Friday, April 28, 2006

Guest Post by Enochville

I'd like everyone to offer a kind welcome to Enochville, who has graciously allowed me to post his story here. I think this makes an interesting companion piece to Ann's guest post earlier in the week.

Without further ado, here is Enochville's post:

Leaving the Church was a lot to give up, but I am pretty much at peace with that now. The only thing that is making things hard now is the way my wife's family and my family are dealing with it. The greatest consolation is that my wife is leaning towards the same conclusions about the Church that I have come to. It is just taking her a little longer to give up the desperate hope that her old beliefs might still be true. It is one of those things that one has to study out for one's self, and I had about a six month head start on her. She knows where her research will lead her; it is just a matter of emotionally preparing to accept it.

What caused me to come to the conclusion that the Church never was true had nothing to do with my inability to become ok with something Joseph did. I had the capacity to become ok with Joseph using his magic peep stone in the translation of the Book of Mormon, his hiding his plural marriages from Emma, and a host of other things. It was not an inability to match the scriptural record with any hard archaeological evidence. I found ways to perform mental gymnastics around no DNA evidence for a common ancestor for all humans that lived 6,000 years ago, or no DNA evidence that any native inhabitant of North or South America descended from the Hebrews, no evidence of pre-Columbian horses, elephants, or barley, etc. I could look past or around a ton of things and found the uncertainty or ambiguity in the arguments against the church so that I still had enough room for faith, however unlikely my explanations had to be.

But, I eventually came across evidence so strong, so indisputable, that it left no room for doubt/faith. I read all the pro-LDS explanations from Hugh Nibley to John Gee and none of them worked because they each ignored parts of the evidence that made their theories untenable. I emailed informed apologists to try to discuss these things, but the case is too strong. I combed it through, checking and rechecking, examining every assumption that might be flawed, trying to get my hands on every source material that I could. Eventually, I had to come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was not a prophet, seer, or revelator.

I went back and re-examined all the evidence I thought I had that the Church was true. I found that I could no longer rely on the what I used to call the Spirit as a reliable source of truth, and all the supporting evidence of multiple witnesses of heavenly manifestations, the reintroduction of "lost truths" held in the primitive church, the "miracles of the Priesthood", the archaeological findings that supposedly support the Book of Mormon or other scripture had easy non-supernatural explanations.

Once I knew that I could no longer believe I talked with my wife about it and when she knew that she could never believe again either we discussed what we should do now. We considered faking it, acting like we believed and going on like nothing happened. But, I could not do that. I had to act with integrity. I could not knowingly mislead my friends and children. We considered just being released from our callings and being the "foyer members". But, that is too uncomfortable, because everyone suspects that you have sinned and keep trying to encourage you into greater activity. So, I decided that I would talk to the Bishop, turn in my recommend, and leave the church altogether.

The Saturday following conference, we talked with my mother-in-law about it. She wanted me to fast and pray, so I did, but by that point I had no faith in the Spirit. She did not understand that I had already been through all that and that I can still feel "the Spirit" just fine, but recognize the "burning in my bosom" as the psychological emotion of elevation, which is no more a reliable source of truth than any other emotion, such as confidence in your answer to a quiz question that you later find out is incorrect, or the sensation of your dreams being real.

I miss the sense of community in the church, the moral values that are reinforced in the Primary and Youth programs, the emphasis on service, and the feeling of elevation. And though I do not believe in God anymore (which would require a separate explanation), I am learning how to create the feelings of elevation and reverence and awe without a belief in the supernatural. I spend my Sundays now creating family home evening lessons for my future children that reflect my new beliefs and my new foundation for morals. I am in a sense creating an Atheist church, of which there are a few already in existence, but I am dissatisfied with them and they are far from here.

I purposely have not shared with you my evidence. I respect the right of Mormons to believe as they wish. Leaving the church ruins a lot, and most would rather stay content with what they have, and I can't say that I could blame them. I began this quest so that I could be a great apologist and help struggling members resolve their concerns. I had been good at that on my mission and when I taught in the MTC. I thought the church could stand up to any criticism, or at least that the anti's could never disprove the church was true so I would inspire faith in that opening. The church does not have a banned book list like the Catholics so I felt free to read anything so that I could point out the flaws in their arguments. I never dreamed in a million years that it would be the anti's who were right all along.

Anyway, I am doing fine and will be better when my family finally accepts that I am no longer a part of the Church. I am so glad I have my wife. Strangely, she means even more to me now than ever before.

-- enochville

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Guest post: Believing again

Many thanks to Ned for allowing me to post this entry on his blog. I don't have a Mormon blog, and Ned's is really good fit for my status with church stuff.

Church stuff hadn’t been going well since we returned from Katrina Exile. I had been having suicidal thoughts during Sunday meetings. I had a singularly awful experience during a terrible Relief Society lesson about the Proclamation on the Family. A minor kerfuffle in the Disaffected Mormon Underground caused me much more anguish than it warranted. Because both ends of my Mormon experience were equally miserable, I decided that the best solution was to abstain from all things Mormon.

