Tuesday, November 14, 2017

8: Al Christiansen - The War is Over

(Al on baptism day)

I didn’t choose to be a Mormon. I was born into a Mormon family and the Mormon indoctrination machine. The Church is True, the Church is True, the Church is True, the Church is True, the Church is True, the older, wiser people insisted. Who was I to argue? I was just an ignorant kid.

So I fell in line. I became a model Mormon, obedient and pious, a golden boy, bound for glory and godhood. I was good at it.

And I was miserable.

Mormonism claims it’s the only path to true happiness. (Not that fake happiness everyone else has. That’s just the devil fooling them.) If you’re a good Mormon you’ll have true happiness in this life and unimaginable happiness the next. I was a good Mormon, so why wasn’t I happy? Why did I hate myself?

The Book of Mormon says:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

All Mormons memorize this. It’s the foundation of their belief that their church is the one and only path to God, the only true church. If you have faith and ask God, he’ll let you know it’s all true. I had asked, over and over, in sincere and humble prayer. And I got no answer. Nothing. Why? What was wrong with me?

In Mormonism (and some other faiths), it’s your fault if the magic isn’t working for you. Not happy? Your fault. The Holy Ghost didn’t give you the gift of certainty? Your fault. Your prayers aren’t answered? Your fault. But I was a good Mormon. My sins were very minor. Why was “the truth of all things” withheld from me? Wouldn’t God want me to know? Why was I left floundering?

But I pressed on. I served a mission where I quoted the above scripture and told people I knew Mormonism was true and would lead to eternal happiness—even though, inside, I didn’t know what was true and I was far from happy. I was spiraling into a pit of self-loathing. What’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with me, WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?

After the intensity of the mission experience, with my mental and emotional health severely battered, I decided to step back a little from the church, to take a break. Man, I needed to rest, to turn off the noise, to get out from under the pressure.

And that’s when I gained perspective. Like in “The Truman Show,” I saw I had been living in a fake world.

I had been at war with myself, one side wanting to believe Mormonism was the real deal, the other side trying to tell me it wasn't real at all. That was the cause of my self-hatred. That’s why I never knew “the truth of all things.” Because I knew it was bogus.

If I hadn’t been born into Mormonism I never would have chosen it.

So, I wondered, what did I actually believe when no one was telling me what to believe? Some other religion? One of the Eastern traditions, perhaps?

That’s when I had a huge moment of clarity. Not only did I disbelieve Mormonism, I also didn’t believe in deities, devils, spirits, souls, life after death, or anything else supernatural. None of it. Wow, I was an atheist. And I probably always had been.

Where does that leave me? At peace with myself. Flawed but contented. Kinder. More helpful. More empathetic. More forgiving. I’m probably a better person than I was back when I was trying to be perfect.


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