Please, Tell Me Where I Sinned

So much has changed in the past two years.

Sometimes I wonder where I fit in terms of religion, particularly in the Mormon world. After a lot of self-reflection (sometimes I feel like that’s all I do, haha), I’ve come to this conclusion regarding my spirituality:

There are aspects of Mormonism I love, and there are many parts of it I disagree with and truly believe to be harmful. I don’t fall neatly into the LDS church anymore, just like I don’t fall neatly into Buddhism, New-Age Spirituality, Paganism, Hinduism, Christianity, Atheism, or Mormon Restorationism. Although I have learned from and adopted philosophies from all of these ways of thinking (and I fully intend to study into as many more as I can), I do not confine myself to any of these ideologies. I listen, analyze, take what seems good and true, and leave what feels false and harmful, trusting my moral compass to develop and improve along the way.

Getting here, going through these changes, was difficult and frightening. Not only was I questioning my entire worldview countless times, from the validity of my church to the very existence of God, there were many moments (mostly just in the beginning) when I feared my very salvation was at stake. I feared that I would lose everything: my good standing in the church I knew and loved, my place in the celestial kingdom, and—worst of all—my sense of right and wrong.

But now, I do not regret the choices I made. I know I have said and done some insensitive things here and there and I know that I have unintentionally hurt some feelings due to my weaknesses in communication, understanding, and tact. I apologize for these follies and moments of disrespect. However, while I accept the consequences of my unwise actions and do not deny responsibility for any of them, these instances are simply inevitable in a complex mortal life such as mine. Of course I did stupid things; I would have done stupid things regardless of the path I chose because I am human and I do a lot of stupid things, and I will accept responsibility for these offenses and always try to do better.

But I will not apologize for the carefully-deliberated steps I have taken. From my first re-entry into the waters of baptism one chilly February morning at Saratoga Springs, to my first cup of coffee in a little Layton café, to my many agonizing considerations over whether I should leave God altogether, I am confident that these experiences have shaped my character for the better. There were plenty of difficult moments, but my story is anything but a tragedy. My journey was not a steady decline into apostasy, nor was I carefully led away by Satan into a life of sin.

When some people leave the church (or theism entirely), they are often demonized in varying degrees by some believers for very understandable reasons (I know this because I was one of those demonizers for a long time, haha). Okay, perhaps “demonize,” in most cases, is an unfairly strong word, but my point is that when someone makes a choice that we deem immoral, we instinctively assign our own reasons for that person’s actions. It’s just what we do; we have an inherent need to make sense of the world. These reasons we assign are often harsh in order to allow us to rest in the notion that if we can remain moral and righteous, such devastation will never happen to us. Here are some reasons I used to give for people leaving the church while I was an active believer in it:

  • They don’t care about truth or about God
  • They want to live a materialistic and self-indulgent life
  • They were offended by something some church member or leader said at some point (or some obscure event in church history), and allowed their anger and bitterness to get the best of them
  • They caved into the temptation of peeking at anti-Mormon literature and were ashamed because “the world” frowned down upon their beliefs
  • They were too lazy and selfish to commit to their promises to God
  • They’re in a temporary phase of confusion and will get over it soon

A quick disclaimer: This concept of unfairly assuming people’s reasons for actions which we deem as “immoral” or “sinful” is definitely not exclusive to the Mormon world. I’m pretty sure it’s a very human thing and everyone does it. still do it (though, hopefully, not as much as I used to)!

Go to someone who’s left the church, sit down with them, and ask them about their journey. If they’re not an eloquent speaker, ask them to speak their mind via writing (or read what they’ve already written). That’s the easy part. The hard part is listening (or reading) with the intent to understand, and not to “understand” just enough so you can spot weakness in their reasoning or find a way to “get to them” and make them rethink their ways. Check your fault-finding device at the door and understand them for the sake of learning from them. Once you think of that interaction as a re-conversion opportunity, you’ve automatically installed a filter. Put down your teaching agenda; take notes instead.

Another disclaimer: I am super awful at this. It’s a freaking difficult thing to do, alright? 95% of the time I begin a discussion with someone I know I disagree with, I’m already compiling defenses and warming up my own fault-finding device so I can rest in self-reassurance that am in the right, not them. I’m not allowing myself to learn from them; I am not allowing myself to be wrong. Rather, I am spending all my listening-energy on organizing a plan to convert them to my perspective. But, on the bright side, now I see this problem in myself and I can make a conscious effort to change.

I realize that the intent behind most conversion attempts are innocent and benign (“I just want them to understand me,” or  “I just want them to choose a path that will make them happier”),  but there are times when we need to step down from our soapboxes and allow ourselves some critical self-reflection in light of the perspective gained from listening to an opposing voice.

Yes, there are moments when we must speak up, be bold, and be heard. We can’t mentally afford to question ourselves every moment of every day—we would all go insane. But too often we reject our duty of subjecting ourselves to periodical self-reexaminations, of seriously considering that we might be wrong.

Again, I really suck at this practice. I’m just really, really bad at it. Heck, there are probably sections in this very article that prove that fact. But I’m working on it, and I want to tell you all that sincere listening and critical self-reflection has taught me immensely and has improved my character overall. It is tough, but it really does work. I know because I’ve done it. I sat down with friends who disagreed with my dearly-held beliefs, listened without judgement or agenda, and then analyzed my own beliefs through my newly-gained perpectives.

I ask you to please listen to my story as well as the stories of anyone else you may disagree with. Please don’t dismiss my—or anyone else’s—religion (or lack thereof) without an attempt at empathy. Please don’t assume that you already know why I am the way I am, and please do not assume that I’ve become so because of pride, bitterness, pettiness, or selfishness.

Please do not pity me, either, for such sorrow is needless. I am truly happy. I am happy now because I am learning to live without fear.

During times at which I feel there is a God (which I’d say is probably most of the time, to be honest), I no longer fear the threat of damnation. I am no longer tormented with the worry that I have stepped over the line, that I am in need of dire repentance because of my separation from the LDS Church’s teachings.

This is why I am no longer afraid:

In the beginning of my journey, I just wanted to find God. Endless hours of prayer and following revelation was what led me to a Mormon Restorationist movement community, where I made lifelong friends, learned so much about the character of Jesus, and realized that no church institution could rightfully place limits on how I choose to worship and commit to God (neither should I dictate how anyone else should worship).

When some of my friends decided to become atheists, I just wanted to understand them. I wanted to understand how they could still be happy and loving and giving when they’d seemingly abandoned God. Now that I have listened to them and walked in their shoes, I understand.

My crimes of reading “unapproved” material, questioning authority, openly disagreeing with church policies, and doubting the existence of God were not motivated by apathy, laziness, bitterness, pride, or selfishness. It was love all along. I loved God enough to step outside of my religious comfort-zone to look for him. I loved my friends enough to empathize and deeply consider their points of view. I loved truth enough to be willing to leave God if doing so made me a freer and more altruistic individual.

Tell me where I went wrong. Show me the point on my life’s timeline where Jesus will, at the judgement bar, say, “Here. This is the event where your selfishness, recklessness, and bitterness got the best of you and you started down that slippery slope. If only you’d chosen to be more caring, more loving, more careful. But, alas, you failed this brief test of mortality, you have failed me, and there is no turning back.”

If there is a God, I am at peace with him, and I firmly believe that if he’s a god worth worshiping, he’ll be satisfied enough with my sincere attempts at self-improvement that he isn’t going to allow me to be consigned to a state of post-mortal misery or separate me from my family in the eternities. Even if there is no God (still a strong possibility in my mind), I am at peace with the transformations within me that have opened my eyes to greater compassion, acceptance of philosophical fluidity in myself, and respect for differences in others.

