Sunday, December 13, 2009

belief and dissonance

(2011; cross posted at The Exponent)

"...I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck..."
American Gods pg 394 (Here's her full monologue, because it's brilliant. )

Yes, I'm thinking about belief and dissonance again. It really hasn't been on my mind a whole lot lately (don't believe, haven't been attending, therefore no dissonance. I like it simple that way.) But questioning type stuff is so hardwired into my DNA that I read a few blog posts and it's all back to the front of my mind again. That, plus a conversation with a dear friend, in which she admitted she believes. As much as she wishes she didn't.

It started by following an @Mormonblogs tweet for Jeff Lindsay's post where he claims to have the answer for Mormon's who have hit up against cognitive dissonance. His answer; it's okay to re-evaluate/test religious beliefs just like we re-evaluate/test science. Except not "the One Being who is the source of all truth." You must not re-evaluate "Him". So there you go, don't leave The Church. Easy. [Bringing to mind this post, which asks (in a round-a-bout sort of way) why, exactly, the existence of God is Unquestionable?] Personally, Richard Bushman did a superior job to Jeff in showing sensitivity to the extreme emotional rupture that is caused when a sincere member is faced with the discrepancies between historical fact and white-washed church manuals. His own answer (speaking to church leaders): work hard to help the struggling soul regain some semblance of trust, if not in the church manuals, at least in the community. Lisa at Feminist Mormon Housewives recently asked Mormons (in a very cautiously worded post with lots of requests to be respectful and thoughtful) what things about the church they have conflict with. There are currently 150 comments and counting. There is always John Dehlin's extensive essay "How to Stay in the LDS church after a Major Challenge To Your Faith" (which includes a good break down of many of those Major Challenges). But my favorite is Madame Curie who gets at the heart of the two main reasons people leave the church (hint; it's not so they can go get drunk/high/laid/rob a bank). I think my believing friend falls into the first category: the church's stance on various social issues is at such odds with her own conscience it finally causes the rupture. I guess I fall more into the second category: a "truth-driven" gal driven nuts (and away) by church doctrine/history.

So there you go.
Now, how about you? Because some of my deepest burning questions about people are how they reconcile or do not reconcile their various beliefs and practices. The believer who doesn't attend, or the non-believer who attends faithfully. Or what finally broke the camel's back (so you left), or healed the camel's back (so you went back) etc etc etc...
Cuz I'm curious that way.

(I realize the majority of these links are more about staying in the church, feel free to share if you have helpful accounts about leaving.)


Merinmel Caesg said...

thanks for directing us to those links, particularly the Bushman and MSP articles. I would place myself in the first of Madame Curie's two camps. I really like the way that she put it, "Church teachings on social issues directly conflicted with their inner moral compass and affected them personally and negatively." This is very similar to the explanation I have recently been offering friends as to why I originally scaled back my church attendance. I can't point reliably to a single handful of issues. The entire environment and perspective seemed counter to my internal beliefs.

I haven't decided whether or not to leave, yet. I'm not quite sure how I will make that decision. For now, I'm still a student at BYU. We'll see how it goes.

Sean said...

I've told and retold the story of my "rupture" with the Mormon church to the point that I'm honestly not sure how it actually went down, what preceded or followed what, and where all the details fit in. But I remember a couple moments very vividly:

In my second-to-last ward, I was called to be a Sunday-School teacher. One week, the lesson was on the restoration of the priesthood, and I remember the sick feeling in my stomach as I stood in front of the class and realized I didn't believe what I was saying. Not any of it. But I was at BYU, and you can't not believe at BYU, so I just smiled more earnestly and bore my testimony harder.

In my last ward, the ward where I finally stopped attending church for good, I did at least attend my own "getting to know you"/priesthood interview with the elder's quorum president, who was a guy probably my same age. He asked me if I had a testimony of Jesus Christ, and without skipping a beat I went to that same earnest, soulful place (a place I realized I'd visited many, many times throughout the years) and lied my ass off. Yes, I said; I did have a testimony, and here it was. There was no sick feeling that time—by then I no longer placed any weight in that young man's "authority" over me. I didn't believe, but that wasn't his business.

G said...

Thanks Merinmel. I acutally just went and added another one, if you are interested; John Dehlin's essay "how to stay in the LDS church after a major challenge to your faith".

Good luck with your own journey. especially at BYU. Especially with friends (family too).

G said...

hey sean... mine was very similar in that losing belief was closely tied to being in teaching positions and finding what I could comfortably teach (ie: I believed it and wouldn't be lying to bear testimony of it) to be quickly shrinking... until one day I opened a manual to prepare a lesson and realized I didn't believe a single word.

not fun times.

Bored in Vernal said...

Very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, G. I deal with it like the "Sam" in your opening quote (will have to find out more). I'm so glad to see that other people out there feel that way!! I have that approach to many things: I believe Joseph had a prophetic calling and communed with Deity--I believe he was a passionate, charismatic and creative man--I believe he was a charlatan and a liar. Really, truly, and all at the same time. That is why I am somewhat psychotic at times.

