No longer an atheist
if it’s about God, it’s gonna have to be a long post. So here’s your TL;DR: I was a Mormon, then I was an atheist, and now I believe in god again, though the concept has evolved. Now here’s the long version:
Back in the bunsnip 1.0 days, mid-2000’s, I posted about my atheism. I was always really proud of that post. It felt very true and authentic to how I felt at that time. And it was how I felt. Realizing my atheism originally was a release for me that made me feel free and true to my self because I was embodying my own authenticity. This has been an important theme in my life, finding a sense of true self grounded in authenticity.
I had grown up in the Mormon tradition, which is very common when you come from Utah. However, it was a much more attenuated relationship with the church than most devout Mormon households. I would occasionally attend church as a child. I have a few vivid memories of crying as my mother wrestled me into a dress. (Tomboy Sra has always been Tomboy Sra.) But eventually we stopped going as a family, I believe because my brother started to express guilt feelings for things that were perfectly normal, and my parents decided that wasn’t a healthy influence for their kids’ emotional development.
I would sometimes go to church with one of my friends’ families, when someone asked me to go and when I felt like I could manage the dress code. I was really never very active though. Still, for some reason that I do not know, I decided that I wanted to be baptized into the church on my 9th birthday. Mormons traditionally baptize their young at 8, because that is when you are considered spiritually accountable for your actions (and therefore capable of sinning and needing forgiveness through baptism). This is in contrast to the Catholic tradition, where people are believed to have original sin and need to be absolved through baptism shortly after birth.
I didn’t really attend church much after my baptism, not until I turned 12 and advanced to the Young Women’s organization. Mormon church is made up of 3 blocks of study and worship every Sunday, which is why going to church could be difficult, it’s a pretty big time commitment. As a teenager, your 3 sessions of church are the Young Women’s assembly, individual classes within Young Women’s divided by age (Beehives 12-13, Mia-maids 14-15, and Laurels 16-17), and finally the ward general assembly called the Sacrament meeting. (Ward is the Mormon name for a group who attends a particular church house at a particular time on Sundays, usually divided by neighborhoods.)
Young Women’s was a very positive influence upon me as a teenager. I felt a sense of support and community on the whole from the women I knew in that org. I have very fond memories of going to girls camp, a camping excursion that the Young Women took every summer. Still, I was off and on in my attendance from about 12-15 because I struggled with cognitive dissonance.
When I was 15, in 9th grade, I signed up for the Mormon seminary class at school, which is very common to do at schools in Utah, and I felt like I wanted to try to reconcile the issues I had with my faith. I remember two main things about my year in ninth grade seminary.
I remember that I once asked my seminary teacher what happened to pets when they die, do they go to the kingdoms of heaven too? (Mormons believe in three kingdoms of heaven, the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial, in order of low to high.) My seminary teacher laughed at my question, as if it was a silly thing to think about. Everyone else wondered about how they could get to the celestial kingdom with all the members of their families whom they would be with forever. I worried about being able to be with my cats again after I died. Especially my sweet little companion and best friend, Marty cat. To have my question not taken seriously at that time made a big impression on me. I felt that my feelings didn’t matter and that my intellectual curiosity was not being taken seriously.
I also remember that I was challenged to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover over the course of the year. I put most of my reading off during the year, but toward the end of the school year I felt a sudden drive to want to accomplish this task. I made a calendar for myself and calculated how many chapters I would need to read nightly to catch up. It was a lot. I set forth on the challenge though, and I accomplished it. At times it was painful. There’s a lot of Isaiah that is quoted I the BOM, and that stuff is very challenging to read because it’s prophetic and metamorical stuff. At times it was exciting, reading accounts of civilizations and wars in the ancient americas. Reading about heroes and villains and finding inspiration in the words somehow. I grew a testimony of the church by reading that book. And for the first time I knew what it was to have faith.
I felt very connected to my true self then, because I felt I was being very intellectually honest and authentic with myself. I was not afraid of my truth. I started to grow back my doubts over the next few years, though. Things still didn’t quite fit right between the beliefs of the church and reconciling how that worked with the world I observed. There was still cognitive dissonance. There were things that fit and things that didn’t and I couldn’t handle that because of the way my brain works. I am a big picture thinker, I see things on a large scale and make connections and kind of need to see all the pieces in order to understand fully. It makes me very effective at strategic thinking and scientific thinking. It also makes me good at seeing what’s not fitting into the big picture, because that’s what I’m paying attention to. So in 10th grade my attendance at church began to decline once more.
