a while back i asked ned if i could do a guest post and he said "yes." the only problem was that i had no idea what i was going to post about. i've been reading his blog pretty much since the beginning and really identified with a lot of what ned was going through, but life got busy and it took me a few months to actually get around to doing a post. anyway...
by way of introduction, i'm a thirty-something guy, mormon all my life, mission, married in the temple, relatively new dad and all of that. not quite two years ago i stopped believing in mormonism. i'll spare you most of the nitty-gritty details, but let's just say that i was never what one would consider an orthodox member (by this point in my life i had become pretty good at being a cafeteria mormon), but when push came to shove i still believed in it, and tried my best to live life as an active member. then one day i got a book that changed my life, a copy of krakauer's under the banner of heaven. i had read and really enjoyed some of his previous books (into the wild and into thin air), and wanted to know what all of the fuss regarding this book was about.
i found the book fascinating, but it also brought up a lot of issues with mormonism that i had either never heard about or had a slight awareness of but had never really looked into on my own. just the classic laundry list--seer stones and hats, papyri, polyandry, crazy quotes from ol' brigham from the journal of discourses, etc., etc., etc. upon finishing the book i still had my belief in mormonism intact, but was left with a nagging feeling that i had to learn more about the issues that were bothering me to 1) see if there was any validity to them, and 2) to figure out how to reconcile this new information with my belief in mormonism.
well, after one night of binging on whatever i could find on these topics on the internet i was no longer a believer. i actually remember the exact moment. i was reading some sermon by brigham young from the JOD and just had a "what the f***!" moment and that was it. i remember saying to myself "oh my gosh, it's really all just made up." from there on out it was over. i kept on going to church for a while, and did a ton of reading and some serious soul-searching over the next few months, but i wasn't able to make myself believe like i had before. i know that when i finally get around to telling my mom about all of this that she's going to cry and beg me to believe again. but she might as well ask me to believe that the intergalactice warlord xenu is the cause of all mental illness, because it would do about as much good. and so this brings us around to the my opening question, "is belief voluntary?"
after thinking long and hard about this my answer is "no," but i'd like to know what others think. it seems to me that my choices are voluntary, as in i can choose to read my scriptures or not, i can choose to go to church or do something else on sundays, and i can choose to live a mormon lifestyle. but belief to me is more of a reaction to our emotions, information and how we process it, our experiences, upbringing, and our own desires. i know plenty of people who have done everything on the mormon checklist (scriptures, pray, go to church, bear testimony, be nice) and then stop believing, and on the other hand have met many jack mormons who have not set foot inside a chapel for years and yet will defend the faith to their death.
i often hear people say that they choose to believe and i just don't buy it. i think that belief chooses them, and that in their current state they have no option but to believe. this makes it much easier for me to be tolerant of those with different beliefs, because i see them as currently having no choice. whatever it is they believe in has them in a bearhug, and unless something happens in their lives to change that they're going to continue in it. slumming around in the bloggernacle i used to wonder how so many people could know all about the issues that made me stop believing and still have such a strong testimony, but now i realize that they don't choose to believe any more than i choose to disbelieve. none of us have any agency in the matter.