And no one can take that peace from me.

Thank you, friend, for listening.

 


featured image from the LDS Media Library
https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/category/salt-lake-utah-temple?lang=eng

Thoughts on Illusions, Compassion, and the Reality of God

If you think it would be an amazing, beautiful experience to see beyond the veil (i.e. to behold angels, heaven, spirits, and the like), then you are a normal person with a very human sense of awe. This has been a desire of mine for a long time, but I’ve recently developed some hesitancy in wanting manifestations like that.

Kay, lemme explain.

Looking in the possibility that God is not a real, tangible Being outside my imagination and wishful thinking: if I start to physically see and hear things, it would be an indication of such drastic emotional commitment that my own mind is creating its own reality to support what I desperately want to be true. I may not act like it outwardly; I may continually claim that I am being even-handed and, in a way, agnostic, but the truth is that I am terribly desperate. There is nothing I want more than for God to be real.

Well, that’s not entirely true. More so than I believe in God, I believe in compassion, beauty, and wisdom. As I have found these traits to be perfectly manifested in the God I’ve come to know, it is because I believe in the utmost importance of these things that I have come to love God more than anything else. If God turns out to not be real, at least I will have an idea of who I want to become. All will not be lost, for compassion, beauty, and wisdom are everything to me. It would indeed be harrowing to lose a perceived friend who was the embodiment of those traits, but I would still have those traits to guide me, even if they were not attached to a conversational god-person.

Thing is, it would take a huge change in mindset to re-frame my way of thinking in accommodating the approach that I am no longer following a person, but simply the set of ideas that this divine individual represents. Would it be worth the time, effort, and agony to abandon God as a person and maintain that He is only an idea, a mere symbol of all that I consider good? It would be extremely hard and painful, but would it be the noble, courageous thing to do?

I have attempted to let go of my attachment to God multiple times before. It hasn’t really worked out.

This is what happens: Either a) I cave into selfishness. Being kind and compassionate gets a hell of a lot harder, and when I do nice things, it’s often forced and ingenuine. Or b) I focus on embracing compassion, beauty, and wisdom, but can’t get God out of my head. As hard as I try, He won’t freaking leave me alone. He just keeps talking to me.

From an atheistic point of view, one could easily say that I’ve simply never given it enough time. Perhaps if I moved out, associated with less-spiritual friends, read more books about how supernatural stuff is nonsense, and stewed in that lifestyle for half a year, I’ll successfully discard my reliance on the illusion of my God.

But I don’t want to. I guess I just love God too damn much.

So does that make me a coward, I wonder? Is it egoistic and spineless of me to not give atheism a better chance because I don’t want to go through the pain of letting go of God?

When I talk to God, ask Him for help, and listen to His advice, I am simply a more loving, appreciative person. Perhaps I can be just as loving and appreciative with the acknowledgment that this “Being” I “commune” with is all in my head, that I don’t need a brain-God to be my best self. If that’s true, wouldn’t it be a nobler and more impressive pursuit to progress without that sense of accountability to an all-powerful Being?

In all honesty though, going about living the “noble” and “impressive” way is not nearly as appealing to me as living life the compassionate and appreciative way.

And now that I think about it, my pursuit of progress isn’t really inspired by a sense of “accountability” to God. I mean, it definitely used to be, but not anymore. It’s just love. When you truly love someone, you’re willing to take risks for them. All it takes is a kind suggestion or request. I don’t really receive commandments from God; They’re more like instructions or guidance. I don’t do anything God instructs me to do out of fear of punishment or of being left out of the exaltation party. There’s really no obligation or guilt involved in this relationship.

Back on topic, I suppose all that matters to me now is finding that way of life which allows me to be the most compassionate. I am even willing to live in an illusion if it will make me more compassionate. But am I willing to let go of God?

Hm.

Good talk. I’m going to bed now.

PEACEOUT.

The Baptism of Coffee

On Friday night, I wanted to go to the library, so I drove down and saw that the parking lot was empty. Disappointedly remembering that the library closes early on weekends, I parked anyway because I suck at dealing with life when things don’t go according to my plans. I didn’t feel like going home, neither did I want my excursion to be entirely in vain.  

I then had an idea to spend the evening with Jesus, to find somewhere away from home to sit, meditate, and talk to him without obligations and distractions. As it was dark out, I couldn’t go sit on a park bench or take a drive up to the mountains. So, since I had not yet eaten, decided to make it a dinner date.

I pulled out of the dark parking lot and drove a short distance to Sill’s Cafe and took a seat at the bar. As I do not interpret the Word of Wisdom as given to Joseph Smith in the same way the Church does, I am not opposed to what the mainstream members refer to as “hot drinks,” namely, tea and coffee. Tea has been my best friend for a couple years now, but has always been a weird exception with fuzzy lines in my family. Like many Mormons, my parents seemed to assume that tea and coffee were against the Word of Wisdom because of the one similarity which is caffeine. (Of course, there was also the fact that they were both liquids and served hot, but then that brings in completely-allowed substances like soup and hot chocolate. Like I said: fuzzy.) As herbal tea does not contain caffeine, it was allowed in my home without judgement (though there were a few points as I was growing up in the Church where I worriedly questioned my maté-loving mother’s faithfulness to the Word of Wisdom and sometimes internally freaked out about it), however, caffeinated sodas were generally frowned-upon. Mormons are weird, guys. 

Anyway, the only thing that was keeping me from partaking of the forbidden bean* was the fact that I kept hearing it was an acquired taste, and I didn’t want to waste my money on some disappointing brown liquid and then feel obligated to drink the rest because I’d paid for it, nor did I want to spend a load of money in order to acquire a taste for the sake of giving coffee a fair chance. As coffee is one of those supposedly grand, memorable new experiences for many people trekking out of Mormonism, I wanted my first cup to be special. No way I was wasting this moment in a Starbucks drive-thru, sir. That’s like going on a honeymoon and stopping at a McDonald’s as your first meal together as man and wife. It is taking a potentially memorable experience and tossing it out the car window.

My first cup of coffee was to be made by a coffee artisan in a classy French café, served to me by the love of my life on a quiet Sunday morning, or delivered to me personally by the heathen goddess of hipsterism. I wanted it to be special, people.

Okay, setting excess ridiculousness aside, allow me to explain the reason that I am treating this as a bigger deal than it really is. (I mean, it is just coffee. I realize that. Quit rolling your eyes.)
I believe I’ve picked up a lot of traditions from growing up (e.g. the modern interpretation of the Word of Wisdom) that, while not intrinsically bad, I’ve found particular achievement in leaving them behind. In my journey out of mainstream mormonism (i.e. the Church as an official institution), I’ve let go of a lot of things that are actually important, as opposed to coffee, which really isn’t important. A lack of coffee was not barring me from God, but the following attitudes certainly were, to name a few:

  • Judgement of apostates and atheists as critical, bitter people insincere in truth-seeking
  • Determining the validity of a message based solely on the messenger (and the messenger’s “official authority”) rather than the integrity of message itself
  • Believing that my way of living was the only true way of living that will bring one as close to God as possible in this life.
  • A cold, businesslike relationship with Jesus as a distant elder brother and head of a divine corporation of which I was a mere lay-member

Letting go of these attitudes was an internal, invisible act. As a human, I find that spiritual events are far easier to commit to memory when they are translated into visual, tangible symbols. This way, while the spiritual change is not exactly measurable, we can be encouraged and motivated as physical events act as distinct landmarks in our journey through life.

