Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Part 2 - How did I get a crisis of faith?

How did I get there?  I’ve learned from discussing this with others in the same situation that, like many others, I arrived at my crisis of faith by being almost "too" Mormon.  Unlike most others, I didn't get there from learning how the traditional narrative differs from the actual one as many now do because of the easy access to information that the internet affords us.  I came to this crisis of faith while doing my best to live up to all the things that are expected of a stereotypical, upstanding Latter-day Saint.  I am a descendent of Heber C. Kimball and Orson Pratt.  I passed through all the traditional milestones: Eagle Scout, various leadership positions, mission to Argentina, married in the Seattle temple, went to BYU then to graduate school to "achieve as much education as possible"[10], had four kids, taught early morning seminary, etc.  Part of the reason I want to write this is so that others who know me well can see that someone who isn't addicted to porn, looking to hook up with other women or break the word of wisdom is the type of person who can be in this situation despite all the popular stereotyping that goes on.  As with most Mormons, everything I do in my life is touched by the Church in one way or another.  Both before and during this crisis of faith I gave everything I had to being the best Mormon I could be.  I made sure to live worthily enough to obtain that undeniable experience.  While working toward that goal on my mission came the start of my faith crisis.

As I stated above, I served a mission in Argentina.  To be candid, I was an incredibly hard working missionary.  I never slept in, I never delayed at members' houses, never watched television, etc.  I worked very hard to obey every commandment every day for the whole two years.  At the end of a mission in Argentina you fly home through Buenos Aires and get to attend a temple session.  Still having never had this undeniable experience that others talk about, I looked forward all mission long to the day when I would put my sacrifice “on the altar" as I went through the temple.  I knew; not hoped for or had faith in, but I knew that this would be a great spiritual experience.  According to my logic, I was guaranteed to get what I sought for because I had completely dedicated two years of my life, equal to or greater than any other missionary I knew.  I couldn't wait to go to the temple.

After getting an extension to serve an extra couple of weeks I was on my way to the temple.  To my complete shock and surprise, not only was the session not the spiritually affirming experience that I expected, but I didn't even feel the spirit very much at all.  I felt like I had a spiritual rug pulled out from under my feet.  I was left completely dumbfounded.  I didn't even know what to do as I left the temple.  After helping people develop a belief in God and the Mormon Church, suddenly I acquired a doubt in both of them.  But even though I was deeply changed, I still had much more faith than doubt.  The surreal experience of returning to the world as a regular member, and leaving behind the life of a full-time missionary helped me put these doubts on the shelf.

The next phase of my crisis started one day when I felt inspired to consider dentistry as a future job instead of engineering as I had wanted to do since I was a little kid.  Along the way to earning my BS in biology I learned from my faithful BYU biology professors about the undeniable facts of evolution[11].  I contrasted this new understanding with the traditional Mormon narrative that I grew up with and the doubts started falling off the shelf into my lap again.  I also learned in detail the chemical processes that create emotions and feelings in us.  I realized that feelings which had been explained to me as manifestations of the spirit were often also feelings felt in situations that had nothing to with the Church, or Christ.  I now understood the processes involved in my brain to release chemicals to make one feel love, joy and peace[12] among other positive feelings.  I began to wonder how to tell the difference between the spirit and these good emotions.  The guidance of the spirit that had been my Liahona since youth suddenly wasn't trustworthy anymore.  I know this isn't a problem for most people, but combined with my existing doubts, I couldn't avoid the possibility that this all could be biological instead of spiritual, having never received an experience that was undeniably from the spirit and not my body.  Again, all my doubts about the Church and God resurfaced, but even stronger than ever before.  I felt similar fears to how I did once as a kid when I got lost walking down a trail in the forest all by myself with no way to contact anyone.

I read an article about Mother Teresa that gives me comfort considering my situation and further proves my point, especially if you don't know me.  If you know of Mother Teresa, I think you will agree that she should have been worthy of some spiritual affirmation telling her that what she was doing was God's will.  Despite all her amazing sacrifice, having lived the second great commandment[13] better than most others, she experienced a dark night of the soul saying, "As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear[14]."  Isn't it surprising that after doing so much good, she always felt that she lacked a witness or closeness to God.

Next Part

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