touch wood

This thing’s been festering like an embedded unattended sliver in your middle finger that pricks you when you grasp anything, this thing being;

“Skepticism is easy—anyone can do it. It is the faithful life that requires moral strength, dedication, and courage. Those who hold fast to faith are far more impressive than those who give in to doubt when mysterious questions or concerns arise.”

Elder, sorry, President Dieter Uchtdorf said this in a priesthood session of the latest general conference of the Mormon Church.

I’ve been reading about the crush of this statement ever since in blog posts and comments, one a plea to Mormon family and friends saying, “The people who I loved most were being told that I, as a non-believer, was weak, cowardly, and unintelligent. They were told that my feelings, experiences, and opinions were invalid and inconsequential.”

Uchtdorf’s is the kind of rhetoric that gives many who are so affected the impetus to end their lives. But, that’s not why I’m writing.

I’ve always been amazed that skepticism (not to be confused with cynicism as Uchtdorf does) is treated within the so-called church (TSCC) as taboo as a superstition. I’ve been thinking in these past several months that in its efforts to be transparent, the church has advanced several controversial topics – historical and doctrinal – to answer to the general skepticism and malaise of it members, if not for everybody. Uchtdorf’s declarations have cleared that up for me.

Three things here I want to address; moral strength, dedication, and courage of the dissenter.

There’s a common myth held within TSCC that most dissenters do so out of transgression, and that in their apostasy, it’s much easier for them to be tossed around by the temptations of the devil, as if the source of their moral courage were their testimony, their faith, instead of something woven into the fabric of their character. Personally, I didn’t leave the church due to transgression, I wasn’t that shallow in my testimony, I was true blue. I did horrible things after I left – I cheated on my second spouse – but something surprised me after all I had heard throughout my living as a devout Latter-day Saint, that the spirit would be withdrawn from me since I was no longer worthy of it.

What if Daniel doubted and lost his faith? Would his moral strength then atrophy? Is faith the foundation of morality? Despite my moral transgressions, I had a surprising revelation at the beginning of my dissent; the still small voice is mine. My compass had no moral shift, I was weak.

So what moral strength does it take for one who has willingly stripped away their support, both heavenly and temporal, for them to maintain their good living? I’m not talking about the flotsam of the Word of Wisdom, “sent by greeting; not by commandment or restraint,” I’m talking about what drives a person to do and be good. Without the scaffolding of TSCC, what stretch does it take to maintain this course?

Neither god nor satan are left to be blamed. Every decision becomes the responsibility of the dissenter. Gone is the notion of some supplemental heavenly guide, the constancy of an institution that both inspires and shames one into compliance to moral standards, and the network of fellow believers who both encourage and judge the skeptic based on their words and behaviors. How would you, the true believing Mormon, do without your faith, without the church, without your family, friends, your bishop, your home teachers, your visiting teachers, your culture when faced by what you think are the temptations of the devil? What kind of moral courage would you need in this great vacuum of influence?

Dedication within a religion is a brain-washing technique. Don’t take my word for it, be skeptical and research it yourself, but do so outside the prevue of any source steeped in theology. Good luck with that.

After years of associating with dissenters I’ve noticed a trend; it takes a remarkable amount of personal dedication to remain true to new, untested and unfamiliar directions, especially when the dissenter suffers losses in terms of spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, esteem, reputation, and instead become subjects of gossip, vitriol, and ostracism all the while fighting with self-doubt, that great internal conditioning of religion itself.

That, by definition, is superstition. “I believe the church is true (touch wood).” 

Courage. I’m shaking my head as I refrain from typing obscenities here. When I made the very conscious decision to leave not only TSCC, but the realm of traditional Christian belief altogether, I went through the very familiar stages of grief, though, as may be obvious, I have not transitioned out of anger. The rest – denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance – have been as real as if the church were me. It was. I was.

When I faced the death of my own son, I also faced the inventory of my skepticism and in its wake stripped away the implied comforts of religion when it comes to death. To use TSCC’s most common allegory, I stripped away the very armor and protection of the gospel, left naked to face and feel not only grief without hope, but life without the tacit guarantee of eternity.

Try that on, true believer, and call me a coward.

Uchtdorf’s rhetoric is angering in its dismissal, misrepresentation, and discount of what many in his own audience are experiencing due to TSCC’s own efforts to be more transparent. I shouldn’t be surprised here, having been a cog in that machine, but I’m left shaking my head nonetheless, wanting to stand and bear witness with my middle finger.

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