An example is one Sunday I attended my parents’ LDS ward. I decided to, instead of the traditional formal skirt, go in jeans. My actions may have been falsely interpreted as a statement of rebellion against the Church (especially with the Ordain Women movement going on, haha) and irreverence towards God, but that wasn’t important. It was no concern of mine what the ward-members felt about my casual outfit, nor was it my intent to make a statement or prompt stares. True, clothing can be a symbol of who we are on the inside, but the only thing that mattered was what my choice in apparel meant to me and my God.

You may remember in the above list of damning attitudes I’ve been working on overcoming, I included the idea that my relationship with God was distant and businesslike. By attending church in my casual day-to-day clothing, I was saying to myself and God, “Jesus told me to come as I am and that He would receive me. Well, here I am. I don’t need to impress God with fine clothing. God is my Father. He is family, He is my Friend, and He addresses me as such. He accepts me as I already am. He doesn’t want to wait for me to curl my hair to perfection or force myself into a pair of uncomfortable pantyhoes.”

Now, as a quick note, this is not to say that all the other folks attending in their lovely Sunday clothes are sending the opposite message. They dress the way they do to symbolize what fine dress means to them. My dad, despite the fact that he hates wearing neckties, wears them to Church anyway to demonstrate respect for God and the fact that he’s content to undergo a little discomfort to show that respect. It’s how he expresses love for God, and that’s great. It’s personal, between God and the individual; neither of us are wrong.

The event of me going to church in jeans was not the moment my heart was changed. That change of heart took place over a long period of time, but the event of me expressing that change served as a highlight in the memories of my spiritual journey. I can look back in greater confidence that, yes, I am moving forward. God is working wonders in my heart, and they are made visible by representative physical actions.

That is why I think Jesus was so big on rituals like baptism. It isn’t because the water itself magically washes away our sins. The movement of being dunked doesn’t activate a chemical process in your brain that will transform the desires of your heart. The event of baptism is rich with symbolism, and that symbolism is for us. When you are baptized, those images and movements will stick with you. Being buried in the water. Cleansing, renewal. Rebirth. That memory full of images, the sound of the baptist’s voice and his words as he says the prayer, and the feeling of your body being immersed in the water leave strong impressions on your mind. These impressions will mark a time in your life that you can look back on as a representation of the change and growth that took place in your heart.

That said, buying a cup of coffee and drinking it was not a step, but symbolic of a step. Just like it wasn’t about the pants when I wore them to church, this isn’t about the coffee; it’s about what’s going on in my heart. Buying my first cup of coffee was just one more case of me forsaking unnecessary and harmful false traditions. It was about leaving that fearful part of me—the part of me so obsessed with following every Pharisaical letter of the law—behind. It was letting go; letting myself be free, unafraid of some imaginary God I’d invented who would be petty enough to give a damn about a friggin coffee.

I ordered my forbidden substance somewhat hesitantly (like, do I just say “coffee” or are there a ton of different kinds or is there some secret code you heathen coffee-drinkers use…idk?). A minute later, a plain white mug with a teaspoon was casually set in front of me with little packets of half-and-half. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the appearance of it.
I don’t know what I was expecting. This, maybe?

fancycoffee

I’d say this is fancy enough to be served to a heathen goddess.

And la realidad:

plain-cupofcoffee-wood2.jpg

“Meh” is an apt description.

Then I actually tried it

and

it was the most beautiful-tasting thing ever to grace my palate.

I’ll just leave it at that.

But, as magnificent as that plain cup of coffee was, the small glory of that beverage itself paled in comparison the that beautiful moment alone with God. We simply sat there together, and as I ate my dinner and drank my coffee, we exchanged a few words every now and then. He spoke in His way that is charmingly simple yet fantastically profound. We didn’t have long, deep discussions as we sometimes do. We simply enjoyed each other’s company. It was what I needed that night, and Jesus is always who you need him to be.

Goes to show that a moment doesn’t need to be intense and dramatic to be memorable and precious.

*As I googled the term “forbidden bean” to make sure I wasn’t unintendedly using some irrelevant or sexual innuendo (because I am naïve enough that this is a real problem for me), I was quite delighted to see that there is a cafe in Australia called The Forbidden Bean.

LOOK, YOU GUYS.

screenshot-www.facebook.com 2016-02-21 15-23-59.png

If I ever move to Australia, you’ll know where to find me.

When God Destroyed My Block Tower

Oh, what is this? Sandi is actually posting things again?

It’s remarkable how dynamic a person’s philosophy can be. I’ve seen some surprising transformations over the past year, not only in myself, but in some of my friends as well. (Like these wonderful crazies, if you’d like a specific example.) I appreciate updates from my friends every once in a while so, if something crazy happens like resignation from the Church, baptism into a polygamous group, or denouncement of religion altogether, it’s not too much of a shock for me. As my own religious devotions are fairly ambiguous at this point in time, I should perhaps make attempts to spare myself (and maybe other people) future shock and keep things updated.

My relationship with God has been very interesting lately. Putting it into words will not be easy. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t actually know what in the heck is going on with it all, so maybe I’ll figure it out as I go. I may even reach a solid conclusion (ha, keep dreaming, self).

When I began this journey of shifting theology, I became firm in the belief that the time to develop a relationship with God was now, in this life. I discovered that doing so would require me to unlearn certain beliefs.

The problem with unlearning beliefs is that it’s not so simple as picking an undesirable topping off a slice of pizza or erasing a mistake on a chalkboard. You see, every belief you have is connected to a more basic foundational belief, which then branches off to other beliefs. They’re all tangled up and stacked onto each other, which means if you try to remove one, there’s a good chance a bunch of other beliefs are going to topple to the ground along with it. So it’s really more like a Jenga tower.

Now, when it comes to the Jenga tower-like structures which are belief systems, we could, theoretically, simply remove the blocks from the top of the tower quietly, without making a mess.

You’d think God would just do it that way.

spiritual_jenga

I guess Jesus is just too cool to follow the rules of Jenga.

But no. Apparently the non-messy way is too slow for Him.

Or maybe it’s too slow for me.

Allow me to explain the above italicized epiphany:
A couple years ago, as I really began to dive into scripture study, self-improvement, and what I hoped was drawing nearer to God, I remember having this feeling of wanting to be so much more than I was; more kind, more wise, more obedient, more Christlike. As your typical Mormon believer, I had a firm hope that this kind of spiritual progress was absolutely possible through the grace of God. I also believed that this progress would come through great sacrifice, dedication, and experience. If this mortal life, as we were taught in Church, was the ideal place in which to learn everything we could, I wanted to take full advantage of that. I remember feeling so ready to give my everything in order to become what God wanted me to be, I knelt and asked Him to put me through the “rigorous course.” Whatever path would lead me to God the fastest, I wanted to take it. I knew at that time that I didn’t really know what pain was (I still know very little of suffering), but I believed that God would never put me through any trial He wouldn’t help me overcome. I don’t recall any response from God at the time I made this request, but perhaps His manner of Jenga tower-destroying is precisely what I asked for when I prayed for the rigorous course.

And then, around the time I realized that unlearning things would be necessary, I went to God and told Him that I wanted all my false beliefs rooted out from me. I begged Him to help me let go of them. I don’t want them anymore. Get rid of them. They are stupid. Set them on fire.

While I was hoping for some instant cure (like everyone always does, I suppose), it just doesn’t work like that. False beliefs are more than statements that can be made on paper with words; false beliefs permeate into our attitudes and perceptions of everything. They’re so deeply rooted inside of us, it’s going to take a lot more than reproving words to destroy them.

