Song of the Week: For Sale
Song of the Week: Out Is Through

Peace Is Overrated

A few months ago, a friend and fellow member of my ward discovered that I have been using the pseudonym Equality, posting on the New Order Mormon discussion board, and writing this blog that is often critical of the LDS Church.  In leaving an anonymous comment to one of my posts, this friend said he hoped I would find peace on my journey. I have thought a lot about that since then. And then this week, I attended a rehearsal for the ward primary program. One of the children said, “I can be prepared with the gospel of peace as I live my life. I will be free from upsetting thoughts brought by uncertainty.” And I thought about it again. As I reflect on the last year and a half or so since I began to re-examine my core religious beliefs, I can’t say that peace is a feeling I have often experienced. Of course, at some level, it was dissatisfaction with the status quo that led me to explore more deeply the fabric of my testimony and the foundations of my faith in the first place. I suppose if I had been perfectly content with my spiritual life as an active, “true-believing” Latter-day Saint, I never would have ventured forth into the Bloggernacle, to apologetic sites like FARMS and FAIR and, ultimately, to the NOM site and the rest of the DAMU.

Originally, my lack of peace came from a nagging feeling that truth was being obscured or suppressed. I had a feeling that my orthodox Mormon beliefs did not square completely with objective reality. At first, I dealt with the cognitive disconnect between faith and my understanding of science and history by seeking to shore up my beliefs. The church was true, it could bear scrutiny, I figured.  Surely, I would find good explanations for the things causing me discomfort—the whole truth must be out there and would vindicate my belief in the foundational truth claims of Mormonism. Once I obtained the answers I needed, I would have that certainty and once again be at peace. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

After much study, prayer, reflection, and discussion, my initial discomfort grew. I discovered that the church really was afraid of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The church was peddling unsubstantiated faith-promoting legends and subtle half-truths while ignoring, suppressing, or spinning those truths it found “not useful.” The only thing I was certain of was that the church was not what it claimed, not what I had long believed it to be. I have spent much of the past year coming to grips with that basic realization and its manifold implications.

I lost something that once was most precious to me: my testimony. I no longer have certainty about the existence, nature, and character of God, life after death, or the ultimate fate of the earth and its inhabitants. As the child in the primary presentation says, in Mormonism peace comes from certainty about the basic teachings of the LDS church. Gordon B. Hinckley has made a similar observation, saying that Mormonism’s strength is that “the basic doctrine remains the same and that becomes a solid unshifting foundation to which people can cling in this world of instability and drifting values.” On this particular point, I find myself in agreement with the Mormon Prophet. If one believes completely in the Mormon gospel, that certainty can (but not always) bring peace.

A fair amount of grieving has accompanied my discovery. But it has been a grieving akin to regret over lost innocence. When I look back on my halcyon days of childhood, nostalgia sometimes washes over me. But though I had a great childhood, I would not want to turn back the clock and relive it; I would not want to see the world now the way I saw the world then. I would not trade my current understanding for that of the 10-year-old me.  Though my childhood was innocent and peaceful, I would not go back. Why not? Because I value more than the peace of childhood innocence the knowledge and experience I now enjoy. And so it is with my relationship to Mormonism. I was truly happy for a number of years as a true-believing Mormon. The gospel and the church were great blessings in my life. But just as I would not want to remain perpetually 10 years old, Mormonism’s power to provide peace to my soul was likewise limited. Once I realized that the anchor was rusty and not firmly planted, once I realized that what I thought was so certain was really quite dubious, the peace that depended on that certainty vanished.

I don’t now view peace as an end in itself. I believe true and lasting peace for me will come not from choosing to believe absolutely in that which I find incredible. Rather, peace will come in time as I embrace values and principles that have an objective basis in reality. I value truth and understanding things as they really are more than I value whatever peace may come from believing that which is fabulous. Richard Dawkins said something similar in an interview regarding his new book The God Delusion. His interviewer asked Dawkins what was wrong with religious people operating under delusions as long as they were happy: what’s wrong with happiness? Dawkins answered that the truth is more important than happiness; that even if living a lie makes one more happy and facing the truth makes one less happy, that he would rather face the truth. He said that if the only purpose of religion is to make people feel good, we might as well all take drugs and live in a fantasy state all the time. While he is speaking a bit hyperbolically, I agree with his general premise that truth should be valued over false belief even where the truth may be “hard on the hearer” and where false belief may bring peace and comfort. If I go to the doctor and he discovers I have a terminal disease and I have a week to live, the news would certainly be peace-shattering. But I’d still want to know. I wouldn’t want to die in ignorance.

