences. He may eventually come back to church, or he may not.

    He may have chosen the label “agnostic” as that is what most closely describes the way he is living, not necessarily what he believes deep inside. I experienced the same friction when I wasn’t living according to my beliefs, but was living according to what I wanted. It’s not cognitive dissonance, but rather a hypocrisy, or a reverse hypocrisy, knowing/believing something is true, but not living as if you knew or believed.

    I was not able to re-interpret my spiritual experiences about the existence of God and Christ, and the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the LDS church. They weren’t just “woven into every fiber of my being” they were more like burned into every fiber. I tried to re-interpret or dismiss those events, but even the attempt to do so could only last a second or two. You can stop believing what you used to believe, but when a powerful spiritual testimony crosses over from belief into confirmed _knowledge_, you can’t “un-know” it.

    Only Gary and the Lord know how much light he is sinning against. As per page 38 of Gospel Principles, Gary may have had the influence of the Holy Ghost “indelibly impressed” upon him so it can’t be forgotten; or maybe he received lesser light that can be removed or erased.

    Some of us just have to learn the hard way, and experience the consequences for ourselves before we are ready to admit “Oh, I get it now. I made the wrong choice.” Some of us can learn from the mistakes of others, and some of us have to make our own mistakes.

  41. Ronan,

    This is a VERY personal post for me, since I have a “son” who is much like Gary.

    He lived with us for a while after he could no longer live at home with his father and, during that time, he had a couple of incredibly strong spiritual experiences. (After first deciding to listen to the missionaries because both sister missionaries were “absolute babes”. What can I say; he was 18.) He is highly intelligent, and he “got it” very quickly. He and I had some long talks, and he really did have some awesome experiences and insights. He was baptized while living with us, then left for college a few months later.

    He had some negative experiences in his new ward, mostly relative to his girlfriend’s family. More importantly, however, he began to return to the life he had lived prior to coming to our home. His dysfunctional adolescence caused some very deep habits and inclinations, and, left on his own, they resurfaced. I have prayed for him and hoped for him, but I have seen his actions take him away from activity in the Church.

    My message to you, Ronan is simple:

    He returned last week for the summer, and his father mocked his inactivity by saying something like, “I guess that Mormon thing isn’t working out for you.” His response gave me hope in the midst of my concern. He said to his father, “I’m not living the way I should be living, but the Mormon Church is still the truest thing I’ve ever heard. I just have to get myself together before I can live it.”

    I hang onto faith that “when he is old, he will not depart from it”. I KNOW his experiences and insights were real; he knows they were real; I have to believe that such recognition eventually will save him. I have to trust that God’s mercy truly will save him from the results of Adam’s transgression in his life – and I see the issues that are keeping him from full activity directly as a result of what he inherited from his parents and what he had to “become” to cope without killing himself.

    I believe the Atonement is MUCH more powerful than we often realize. Surely, God will understand their struggles and we both someday will “stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers (them); confused at the grace that so fully He proffers (them).”

  42. I’m reminded of a sermon Brigham Young gave in 1855.

    I recollect many times when brother Joseph, reflecting upon how many would come into the Kingdom of God and go out again, would say, “Brethren, I have not apostatized yet, and don’t feel like doing so.”

    Many of you, no doubt, can call to mind his words. Joseph had to pray all the time, exercise faith, live his religion, and magnify his calling, to obtain the manifestations of the Lord, and to keep him steadfast in the faith.

    I wrote a blog post on the concept. I generally try to refrain from directing my comments to my blog, but in this case I think it may be a good read. (Incidentally, in the first few volumes of the JD the theme of apostasy is very frequently visited by speakers.)

  43. Interesting post, Ronan. Very interesting discussion.

    I have some close friends who have left the church. One topic that sometimes comes up in discussion with them is how to interpret spiritual experiences within Mormonism.

    Of course, some former members link their exit to a _lack_ of ever getting spiritual confirmation. That’s easy enough. You say, “I prayed, but it wasn’t there. So I left.”

    But what if it _was_ there? Responses to that are interesting. In my (admittedly limited) observation, they tend to fall into a few categories. There is the “it was all psychological/expectations/placebo” category: The person felt good about the Book of Mormon because they wanted to, and so they tricked their own mind into it.

