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Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Response to Reid's Religious But Not Spiritual Post

by Anonymous:

Dear Reid,

I am, by your definition, religious but not spiritual (RBNS). I'm writing because your post on November 25th cast too wide a net in calling out those of us who "draw near unto [God] with their lips, but whose hearts are far from [him]."

Like many church members who gained their testimonies gradually over time, I lost mine bit by bit over a period of years. What began with a series of small doubts as a teenager culminated two decades later with a personal admission uttered quietly to my reflection in the mirror: "I no longer believe the church is true."

When people lose their testimonies, we often attribute it to bad information or bad choices; or we just say that they never really had a testimony in the first place. In my case, and in the case of many others, none of these describes what actually happened. I did have a real testimony, I only read literature that was historically accurate, and I maintained the high standard of personal worthiness that the church requires. I lost my testimony because, after long periods of study and reflection, I was unable to reconcile church teachings with history, science, and the state of the world.

But I have not left the church. Why? I stay because I have many loving relationships that would be severely strained if I were to leave. I feel an obligation to honor the dedication and sacrifice of my pioneer ancestors. I have children whose religious faith, or lack thereof, largely depends on how I bring them up. I have made special promises in special places which I believe cannot be taken lightly even after a loss of faith. Last but not least, I stay because I want my immediate family and my descendants to benefit from the church's many teachings that contribute meaningfully to personal happiness.

Being an active non-believing Mormon puts me squarely in the RBNS camp, which came under scrutiny in your recent post. On behalf of people like me, permit me to ask you two questions.

First, what do you want us to do? Your post contains lots of name-calling (e.g. "trying to appear to be someone we're not", "divorced from the life of the spirit", "an abomination in God's eyes", having only a "form of godliness", amounting to "Christianity-Lite"), but you don't include any suggestions on how to develop the spirituality that you say is so important. At the very least I suppose you could encourage us to pray and read our scriptures, or embark on a life of service. But even a simple recommendation like that couldn't find its way into your post amidst all the mudslinging.

Second, why did you choose this topic? The only explanation I can think of is that you are concerned for our welfare, but if that were true you would have encouraged instead of just criticizing us. Frankly, the only people that have any business calling us out like you did are our spouses and priesthood leaders. I have opened up to my wife and bishop, who much to my surprise have treated me with love and understanding, have bent over backwards to allow me to keep my temple recommend, and have helped me find ways to serve that I am comfortable with. I find their approach enlightened. Yours made me feel unwelcome.

I suspect that you might say that your essay is not addressed to people like me, but rather to members who try to trick others into thinking they are spiritual, either intentionally or otherwise. But it is aimed at me, because I am indeed trying to trick people. I don't outright lie to people's faces of course, in fact I am very careful not to make false statements about my personal beliefs. But by attending church services and fulfilling the duties of my calling I am making an implicit statement about where I stand on church teachings. The way I behave leads family, friends, and ward members to make assumptions about my inner spirituality which are not accurate, and – since I don't correct them – they are misled. I don't like doing it, but the consequences of leaving the church are much worse than faking belief in it. It's like that classic ethics thought-experiment where the Nazi SS knock at your door and ask you if you are hiding Jews in your attic. You can lie and save the Jews, or tell the truth and watch them die. If you choose to lie you have broken one of God's commandments, but no one in their right mind would blame you. In my case I can choose to misrepresent myself, or I can turn the lives of loved ones (and my own) upside down. I choose the lesser of two evils.

I don't love this arrangement, but I am at peace with it. I am actually much happier now than when I was wrestling with questions about the church's truthfulness. If I can't be honest with everyone, at least I can be honest with myself. One thing I've learned is that people who have never lost their testimony just don't know what it's like. Now that my testimony is gone I can no more will myself to become inwardly spiritual than you can will yourself to grow three inches in height. But I don't expect you to understand what it's like to be religious but not spiritual. Instead, I'd respectfully ask you to consider that a clever acronym cannot begin to encompass the complexity of issues being dealt with by your RBNS brothers and sisters sitting next to you in the pews.


Active Agnostic Mormon

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Active Agnostic Mormon is a husband, father, business consultant, and bishop’s councilor who – as his pseudonym implies – is trying to make sense of LDS life after a loss of faith. He is a lover of fresh pasta, sushi, Italian soda, oxford dress shoes, warm weather, and sailing. He enjoys reading, especially anthropology, economics, biographies, and history, but will admit to spending as much time watching AMC dramas as reading. Email at agnosticbutactive@
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Angel Rodriguez-Rey (used with permission).

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