Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fowler's Stages of Faith

It seems like this book gets mentioned a lot of NOM, so I finally got a copy and read it. (I purchased By His Own Hand on Papyrus at the same time--I'm excited to read that next.) I'll admit that I'm writing this review a little prematurely, in that I've got about 10 pages to go, but I read a lot of it today in one sitting and found Fowler's stage model incredibly True in my life.

I am a solid Stage Four. I found it interesting reading about Stage Five, and I imagine that that would be a better place for me, but I don't see a completely clear path to it yet. My Dad is definitely a Stage Five, which is probably why I always have felt like he was a member of a "different Mormonism" than I was. I always felt like he used the same words as every other Mormon, but with completely different meanings. I can also see how most of the members I know appear to be Stage 3 or 3/4 hybrids.

What's interesting is that when I talk to active members about this, their reaction is , "so you think you're at a higher stage than me?" It's a question of simple arithmetic, I suppose, in that 4 is higher than 3; however, there is an implicit question: "so you think you're better than me?" The answer to this is equally simple: no. To suggest that a Stage 4 is "better than" a Stage 3 is like suggesting that my 5-year-old boy is "better than" my 1-year-old daughter. The value-based comparison is ludicrous--people are at different stages in many aspects of their life, and their current stage is usually a result of external triggers. It's not like smarter, kinder, more sensitive, etc. people move through the faith stages faster--Fowler makes no such claims, nor do I. I suspect that a person at each stage views people at previous stages as peers at a different place in their life journey, while simultaneously viewing people successive stages as hostile or confused. Thus a Stage 3 will feel threatened by a Stage 4, much to the bewilderment of the Stage 4 (unless they remember what they felt when they were at Stage 3).

At least that's how the stages seem to play out in my life. I think some people who leave the church can be pretty hostile toward the members (as opposed to policy and doctrine), which I think is unfortunate. But everyone's different.

At any rate, this book really seemed to describe my journey thus far. It's amazing that something so personal and unique can be so universal to humanity.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Story

Allow me to start with a quick run through how I got from point A (born and raised in an active family, returned missionary, BYU grad, married in the temple, fully active me) to point B (hmmm, none of the above have changed!). So what did change?

Well, as you can probably guess, I gradually came to realize that I didn't know as much as I thought I knew. Life can be interesting, in that it seems to present itself as a series of seminal moments, without any explanation as to what made those events possible. In my case, the defining moment in my journey from full-fledged believer in Mormonism to complete skeptic was the reading of Wild Swans. It's an autobiography of a woman who grew up in Mao's China. It was a great reminder of just how fortunate I am to live in the US. But it was also a powerful lesson in the epistemology underpinning religious belief. This was the passage that moved me so immensely, from the authors experience as a 13-year-old girl:
In the light over the square, the characters on the hanging were shining: "Long Live Our Great Leader Chairman Mao!" Tears sprang to my eyes. "How lucky, how incredibly lucky I am to be living in the great era of Mao Zedong!" I kept saying to myself. "How can children in the capitalist world go on living without being near Chairman Mao, and without the hope of ever seeing him in person?" I wanted to do something for them, to rescue them from their plight. I made a pledge to myself there and then to work hard to build a stronger China, in order to support a world
revolution. I needed to work hard to be entitled to see Chairman Mao, too. That was the purpose of my life.

This passage hit me like a ton of bricks. Her experience with the Cult of Mao was being described exactly how I described my experience with Mormonism. I had learned that having a testimony produced the powerful feelings she was describing, as well as a desire to "spread the word," which she had.

My wife read this, her mother read this, I suppose lots of Mormons have read this, but it wasn't to them what it was to me. For some reason, this put an immediate check on my confidence in what I had traditionally called "The Spirit." I still believed in the metaphysics of Mormonism; I still enjoyed church. But the seed was planted. And it was a good seed.

Over the next seven years, a studied church history from a variety of biases, witnessed (not first-hand) 9/11, and lived in fairly liberal wards which allowed for continued free-thinking on these issues. All of these things nourished the seed, at it began to swell.

One day, I suddenly realized I was arguing on blogs against Christian friends, not about some Mormon vs Christian thing, but about Secular vs Supernatural things. And I was the secularist. Somebody told me I'd be out of the church within a year--I was very offended by that. Ironic.

About six months later the seedling broke out of the earth to finally bathe in the warmth and beauty of the sun. It was incredibly liberating to my soul, albeit fraught with anxiety regarding the reaction of others. It was like I finally said to myself, "what if it isn't true," and BAM--the world suddenly made more sense. It was emotionally and intellectually (dare I say spiritually?) incredible.

The seed has continued to grow. The roots have dug deeper and the branches have put forth desirable fruit. I am much happier in my relations with others, I am less judgemental of family members who have left the church, and I have much more desire to help others. I have lots of room for improving myself, to be sure, and I'm sure I always will, but I now have a sense of hope and faith in humanity that I didn't use to have. Orthodox Mormonism may work for some, but leaving it behind as worked much better for me.

So now I continue as a Heterodox Mormon. I enjoy the conversations on the New Order Mormon board immensely, as they maintain a level of respect that should be granted that faith community. I think the teachings of the church have some good ideas and some very bad ones, but I realize that many active Mormons agree with me there. The leaders may speak for the church, but it's the laity that is the church. I would be happy to walk away completely, but immediate and extended family relationships will never allow that--as many post-Mormons know, you really can't leave it alone because it never leaves you alone! So I make the best of things--using my influence to help one person at a time.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Yet another blog...why?

A thus is born another "post-Mormon" blog. Of course, I'm not post-Mormon. Not technically, and not, honestly, at heart. As much as I loathe some of the teachings of the church, I know that most of the members are good, honest people. In fact, when I get to know most of them more deeply, I find that they tend to agree with me on lots of the questionabl teachings of the church. I have to believe there's room in my church for divergent beliefs, even if it's in a bit of a dark ages right now.

So, why this blog? Simple. Since coming "out of the closet" to my wife about a year ago, I find that I think constantly about issues of belief, faith, epistemology, apologetics, etc., but I feel like most of my thoughts and insights slip away into the mist of memory. Or they get captured across 50 blogs and forums across the Internet. This is my way of consolidating that--a public journal of sorts. An entirely selfish endeavor.

That said, I have found many of the self-directed musings of others very helpful during my journey up out of Mormonism, so if this blog ends up serving that purpose for any of my readers, I will feel that I have done some good. It's nice not to be alone.

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