Is Truth Optional?

A number of events over the past couple of weeks has me contemplating the importance of truth. Specifically, how important is truth when it comes to storytelling, history or religion.

Augustine-Quote

A few weeks ago, Kim and I attended an event where Carol Lynn Pearson discussed her book, Ghost of Eternal Polygamy. I haven’t read the book but was interested in the topic because polygamy was one of the first major issues I had with my church.

I knew Brigham Young married a lot of women, but I was shocked when the church admitted that Joseph Smith married at least 30 women, some as young as 14 and about 10 who were already married.

The bigger question I’ve considered is this: Is it worth investing my time and resources in a church that plays so loose with the truth?

I wish the LDS church had come clean with all the unsavory parts of their history before the internet came along and forced their hand. Put it all out there. And then allow each person to decide if it’s worth the investment the church asks of them.

One of my frustrations since leaving the church is that some friends and family assume I was looking for any reason to leave the church. They assume I lost my testimony or could not resist that Starbucks iced mocha.

But I didn’t lose anything. I gained knowledge and can speak to the history of the church in much greater detail than I could as a young missionary. I was willing to go wherever the truth took me, even if that meant out of the church. I didn’t select my desired destination and then search only for evidence that supported my decision.

That’s what I’d like my friends and family to understand. Truth matters more than feelings. Every member of every religion feels their church is the true one. Good feelings can come from reading a book, watching a movie or listening to music. How some religions tell their followers that feelings substantiate truth is absurd to me.

Especially when you say you are the only church on earth that has all the truth.

Be willing to demand the truth. And let it take you wherever it leads. In the long run you’ll be better for it.

Thoughts About God

From 1987 to 1989 I left my home in Ogden, Utah and served a mission in Germany for the Mormon church. I made a number of friends, visited dozens of lush German towns, and began to question everything I’d been taught about God.

The nature of God has been something I’ve pondered since I was a young boy, leaving grade school and walking a half mile to the church to attend primary. I met up with friends and a few adults who lead us in songs and taught us about Mormon doctrine including Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and Heavenly Father (God).

When I was 10 or 11 years old, one lesson focused on how the Mormon church was the only true church on the face of the earth. She emphasized the “only true” part over and over as if she wanted it ingrained in our young minds.  I was confused and raised my hand, asking how anyone could know for certain that we had the only true church with so many different churches around the world. Did someone attend each church and declare the Mormon church the only true one? I don’t remember the answer, if one was provided, but I would continue asking these questions as I entered the Mission Training Center.

One year into my mission, I wrote my grandfather to inquire about this and few other church doctrines that didn’t make sense to me. He sent back a reply explaining his views pertaining to the topics I inquired about, but gently advised that I’d have to figure things out on my own.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of God, and asking myself a number of questions such as:

1. Why is the God of the Old Testament such a mean, vindictive, jealous God? I can’t relate to a God that commands armies to slaughter every man, woman, and child regardless of the sins they committed.

2.  Why would the Mormon God devise a plan that would result in so few of his children returning to him?

3. Why would the Mormon God deny African Americans the priesthood until 1978?

4. Why would the Mormon God select to restore his church through Joseph Smith, and then watch while he uses his church authority to recruit, groom and marry at least 33 women? Some of Smith’s wives were as young as 14 and eleven of them were already married to other men.

5. Why would the Mormon God command his church to be organized in a manner whereby women are relegated to second class members?

Speaking with friends in and out of the Mormon church, I realize my understanding of God is very different from theirs. I met a number of Pantheists while serving in Germany who told me they believed God lived in nature and could take any form he liked.

Some of my friends don’t believe in a God. Or they aren’t sure there’s a God. I’ve found these people to be the least judgmental of any group. I wonder why?

Others believe in a God to the extent that nearly ever action they take is somehow influenced by him. This God helps them find their car keys, travel from church to home in safety and ensures they perform well on a math test.

If God has so much free time on his hands to help locate your keys why wouldn’t he spend that time helping children who are dying from famine and starvation around the world?

In short, God can be whatever you want him or her to be, and yet that doesn’t feel right to me either. Since nobody has seen God (which is surprising given the billions of camera phones) I’m left to wonder if God is man-made. That’s the conclusion made by Christopher Hitchens in his book titled, “God Is Not Great”. No other book in the last 20 years has rocked my world more than this book. I bought the audiobook and listened to it for the first time as I was traveling from Arizona back to Utah through Nevada. I stopped at the Hoover Dam to take in this amazing man-made structure and pondered what I’d heard.