    And there is the Universalist/Deist category: The Divine in the universe can speak through the framework of Mormonism; but that does not mean that all of the truth / exclusiveness claims of Mormonism are correct.

    It is an interesting question: If you decide that Mormonism is not true, then what do you do with spiritual experiences lived in Mormonism?

    (Many early dissenters had interesting takes on the same topic: How to reconcile earlier spiritual experiences with later disillusionment? David Whitmer, John Corrill, and so on, all dealt with this tension. One popular approach then — almost non-existent among present-day dissenters, that I’ve seen — was to suggest that Joseph Smith spoke as a prophet, early on, but that he became a fallen prophet later in his career.)

  44. I am a convert to our Church,and unlike most people in the Church in the USA, I am not caucasian. I am Indian from India. I am active in my Ward, however, I am a bit disillusioned by some of the social and cultural aspects of the greater Mormon culture.
    I am a faithful member of the church, itis not my devotion and belief in the principles taught by our Church that is the problem. But that it has been really hard for me to fit in and be accepted as an equal by the majority of my Ward/Stake. Mind you, it is not racism by any means.
    It is just that I am getting tired of a culture that seems to want to practise social isolation, where people who are free thinkers,and who read Dialogue or Sunstone are treated like they are criminals, and where, the principle of “ignorance is bliss” seems to hold sway.

    If Gary ran into a similar situation, I can see where he might have just decided that he had no reason to say, follow the Word of Wisdom, or just quit going to Church

    Apologies for my hald-baked rant

  45. CS Eric says:

    There are a lot of reasons to leave. Some of them include sin and some do not. I was out for about a year, and my lifestyle didn’t change much, except that I had more free time on Sundays. I was incredibly surprised at myself, because I had behind me many years of strong spiritual experiences, and so thought I had a foundation firm enough to handle anything. I was wrong.

    Coming back was hard, because there were a lot of people who wouldn’t forgive me for the things I had left. I’m sorry if that sounds cryptic, but I have promised many people that I wouldn’t go into a lot of details on my past.

    The long and short of it is that I’m back. However, I still have trust issues, and I have a hard time seeing myself being able to give the same level of commitment I did before I left. Participating in the bloggernacle is a big part of what keeps me going.

    My hope (for you, Ronan, and for your friend Gary) is that Gary will be able to find something in his life that helps him get back, and keep him going.

  46. ronin, I think that’s the heart of Elder Wirthlin’s talk – that there are far too many members who don’t attend who still have a testimony and would attend if they felt accepted and “fit in” better.

    To the question of the original post, details are very easy to forget – more so for some (like me) than for others (like my wife). Sometimes it’s not that history gets rewritten as “lies” but more that histories get rewritten as “different” when compared to the perspective of that time – **when continuing experiences don’t reinforce the earlier perspective**. The key, I believe, in Gary’s case might be that he stopped having similar spiritual experiences; therefore, his perspective on spiritual experiences and their importance changed as they naturally faded into the past.

    Fwiw, I think I could drift away faster than my wife would if we stopped having spiritual experiences, since her memory for detail is much better than mine. I simply forget more easily than she does, so it’s critical for me to have continuing, regular interaction with the divine.

  47. It’s difficult because I relate to both Elder Y and to Gary on certain levels, because both of their voices have resounded within me at different times of my life. In the end, though,I agree with Tracy– the fat lady hasn’t sung yet and Gary’s journey isn’t over.

  48. Off-topic to Ronin – I’m half-Indian (father born & raised in Mumbai;; I was born in America) and I’ve met exactly one other Indian church member in person – even after 6 months in a Peninsula/Bay Area singles ward. It feels weird to not see any other Indian faces sometimes.

    Otherwise, great discussion. Sometimes I read bloggernacle comments and are mentally frustrated with others’ indecision about the gospel. And then the mote-beam thing comes to mind – because I certainly can’t claim to be consistently faithful in my nine months as a member of the church, much less “stand as a witness of God at all times and in all places.”