I went on sabbatical from Mormon Stuff. I stopped posting on the DAMU discussion boards, scaled back my reading on the Bloggernacle, and left church immediately after the sacrament was passed. I did not take the sacrament. I went to church only to deliver my little boy, because my husband has morning meetings. I took a trip out of town that caused me to miss two Sundays entirely. I got a more realistic sense of my “place,” and it wasn’t nearly as central as I had imagined. It was a useful and pleasant experiment.

Palm Sunday was my first week “back” at church. I had not planned to stay, but when the bishop announced that a local ward had been dissolved, because the whole parish had been destroyed, it hit me hard. I cried for a few minutes and decided to stay. My husband was there. I wanted to be with my husband.

During the sacrament, while on sabbatical, I have allowed my mind and thoughts to wander where they will. On Palm Sunday, I do not know what I had been thinking, but while the sacrament was being passed, something happened. In my believing days, I would have experienced the “something” as the presence of the Holy Ghost. It was not my typical sitting-in-sacrament-meeting feeling. I felt connected.

I have experienced this feeling of connectedness before. It hasn’t come often. The last time it happened, I decided very consciously not to try and hold on to it, or analyze it. I did the same thing this time: I just experienced it. I noticed my thoughts and ideas without examination. I followed the thoughts where they led.

The thoughts and ideas that crossed my mind this time were unexpected. I watched the young men pass the sacrament. I observed the trays moving down the rows, the Saints taking the sacrament, and remembered what it means to them. Unlike other times I’ve observed this, I did not feel alienated or “other.” I felt like I was one of them.

I thought, “I used to be a part of this. I used to believe this.” And then the thought came to me: “You can believe again, if you want to.”

I didn’t turn away from the thought, or embrace it. I tried it. “Joseph Smith is a prophet.” Yes, that was fine. “The Book of Mormon is a Scripture.” That worked, too.

I didn’t pursue the matter any further. I just continued to notice the experience, to “be,” and waited for the feeling to slip away.

The rest of the meeting was pretty uneventful, (lame, even) except for the final speaker, who said some inspiring things.

I wanted to talk to my husband about this after the meeting, but he got waylaid by a quorum buddy. So, I left, just like I always do after sacrament meeting.

I did not relate this experience to anyone. I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to talk about something, but didn’t follow up.

The following Sunday was Easter. I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary. I did have the nagging memory of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s comment in her essay Lusterware, about how the Bible speaks of bits of leaven. I enjoyed the congregational singing very much. Leaven.

I have written that losing my faith was like losing my arm. I’m starting to think this isn’t a good analogy. Apparently, some part of my brain or the Collective Unconscious or God thinks it’s possible for me to grow a new one.

I don’t know if I want to believe. I am a cynic now. It’s like being fat: I don’t like being fat, but it’s hard work to lose weight. So much is expected of believers. Do I want to work that hard? Will I suddenly desire to pay tithing; attend the temple; serve in callings; pay attention to the GAs? I don’t see any of that happening, so what difference will believing make?

On Easter, I talked to my husband about the Palm Sunday experience. I told him that I don’t know how I should proceed. Rather than admonishing me to desire to believe and to pursue faith, he has suggested I just see what happens.

I don’t have any expectations. But I’m interested to see what comes next.

Announcing Guest Blogger: Ann

I am "pickled tink" to announce that Ann, prolific bloggernacle commenter and all around class act, will be guest blogging here at VivaNedFlanders. I've had a sneak preview of her post, and I think most people will be quite surprised by what she has to say.

Thanks, Ann! I am looking forward to the discussion that is sure to follow from your unexpected post.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A dreaded sunny day, so I meet you at the cemetry gates

It was a superb Sunday. Cool, gently breezy. Above all, comfortable. It's not Easter for Maude, since she's Eastern Orthodox, and I guess it really wasn't Easter for me either. I doubt that the events we celebrate this week actually occurred 2000 years ago, but it didn't matter to me. It's enough that I'm alive, comfortable, and spending time with my wife (she's been working some crazy hours lately).

We decided to take a walk to a nearby graveyard. Like most New England cemeteries, it's pretty old and a little neglected. I pass it every day on my way to work and I always want to visit it, but I've never gotten around to it.

I thought that Maude would only want to walk around the edges of the cemetery, but she wanted to check out all the really old headstones, which was a lot of fun. The oldest headstones (I presume they were the oldest) were illegible, unfortunately. The marble has melted away like soggy marshmallow. There were quite a few broken and cracked headstones, too. Most of the readable grave markers dated from the mid- to late-1800s. Let that be a lesson to all you would-be Ozymandiases: You've got a little less than 200 years to be remembered.

The saddest stones, of course, were all the ones for children. They often listed the age of the child in months and years and they seemed to almost outnumber the markers for adults. It was sad to see all the illegible and broken headstones as well. I hope someone has taken pictures or copied the information before they became lost to us. On the other hand, what's the difference? Once the stone is effaced, is there anything really to hold on to? Is a scrap of paper in the local historical society really going to be anymore permanent than the marble that failed their memory?