In 11th grade, I fell into a deep depression when my best friend Marty cat got lost or ran away or killed, we’ll never know. He was the third cat I lost as a child, and the one I had owned the longest and felt most connected to emotionally. He was my buddy. I loved him so much. To me, it felt like my best friend who was a human had died. I was devastated. I didn’t know how to handle the loss and I was angry and empty, and didn’t feel like anyone could understand the depth of my pain because it was just a cat after all, but it was so much more than that to me and I was hurting very deeply. Finally I got to a place where I said to myself, you have to Talk to someone or kill yourself. I didn’t want to die, so instead I opened up about my pain to one of my best girlfriends who lived on my street. She just listened to me as I shared my pain and how hard I was struggling with the loss. She validated my feelings and didn’t try to make it better or make it go away, but she saw my pain and made me feel it was ok to feel that way, and I was able to therefore able to release the pain. That was the turning point for me, and I started to emerge from my depression.
I emerged with a newfound atheism. I don’t believe in god, I realized one day. I had been angry with god during my depression. But when I was finally able to release my anger, it was because of the realization that deep down inside I knew that the concept of God that had been portrayed to me did not fit with what I saw in the world and I couldn’t believe it, and therefore I had no one left to be angry at about the injustice of my suffering. This made me feel free of the intense physiological struggle I had been experiencing in trying to reconcile church beliefs with other parts of the big picture that I saw. When I embraced my disbelief, I felt like I was connecting to my true self in a way I never had before, and I was empowered feeling like I finally really knew myself.
In college I decided that I ought to resign my membership from the church if I really didn’t believe in it. But I wanted to move beyond lack of belief and be sure of my choice. This kind of action deserves thoughtful study and not just to be taken casually. And so I studied. When I get into researching a subject, I consume a great amount of information. It’s part of my big picture tendencies, I need to see the big picture quickly to get it. So I studied hard for months in as much spare time as I could give it, bordering on obsessive. I researched online using the technology of the time: message boards, chat rooms, and websites that were found via the serendipity of the surf. (Web 2.0 was not yet a thing, forget about social.) I found Exmormon.org and consumed hundreds of personal accounts of members who had left the church and their reasons why. I researched references that were shared.
I read about the mongoloid maternal dna of native people in the Americas, believed to be the descendants of the peoples in the Book of Mormon who had sailed in the great flood to America from the Middle East. But with those dna markers, they couldn’t have descended from the Middle East. I also read about the Book of Abraham that had been translated by Joseph Smith from Egyptian papyri which was still in existence, and how the papyri were later shown to be parts of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and were not true to JS’s translation. I learned a lot of other things that made me feel vindicated in my lack of belief. I also felt angry and sad because I realized the church had lied to its members. There are good people in the church who are honest in their belief, but as an institution the church distorts the truth in its teachings. I eventually found peace with the anger and hurt I felt, and wrote my resignation letter.
It’s now been a dozen years or so since my resignation from the Mormon church, and my feelings on god and the truth of existence has evolved in a way that is remarkably full circle. As today’s Inktober alludes, I am now a believer in God, though my concepts of God have a different nuance from my erstwhile Mormon concept. Yet there are truths in most spiritual traditions of the world and the Mormon church is no exception. We’ll go more into bullet point one to explore the concept of ancient aliens as progenitors of humanity at another time, it’s all fascinating stuff once you get past that one guy’s crazy hair and his not saying it’s aliens, but aliens memes. But if you study the creation and development stories of the world, you will find they share a number of striking similarities and make the most sense when cast through the lens of aliens. This is my concept of god in the sense of what physically and evolutionarily created humans.
Bullet point 2 is my spiritual concept of god that I’ve suggested in previous Inktober posts, and it’s the more important concept of God to focus on. God is you, me, and everything we see in the universe. Matter is energy, and consciousness is the force that moves it all. All is vibration. All is mind. Once you begin to realize that, you begin to see that the petty differences that we let divide us as a humanity are illogical. When we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. When we heal others, we heal ourselves. So let’s create the loving world we want by living it and practicing understanding and forgiveness of ourselves and others. All it takes is love. Wishing you all peace, love, and healing along your own path, and may we find it together.