  49. Apologiesin advance- off topic thread-jack.

    Sam- thanks for your comment- you are probably the first Indian person in our Church that I have met.
    If you dont mind, please email me at my Yahoo address: sidss2003@yahoo.com. TIA

  50. MikeinWeHo:

    There was something profoundly moving about your post. Can’t quite figure out how to describe why, but didn’t want to let the feeling go unsaid.

    Ronan: Thanks for sharing this.

  51. Sam, #48: Have you tried to share the gospel with any of your non-LDS Indian friends?

    BTW, there are 5 translations of the BoM in languages of India: Hindi, Bengali, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu. I have actually met many speakers of those languages in my travels in the US.

    There are transations of either the Josepth Smith Testimony(JST), or Gospel Fundamentals(GF) in other languages of India: Malayalam (GF), Kannada(JST), Punjabi(GF+JST).

    At http://www.ldscatalog.com, click “Other Language Materials”, and then click “List of Available Items by Language” to see what’s available.

    I have not met any converts from India, but I have met many people from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who wanted the Book of Mormon or Gospel Fundamentals in their language just for something to read. Usually it’s not their children who are born here. The children are usually very Americanized. It’s the people who came here from India who want to stay connected to their languages.

    I’ve met a lot of Gujerati-speaking people, but unfortunately, the church doesn’t have anything in Gujerati.

  52. Bookslinger- I have checked out the Hindi and the Bengali translations of the Book of Mormon. And I am sad to say that the quality ofthe translation work is rather poor. Especially, the Hindi edition seems like someone unfamiliar with formal Hindi did the translation – sound more like “street” Hindi than the formal, literary Hindi. Same holds true for the the Bengali edition too.

    And I have tried hard , to introduce the Church to my Indian friends. Most,. however, have rejected my efforts outright. First, due to the habit of not breaking tradition, most Hindus or Muslim folks just wont even consider converting. Secondly, the Word of Wisdom is a big sticking point. telling Indian people that drinking tea is prohibited is a conversation-stopper. Drinking tea is so much pf the culture, that asking an Indian to quit tea drinking is like asking a cattle-rancher to quit eating meat and become a tofu-and tempeh eater.

  53. Ronan: I feel I can relate to the discouragement you feel about your friend. Let me just say that at one point in my life I lost all faith in the teachings of the LDS church. Currently I have rediscovered the faith, and am more committed than at any point in my life in LDS theology than I have ever been (And my extended crisis of faith occured post-mission). I don’t want to come off as a “pollyanna”, but maybe like me and many others, he’ll be back someday. Maybe he won’t, I don’t know. I guess I just wanted to echo the notion that too often we forget that conversion / deconversion / reconversion stories happen often. Being out of the church for now doesn’t mean he’s out for life.

  54. By the way, I really enjoy this blog. I hope to continue reading and participating.

  55. Cheers, Tom. Incidentally, there’s another “Tom” who comments around here. Perhaps you could add an initial so that we don’t confuse you.

  56. Ronin,
    You’re in good company in trying hard to share the gospel with your Indian friends and being rebuffed. My great great grandfather served a mission to “Hindustan” in the mid-19th century and had no success. They shut down the mission while he was there. I blame my grandfather. I bet if he had been a more obedient missionary he would have established a foothold for the gospel and all your Indian friends and family would already be Mormon. Kidding, of course. It’s interesting that this topic came up here because it was just last week that I learned of my great grandfather’s mission and I noted that I’ve never known any Indian Mormons.

    Ronan,
    Wow! You’re defending my name turf for me?! I feel loved.

  57. Tom,
    Hopkins brotherhood.

  58. Ok, I’ll go by TW starting with my next post.

  59. Brandon says:

    I have a similar expierence that I am going through that is the hardest thing that I have ever had to deal with. I was raised in the church by my perents who are multi generational members. I think that I am either a 5th or 6th generation member. My parents decided to have their names removed for the records of the church a couple of years ago. They haven’t ever really given me a reason or reasons why they made this decision. I’ve questions them many times, which has never gotten me anywhere. I really fell for you Ronan. Despite what choices are family or friends make, the church is still what it claims to be. I am sure of it.

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