Two Years of Reevaluating
Part of a series about My Faith Journey.
Following my stint in the bishopric, my church activity really dropped off and my attendance became rather spotty. Walking through the chapel doors was the hardest thing I did in any given week. It took all the strength I possessed to fight through the anxiety, anger, and resentment I felt. This was such a stark contrast to the feelings of warmth and peace that church attendance / involvement had given me in the past.
It was during this time that I started to pay more attention to self-care. I started seeing a therapist. She was... okay, but I don't think she was a good fit for me. She wasn't a very good listener. She often jumped to conclusions and would start rattling off advice based on those faulty conclusions. It was very tedious dealing with her. And expensive. After 10 months, I stopped seeing her. (In hindsight, I should've dumped her a lot sooner and found a better therapist.)
I tried doing more day-to-day forms of therapy: I got plenty of solitary time so I could reflect and center myself. I wrote in a journal. I spent more time with my hobbies. I reconnected with old friends. I tried doing some new things (e.g. karaoke) to stimulate some new neural pathways. I drew strength from the positive relationships in my life (e.g. my wife and my gaming buddies). I got involved with the ward choir because I heard that singing can help counter depression. (It actually works.)
During the time that I was paying more attention to self-care, I learned that clinical depression actually has some benefits (along with its obvious disadvantages). The biggest benefit is "clarity of vision". I saw a TED talk on depression that explained it thusly: "Depression doesn't mean having a veil of grey placed over your eyes, it means having the veil of happiness -- that you never knew you were wearing -- removed."
David Letterman put it thusly: "Depression doesn't mean feeling sad, it doesn't mean feeling blue, it means seeing the world with 20/20 vision." I heard it said that depressed people are able to give more realistic estimates / assessments than their non-depressed counterparts. This is why: with the "veil of happiness" removed, you see the world for what it is, nothing more and nothing less.
I've heard it said that "distance gives perspective". Anxiety made me distance myself from church, and depression gave me additional clarity of vision.I began to reexamine some of the things I had been taught at church my whole life. Some examples:
I didn't want to think that anything I had been taught at church was wrong, but I had to conclude that there were number of things I had been taught that just didn't work in real life and were actually damaging to my mental health. It led me to wonder what other teachings might be suspect. I have since learned that numerous other people who suffer from depression say that living an LDS lifestyle exacerbated the effects of their depression. (Interesting fact: Utah leads the nation in consumption of antidepressants.)
There's an old joke about an old fish who swims past two young fish and he says to them, "Howdy, boys! How's the water?" The two young fish look at each other and say, "What the heck is he talking about?" The point of the joke is: Nobody is aware of their own culture; we simply accept the world that we are born into. The old fish must have flopped onto dry land at some point, and knew the difference. Experiencing depression felt like being a fish that got cast onto dry land. I was gasping for breath, but while I was gasping for breath, I finally understood what water was... and I saw that the water was kind of polluted... and I seriously questioned whether I wanted to go back in... and I seriously wondered if it was time for me to evolve and become an air-breather...
"We are caged by our cultural programming. Culture is a mass hallucination, and when you step outside the mass hallucination you see it for what it's worth." -- Terence McKenna
The "clarity of vision" afforded by depression enabled me to ask some tough questions that I had been avoiding. One example: I mentioned earlier that when I started experiencing depression, the sensation of the Holy Ghost simply vanished. This, despite the promise I had been given that it would be my "constant companion". I asked myself: was the Holy Ghost so powerless that a small chemical imbalance in my brain was enough to scare it away? And then an even more disturbing question occurred: Was the Holy Ghost really like it had been explained it to me, or had I just been feeling the normal "feel good" hormones (serotonin, et al) that my body was no longer properly producing?
All my life growing up in the church, I had heard members say "Some people think the Mormon church is a cult". This statement was always instantly followed with denials of "No, of course it isn't!"
Well, one day, I told myself that I would look for things at church that seemed "culty". Here's what I saw:
Somewhere in the midst of my two-year period of reevaluation a funny question popped into my mind: Will temple work need to be done for Neanderthals? I asked this because I'd seen some of my Facebook friends publish genetic reports from gene samples they've sent in and many of them had 1-2% Neanderthal DNA. That means that at some point in their family tree, they had an ancestor with one Homo Sapien parent, and one Neanderthal parent... and that one Neanderthal parent probably had two Neanderthal parents, so on, so forth. So effectively, that means temple work would need to be done for all of the Neanderthals, right?
And what would those Neanderthals think when they was told that Adam & Eve were the first humans?
And what if you found a Neanderthal ancestor that had a Homo Erectus parent? Would temple work need to be done for all of them?
And then what if that Homo Erectus parent had an Australopithecus parent. Do we do temple work for all the prehistoric hominids?
A typical thing for a Sunday School teacher to say at this point is: "It will all be sorted out in the millennium". Is 1000 years really enough time to do the work for millions (or tens of millions) of years of generations?
But getting back to the previous line of questioning: And then what if you discovered that one of the Homo Erectus parents had some sort of primate ancestor (as fossil records have shown they probably did). Would we need to do temple work for all primates? What would we use for names at that point? Would they even be capable of speech? Do we stop with the primates, or do we work our way through all the mammals, or even all the animal kingdom? Can you imagine doing temple work all the way back to single-celled organisms?
So, right about here was where I asked myself: What if temple work isn't actually helping any dead people at all, it's just being done for the conditioning of the living. It's to get living members to keep pledging allegiance to the church and committing to give the church all their time and money.
You only ever need to go to the temple one time, for yourself (the same way you only need to get baptized one time, for yourself). If the purpose of temple attendance is not to benefit the dead in any way, but a means for the church to continually condition the living members, they would need to construct some narrative to get them to keep coming back. Maybe this is why the whole "doing work for the dead" teaching was created: to provide a reason for members to keep going back. The more I thought about this, the more I thought that the temple is just a big hamster wheel.
Some time after this two-year questioning / exploring period, I learned that it takes about two years for a former cult member to be "deprogrammed". Without realizing that this was what was occurring to me, I nevertheless found myself breaking through the layers conditioning that had been put into me by the Mormon church.
I remember even saying a silent prayer once where I asked (sincerely) "Heavenly Father, should I remain a member of the LDS church?" I paused and felt a strange sense of anticipation mixed largely with emptiness. I followed up that line with, "Are you even there, or am I just talking to myself?"
At this point, I was finally ready to question everything I had ever believed.