Over this past year, this force which I call “God” has inspired me to connect with people and communities who have introduced to me uncomfortable ideas that have forced me to perceive the world in a completely different way. There was no way I could have learned the things I did by reading an essay or listening to a simple answer like “Sandi, you see things in this way, but this way is false.” It wasn’t to be a brief vacation-tour; I had to live in that world.

And down the tower came.

Despite the undoing of my entire worldview (and as bad as this may sound to most devout believers), the uncomfortable idea of God not existing has done me a world of good. I can no longer judge atheists or agnostics as people who are insincere or uninterested in finding out the truth. I understand where they’re coming from because I’ve been there (and in a way, I still kind of am). Their reasoning makes sense to me, and I respect them for it. Yeah, wrestling with these idea was spiritually agonizing and it really just sucked overall, but I honestly believe that going through that internal chaos was absolutely worth reaching that level of empathy for agnostics, atheists, and people who just weren’t interested in religion.

Empathizing with people is worth every bit of the discomfort required in sincerely hearing out those whose philosophies differ from mine. Perhaps the most damaging and permeating of my “false beliefs” were not errors in dogma or creed, but my lack of understanding about people I used to fear.

God could have told me outright to stop being afraid of people and their ideas. That probably wouldn’t have been effective, though. I guess the best way for Him to teach me that was turn me into one of them by knocking down my carefully-constructed tower of religious doctrines. I needed to see and understand for myself. I needed to see my religion from the outside looking in.

In this mess of scattered Jenga blocks, I’ve learned that more valuable than belief in God is plain-old human compassion. Granted, if you’d have come to me two years ago and asked, “Sandi, what’s more important to you: your belief in God or the compassion you have for others?” I honestly would have answered the latter, as it’s always been the nobler choice to me. In that sense, it seems that nothing has really changed, and yet it has. I value compassion tremendously more than I did two years ago, and I believe that’s because I realized in my earlier adventures in agnosticism just how essential and foundational charity is to everything I hope to be.

There’s a major difference between theorizing life without belief and actually living it. After I blogged about that little adventure and the conclusion I came to, I assumed my struggles with that sort of serious doubt were over and done with. But it simply wasn’t so. I was just getting started.

I’m not saying that everyone has to struggle with doubting God’s existence in order to learn about compassion and empathy. I’m saying that apparently, I (with my personalized lesson plan) did need to struggle firsthand. I needed to see theism through a different pair of lens, and now I have a much deeper understanding of God as I’ve been able to see different facets of who He really is (assuming He even exists).

It’s been a quite a ride through alternating stages of belief and doubt. And then, along with that, there are alternating stages of peace and discouragement. Contrary to what many would assume, those stages of peace and stages of discouragement don’t always properly correspond to whether I’m believing or doubting. You’d think that when I’m accepting the reality of God, I’d feel at peace; and, alternatively, when I’m doubting His existence, I’m discouraged. Not so. Sometimes I’m at peace with there not being a God. And there are times when I really truly feel like there must be a God, but I’m drowning in discouragement. If I’m trying to find the factor which determines my peace, I don’t think that factor is accepting or rejecting God’s reality. Heck, if you have any idea of what that factor might be, I’d honestly love to hear it. Because life just insists on being complicated all the time, there are probably multiple factors.

If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure one of them is my attitude towards other people. It looks to me like the way I see the human race is inseparably connected with whether or not I am “at peace.” Makes sense to me.

So there we have it. I’m not sure if this counts as a solid conclusion, but I feel better now that I’ve written about it.
Yeah, it’s still a struggle, and maybe I’m a mess, but I’m not in a panic. I still find myself positively in love with humanity and all that is beautiful and compassionate, so I can’t be too far down the road to hell. If hell is going to be filled with the kind of heretics, questioners, intellectuals, agnostics, liberals, feminists, and other crazies I’ve had the pleasure of associating with and reading about, I don’t reckon it’ll be such a bad place after all.

Pretty sure I’ve already used this Joseph Smith quote, but I’m going to use it again.

I see no faults in the Church, and therefore let me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.

(History of the Church, 5:516–17)

That may seem a little ironic, as my recent associations have gone against what I’ve learned from the Church I attended all my life. Perhaps Joseph meant differently than how I see that quote, so I’m not claiming that Joseph is going to back me on my interpretation; I just like the words for what they mean to me.

In the early years of the Church, the Saints were the outcasts and heretics. Now, because history is such a big nasty mess, I can’t claim with a surety that the people Joseph was associating with at the time of this sermon were “good society.” I wasn’t there.

But I know that the people I’ve come to know are. If I were to gather them all and put them in a room, they probably wouldn’t agree on very much, doctrinally. But they are good society. They are courageous for seeking truth and answers when others were too afraid to dive down the rabbit hole. I love them, and I refuse to believe that a God worth worshipping might see fit to throw these “apostates” into outer darkness for trying so hard to live lives according to truth and love.

If there’s an afterlife, I’m cool with winding up wherever they go.

That awkward moment when I don’t know Jesus

When I embarked on this spiritual journey, I began to find the real Jesus, and I began to love Him as I never had before.

Then in June I began to question His existence as I was exposed to evidence and ideas about the human brain that shook my foundation. The possibility of God being all in my head became vividly possible to me.

In the end, I decided that believing was worth the risk of being wrong because I believed that it fueled my charity. I learned that as much as I value truth, I value charity even more. So while I hate the idea of being disillusioned, at least that disillusionment would be harmless and even beneficial to serving others and finding peace and fulfillment. When I came to this conclusion, I assumed it was over, that my problem was resolved and I could move on.

But lately, I’ve been feeling even more distant from God. It’s a painful thing, and I’m sure you all know how that feels because the majority of you are older and/or wiser and more experienced than I. There have been frequent moments where I’m nearly overcome with this bitter aching and longing. I don’t think this feeling is unique to me.

I realized with horrible disappointment last night that I don’t know Him anymore.

From last August to the beginning of this year, I felt confident that, while I still had much to learn, I was really ACTUALLY coming to know Him and develop a living relationship with Him. It was so exciting!

But not anymore. It’s the most painful admission I’ve ever made. I don’t know my Master. I can’t tell you for sure whether or not He is real. He FEELS real to me and I want so badly for Him to be.

But I can’t see the fruits. I can’t tell whether I’ve become kinder, more understanding, more charitable, and more loving because of this “God,” or simply because I’ve been growing, thinking critically, and educating myself. What if the belief that the only way I can become kinder, more understanding, etc. is through this Jesus, is actually holding me back? Or what if I’m only making myself believe I’m improving as an unconscious effort to support the idea that God is on my side and is truly guiding my paths?

The only good fruits I’m seeing right now are the beautiful souls I’ve befriended and my expanded perspective on Mormonism and religion in general. I regret nothing as to the risks I’ve taken and the sacrifices I’ve made.

I have received no visions. I have heard no voices. The veil has never parted before my eyes. Anything I might call a “miracle,” my skeptic brain is quick to provide a secular explanation for.

But I don’t need these spectacular manifestations. All I need is a reason to keep praying, to keep studying, to keep seeking His face. Right now, I’m seeing plenty of reason to not do so. I’ve been seeking His face for about a year now and while I’ve seen desirable fruit, I have no way of determining whether that fruit is from a Being called God, or simply the inevitable goodness any soul would encounter as she strives to fill her life with charity.

