I received some rather surprising news today. A person whom I had been quite friendly with for many years apparently “defriended” me on Facebook sometime in the recent past and today requested that I become a friend today. It’s probably a testament to my utter lack of social prowess that I never noticed she was gone in the first place, so I thought that she may have just let her account go inactive and then reopen another. It’s Facebook and it happens. No big deal. So I accepted her friend request.
The first thing that jumped out at me was that she was back in a relationship with her ex-husband. Call me a non-romantic, but I’m not so keen on rekindling relationships that already have a history of implosion. Life’s hard enough without having to relive our failures. One strike and you’re out. (Well, one divorce and you’re out, at any rate).
But what also stuck out was her religious preference which was the only other (for lack of a better word) trait that was listed on her profile page. I decided to investigate a little further and when I read some of her postings, I realized that she had gone from an ardent supporter of Mormonism to being an ardent supporter of agnosticism/atheism. Being a person who is rather lukewarm in matters religious or spiritual, I find religious ardor to be mystifying. I don’t get worked up about much of anything, but to me spirituality is such a gut-wrenching, difficult thing to deal with that I prefer to limit sharing my inner turmoil and angst to myself and persons whom I look up to as spiritual counselors (whom do not have to be members of the religious group with which I identify.)
It caused me to reflect on making such a public pronouncement of faith. I can only assume that she felt it necessary to cut out the people in her life that reflected her old ways. Religious conversion definitely means ending old relationships and beginning new ones. But it is odd that someone like me who had such an infinitesimal impact on her life would merit such a symbolic ending of friendship. This is especially true given that I hadn’t spoken to her in almost three years and hadn’t emailed her for the same amount of time.
All of these thoughts led me to the main point of this post and why I cannot turn my back on Mormonism. As I don’t care to elaborate on my personal beliefs (which are, and will remain, completely private) and my current connection with the Mormon Church, I will say that I have respect for the members of the Mormon Church. When I look back on my life and I recall the interactions that I’ve had with all the people that I met through Church and related activities, I can’t help but feel it was a good thing to have experienced it. I’m genuinely grateful that I got the opportunity to meet such good people. They are not perfect by a long shot. They have so many failings that I could list them here and never reach the end.
When I look back on the relationship I had developed with my agnostic friend, I have to credit the church for facilitating a lot of the initial meeting. I met her for the first time at an Institute of Religion. I danced with her many times at church dances. I enjoyed her company at numerous activities that members of the church planned and staged. I remember with fondness preparing for and singing a duet with her at a talent show. I can say that the church gave me opportunities to get to know someone whom I probably would never have met otherwise. It gave me the opportunity to get to know and experience the best qualities of another person. She is a tremendously talented individual and a very special woman. I will always think warmly of the many conversations we had with one another and the time we spent together.
Maybe there is no God and maybe there is no way to prove whether He exists. All I can talk about is what I know and what I don’t understand. I don’t understand the need people have to publicly cut ties with their cultural and religious past. I may not be a particularly devout member of my religion, but it is a part of who I am and it is a defining part of some of the relationships that I have with others. Call it unfortunate if you like, but I don’t think it’s possible to sever the religious aspect of your life and not impact the relationships that are connected to it. If I were to sever my connection to the Mormon church, its people and its history, life would go on. I would still get up and go on with life. But I can’t sever the relationships that I have built with it. Even as I sit here now and type this, there are ideas and cultural practices of Mormonism that I simply can’t agree with and that I simply can’t believe in. But deeper than those ideas, deeper than those cultural practices are the relationships that I’ve been blessed with. And to me, complete and utter rejection of Mormonism would be a rejection of those relationships. And that’s something I am not willing to do.
Last year I read “The Brothers Karamazov” as part of my goal to read the great books of literature. It was an astoundingly good novel, even if it was lengthy (it actually becomes a page-turner that you can’t put down by the time you get to page 300 hundred or so.) The best part of the whole novel is when Elder Zossima tells Alyosha to love the world, every being, every creature with his whole soul. Later on, Alyosha experiences this transcendental love. It is poignant and moving scene that acts as counterbalance to the more famous chapters of “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor.”
The person who conquers this world will be the person who can embrace and love all of it, even with all its horror, tragedy and cruelty. Anyone can love the beautiful and hate the ugly, but who among us can take that painful, yet liberating next step and love it all? I cannot turn my back on Mormonism because I can’t cut myself off from my heritage, from my culture and from my friends. Does it make me a hypocrite if I don’t happen to fit a certain type of membership profile, the often maligned “Peter Priesthood?” Does it make me a hypocrite if every day of my life I struggle with hope, faith and charity and fail?
Faith that does not require a struggle against itself is no faith at all. And yet, every day I struggle.