I wore my suit again. It’s been almost a year since I last put it on. I don’t like to brag, but you know what? I clean up pretty nicely.
The occasion was the baptism of my daughter. She turned eight last month and according to the rules of Mormonism, that’s the age of accountability, the age at which a person is finally old enough to make a significant life choice about whether to follow Christ or not. Never mind that an eight-year-old who was raised in the church has no ability to decide for herself what is true. Never mind that 100% of children born to an LDS family are baptized upon reaching age eight if the family is still active. Never mind all that. This was my daughter, and though I disagree with the practice, I support my daughter. I want her to know that I love her. An event that is important to her, then, is important to me.
I shaved. I put my suit on. I drove to the stake center. I knew what to expect.
I didn’t expect what happened next, though.
Tithing was always a heavy medal. The weight caused the material it was pinned against to sag, and the constant flopping around with every movement soon began to be annoying, and the fastener constantly irritated the skin. But by God, as a devout Mormon it was a medal worth wearing.
After all, tithing wasn’t just a sign of devotion, of commitment to the one true God. It was also a commandment with a promise. The very windows of heaven were opened to one who paid a faithful tithe, and the blessings were pouring down in such quantity that there was hardly any room left to receive any more of them.
I was minding my own business when without having had any other recent conversation even remotely related to the topic, I received the following text from my mother. “Where do feelings of love come from if there is no God?”
On the surface, this is a very simple question, and one that has a very interesting answer. But as I thought about how I would answer it, I realized what it was she was really asking. She wasn’t interested in discussing evolutionary biology. She wasn’t interested in discussing brain chemistry. This wasn’t a question she wanted answered. This was, in her mind, proof of God. After all, since God is love, it only follows that the undeniable existence of love proves the existence of God.
A lot can happen in a year. Some years seem to pass without much changing. Other years, you’d never guess at the beginning of it that your life would be completely different 365 days later. For me, this past year has been of the latter variety.
Today is the 365th day I’ve been keeping this blog. I started it because I felt like I needed a safe place to work out my thoughts and my confusion. I was just coming to the realization that the church I had believed in my entire life was not true. I was beginning to question almost everything that I thought I once knew. In the past 365 days, I’ve figured out quite a few things, changed my life in several fundamental ways, and confronted new questions that I’m still struggling to figure out. I thought I’d take a moment today to highlight a few of those things.
Mormon scripture states that members should be tithed, that they “shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually” to the church. In order for members to qualify as worthy of god’s stamp of approval, i.e., to receive a recommend to enter a Mormon temple, they must indicate in a private interview with their ecclesiastical leaders that they pay “a full tithe.”
But what is a full tithe? Unfortunately, the church doesn’t give very much more clarification than what is stated in the scriptures. The word “interest” has been defined to mean “income,” but beyond that, the members are left to themselves to determine exactly how to calculate what counts as income and what doesn’t. It’s hard to blame the church authorities for not wanting to create a tome equivalent to the US tax code to clarify the tithing code. For one thing, it would encourage pharisaic dedication along with its attendant loopholes. But perhaps even more convincingly, by making a statement that determining the amount to be paid as tithing by each member is a decision to be arrived at by the member in consultation with god, my guess is that the amount donated is, on average, higher than it would be if they published a set of guidelines.
This morning I had an epiphany. I realized why so many members of Girlfriend’s family and in-laws have been treating her the way they have. Their worldview doesn’t allow them to understand polyamory. In their eyes, her choices aren’t about living according to her new values that come from her new understanding of the world. They see it as her simply not being strong enough to live righteously. She is yielding to temptation. If only she had the strength to live up to the truth, she wouldn’t be doing any of this.
In their mind, she isn’t choosing to be polyamorous. She is violating sacred covenants she made with god in his holy temple. And then she has the gall to flaunt it in front of everybody? For shame! “If you’re going to commit adultery, at least have the decency to hide it and feel ashamed, the way we did when we had our affairs.” Amen.
There is a certain sense of safety, security, and comfort that those who believe in a loving God retain in their lives even amid great change and uncertainty. Just knowing that God is there, that He is aware of you, that He loves you, and that He knows the trials and tribulations you are currently facing will ultimately prove to have been for your good … how can that not help you face whatever comes with anything but hope and optimism and added strength? And conversely, how can you face even small difficulties in life if you lack the conviction that it all means something, that it will all work out in the end, that somehow God will even the score, even if it has to wait until the next life? That’s one of the more difficult questions that I’m asked, and because of everything that I’ve lost when I lost my belief in God, this has left the biggest hole and I still find myself mourning it from time to time.
Yet I have found a place I’m comfortable with. Perhaps it’s not quite Abraham’s bosom. Perhaps it’s not even the location of my final destination in my relationship with deity. But it’s a place that I’m comfortable with today, from which I can face each new day that comes with a sense of optimism and hope. At least for now, it’s my view of Life, the Universe, and Everything. If you’ve got a few minutes, I’d love to share it with you.