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.