I fully intend to fill my life with charity whether or not I decide to make Jesus part of it.

But this Jesus is offering me opportunities to serve beyond my wild imagination. He’s promised to fill my life with service in ways I never could if I were to try “on my own.” He’s explained to me that He can teach me how to love the same way He does.

I desire this more than anything.

Perhaps that is reason enough to keep on.

Love isn’t like Money (and you’re just a little kid)

I was gently reproved by the Lord tonight because I have this weird and false idea: I am often under the silly impression that I shouldn’t ask Him for comfort during semi-difficult moments because I know it will get a lot worse, and I need him during the really hard times. (And then there are all those people who have it a lot worse than I do.)

You see, I’m one of those people who goes out of her way and risks screwing everything up simply to avoid the awkward task of asking for help. I’ve been warned many times that life is going to get really, really hard for me down the road. Jesus has told me repeatedly that my only hope will be in coming to Him for healing and comfort. He also warned me that when these difficult and painful moments come, I will not be in a state of mind where I will actually want to come to Him. I will not want to accept comfort, let alone ask for it.

So I asked Him what I could do now, before the crap hits the fan, to prepare for these future moments.

How can you hope to be in the state of mind to receive me in the coming darkness when you refuse to be comforted in times of lesser pain?
My love is not an allowance of coins to be saved up and spent only during times of the greatest need.
My love is an eternal fountain blocked by pride and fear. By allowing it to flow freely to you, you only open your heart to receiving more of it.

We need to swallow our pride and ask for comfort when we need it (or even just maybe-kind-of need it). God’s love is infinite, so we need to stop treating it like He intends to withhold it and save it up for tougher times. When we were sent here, Jesus didn’t hand out a set number of little grace-tickets, pat us on the head, and say, “Okay, kids, don’t spend it all in one place!”

It’s hard to ask for help. It’s humbling and, if you’re like me, probably makes you feel like an incompetent little kid again.

Oh, but wait! What was that thing Jesus said about children?

“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:4

We need to realize that we are but spiritual infants in God’s eyes. It was hard enough for me to accept that I’m merely a “fool before God” and that I actually…don’t…really…know…anything.

But to realize that I am never going to survive emotionally or spiritually unless I come to God—as a distressed little child comes to her Father for comfort—did not bode well for my ego swollen with “Yo, I’m a working adult” and “I’m a strong, independent woman who don’t need no parents to look after her.” *cough*still lives with her parents*cough*

It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter how big and badass you may be. You are just a little kid. You need God. You need His grace. You need His comfort. It takes real courage to make yourself vulnerable, so don’t be ashamed in asking Him for help. Get into the habit of being vulnerable.

And here’s the best thing:

The more love you allow yourself to receive, the more you are able to give to others.

So for all you saintly angelfolk reading this and thinking that asking for help is a waste of time when you could be finding healing in helping others: you still need His grace. It is His grace that will pick you up and keep you going. His grace will transform you into a kinder, more compassionate person. It is the light of Christ which made you kind and giving in the first place, so coming to Him will only make you even better at what you do. God’s grace is the kind of gift that keeps on giving. Receiving Him will only expand your capacity to love and serve.

So you really have nothing to lose. Nothing of value, anyway.

Being Real

After skimming through some of my earlier articles (especially my first one), I realized that I’ve changed dramatically over the past six months. Even my writing voice from last year feels a little foreign to me. It’s not a problem. After all, I am a person and people change.

But I was surprised by how outdated my “About” page felt. I don’t want people getting false ideas about my character and my beliefs (does anyone?), so I felt the need to update it. It turned out to be a ridiculously extensive update (because apparently I have a big ego and like to talk about myself?).  Anyway, I think it’s important to be real with people. Some might worry about me, and I hate making people worried, but I don’t want to hide anything. If people want to know what I really think, they should have access to that. Not that I’m going to be advertising it or anything. It’s just that if someone wants to know the real me, I should be fine with them seeing the real me. No guessing games or secret passwords necessary.

One of my dearest friends once told me that he actually tries to be an open book. I admire that. I don’t think it’s a common thing for people to want to be an open book. We tend to keep our innermost feelings hidden because we don’t want to expose our weaknesses and let people to take advantage of us. So I could keep my beliefs a secret in order to please my LDS friends and family and avoid criticism, rebuke, and touchy conversations; but would doing so be an honest thing to do for myself and everyone else? Sounds cowardly to me. I’d rather be real and accept the fact that some people aren’t going to like it.

Here’s the link if you want to read it.

So How’d it Go?

If you haven’t already, click here to read my previous article.

Sunday night (the night I posted my previous article) was an interesting night. I expected my truth quest to be grueling and frustrating before, finally, a light switch would turn on in my head and I’d realize that God was helping me that whole time to get the answer. From my experience of spiritual searching, that’s usually what happens. It didn’t happen how I expected it to, though.

It was supposedly my “last night of faith.” I spoke with and confided in God all evening. He made it quite clear that He was not angry or disappointed in me for making this decision to live “Godlessly” for the sake of proving whether or not I needed a belief in God in order to live a life of happiness, kindness, and service. I thought that was kind of weird. I thought He’d be kind of, you know, against me purposely abstaining from worshiping Him. I guess I don’t know God as well as I thought I did.

When I went downstairs to my room for the night, I sat down on my bed and continued our conversation. Essentially, my approach was, “Okay, Father. I’m ready to be taught. Tell me where to look, what to do, what to think about, whatever. You’re the Boss. Tonight I rely completely on You to teach me.”

Supposing I might as well be proactive, I about reached for my scriptures, but God stopped me.

Just keep talking to Me. That is all I require of you at this time.

I can’t recall the conversation in detail, but I remember it mostly involved Him encouraging me to explain over and over again why I was doing this. He knew why, but He wanted to make sure I knew why. When it all boiled down to becoming the most loving I was capable of being and doing the most good in the world I could possibly accomplish, He’d just give me that kind, cunning smile of His and say nothing, but I knew He’d just succeeded in coaxing the answers He wanted from me.

It was a good night because, for once this week, I didn’t have to worry about being unfairly biased towards one possibility over the other. I just gave myself fully to belief for that night. It was a relief, and I was filled with peace and love as I sat at the kitchen table in my pajamas, sipping hot tea and enjoying the air of a cool summer night. Me and Jesus, just chillin.

I think I might have conveyed a false message in my last post. I was in no way demanding a sign. I didn’t need a physical sign or miracle to convince me that God exists. All I needed was a reason to choose God’s plan over mine.

I won’t go into detail with the life choices I’m making right now, but I’ll put it this way: God’s plan, from my limited view, seems like the lazy one. I have a mission during which He will use me to accomplish marvelous things, but I need to wait for it for who-knows-how-long. My plan was basically to get off my lazy butt and get moving. Plan my own adventure. Get out there and do something.
Once I considered the paradigm of “God is in my head,” that caused some problems. Maybe it wasn’t God telling me to stay where I am for now and patiently await orders before I do anything crazy. Maybe it was my procrastination-prone mind rationalizing staying at home and putting off risk and adventure for the sake of social and financial security. By obeying God, I would risk wasting my life away awaiting a mission that might not ever happen, when I could have taken bold action to do something good when I was young and healthy and without as many obligations.

A reason would have been enough; just a reason to keep waiting. A reason to not pursue the truth in this manner. God was talking to me all day. He could have just told me in the same way that He was telling me everything else He said to me that night. It would have been simple, and I would have been satisfied with the simplicity and non-miraculousness of it. But I didn’t even get an answer. At least (spoiler alert), I didn’t think that I did.