What I felt was a slap across the face. I’ve listened to it three times already.

Until that time I’d been in a 20+ year religious slumber, going through the motions week after week, but finding myself unhappy at best and depressed at worst.

I’m finally awakening, but finding what I’ve been taught for so many years doesn’t make a lot of sense to me today. I’m still searching, still learning. I feel alone on this journey much of the time, but I suspect that’s normal. My grandfather was right: everyone has to figure this out on their own.

The Age of Ignorance

From the Age of Ignorance by Charles Simic:

In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him. No more. Now such people are courted and flattered by conservative politicians and ideologues as “Real Americans” defending their country against big government and educated liberal elites. The press interviews them and reports their opinions seriously without pointing out the imbecility of what they believe.

I experienced this when I signed up for Obamacare this past year. Many smart, well-educated friends of mine slammed the program without having done any research themselves. Most were spouting outright lies about the program they gleaned from Fox News or other anti-Obama sources.

All any of them would have had to do is actually visit Healthcare.gov and read for themselves. Instead they chose to regurgitate lies because, well, that’s a lot easier to do than form their own opinion.

Recently Learned

Over the past month I’ve discovered a few things about myself.

I do my best work under pressure.

The writing I’m most proud of uncovers pain.

Joy begins with being honest with myself.

Faking it hurts me more than anyone else.

Saying something is true doesn’t make it so.

Question everything. Respect everyone.

Be skeptical of those proclaiming one truth.

Few skills in life are as valuable as being able to say “no”.

If you don’t learn to think critically, others will think for you.

True friends don’t put requirements on the relationship.

Facts speak louder than feelings.

Feelings can be easily manipulated.

Nothing of Consequence

Everyone is dealing with something.

Often it’s something noticeable like eating healthier or quitting a bad habit like smoking. A few years back I decided to exercise each day and eat a healthier diet. Over a few months I dropped nearly 60 lbs. The change I had made to myself was easy to recognize. Friends and coworkers encouraged me. I recall one office gathering where someone ordered pizza for everyone. The office manager knew I was trying to eat better ordered a salad for me instead.

But what if you’re working on something that’s not visible? Maybe not only is it not visible but amorphous and difficult to put into words?

When you’re trying to lose weight or quit smoking it’s not uncommon for a group of supporters to morph into your personal cheering section. They are on the lookout for anyone or anything that might cause a setback. But they have your back and are ready to jump in on your behalf to keep you focused and progressing towards your goal. Sure, you want to meet your goal but you also don’t want to disappoint this group.

We are all dealing with something, and chances are it’s something internal. Maybe you’ve shared it with a spouse or close friend. Or you put out feelers to see if it’s even safe to share. That’s what I do, but it’s not easy to determine if the coast is clear. When you share you open yourself up to scrutiny. You feel vulnerable. You could lose a friend.

With so many outlets like Facebook and Twitter to share ideas or passions or even the mundane, I find myself sharing less about the stuff that really matters to me. I tend to joke around or share a quote from one of my children. Nothing of consequence.

Knowing that others are working on issues provides comfort. I could always tell when a good friend of mine had something on his mind. I’d ask him what was going on and he’d reply that he was working an issue over in his mind. To this day, I have no idea what he was dealing with and never pushed for details.

I need to find one of those friends again. One who doesn’t live 1200 miles away.

Losing a Friend

A German once told me that a person never has more friends than fingers on one hand.  To a 20-year old, that seemed absurdly low.

But today it feels on the high side because I recently lost a friend. Recently, is my interpretation because it’s possible this person checked out a while back, and I just didn’t realize it.

Losing a friend at any age is no fun. Yet this one stings because I have no idea what happened. For the past six months I’ve been trying to recreate the last time we saw each other. Was it something I said that day? Was it something I posted to Facebook or my blog that caused the rift? I’m at a loss.

The worst part is that I lost a good friend. A close second is not knowing why.

I’ve tried to reach out to this person on a number of occasions. I would like know what happened, but maybe that’s selfish. But I’m finished kicking myself over something I may or may not have done.

I’m still bummed about it though. This was my friend I could talk about what it was like going through a divorce and he understood because he’d gone through the same.

I find that the older I get, the more difficult it becomes to make friends. I don’t trust people as quickly, and I don’t get out as much to meet new people.

I suspect that not knowing why may not be the second worst part of losing a friend. That would be running into the friend and realizing he hadn’t given much thought to the situation.