This morning, Runtu posted a link to this video. If you're a believing Mormon, you'll probably enjoy it. If you're not, you may find it strange, confusing, boring, or creepy. I actually kind of liked it.
As I watched the video, I found myself strangely emotional. Kind of in a good way, but not really. It was more of a sadness, a longing or a yearning for the days when I actually believed all this stuff. I can imagine my former bishop saying that this feeling is the Holy Ghost trying to tell me that the gospel is true. That's what he said to me about a year and a half ago, when my wife and I were first telling him about my unbelief, and I admitted that this is a painful process. But it's always painful when you find that the world isn't the way you thought it was. The pain itself is not evidence that changing your beliefs is good or bad, right or wrong.
It was nice to have a narrative in which the world could neatly fit. God loved me, Jesus was our Savior, and Joseph Smith restored the gospel so that we could all live eternally with God and our families if we had faith and lived right. It was a simple, encouraging story, and it came with an entire life framework. It had its quirks, but it was relatively straightforward. Follow the prophet and you'll be all right. I made my checklist of daily, weekly, or monthly tasks, and completing the checklist felt good, dammit. Like I'm getting something worthwhile done here! We're on the path to celestial happiness!
No matter how good it felt, watching this video reminded me why I just can't be a believer. I couldn't watch Joseph Smith kneeling in prayer in the Sacred Grove without remembering his many different versions of the story, each more grand and detailed than the last, and each coming at a time when he needed to bolster people's faith in him as a prophet. I couldn't watch him finding the golden plates without remembering his stories about a huge cave inside the Hill Cumorah, filled with books and treasures. I couldn't watch him translating the golden plates without remembering that he did so via a seer stone, with his face buried in a hat, often without the plates even being in the same room. I couldn't watch him receiving the priesthood from resurrected beings without remembering that he never mentioned this alleged event until years later. I couldn't watch him rocking babies with Emma without remembering that he married 33 other women, some of them teenagers, most of them secretly, and many of them already married to other men. And so on.
I actually knew all of this (and more - there's so much more) before I joined the church. But I found the feelings and the narrative so compelling that I shelved the cognitive dissonance and got baptized anyway. Apparently through sheer force of will, I got myself to a point where none of the discrepancies bothered me anymore. And why should they? I was happily married with kids, had a good job and a nice house, and church activity fit right into our happy little life. Everything was nice and simple, and we were filled with certainty. Until I met Carl Sagan and the shelf started to buckle. The weight of the evidence demanded my attention. Fortunately, we still have a happy little life, but of course it's not the same as it used to be.
I think that's what I miss most. Certainty. These days I am learning to be comfortable with ambiguity, probability, uncertainty, and unanswered questions. It's difficult for me to be uncertain, but in light of the evidence I have seen over my lifetime, I must admit that I am. As Carl Sagan correctly asserted, "It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." I wouldn't trade where I am today for where I was then. My eyes are wide open, and shutting them doesn't make the world go away. But I still miss it.