I woke up that morning just before my alarm went off. I hit snooze.

“Father. Look, technically it’s morning and I’m supposed to be living Godlessly starting now, but I’m going to break the rules real quick just this once and say one last prayer, pushing aside the possibility of brain-God. I love you. I don’t want to do this. It’s going to really freaking suck. (Yes, I am this informal when I talk to God. He doesn’t give a damn so neither do I) I’m going to miss you. I love you, and I’d really hoped you would’ve intervened by now. You set the deadline. You told me multiple times that I would get my answer before this morning, but I didn’t get it.”

My alarm went off. I pressed snooze again and kept praying.

“Please, please don’t let me do this. It’s going to hurt me. Even worse, it’s going to hurt You. Why don’t you stop me already?”

My alarm again interrupted my pleadings. I turned it off and got out of bed.

I’d made a commitment to finding the truth. Even if my method was stupid, it was really all I had. It may seem that my morning was off to a depressing start, but it wasn’t that bad at all. I was optimistic. I even felt something you could call a spirit of adventure. I was on my way to self-discovery. I knew that even if this road was painful, it would teach me something valuable.

Here’s the interesting thing: Throughout my day, I didn’t feel any sense of loss. As I got ready for school, I heard Him in my mind.

Sandi, I love you.

This really wasn’t fair because I was committed to not pray for the sake of the experiment. So I couldn’t reply. When someone says “I love you,” you can’t just ignore them. It’s rude, okay? And since brain-God feels like a real person to me, it felt really weird and wrong to just be, like, “Mmhmm. Okay. That was a thing that came from my brain.” So that was awkward.

Then, as I was getting dressed for school:

Sandi, I haven’t left you, and I never will.

Before this point, my day-to-day life was an ongoing dialogue with Jesus. When I’m talking to myself in my head, He’ll join in on the conversation. Prayer is more than a habit for me; it’s evolved into pretty much my whole thought-pattern. So, needless to say, not praying took an unexpected amount of effort.

ESPECIALLY BECAUSE GOD KEPT FLIPPIN’ TALKING TO ME.

So there I was, doing so well with “being Godless,” but then, as I was at my computer editing digital graphics, I heard Him again.

Sandi.

*ignores*

Sandi, this is God speaking.

Nope, nuh-uh. I’m not supposed to talk to you. Talking to you is praying, and praying will botch the experiment, okay?

Sandi, you can’t deny that I am speaking to you. This isn’t in your head. This isn’t chemicals in your brain. This is Me communicating with your spirit.

*sigh*

So I didn’t even get through half the day before I messed up my own experiment. Or Jesus messed it up, I guess. Yeah, I’ll blame it on Him.

I expected Him to withdraw as soon as I withdrew from Him. But that didn’t happen. Why not?

I think I know why. It dawned on me as I began typing this article. You see, I didn’t really abandon God. I remained committed to embracing every kind thought, every appreciative moment of gratitude, every expression of love. I saw strangers of every shape and size walking in and out of my school building and thought, “People are beautiful.” I stopped by a rose bush on my way to lunch and took the time to appreciate the masterpiece of nature. I observed a beautiful thunderstorm wash over the mountains. I watched in charmed fascination as a baby spider crawled over my hand and across my desk. I grinned as I overheard my adorable instructor say something funny to another student behind me. My best friend Sydney and I had a conversation over text and I realized again how dearly I treasure our friendship.

I did some shopping for my coworker who couldn’t do it herself because she worked literally all day and only had her free time when the store she needed to go to was closed. It took a lot of patience and phone calls to get the items she needed, but I wasn’t annoyed. I realized that I was happy to help her out even though I wasn’t getting anything out of serving her besides the joy of knowing her life was made a little easier because of something I did (which is all I really need).

My heart thrived with gratitude and appreciation throughout the day, but it wasn’t because I had temporarily abandoned my brain-God. I didn’t actually abandon God. He is all goodness and life and beauty. By embracing that, even if I didn’t attach the label of “God” to it, I was embracing Him. Despite my commitment not to, I was still worshiping Him.

I didn’t give up on my Godless life because it was too painful or too hard “without God.” I simply discovered that it was impossible to embrace selflessness, charity, and gratitude without also embracing the God who is all of that. By clinging to everything good in the world; love, charity, and gratitude, God couldn’t leave me. That’s why He was okay with this silly experiment of mine. He knew what would happen.

Jesus.

You sneaky, sneaky God, you.

It’s true that God rarely teaches us in the way that we expect. Okay, for the sake of clarity, let’s look at the concerns He answered. On that last night before I began the experiment, God assured me multiple times that He would give me that reason to continue in faith. That night of contentment, freedom, and peace was a sneak-peak into the kind of life I would live as a believer. What would be so tragic about getting a steady career as a digital 3D modeler or whatever, settling down, having a family, and living the “boring life” I always felt was cut out for me? If this state of mind (i.e. the clarity, acceptance, and peace I was feeling Sunday night) was going to be my attitude resulting from actively seeking and interacting with God, there was no conceivable way I would be led through a life of sloth and selfishness.

I already knew that if God was God and not my brain, I could trust Him with guiding my life choices. When I was introduced to the possibility that “God” might just be me, I realized that I couldn’t trust my brain to choose the selfless path full of risk and hard work. I asked for a reason to trust Him, and God gave me that reason right on time, like He said He would. Like most answers, I didn’t realize it at the moment He gave it to me, but I see it now.

Concerning the subject of charity, I learned that the possibility of losing a sense of charity (by abandoning my brain-God) was nothing to be afraid of. I remained charitable as ever throughout the experiment (for as long as it lasted). As long as my greatest desire is to love everyone to my greatest capacity, my greatest desire is the companionship of God.

Dedicating myself to charity and dedicating myself to God turned out to be the exact same thing.

As for my pursuit of truth, I’m satisfied that I’m able to go as far beyond my beliefs as necessary for the sake of finding it. Not to brag, but committing to go “Godless,” for me at least, was a brave thing. It showed me why I believed in God in the first place. It revealed what my true values were. Why did I rededicate my life to God? Because He proved Himself to be the personification of charity and truth.

I grew up worshiping Christ because that’s what my Church taught. After my first faith “crisis” (which I wrote about here), when my foundation which was the Church crumbled into nothing, my action and my reason for that action swapped. I went from worshiping Christ because the Church testified of Him, to going to Church because the Church testified of Christ. My testimony of Christ was no longer dependent on the Church; my reason for going to Church was now dependent on whether I came closer to Christ by attending. It no longer mattered what the Church said or did or became; it wouldn’t affect my love for Jesus. It’s similar to the faith crisis I experienced just barely, but a step deeper. This time, it wasn’t the Church I was questioning; it was God.

For a while, my reason for doing anything hinged upon whatever God wanted. But what if my God was taken away? What would my choices hinge on? It turns out that those things were charity and truth. Stripped of my God, charity and truth were all I had left. I determined that if there was a God, He would have to be the personification of charity and truth. Anything else was insufficient and unworthy of worship.

Yes, I’m being picky about what kind of God I worship. But shouldn’t we all be? Should you worship a being simply because he has all power? If power alone determined worthiness, then a powerful dictator would be more worthy of worship than someone like Mother Teresa (I know, not the most creative example).

