Sunday, July 12, 2009

Apostasy is for Everybody

I used to think that apostasy was a bad thing. In the Mormon faith, the word gets thrown around as if it's equivalent to committing murder. I think few Mormons have ever considered that the word exists outside of a religious context. For instance, to no longer believe in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Clause is an apostasy. To change a political party is also an apostasy. As we mature socially and spiritually, apostasy of any old idea or belief that no longer works is required in order to progress.

Ironically, the Mormon church asks, if not requires, people of other religions and cultures to apostatize from them in order to join the ranks of the Mormons. Of course they don't see that as apostasy because they believe apostates are only people who reject the "one true gospel". So they are quick to belabor the idea that apostasy from the Mormon church is the only true apostasy and thus, A Very Bad Thing.

That is, sad to say, rather cult-like behavior.

Having been born into the Mormon church in the stronghold of the Mormon theocratic society that is Utah, I found myself struggling almost daily to break free of the guilt as a result of my diverging belief system. The cultural pressure was intense. But the uncertainty of the outside world seemed unbearable. The perceived safety of the community was appealing and it gave me a sense of purpose and certainty in an otherwise frightening and uncertain world. Yet, I knew there was more to this world than what I was allowed to experience. The group-think patterns could give me reprieve from the perceived on-slot of the enemy's attacks on us "righteous" folks, but at the same time I felt oddly condemned for my desire to see things from the other side.

We Mormons can be a highly suspicious and judgmental people, and more often than not, only see others in terms of black or white, good or bad, friend or foe, us vs. them. There is no concept at all of moral relativity; no genuine comprehension of the diversity of personal experience. There is no true empathy. Ironically, as missionaries, we were taught empathy as a tool to persuade people into joining the church. But it was taught as a simple language mechanic in order to form the right string of words to fit a situation. These exercises only manifested in superficiality that tricked and manipulated people into believing they were being understood. True empathy never existed. The moment I had true empathy for someone, the last thing I wanted to do was teach them about the Mormon religion.

As Mormons we believe in a personal spiritual guide, "The Holy Ghost". An external spirit-person who's companionship is gifted to us by the "laying on of hands" by priesthood authority upon our acceptance of the "one true religion". This "constant companion" is our spiritual connection to the "other side of the veil", a special gift that we can call upon for direction and guidance when we face challenges and uncertainty.

All too often, as a Mormon, I couldn't trust that "spirit" to lead me where I needed to go in order to maintain my status as an upstanding Mormon. I didn't understand the promptings, they didn't make sense. They were so often in contrast to what I was being taught in church. I feared that I was not able to be in tune with the "true spirit" so, instead, I developed a dependence on what I believed to be our infallible, ecclesiastical authorities for guidance. Even so, their guidance often conflicted with what that "spirit" was telling me also. Still, I followed through, I obeyed, as they instructed; after all, they wouldn't be where there were if they didn't have the "true spirit", right?

More and more, every day, I could see that it was making my life more difficult and miserable, but I was able to maintain that acceptance in the Mormon community; up until my sanity hit its breaking point. It wasn't working for me anymore. I needed to move on. At that moment of announcing my departure, I became the enemy to be feared -- the bad, the foe, the "them". It was heartbreaking. I wanted so much to follow that "spirit" but I couldn't do it as a Mormon. I had to leave. I had to let go of the notion of a certain future for a life of pure uncertainty. It was freighting as hell but the "spirit" was telling me I had nothing to fear. Still it would be nearly a year before I wrote that letter to resign.

I was warned by my ecclesiastical authorities that my departure meant that I would lose that gift of the "spirit" and that it was never too late to repent and come back. FEAR! Yet, at the same time, that "spirit" was telling me that they were all full of shit. And it turned out to be correct. That "spirit" grew stronger instead. It seemed to be more in tune with what was behind that uncertainty than ever before. All I had to do was embrace it, trust it and listen. All the things I was always afraid of doing.

And so it goes, I've learned to listen to that "spirit", have trust in the present moment, and embrace the uncertainty. And I've discovered a wonderful joy that comes from jumping headfirst into uncertainty. It's not something to be feared. It's to be celebrated. Still, uncertainty continues to be a scary place sometimes but it's no longer a fear that dictates my life. It's really just undefined possibilities in which I have the power to take control. My personal spirituality is now motivated by the wonder of uncertainty. Too much of what motivates Mormon "spirituality" is the fear of uncertainty. From my experience, "spiritual" guidance attained through fear is just more fear.

It's quite possible I will carry that Mormon baggage with me for the rest of my life. It's not a conscious decision to retain it; it's just the way the mind works. My experiences in that world shaped my thinking in ways that I may never recognize or understand. There is no sense trying to predict what they are and if they might result in something detrimental. Some of those experiences also gave me some perspectives that I'm thankful I have. There is no use discarding all of it just because it was rooted in a fraudulent belief system. When I'm faced with situations that affront my personal experiences, I can assess their value then. In the mean time I'm quite satisfied with the uncertainty of not knowing.

Years ago when people told me of their experience of heightened spiritually upon leaving the Mormon faith, I thought they were lying, trying to deceive. FEAR! But, when I let go of that fear, I discovered a HUGE world outside the Mormon church that is vastly more spiritually inclusive and satisfying than I could have ever imagined. I can now empathize with them. I understand what they mean. I've experienced it firsthand. Now my empathy has extended outward more so than ever before on a grand scale. I now have a grasp of just how connected we are as a human race. There is no "us vs. them". That's a lie. We are all in this together, trying to figure this life out. Some think they have the answers but don't. Others have the answers and may not know it. Many may not even be looking for answers where as others spend their life in pursuit of them. In all, we are just running around, hitting and shoving and bumping in to each other like children on a playground, trying to cope with our own uncertainty of who and what we are.

As for my current Apostasy, I no longer believe that I or anyone was ever gifted with a companionship of any such external "spirit" from any "laying on of hands" by ecclesiastical authorities. I believe that such spiritual guidance already exists within us, part of our subconscious. I don't know what it is or if it matters that I know what it is. I do know that it's ours. Call it intuition, instinct, gut feeling, a hunch; no one can gift it and no one can take it away. It's for us alone to follow, interpret and understand in our moments of uncertainty. It's our personal identity and it cannot be given a name. It's our truth and it just is.

7 comments :

  1. Great Post! I still need to write my letter...

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  2. i never read long posts. ever. but i read this whole one. excellent! i even thought about sharing it on facebook ;)

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  3. Thanks, Tommy.

    Sorry about the lengths. I tend to write essays rather than just brief thoughts.

    Anyway, feel free to share.

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  4. This is excellent! I've gone through very similar thought processes, discarding the us vs. them mentality, learning true empathy, realizing that spiritual guidance is internal and MINE! I loved when you said that once you felt true empathy for someone, the last thing you wanted to do was teach them about Mormonism! I felt the same way.

    Very well done! I love this post!

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  5. Thanks Leah. Of all the the crazy ranting and raving I've done on this blog over the last 18 months, this post has been one of the few that have stuck with me on a personal level more than any of the others.

    Another defining post for me was "I am a Queer Spirit" http://thegaydot.blogspot.com/2009/10/i-am-queer-spirit.html

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  6. That is quite possibly one of the most profound posts i've ever read. Yet the truth is so simple. It really is just inside us all. It's so ironic that those who profess to have the "spirit" with them always are the ones who have the least of it.

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