Sometimes I feel very sad. I feel sad because it is so difficult for my family members to relate to how I feel about the church now. I don't feel listened to any more. I don't feel like the people that I care about the most are really interested in what I think about things any more. I feel like my loved ones want to just put me in a box and ship me off somewhere until I see things the way I used to. It saddens me that I feel this way. It makes me even more sad to think that, if people that I care about read what I am saying here, I think they might revel in my sadness and see it as punishment for me not believing as they do any more. I don't understand why people who claim to be followers of a man, whose primary teaching was to love everyone - especially the outcasts and dregs of society, choose to be so cruel in their application of those teachings. Of course, what I don't know is if they are even able to see the sadness they have conjured in me. If they don't even see it, shouldn't I be able to forgive them for it?
I have really tried to help my family understand why I feel the way I do. However, when I try to make the attempts, I feel like barriers go up and a defensive posture is assumed. Why can't people try to understand me without assuming I am going to personally attack them? I have been told that I just need to get over feeling this way, and I have often asked myself why it is so difficult for me to do so. Could it be that the sadness and the defensive posturing is all originating from me? That people truly don't care what I think enough to burden themselves with putting me out to pasture? I suppose this is possible. I suppose I make some of these things out to be more serious and pronounced than they actually are. So then I have to ask myself, why this is? Why is it that I am so dead serious about wanting to explain my current stance on the existence of God or what I feel are deceptions put forth by the church? I guess part of it is because I want to be listened to. I want to be heard and understood. I want to feel the way I used to feel when I was the spiritual leader in my home and everyone hung on my every word as I pronounced the veracity of things that I now sincerely doubt were ever there in the first place. However, maybe there is something more.
I think the reason these things are, and have been, so vitally important for me to understand and relate to others is because I have been taught that they ARE JUST SO VITALLY IMPORTANT! After all, if there IS life after death and, if our station in that life after death is PRIMARILY determined by what we believe, and do, during this life here on earth, then this life is pretty important indeed! That idea is what motivated me for so long. I figured that if my ETERNAL existence was going to be SO heavily weighted by what I do here and now, then, by golly, I had BETTER do my BEST! If I didn't do my best, my soul would be tormented for ETERNITY by all of my shortcomings. All the home teaching I didn't do, all the missed opportunities to attend the temple, all the priesthood sessions of general conference that I missed would all haunt me ETERNALLY! I would be so filled with regret...which would be further enhanced by the knowledge of what I could have had, if I had been more valiant, that my misery will know no end. Who wants to be miserable forever? I certainly did not.
So, now I am at a place where I have given up on that thinking. I think I needed to give this thinking up for my sanity. To relieve myself of all the guilt I could easily pile up on myself for not doing EVERYTHING I was taught that was essential for obtaining everlasting life with God the Father in His celestial glory. However, even though I think I have given up on that thinking, I still have to wonder if I actually have? The question of the existence of God and whether or not God has ONE true church, that He fully endorses in place upon the earth today, is still a very important question to me. Is it possible that I have maintained my absolute thinking about the importance of this question and just moved my position from one of belief to one of non-belief? To be honest, now the question of the existence of God (and the origination of life and all of the attendant questions that seem to follow from it) is not important to me any more, but the need to be understood and be correct about it IS still immensely important to me!
If I had to guess, I would say that this is likely the reason that I would classify myself as more atheist than agnostic, or that I don't identify with the sentiment of being spiritual but not religious, now. I am not concerned with spirituality because I cannot sufficiently identify with it in terms that can be easily understood by everyone. We all have had differing experiences with spirituality and, when we attempt to describe those experiences to others, to me, they come across sounding more like bragging than anything that can be mutually beneficial. I cannot escape this thought now. Whenever someone says to me that they had a spiritual or moving experience it grates on my nerves because I cannot help but think what the consequences of that experience being real (in the context of my religious upbringing) must be. I am not irritated because they had the experience, I am irritated because of the fact that this person is essentially reminding me of everything that I am not any more. If, in fact, their spiritual experience is valid, and is actually from God, then that means that my previous thoughts about the ramifications of such things must also be valid to them and I am left to wonder how screwed up that person thinks I will be in the afterlife. After all, I am not active in church, and I don't do any of the stuff the church teaches is essential for eternal life (i.e. all that enduring to the end stuff). How can they not see me as some sort of heretic? At the very least as someone who will be relegated to a lower kingdom of glory where they may, at some point, decide to grace me with their presence every once in a while. Why? So they can remind me how much more glorious and better their eternal residence is than mine? How can people feel good about teachings that have built in mechanisms for looking down on others who do not conform?
