belief and dissonance

(I wrote this post several years ago so the links are a bit dated, but I thought it would be good for discussion anyways.)

…I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck…
American Gods pg 394 (Here’s her full monologue, because it’s brilliant. )

Yes, I’m thinking about belief and dissonance again. It really hasn’t been on my mind a whole lot lately (I don’t believe, haven’t been attending, therefore no dissonance. I like it simple that way.) But questioning type stuff is so hardwired into my DNA that I read a few blog posts and it’s all back to the front of my mind again.

That, plus a conversation with a dear friend, in which she admitted she believes, as much as she wishes she didn’t.

It started by following an @Mormonblogs tweet for Jeff Lindsay’s post where he claims to have the answer for Mormon’s who have hit up against cognitive dissonance. His answer; it’s okay to re-evaluate/test religious beliefs just like we re-evaluate/test science. Except, not “the One Being who is the source of all truth.” You must not re-evaluate “Him“. So there you go, don’t leave The Church. Easy.  It brings to mind this post, which asks (in a round-a-bout sort of way) why, exactly, the existence of God is Unquestionable?

Richard Bushman did a better job at showing sensitivity to the extreme emotional rupture that is caused when a sincere member is faced with the discrepancies between historical facts and white-washed church manuals. His own answer (speaking to church leaders): work hard to help the struggling soul regain some semblance of trust, if not in the church manuals, at least in the community. Lisa at Feminist Mormon Housewives asked Mormons (in a very cautiously worded post with lots of requests to be respectful and thoughtful) what things about the church they have conflict with. (The post racked up 474 comments.)  There is always John Dehlin’s extensive essay “How to Stay in the LDS church after a Major Challenge To Your Faith” (which includes a good break down of many of those Major Challenges).

But my favorite is Madame Curie who gets at the heart of the two main reasons people leave the church (hint; it’s not so they can go get drunk/get high/get laid/rob a bank).  I my believing friend is in the first category: the church’s stance on various social issues is at such odds with her own conscience it finally causes the rupture in spite of her belief in core doctrines. I guess I fall more into the second category: a “truth-driven” gal driven nuts (and away) by church doctrine, history and claims of ultimate truth.

So there you go.
Now, how about you? Some of my deepest burning questions about people are how they reconcile or do not reconcile their various beliefs and practices. The believer who doesn’t attend, or the non-believer who attends faithfully. Or what finally broke the camel’s back (so you left), or healed the camel’s back (so you went back) etc etc etc…
Cuz I’m curious that way.


  1. My only concrete belief, the only thing I’m completely sure of and willing to live or die for: that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

    So, why am I member of the Mormon church? I do have a belief in the core doctrines (temples, priesthood, Book of Mormon, prophets, etc). But the main reason I am a Mormon is that I feel called by God to be Mormon. He wants me to give my life to His glory and service, and He wants me to do this in the Mormon church. Maybe God calls people to serve Him somewhere else (the Catholic church, or national politics, or the medical profession, or motherhood, etc.). But He has called me to be LDS.

    • thank you angie! I feel quite similarly (well, except that I don’t believe in God 😉 ). I believe in our ability to find the places and niches and communities in which we can thrive and do the most good. And that the LDS church happens to be one of those communities.

  2. I love hearing the answers people have to the questions you list at the end, G. I can’t wait to hear more responses. But, Angie stole my answer 🙂

    I also stay because I do believe that the Church helps me to be a better person. I give more service because I’m a member, and I learn a lot from the people in my ward that I don’t think I’d learn otherwise.

    Still, I do get concerned that often I find myself questioning something about the Church, and I think, “Don’t go down that path…you know that path will make you angry.” So, I don’t, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m being true to myself or my spiritual path when I self-censor like that.

  3. I am still active in the Church, but I do have issues. While I am concerned both with how my internal moral compass is at odds with some of the things the Church does (it’s treatment of women, homosexuals, and non-white people) and I am also bothered by a white-washed history, there are more reasons. I have always struggled with my testimony, even from junior primary. My baptism and confirmation at age 8 were two of the most disappointing events in my life. So I have felt that spiritual promises were not fulfilled, and I have not received the witness of absolute knowledge that so many members claim to have. My family never fit in very well into our ward, and I did not have anyone else my age, and I guess I never felt at home socially there growing up, always like it was a burden. I have often had a hard time concentrating on the lessons at church for three hours straight, and I guess I have a lousy attention span. So add to it lack of community feeling, lack of a proven witness of its truth, lack of alignment with political/social stances on a few issues, and the importance I place on telling the whole truth, and it is a complicated mess in that light.

    Yet, it is where I grew up. It is what my husband loves. My family members have deep and abiding testimonies. So I go. some days are worse than others, but I go.

    errors brought to you via iPad

    • “So I go. some days are worse than others, but I go.”

      Yeah, I remember that phase. Not always the funnest. Good luck, and hugs to you.

