Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Love the doubter, hate the doubt"

I'd like to address a religious topic today regarding doubt. On several occasions, I've seen some variant of the following question posed towards a Mormon audience:

"I don't quite believe everything the church teaches. I have doubts about some fundamental claims of the church. Am I still welcome here?"

The response is, of course, a resounding, love-bombing yes. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is completely free of doubt. Of course you are welcome here.

But there's a catch. They don't say it directly, but it does leak out indirectly. You can be here and we will help you through your doubt. You can be here and this will be a place to help you overcome your struggle.

In other words, you can be here, but the only option for people here is to work on eliminating doubt. There is no option for selecting to believe some of it. It's all or nothing. If a question arises and you reach a different conclusion than the church, then you are the one that is wrong. You must eventually come to believe that the Book of Mormon really did come from an ancient record of the Native Americans, engraved onto golden tablets. You must come to believe that god really does inspire the leaders of the church, except of course when he allows them to do weird stuff like denying blacks the priesthood.

And so, similar to the oft-repeated phrase, "love the sinner, hate the sin," I suggest the following phrase to describe this attitude: "love the doubter, hate the doubt." Doubt is considered practically on the same level as sin. It is something to be eradicated. It is something of which one must cleanse one's self.

And so to the doubters of the world, I would advise you thusly: The answer to your question is "no." You are not welcome there. Not if you bring your doubts with you. Not if you are unwilling to fall in line and abandon your critical thinking skills when contemplating the church's history, doctrine, or policy. Not if you would like to truly speak your mind, or to encourage others to do likewise. Not unless you are ready to be assimilated. Defying the status quo will not be tolerated.

You cannot fit into the Mormon narrative while harboring doubts. You cannot openly reject any of the fundamental truth claims of the religion and expect to be welcomed with open arms. The narrative is that you are working on it. You are struggling. You are trying to get to a point where those doubts just go away, or you just don't care about them any more. The narrative is that you are working on your testimony. The narrative is that you will eventually come to fully agree with the prophetic and apostolic utterances delivered every six months at General Conference. The narrative is that you will suspend your disbelief, permanently. The narrative is that you are having a hard time, but you will set your doubts aside and tow the line. You are expected, as was Lot's wife, to never turn back and question your commitment. And if you receive your endowment in the temple, you will, in fact, commit everything that you own and everything that you are to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Joining Mormonism is like turning onto a one-way street. Reversing your decision is not part of the narrative. Reconsidering your commitment, or leaving the religion, is not in the narrative. There is no graceful exit. You will be branded a sinner. You will be branded an apostate. You will be branded a doubter. The kind that isn't welcome until you change your attitude.

This is my reaction to Kate Kelly's excommunication. It's a viewpoint I already held, but it has been reinforced by this particular example, as well as the church's public statement: that it's okay to "ask questions," but not okay to come to the wrong conclusions.