Red alert! Spiritual self-destruction initiated

I have a burning question. I've had it for a long time.

What is the difference between someone whose faith strengthens when faced with adversity and someone whose faith weakens when faced with adversity? The question takes on an even more mystifying air when I realize that I myself have fallen into both camps at various points in my life.

After years of pondering this question, I may have reached an answer that satisfies my curiosity.

A person whose faith strengthens when faced with adversity wants their faith to strengthen, so they choose to tell themselves a faith-strengthening story about what they experience.

A person whose faith weakens when faced with adversity wants their faith to weaken, so they choose to tell themselves a faith-destroying story about what they experience.

What do I mean by adversity?
Well, anything that introduces discomfort into a person's life. It doesn't have to be cancer. It could be something as simple as getting fired from a job or as stupid as stubbing your toe (don't tell me you haven't cursed the universe upon stubbing your toe...). It could be as serious as a loved one attempting suicide or as complex as learning disappointing historical facts about people you reverence.

Basically, it could be anything. I know in my community of faith it often centers around hot-button social issues like gay marriage and teen suicide or historical issues like Joseph Smith's more unrefined moments. Take your pick.

What do I mean by want?
This part gets really tricky. Why would anyone want to destroy their own faith? I don't think they would, but it turns out there are plenty of issues that could serve as a starting point on a path that could lead there. Here are just a few I could think of.
  • It is unpopular to believe in a God who created the Earth and is the Father of us all. One reason for this being advances in science that give us an increasingly detailed picture of how the universe works physically.
  • It is unpopular to believe in the existence of right and wrong. In my opinion it is easier to dismiss the concept of right and wrong altogether than to uphold it while resisting the urge to judge people we believe are doing wrong things.
  • It is difficult to acknowledge and accept the need for commandments when they encourage us to abstain from many things that bring us pleasure, acceptance, validation, and advantage over others.
  • People don't want to offend others, but they can't figure out how to maintain their faith without doing so.
  • Religion seems antiquated as a method for improving humanity. Historically, religion has been equally responsible for destruction and good. Or, let's be honest, maybe it's been more responsible for destruction than good.
The list goes on and on and on and on...but the point is that there are plenty of reasons for a person of faith to consciously or subconsciously want to destroy their own faith.

Once that idea has taken root, all that remains is to cope with the social and cultural implications of not wanting to believe. That's pretty much where all the arguing comes from. I've seen this over and over again with friends and acquaintances and family to the point where I'm bored of it. So...

Let's make a pact
If you are my friend or acquaintance or family, and you aren't a person of faith (or you are, but don't want to be), let's just come to a little agreement. 

First, we're going to remain friends, acquaintances, and family. Because why wouldn't we? 

Second, can we agree to not argue? If you do or don't want to build your faith, that's your prerogative. I do want to build my faith, and that's my prerogative.

Third, let's be honest with each other. We're both working from the same facts. I openly and fully acknowledge that I am choosing to interpret them in a way that tells a story of God, miracles, and faith. I also openly and fully acknowledge that there are other ways of telling the story based on the same facts. Yours might be one of those, but that's all it is.

Finally, let's make a pact to avoid pride. I don't care if I'm right and you're wrong, and neither should you!


Comments

  1. AnonymousJuly 04, 2016

    Tyler,

    This is coming from an active LDS person who has a testimony and feels no need to leave the faith...

    BUT NO. JUST NO. What you've written has totally missed the mark. Many, many of my friends have left the LDS Church recently, and you know what their main impetus has been for leaving?

    Historical issues? A desire to sin? Nope, far from it.

    The problem is that there is little room for them to be honest with themselves and with other people about the issues the LDS Church has faced since the advent of Google. Most of my friends had no desire to destroy their faith, and exhausted every drop of energy, hope and prayer before feeling that it was time to leave. All but a few have continued to live lives with the same moral code they had as LDS, but they simply no longer participate because there is no room for them to be honest with themselves and with others at church.

    There's a secondary issue where I see that your thinking is in error. You make the assumption that faith is simply a choice; that if you just choose to believe and face your adversity with optimism and stoicity, your testimony will survive. You make the statement that people are actively destroying their faith, presenting the possible actions as being solely binary: destroy faith or do not destroy faith. But man, life is so much more complicated than that. Literally millions of factors determine who we are, what we have to react to, and how we react. Genetics, beauty or the lack thereof, intelligence, childhood traumas; absent, aloof or abusive parents; physical accidents, chemical imbalances, mental illness, rape, abuse, and war - all of these things affect the very way we process and view the world, and in some cases even affect the chemical composition of our brains. And guess what? Some people can't handle being raped, or seeing women and children enslaved and torn to pieces in combat zones. In my experience, many people never recover from these traumas, and often their faith in deity does not recover either.

    So yes, sit there on your Rameumptom, declaring your righteous choice to just believe. It's pretty easy to choose faith when you're a citizen of the richest country in the world, in a state with low crime and a flourishing economy. The real world continues to burn, groaning under the pain of poverty, warfare and disease, while you sit there in Utah where your biggest worry is whether or not girls like you.

    To sum it up, your attitude is pedantic. It oversimplifies the complex experiences and emotions of those around you who are suffering, and it is this attitude that is contributing to the overall atmosphere of unwelcomeness that makes people, the very offspring of God, feel that they are unwanted by those who were blessed with the ability to have a traditional sense of faith.

    I suggest you read Doctrine and Covenants 46 again, and ponder upon the fact that God has designed this world so that some naturally have faith and some do not. As you are one who has faith, please follow these scriptures and be one upon whom those struggling with their faith can lean, rather than acting as yet another stumbling block for your brothers and sisters who are truly suffering in the onslaught of the information coming to light.

    - A Friend

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous,

      The concept of faith as a choice seems to resonate very deeply with many people, but also not so much with other people. This kind of diverse response leads me back to my original question, "What's the difference between these people?"

      I'd be very interested to hear your answer, as I'm sure it would add to my understanding of the topic.

      Also, I can see how my use of the word "want" doesn't really communicate my point very well. It's probably fair to say that no one WANTS to destroy their faith, but some of the millions of factors you mention make it a viable option in the minds of some. At the end of the day, I do believe we are free to choose which voices we follow (barring agency-impairing circumstances such as mental illness and so on).

      All in all, thanks for taking the time to comment on this little blog that no one really reads. I am grateful for the perspective you've given me.

      Though my post may have missed the mark on some issues, I think you may have missed the mark on my post, which was essentially, "Let's be friends." (The pact!)

      Tyler

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