There was an article on today's New York Times about celebrities giving their kids weird names like "Pilot Inspektor," but we discovered that women's names from the past, if anything, are even weirder. Among the names we spied on grave stones were: Electa (not Electra), Octa, Sophronia, Dianthe, Glarinda, Achsah, Azubah (there were two different Azubahs), and our personal favorite, Hepzibah. I know biblical names are coming back in fashion, but I doubt anyone is dusting off Achsah or Hepzibah. (Yes, we did have to Google them to see if the were from the Bible.)

Even more oddly, there were new graves scattered in among all these graves from the 1800s. I like this because it keeps all the old graves from being consigned to a neglected part of the cemetery, and it means that they won't be able to dig up the graveyard and turn the tract of land into a Circuit City for a long while still. As long as there are still living relatives, the graveyard still seems alive. There is nothing sadder than a dead cemetery.

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people, all those lives
Where are they now?
With loves, and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived
And then they died
It seems so unfair
I want to cry

All in all, a good day. I almost forgot that I have to go back to work tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

recent fetishes/obsessions

here's what i'm into lately.
  1. explosions in the sky...they did most of the soundtrack for friday night lights, which was a surpisingly good movie. man, i love billy bob.

  2. my harmony remote control (believe me, they're wicked awesome)

  3. netflix (i know i'm late to the party)

  4. lost (an ongoing obsession of mine--the theory thrown around over on kulturblog that locke's dad is the original sawyer blew my mind!)

  5. splinter cell

  6. the housing bubble blog

  7. urban dictionary

i'm starting to overdo some of the above, so i'm looking for suggestions on new things to obsess myself with. any ideas?

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Dinner Party

I survived the dreaded Dinner Party, and thought I'd report back on how it went. It probably would have gone a lot better if I'd had annegb telling me what to say through an earpiece.

I try to be friendly in social situations, but it doesn't mask the fact that I am very socially awkward around people I don't know. Once you get to know me, you'll find out that I never shut up, but when I am meeting people I am very reserved and shy.

There were only about 14 people total at the party, which was held at the house of a very senior (and very important) partner. He was a dead ringer for Arvin Sloane from Alias, so I'll call him Sloane. The first problem (during the meet and mingle part of the dinner) was that they didn't have any non-alcoholic beverages. Now, I don't believe in the Word of Wisdom, but I've never had any alcohol for a variety of complicated reasons. I wasn't going to have my first glass of wine at some stuffy dinner party. So I was the only schmo standing around without a glass. It took great amounts of self-control to keep from fiddling with the cuffs of my suit coat. It helped that everyone at the party was very nice, but it's hard socializing with people my parents' age. We just don't have that much in common.

When the mingling part was finally over, we were invited to find our names on the dinner table and sit down. I found mine, but Maude kept walking until she was on the opposite side of the room. They had split everyone up, and inexplicably sat me next to Arvin Sloane, and Maude next to his wife on the far side of the room. He spent most of his time talking to the associate seated on the other side of him (I'll call her Sidney), and I didn't say much.

After a while, the conversation between Sloane and Sidney turned to books, which is one of the few topics I know a lot about, but they mostly talked about books I haven't read, like The Da Vinci Code. I mean, I know it took three years to come out in paperback for a reason, but I didn't realize that Maude and I are the last two people on Earth who haven't read it. Sloane said he wasn't a big reader, but that he did enjoy the Harry Potter books. The woman on the other side of me asked him if they would be appropriate for her six-year-old. He said they probably weren't inappropriate but they got darker. I brilliantly commented that they were good for kids because they started out slowly, and gradually became longer and more complex.

Ned: "I mean, the first one is only 150 pages and the last one is about 800 pages long."
Sloane: "No, it's not 150 pages. It's not that short."
Ned: "Uh..."

What can I say? He was right. I was exaggerating. A socially-skilled person would said something, anything, to move the conversation along. Me? I shoveled some more steak into my mouth and waited for the conversation to move on. (Full disclosure: I've only read the first 3 and a half Harry Potter books. Maude's a big fan. The first two: meh. The third one wasn't bad.)

I didn't really mind going to the dinner, I just hated letting Maude down. I mean, these events are mostly just for networking and getting to know people at the firm. Maude is a great lawyer (especially for a first-year) but I'm not exactly helping getting her name out there with my awkwardness. I mean, what is Sloane going to remember from the dinner? Probably nothing, but he may remember that he had a nice conversation with the associate sitting on the other side of him. The whole evening would have been perfectly fine if Maude and I had been able to switch seats.

In retrospect, it probably would have been better if I'd told the knock-knock jokes.


Finally, on an unrelated note, I'd like to thank my guest-blogger M for his coding prowess and getting my picture back on the front page of the blog. M, you are appreciated. As well as a very cool song by the Cure.