    • You stole the words out of my mouth. I’ve recently realized that I love the word “agnostic,” and what it literally means. (Uh…I dunno!) It completely sums up my faith and religion. After years of unanswered prayers and disappointing experiences that I chalked up to “not enough faith,” or “I’m a bad person,” I’ve finally accepted that I just don’t know! So that’s one layer of my religious experience. But piled above and below it are obligations to my believing spouse, cultural practices and theological ideas within the mainstream church at odds with my conscience, alienation in a very conservative ward, obligation to what I see as a legacy handed down from my pioneer ancestors, a suspicion that maybe some of it actually is true, and on and on. I wish you were in my ward. 🙂 Then we could be outsiders together.

  4. Great post, G.
    I love that you link to so many great resources in one post!

    I’ll claim to be one that’s still confused and unreconciled. It’s less painful than it was a year or two ago, but still I get angry and upset at church sometimes.
    In fact, it was just a few weeks ago that I realized that I don’t share the values of most people in my ward (or the church for that matter). It was a little disappointing to think of it that way.

    Since I’m involved in a local non-profit, I feel like I give service and make a difference in the community away from Mormonism, so I don’t stay because of that.

    I stay because mostly because of my husband and because I do like many of the people in my ward. We actually have a lot of fun parties and it’s a good group of people for my kids to hang around with.
    I’m really social (almost unbearably so), so having a group of SAHMs in my area that are Mormon gives me a social network that would be hard for me to replicate.

    Doctrinally, though, I’m mostly checked out although I sometimes hear messages of love and tolerance that I embrace. But, for the most part I just hold other people’s babies while they do their callings. I like doing that 😉

    • I love linking to other stuff~ other people say thing better than me 🙂

      Holding babies, aw <3
      For me it was food storage; I could at least do food storage! (and I still have lots of silver cans of beans and rice and wheat lining my cupboards)

      • I also love the food storage component. And the community service. And the community. I also really love the hymns.

        When my faith ruptured after the 2008 election, I let everything go. It was a desire to believe in general because I always had that kept me connected. It was the need to ask all the questions I had not allow myself to ask. It was finding people who likewise questioned. It was knowing I was valued by my local leaders. It was also not wanting to let the conservative white washed side of the church win by pushing me out.
        It was a profound belief in prayer.

        And so I decided to give it a honest try by coming back. I thought I could focus on answering the first three belief questions in the temple recommend list with if not a yes, a “on most days,” or “in theory.” And for awhile I could. I didn’t expect to not want to believe in God, that was just unfathomable from my background. But then it happened.

        However, I decided it was ok. It was still my community. I felt called to stay. I love the ability to serve in a way I did not find anywhere else. And with time, my belief in God has returned, although my understanding of the nature has changed. I could point to all the doctrinal issues I have and really go by the mantra that sometimes I believe, sometimes I desire to, and sometimes I am happy not believing.

        And as long as I still feel like it is my home, I will be here.

  5. I agree with what has been said I struggle with the treatment of women homosexuals and especially blacks who are dying due to a lack of clean water and food while we build buildings how would have Christ have viewed this? I also think the church should admit it’s controversial history and stop covering it up and lying about it. Dissonance is good God chastens us in many ways and this is one of them because it causes us to grow to the extent that we are working to resolve it we are also working toward a greater truth the dos and don’ts list offered by the church is an iron rod but an iron rod is a poor substitute for our own relationship with the Spirit.

  6. This is an ongoing difficulty in my spiritual life. Politically, I feel at odds with the church. I’ve found that this weird thing happens when you go out and meet people who are different from you- you become sympathetic and perhaps empathetic to them- and that makes things like opposing gay marriage difficult to impossible for me.

    But at the same time, I don’t want to let go of what I’ve got, even if I have far less than a lot of my friends. I’m not sealed to my parents- I come from a split-faith household. I don’t have any plans to go to the temple, and I’m considering marriage to my atheist boyfriend.

    I’m at odds in a way that I can’t articulate to the faithful Mormons in my life and I can’t adequately explain myself to those who those who have gone further than I have, and have moved on (ie, the boyfriend).

    I wish I could explain myself to all these people when they want to know what’s going on with me, but I don’t know well enough to really give anyone, including myself, a definitive answer.

    So, I go. Sometimes. Rarely for the full church service. But I try. Sometimes. It’s a lot of back-and-forth. But that’s how it is, and I can’t pretend to myself otherwise.

      • alex… heheh NO WORRIES! (we like long comments 🙂 )

        and this: “I can’t pretend to myself otherwise.” I think that really just gets to the heart of it; the process of becoming honest with ourselves. It’s gonna be different for every person, but not to shabby as far as goals go.

        Good luck!

  7. I found this site while looking for information on inter-faith relationships with LDS members. My boyfriend has been mostly inactive his whole life, but recently has started to attend semi-regularly and wants, I think, for me to be fully in the church with him. It’s not something that I can do, not fully, not temple sealed…but reading words from other women who embrace the community despite rejecting parts of the doctrine gives me hope that perhaps we can work something out and stay together despite our differences in faith. Thank you to all of you for your comments…it’s a learning experience for sure as I do more research on the topic.

    • thank you Fallon. You have my best wishes! Different Faith relationships and Changing Faith relationships can bet tricky sticky things, but it sounds like you are doing this with eyes wide open.

      Good luck to you both as you find a path that suits you.

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