The Numismatist said...

For years I attended faithfully, never questioning. When my carefully planned future fell apart at age 30 I had to start all over and that included examining all aspects of my life, including the church. Soon those questions led me to leave the church and eventually to not even believe in a god.

My exit from religion has had a domino effect with relationships. My family is finally realizing that there is nothing they can do to bring me back into the fold. I lost a lifelong friend who was a RS President who couldn't accept the changes.

A few weeks back on fMh someone posted that you can't have morals without God being in the equation. Whoa. Made me wonder how many others are that narrow minded.

I plan on rereading the links later tonight. Thanks for posting them.

Today is my Festivus and there is lots of partying to do! Have a great day and remember "Festivus for the Rest of Us! Get out your aluminum pole!

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I stopped attending quite a while before I stopped believing. I stopped going because attending church just exacerbated my depression. Of course I had lived with intense and significant cognitive dissonance for years (which is inherent in the gay + Mormon life) and had deep doubts for many years before I left.

My last year at BYU I probably went to church only 5 times, and that was all in the first 5 months of the year. By month 6 I was drinking and having sex completely guilt-free. Once I stopped attending I slowly started to realise that I didn't believe the doctrines surrounding homosexuality, sexuality, morality especially, and then once I accepted that the church was just plain wrong on that front, it quickly all unravelled to the point where I went from being a semi-believing Mormon to exMormon atheist within 9 months.

Anonymous said...

For me it wasn't the shock of learning about all the whitewashing, "milk before meat" cherry-picking, and outright lies; it was the failure to find any authentic engagement with these issues on the part of any LDS authorities or TBM members.

I was told to just pray harder and my sinful rebellion would cease. It was really hard for me to give credibility anymore when I was standing there with legitimate questions and wanting an honest dialogue and I just got blown off by people who increasingly appeared to me as kool-aid drinkers. I couldn't despise them, as I remembered having that oh-so-comforting "knowledge" that was carefully boxed in with ignorance.

Some way needs to be found to get the LDS hierarchy and its true believing members to acknowledge and enegage with the church's historical and theological problems or more people will just end up walking away out of frustration.

JohnR said...

I think the Church creates many opportunities for cognitive dissonance by making such all-encompassing truth claims, and by explicitly linking together its various truth claims. Some Mormons seem to be fine if they let go of just the notion that one claim is true, then they all are.

My personal journey out of the Church had two stages: overcoming cognitive dissonance, and overcoming "social dissonance." I started at the top, by doubting God, and once I stopped being able to justify belief in God, the rest seemed inconsequential by comparison. It wasn't too long until I was pretty comfortable with uncertainty and not knowing.

The social aspect was harder on me. There was a fundamental disconnect with my internal and external presentation of myself, and the Church culture worked very hard to suppress my natural and public expression of my doubting and questioning (with some exceptions, like Sunstone and our local discussion group). I think this may have caused greater emotional duress than the cognitive conflict.

These days, because I approach life from a baseline of uncertainty and ambiguity instead of from a position of certainty, I find that cognitive dissonance is no longer a huge problem.

adamf said...

Nice post. For me, some beliefs are no longer there, some are weaker, and some are much more personal... so I suppose that is partly what keeps me in, i.e. personalizing my faith. Yes, I still believe in many of the core tenets, at the most very basic a belief in "God" but what really keeps me in always comes down to my personal experience, and my personal faith. I suppose I still find, in the structure and theology of the church, enough to buoy that personal faith.

Kiskilili said...

I can relate to your friend who believes and wishes she didn't. To be perfectly honest, I don't think the position I've found myself in is logical. These are my core beliefs: (a) God exists and involves himself in the Church, and (therefore?) (b) God is a misogynistic prick. Pretty much everything else about the Church I have doubts about.

I've had religious experiences that lead me to the first belief. But why can't I doubt the second when I can see the problems in so much of what the Church says generally?

I think it's because I feel I was brutalized by the Church. And it seems the way to prevent that from happening again is to be cynical--to doubt God's goodness.

(My relationship to religion is an ongoing disaster. All of my problems generally seem to have religious aspects to them.)

flygirl said...

I think I had cognitive dissonance since about the age of 10. I remember being deeply disturbed about what I read in a Mormon fiction book that involved polygamy, and ever since then I would find myself deeply distressed on that topic. Once I went through the temple it became even deeper, as I found serious discrepancies about the way I viewed myself v. the way the church was subtly telling me God viewed me. I was able to ignore it during my mission and focus on the basics, but after I came home, my struggles came back even stronger with basic church principles. I figured there must be something wrong with me for having such thoughts.

When I think about when I did believe, it was never so much about a really strong emotional conviction, it was just that was the way life was, that was the reality I was given. Once I moved out of Utah and was able to see that other possibilities for a good life did exist, it gave me hope and possibilities. And my situation eventually seemed to make a lot more sense to trust myself and admit I don't believe in any of it, than to keep hanging on and watching life pass me by.