How did I decide to devotedly follow such teachings for so long without paying any attention to what affect my beliefs might have on others that disagree with me? How could I have been so self centered? I feel really bad about that, but I wonder how it happened? I mean, when I was on my mission and talking to people who adamantly disagreed with what I believed, not because they simply didn't know what I believed, but even if they knew what I believed and yet still chose to deny it was true, how did I deal with that? I think I just concluded in my mind that, even though they claimed that they had some idea about what I believed, they must not actually know what I did. My knowledge was always superior to theirs...unless, of course, they agreed with me...then their knowledge would likely exceed my own, that is, if they seemed to know what they were talking about and it was in line with the teachings of the church as I understood them. Don't get me wrong, I met a bunch of people that I would consider totally wacky, even in the church, that now I ask myself what could have possibly compelled me to feel good about the fact that we would be spending eternity together?
I think something that might help in answering my question is something I have learned about human behavior. We tend to agree with, sympathize with and look up to people that we either associate with or have things in common with. I know out in the mission field I could tell how relieved I felt to be in the company of members versus non-members of the church. With non-members I had to make sure my words and actions were at their most impressive to make a good impression and get them to agree with me and my beliefs and eventually join me at church. However, with members, I could relax, enjoy the food, the company and not be worried that my behavior might reflect poorly on the church. I felt secure with those that I had the church in common with. It is definitely true that we feel more at ease and comfortable around those that we share some bond with. In social settings where both members of the church and non-members are present, the members will tend to congregate together since they share a bond that seems to transcend the other purpose of the gathering. The church creates a bond in people that is immediate and larger in scope than anything else. Of course, this tendency has been used to great effect in Utah where pyramid schemes and multilevel marketing tends to dominate the landscape. But, what is it about the church that readily brings people together that other groups seem to lack? I'm sure a book could be written to answer that question (or I'm sure there already has been one written).
My point in saying all of this is that I feel that I have now lost this bond with my family. Even though I haven't resigned from the church, I am a disaffected, inactive member of the church, who can actually be somewhat hostile towards members of the church (well, not really to most ward members, but I think I come across that way to my family quite a bit) when talking about things that are church related. So why am I so hostile? Because I know the perceived benefits that can be enjoyed when one is "in" the group and I am no longer really able to be considered "in" the group. I am now an outsider. Again, maybe this is all just going on in my head and I just need to not worry so much about it. But that response just feels wrong to me. I know how I felt towards non-members as a believer and I can't help but think that others must feel the same way I did...even if it isn't a conscious or deliberate sentiment towards me, I know it is there. As much as everyone wants to deny it or pretend it is not real, it is real because I have experienced it first hand.
So how did I really see people who didn't believe as I did? I saw them as outsiders. I saw them as ignorant and missing out on what I got to enjoy. I had the truth and the truth was going to bring me eternal happiness that others could only dream of. How naive I was! When I rejected these notions of an afterlife of judgment, misery and glory, I began to see everyone as valuable. Everyone has, not only a contribution, but importance and worth, regardless of their conformity to the church. Not because they are divine in nature, but because they are human and have feelings just like me. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves, just like I do. They are all relevant and I now feel that they all should be listened to and trusted for their unique experience. When people say that they have been hurt by church policies, I will now choose to believe them. And instead of asking how they can better be marginalized to conform to the infallible policies of the church, I might actually decide to denounce those policies in favor of more tolerance and trust of people who may disagree with leaders of the church. And, right now, I don't see how it is possible for me to stay in the church and maintain this view.
So, maybe I have been taught to be an absolutist from my youth, and maybe I still am in the way I see the world, but this is who I am and how I think. If I am going to change from it, I need some help. But, I'm pretty sure that the way I thought about things as a believing member of the church, or trying to get me to go back to that way of thinking, is not going to get me the help that I need. I am looking for a better way. I hope I get there, for my sake and for the sake of my loved ones.