For a time, peace and truth are mutually incompatible. When one has achieved personal peace through believing a lie, rejecting the lie necessarily jettisons the peace that came with it. That’s what happens to people when they go through the process of questioning the church and discovering that their doubts are justified. The lie that brought them peace disappears, and takes that peace with it. What’s left is a void, and a mix of emotions fills it: confusion, vertigo, anger, fear, but also exhilaration, delight, wonder, joy. But not peace. I think peace will come eventually and if it does, I’ll welcome it. But for now I will walk in the space between the peace that comes from certainty in a false belief and the peace that I hope ultimately results from reorienting myself to a life in which I embrace truth wherever it is found and however harsh the reality it illuminates may be to accept. Peace is overrated. Give me truth and knowledge and I’ll figure out how to deal with it.

Comments

DV

Oh look! I'm not queued here! How nice. Those mean ol' folks over on BCC queued me after a measly 3 or 4 comments, and my comments were respectable too. Nothing like being a modern day William Law, and having my printing press shut down. Hell. (Sorry for getting side-tracked.) So, thanks for the vine Equality! It's so wonderful to be given the freedom to express my thoughts in the marketplace of ideas, without being censored.

This is a very good summary about graduating from mystical beliefs to true adulthood, and accepting truth at face value. Like Jack Nicholson said in the movie A FEW GOOD MEN "You can't HANDLE the truth!" I believe that most members of the church really can't handle the truth. The system of dependency on their myths and dogma is SO engrained in mainstream mormonism, that it has become their reality. This "reality" would become a shambles if they were to analyze their faith objectively, so they won't do it.

It's similar to the psychology of pathological liars. They actually believe their own lies to be true. The institutional church suffers from this same dilemma, reinforced by decades and generations of leaders. Its enlightening to open one's mind to everything. Yet, sadly, most mormons cannot do it. They refuse to open their minds on a daily basis, without even the ability to perceive this character flaw.

Peace is elusive, I agree, when one is open to all information and has been raised with an extremely limited worldview. But I think it will come slowly.

Yockel

Denial is not a survival strategy, is it?

Watt Mahoun

Perhaps peace is even a delusion...oh, happy delusion where one can go to die an untimely death. Peace is for zombies...while the rest of us choose to dance.

Thanks for this post, Equality. Beautiful.

Randy

I think that a certain degree of peace comes about once the tension between LDS doctrine and personal beliefs is resolved. That's how it was for me, anyway.

Yockel

That's a great point, Randy. I was so relieved when I finally figured out what was going in Mormonism. Finally, the world made sense again.

Watt Mahoun

Randy and Yockel,

I'm just guessing that you don't have TBM spouses and children...

Though I agree that there is a certtain peace of mind when the realization comes..but for me in was the calm before the storm.

The Sinister Porpoise

You will eventually find peace on your journey, but that should not be the goal.

Equality

Thanks, SP. Yes, I agree. After all, what do they put on tombstones? "Rest In Peace." Eventually, we all achieve peace--through death. Life for me isn't about peace--it's about discovery, learning, growing, understanding, loving, experiencing, communing, relating, endeavoring, striving, yearning, being. Sometimes these things bring peace, other times they don't.

Matt aka Notamormon

President Hinckley said: “the basic doctrine remains the same and that becomes a solid unshifting foundation to which people can cling in this world of instability and drifting values."

If only that were so! If it were so, Mr Hinckley might not have to say: "I don't know that we teach that" when someone asks him a 'basic Mormon doctrine.'

Equality

Yeah, Matt, I thought of that, too, when I read that quote. I have seen President Hinckley say at other times that people are searching for "values" that do not shift rather than "doctrine." I think that's really the package that Hinckley is trying to peddle: that the world is going to hell in handbasket but that Mormonism stands firm in favor of "traditional" marriage, gender roles, and so forth. On that, there is evidence to support his position, though it is deabatable whether it's a good or bad thing. On doctrine, of course you are correct--it's impossible to pin down. Just today, at Times & Seasons and BCC there are discussions (again) over just what constitutes Mormon "doctrine." It seems even the most educated members of the church really have no idea!

Jordan F.

Perhaps when people wish others "peace" in their journey, they are really saying they hope they find eventual happiness, satisfaction, nirvana, etc., and not "peace" as you seem to be parsing the term.

Equality

Perhaps. That's a nice thought. And I hope the friend who left the comment knows that I appreciate his kind words and salutations. I certainly don't mean to imply that I took any offense at someone expressing the hope that I find "peace in my journey." Far from it. It's just something that was a catlayst to get me thinking about the issue more deeply. For that I am thankful, as it has been a frutiful exercise. Thanks for commenting, Jordan F.

mayan elephant

O.M.G.

this reminds me of that true story in the true new testament where the true devil has a true conversation with the true jesus.

Equality

mayan,

I think U2 wrote a song about that. It's called Until the End of the World. A conversation between Jesus and the Devil. It's on Achtung Baby.

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