Should you worship a being simply because he has the ability to consign you to heaven or hell? That’s not enough for me. If acting upon charity somehow landed me in hell, I would still act upon charity. If I knew that forsaking the truth and running away from my doubts would land me in heaven, then I don’t want to go to heaven. I’d rather go to hell and associate with the other damned truth-seekers, those who had the courage to look doubt in the face and follow their own moral compass rather than blindly obey their religious leaders. I like this quote from Joseph Smith:

“And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.” History of the Church, 5:516–17

I no longer worship God because that’s how I was raised; I worship Him because He is a Being of truth and charity. And here’s the irony of my whole experience: The God which I came to know through traditional worship is that same God which led me out of traditional worship and into true worship. And what does true worship happen to be? Being one with charity, seeking truth, and expressing gratitude. It’s not so much about doing as it is about being. Love isn’t giving because you feel it is your duty to God. Love is giving because that is who you are. Or, rather, who you’ve allowed God to make you.

“Prove Me Herewith”

For the past week, I’ve been attempting to live my life while acknowledging two opposing possibilities:

1) God is a real, omnipotent, omniscient Being outside of myself and the revelations I’ve been receiving are indeed from Him.

2) My brain created an imaginary God to deal with difficult emotions and realities. My brain is convincing itself that these revelations are from God in order to support a favorable paradigm.

If you don’t believe that possibility #2 is a valid possibility to seriously consider, I might ask you to think again about how complex, impressionable, and powerful the human brain is (especially when it comes to validating existing paradigms). If you have the time and curiosity, I’d recommend watching thisthis, and maybe even reading this. Don’t worry about watching and reading the above examples if you are already aware of how the brain can be manipulated. These are just some things I watched that sparked my thinking. It’s unlikely that you will have the time to bother with them, but they might be of some interest to some readers.

Time for another faith crisis (yay)

I’ve been doing a lot of writing this week. You see, writing is perhaps my most effective method of pondering. So in other words, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week.

You could say that I’m going through another faith crisis, but I’m still not sure if that’s the right word. I don’t feel a sense of urgency or panic at all. I am going about this in a rational manner without fear or even much frustration. Here’s why:

If God exists, I trust that He will help me overcome this. He’ll teach me in a way that everything will make sense again, and He will give me a good reason to continue obeying these revelations as opposed to accepting that my God was just my brain all along. If God is just my brain (which, if this were the case, it would probably be impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist anyway), I would accept that truth and adjust my attitude and behavior accordingly. Either way, I win.

It’s difficult though. Right now, I’m living with two opposing mindsets simultaneously. This is to entertain two possibilities for the sake of being as unbiased as possible, and thus open to whatever the truth happens to be.

But do you have any idea how nearly impossible it is to be unbiased? It freaking sucks.

I suppose I could start living a Godless life in order to observe the results. Before you warn me of what a huge mistake that would be: I already know that living such a life would be a temporary hell because I’ve become so attached to my brain-God that, even if my God were simply a fabrication of my mind, it would still affect me as though I’d lost a friend or parent or something even closer. There would definitely be a grieving process. So I know that this test will yield unfavorable short-term results which don’t necessarily prove that God is real and that I need Him. It would just prove that there is pain involved in a dramatic shift of paradigm.

Charity is the most important thing

I guess what I’d really be testing is whether I’d still love and serve unconditionally without the motivation of an imaginary God. I guess what I’m really afraid of is that I wouldn’t be charitable without my God, imaginary or not. I don’t want to risk going through a long (or even short) stage of selfishness to find the truth (or as close as I can come to it). Yes, I’ll be giving myself to the inevitable grief that would come with abandoning such a huge, defining part of myself. I’m okay with dealing with grief. But what I’m not okay with is losing my charity. If I’m not a charitable person in the absence of a real God or brain-God, I’d rather live a lie and be charitable than know the truth and be uncharitable.

But atheists are capable of charity. You don’t need to be religious in order to be altruistic. The existence of altruistic atheists in the world give me hope that, if God is all in my head, I can find charity without a brain-God. It’s not like (right now, in my God-exists paradigm) I have God looking over my shoulder saying, “Be kind to this person,” “Help out your mom,” “Give that homeless man some money,” etc. In fact, my increase in charity is more of a side-effect of my interactions with God, rather than my marching orders. From a Christian point of view, you could say that my very “nature” is changed. I noticed, as I follow this “voice of God,” possessing unconditional love becomes easier. 

In other words, my disposition changes when I talk with and obey God. I don’t have a greater sense of duty to serve others; I think I’ve always had that sense of duty. And yet I’m so much more charitable and eager to please others than I was before. So my belief in God isn’t changing me because it’s giving me reason to serve. You can find reason to serve people independent of any spiritual beliefs (it’s something all decent human beings naturally take delight in). Rather, my interactions with God heighten my capability to feel empathy and joy when I make other people happy. I believe that’s because love is a more effective motivator than duty. I don’t want to lose that love. I’ll always want to serve people, but I don’t want my motivator to be a cold sense of duty; I want my motivator to be pure love.

This isn’t just about wanting to “feel good” when I do good. A can of soup will do the same amount of good to a starving orphan whether it was provided by a donor out of love or a donor with merely a cold sense of obligation. But I believe that serving out of love rather than duty ensures that the server will be more generous in the future, and thus more good will be accomplished. If it turns out I can serve out of pure love without needing to interact with a brain-God, then I don’t want a brain-God.

So let’s actually do something about this, yes?

These are the options I can see:

  1. Live a “Godless” life and see what happens, all while still maintaining the existence of God as a possibility. In other words, become agnostic.
  2. Keep believing in God and continue to act upon my revelations as I always have, setting aside the complexities of neuroscience.
  3. Give God a chance to help me work out these conflicting ideas until a proposed deadline, upon which I must make my choice, since I cannot continue living impartial to two different possibilities. I’ve been doing that for not even a week, and I really just don’t think it’s healthy.

I shall eliminate option 2 first, as it had the worst foreseeable consequences whether or not God is real. Even if He exists, I don’t believe God would want me to run away from the challenge of finding the truth. A God who encourages blind obedience is not a God worth worshiping.

If I just accept the paradigm that He is real and ignore the possibility that “He” is just my brain continually repairing cognitive dissonance, will I truly be an honest seeker of truth? I would have chosen the easy path (accepting the comforting and self-assuring paradigm that God is real and I’ve been right all along) in favor of deeply considering ideas which challenge my already-held belief system. That doesn’t sound right to me, and I can’t see how a God who encourages critical thinking and reason would prefer that I choose a certain belief system simply because it already fits with what I agree with. A God of Truth would want me to question His very existence rather than blindly accept the more appealing truth that He exists.

Also, choosing option 2 would make me a hypocrite. How could I possibly rebuke others for running away from their doubts or pushing them aside instead of challenging their beliefs and letting the truth cut its way through and reveal the faults in their beliefs? How can I claim that my object is truth if I’m willing to reject a valid possibility for the sake of emotional security?  If truth is my watchword, I must always be willing to pursue it, live it, and never deny it, no matter how much that truth clashes with my emotions, traditions, perceptions, or upbringing.

This leaves options 1 and 3. If God is really just a brain-God after all, 1 would definitely be the best option. That one’s obvious.
If He’s not all in my head, I don’t think God would abandon me if all I’m looking for is the truth. He would have some way to reach out to me past the mishmash of brain chemicals and cognitive dissonance.

He told me Himself, however, that choosing to purposely disregard the things He has revealed to me—even if it is an experiment—will be a very painful experience not only for me, but also for Him.

Well, shoot.

If it’s going to be painful for me, fine! I can deal with pain. This changes things: knowing that this search for truth would cause great pain for my dearest Friend (supposing God is a real person outside of myself, of course).

