I have so many thoughts right now. I am hoping that by attempting to write about them it will help to order my mind somewhat. Right now I am really struggling with the fact that belief in God is so polarizing. I am very sad that civil discourse between those that believe with those that don't is so difficult to find, let alone engage in. My wife and I have resorted to simply not talking about so many things because of the resulting "debates" and "arguments" that seemed to invariably occur anytime one of us brings up something religious. I know I win the debate each time, but it seems like I usually fail to convince anyone of anything (that and my wife doesn't like to debate, apparently). This makes me really sad. I have a very hard time being sympathetic to her views and she doesn't want to go where my searching has lead me, so we are at an impasse.
For this reason, sometimes I just hate the church and what it has done. While I want to blame the church for my present difficulties, I also hate to admit that if I had not gone against the teachings of the church and read "forbidden" "anti" Mormon things, I may not be in the situation I am in. However, I cannot accept that line of thinking because what really started me down this path was not because I was going quickly to forbidden "anti" literature. What started me on this path was studying and pondering the content of the the Book of Abraham! I was literally trying to understand my beliefs better and feel like I got the short end of the stick because of it. I now see that Joseph Smith left a lot of clues to be able to discover the extent of his deception. The problem is, the only way to find them is to begin to look critically at church history and doctrine. Many cannot even get to that point. Where there is no ability to be critical of a doctrine, or set of beliefs, there is no possibility of ever being able to deny it's truthfulness. The problem is the church teaches that truthfulness is most important while ignoring the fact that it is not being truthful with its members in presenting its history.
The other thing I have been thinking about (as a result of listening to a motivational seminar by Brian Tracy on a recent road trip) lately is the power of our self talk. We all have internal dialogue that takes place all the time. The power contained in our self dialogue is pretty immense and can affect our lives dramatically over time. While I want to look more into this to learn more about it, I understand that what we hear and say contributes to the responses we receive from our subconscious and the quality of the self talk that takes place all the time within us. This self talk usually consists of our conscious mind asking questions and our subconscious mind providing answers based on what we are asking. Therefore, the quality (and content) of our questions (or self talk) are what contributes to the response of our subconscious. The focus of our subconscious mind ultimately becomes our reality. Of course, Brian Tracy says this inner dialogue can be manipulated by saying positive things about ourselves to ourselves over and over. The more emotion we attach to these messages, the more powerful and convincing they become to affect change in our lives. The ability to change our inner dialogue is a difficult process and can take some time to actually accomplish, but doing so can really create change in our lives.
I believe this to some extent, but I hate to think that my beliefs changed because I asked different questions and focused on different things! I know people who know the same things that I choose to label as deal breakers in my belief in the church, yet they still believe in spite of the knowledge they have of the problems. They just choose not to label them as deal breakers, I guess. Then again, the ability to see these issues as problems can really be affected by our self talk when responding to the issues in our mind. I believe the ability to isolate and minimize the issues to prevent acknowledging the big picture is a direct result of internal dialogue that is constantly minimizing the issues or their larger implications. I also think some people use the implications of religion not being accurate as a quick reason to simply avoid going anywhere near there automatically. People say, "I don't like where this is going, so I am just not going to allow myself to go there."
I know that my self talk did change gradually as I made conscious decisions in regard to various aspects of my set of religious beliefs, but it took time because each part had to be analyzed and addressed on a case by case basis. However, sometimes I wonder (if this idea of being able to affect our self talk with what we say and hear is really true) what would happen if I went back to church for my family so I could make them happy when they go to church. I worry that maybe my self talk would change, because of what I heard, so that I wasn't so opposed to what the church asks and I would eventually get to a point where I could ignore all my issues. Would I eventually get to a point where I could participate in church without any reservations? I honestly think my self talk would drive me crazy pointing out all the inconsistencies, deception and troubling aspects and this would lead to anger and frustration that I end up taking out on my family. Right now, not going to church seems to keep the peace, so that is where I am at.
I know a couple of people pretty well who participate fully in church (out of consideration for their family) that say they don't believe. One has a temple recommend but tells me (in private conversation) its all a bunch of crap, but pays minimal tithing and just figures that since people want to believe, he is not detracting from that and allowing them to do so. Keeping peace in the family is the primary reason this person says is why they keep going to church. I worry that this response for me would lead to too much cognitive distress and anger. It is certainly less peaceful for my family when I go to church because I have been so angry afterwards, it makes for not very happy times at home on Sunday afternoons/evenings. I wonder if this response of mine could ever change. Is it just a matter of my focus right now? Since I am focused on the problems, have I made them out to be bigger or more serious than they actually are?
The other person close to me does not believe and does not have a temple recommend or pay tithing, but goes to church and tries to point out difficult issues whenever they come up in lessons. I have heard from others, in the ward they attend, that people think that this person's attendance at church tends to distract from lessons because they insist on pointing out the problems whenever they come up. I have a hard time with this because I think if I am going to church, it means that I am sort of giving up my right to dissent. Church is a place for believers to go to be strengthened in their belief. I don't think it is a place for non believers to go and try to tell the believers why they are messed up in their beliefs.
This idea of trying to correct the church from within, I think, is like swimming upstream. It is always going to be difficult and the reality is the group is not going see the opposite view of things because the church has many systems setup to keep people focused on ignoring or always putting the problems out of their mind. I think that no matter how many things you show believers to cast doubt on their beliefs, they will always find a way to gloss over or minimize or completely ignore the issues being brought up. I guess this is simply a matter of their focus. I just wonder if it is so simple a thing that if you just focus on one thing that you want to be true, that people can successfully ignore real challenges to their beliefs if they do that. I guess it is happening all over the world, so I have to assume it is that simple. So, why do I not feel like if I just changed my focus that I could go back to believing in the church and be able to participate without being angry? Is this just what I want? I want to be respected enough to have my assertions challenged and to be shown why I am wrong. I don't want people to blindly follow what I say. I want to build from a foundation of integrity and let integrity guide me when setting up a belief system for myself.
I think I also take for granted that I have faced the fear that goes along with questioning beliefs about God and the hereafter. These are extremely difficult things to challenge because there is so much fear (which I think is built up quite a bit by religion, however) surrounding an acknowledgement that beliefs in God may not be true. I also wonder if many people are simply not capable of facing this fear, of things not being the way they want, and therefore they are truly not capable of ever focusing on other possibilities. Facing fear, I think, is extremely difficult, but I think it is worth the effort. I can say that I feel so much better for having begun to address my fear of the non-existance of God and an afterlife. It has made my life all the more rich and meaningful. I appreciate my life so much more. I am more inspired by nature than I ever was before. I am also a little more cynical on some things, too, but I think this is OK. I am a realist. I live in the present and I focus on reality and I think I come away more inspired and more motivated to learn and take advantage of my time here on this planet than I ever was while believing that I had an eternal afterlife to be able to catch up in my understanding of things.
However, I know lots of people, who have not faced the fear, will find that statement extremely difficult to believe. How can I show them those things are true if they never want to go there? I guess by being an example of integrity and moving forward with a focus on the here and now instead of the hereafter. I think I struggle with wanting to help others understand what I think I know. I really want others to see what I see. The hardest thing for me to accept is that there are those (probably many, actually) that will never get to where I am at. I guess I just need to keep telling myself that and maybe one day I will accept it?