I can’t afford to be wishy-washy. I need to choose either complete discipleship or agnosticism at some point. The sooner the better. It hasn’t even been a week and trying to live with two simultaneous and opposite attitudes for the sake of remaining as unbiased as possible is difficult and it makes my brain hurt.

I need to make a decision. I need to decide who I am. Am I what God (or brain-God) has been telling me; someone of great worth with a mission, a divine purpose, and a future among Gods in the eternities? Or am I just another struggling life-form on this chaotic planet? Though obviously less appealing, I will accept the latter possibility if it is true. If I’m just a human with a complex, God-inventing brain, I will own up to my silly mistakes and misconceptions. I will still do good in the world, take risks, be loving and kind, and deal honestly and charitably with my fellow creatures. Some things about me wouldn’t change, but there are still very different courses of action I would take depending on who I decide to be (i.e. life decisions I won’t go into because that would waste even more of your time). A decision must be made.

So I will choose option 3 and set a defined deadline upon which I must choose one or the other. If God is just all in my head, nothing will happen that will give me reason to continue worshiping or seeking things of the spirit. If the God I’ve come to know and love isn’t all in my head, I can trust that He will teach me and somehow give me a good reason to continue exercising faith in Him.

I didn’t choose option 3 because I was afraid to choose; Option 3 is simply extending the deadline to choose either option 1 or 2. I chose it precisely because I realize the need to make a choice and stick with whatever that choice is. I realize that making the wrong choice will result in a consequence that will affect me for the rest of my life. I need time to decide, but if I take too much time being wishy-washy, I risk hurting myself emotionally. It can’t be a good thing to be torn in two for too long.

So now I needed to come up with a reasonable deadline. I must take into account the supposed length of time I can float between two opposing paradigms. Granted, I would still be acting upon revelation and praying (remember, I’m giving God a chance), but I would still need to remain open to the other possibility in order to stay committed to my deadline. If I completely abandon the possibility that God is in my head, that would be the same as choosing option 2.

So yesterday morning I had an idea: ask God and see what He says. Let God (or brain-God) set the deadline. So what did He say?

You can’t be in this divided state of mind for too long. Set your deadline for tonight.

Asdfh.

Fghj.

Okaythen.

So I decided that if I woke up the next morning after a long night of asking and pondering and see that I still have no reason not to try attempt a Godless life, then I’d get going on living that Godless life. I accept that it will be painful. If there is a God, it will be painful for Him as well. But since He’s the one who set the deadline, at least I won’t have to place that blame (of possibly hurting Him) upon myself. If He has any better ideas, I’m still open to them. Maybe He’ll speak through others. We’ll see what happens.

So why am I blogging about this?

Just because want attention.

Just kidding. I do have reasons.
Two, in fact, and I think they’re rational enough:

  1. There are wonderful people in my life who care about me and the choices I make regarding religion. They deserve to know the whole story. If they read this, perhaps they won’t be quite as shocked or worried when they notice I’ve left God (supposing that’s the outcome). They will see that my shift in belief is not the result of bitterness, being offended, being sinful, being lazy, being discouraged, or being deceived. I have measured the risks thoroughly. My motivation for what I do is my own mental and emotional well-being and, more importantly, developing the greatest capacity for charity possible for me.
  2. Making this public will give me a sense of committing to the things I say and decisions I make. Now that I’ve told the world that—providing there is no sort of intervention which would convince me that this is a bad idea and that I still have plenty of reason not to try this—I will take God out of my life for the sake of experimenting, I better darn well own up to that commitment.

So here I go.

I’ll be posting updates on my progress (or lack thereof). Feel absolutely free to comment and give me ideas and advice. I’m just a silly human trying to figure life out. It’s very, very likely that I’m missing something key here, and maybe my wiser fellow humans see something I don’t.

If I have time tonight, I’ll post an update on what my first “Godless” day was like. I think recording my observations will not only help me organize my thoughts, but will protect me against my own brain trying to alter its own memories to fit whatever paradigm I happen to hold when I recall those past events.

Again, I’d love to hear your insights and I’m still interested in whatever advice you might have. Even if you are disgusted or horrified with my attitude and choice, I’d like to know why.

Moral support from anyone is also of great value to me.

 

*** 6/16/15 EDIT: Before commenting, please read my next post. ***

Homesick

Tonight, I was overcome with a deep and piercing spiritual pain. It consumed my thoughts and seemed to have a very physical effect on me as well, leaving me incapable of much movement. For a few minutes, I simply laid face up on my bedroom floor, waiting for the aching to subside.

It’s like there’s a God-shaped hole in my spirit, and I’ve just begun to realize it. It’s remarkable how, in all my life, I’d never noticed this hole before. But now that I do…well…it hurts like hell.

It wasn’t the first time I’d felt such a longing for the presence of God. A few weeks ago, probably around 3 in the morning (spiritual lessons seldom fall conveniently into my sleep schedule), I experienced that very same pain. It’s becoming more common, but there are moments when it really hits me hard, like tonight.

It’s an interesting emotion. It’s bittersweet. It’s as though my spirit is beginning to remember who I really am and Who I really came from, but is waking up to realize that this Being to Whom I belong is so much farther away than He should be. It’s a difficult feeling, but it is also a beautiful one.  Interestingly enough, I would rather endure the pain than feel nothing at all. I think it’s because the root of this feeling (while it still hurts) is love.

I called out to my Father in prayer, asking Him that, if this hole was not yet to be filled by bringing me into His presence at this time, perhaps He could for this moment, simply send comfort. He was quick to answer.

A quick side note: It’s surprising how very familiar my Father’s voice is, even though I’d forgotten Him as I entered this mortal probation. His voice is much too pure and too perfect and too kind to come from me, yet it seems that every message I get from Him was already in my heart. Those things I already knew before mortality, He simply caused to be re-surfaced from the sleeping memory of my spirit.

His answer, as it always is, was beautiful:

I know your pain. This longing you feel is a mere reflection of the longing which feel. Bear it with patience, my child. The hour draws near in which you will at last enter into My presence, and your soul shall rest. But for now, press forward with unwavering faith in My Son. Cease not to call upon Me. Be at peace.

I think the author Denver Snuffer explains this concept marvelously in the book The Second Comforter: Conversing with the Lord through the Veil.

“Men reach upward while God reaches downward in a chiasm of longing, fulfilling for both. Two interlocking triangles, one pointing upward and the other pointing downward, as the searching and longing soul is met by the loving and encouraging Father. It is an embrace between the lonely searcher/child and the eager Parent/God through a veil. Whereupon the son or daughter finally realizes this longing was mutual, and the need you have for God is equaled by the need God has for you. The emptiness which you have felt all along in mortality has its counterpart in a Parent whose longing for you exceeds your longing for Him…It is the final realization that this process is not complete for either you, as child, or God, as Parent, until your personal redemption from the Fall and return to God has been accomplished. Until then the longing remains mutual. We are drawn to Him, He is drawn to us, and we complete each other and form at last an eternal family. He is incomplete without us, just as we are incomplete without Him. We are a part of Him, just as He is a part of us.” (pg 276)

Ironically, the thinner the veil becomes, the more painful the separation feels. The love which we have for our God intensifies as we draw nearer to Him.

Yeah, it hurts, but remember that the Lord is feeling that pain, too. Not just because He, by His atoning grace, perfectly understands all of your pains. This longing which He feels for you is actually His own, and because of His perfect love, it is much, much stronger than that longing you feel for Him.

Wow.

God is beautiful.

—–

(featured image is a painting by the amazing Walter Rane, the greatest gospel artist ever.)