An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Changing faith’

Change of Heart

When I called to wish my brother, Dooby, a happy 68th birthday on Sunday, I thought I’d reached a wrong number when he said he’d just returned from church.

“So where did you go to church?” I asked, expecting to hear a smart remark.

“St. Olafs. I’ve been going nearly every Sunday for almost a year and have been taking instruction on Catholicism. I’m thinking of being baptized.”

I glanced outside to see if a flaming meteor was zooming toward Earth or possibly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse unleashing disaster. My brother has been atheist most of his life, although he sometimes joins his wife on Buddhist meditation retreats. The last time I saw him, he was reading Carl Jung. I don’t know why Dooby has reversed direction on religion. George says it’s because Doob is getting older and closer to the end.

Dooby’s revelation made me think of friends and acquaintances who have changed religious views— although not necessarily their affiliation. One Catholic friend has moved to agnosticism and another to ecumenicalism. A friend who raised her children to be devout Lutherans has adopted pantheism. The daughter of a friend was recently baptized into the Anglican faith after spending most of her adult life as a Buddhist. When I attend services at the Unitarian Church or Zen Center, I always meet former Mormons. And most Mormon wards I’ve attended have older converts or returnees to the faith.

I don’t know how widespread a change of faith is in later years, or the reasons for it. For most people, agnosticism is less comforting than a belief in an afterlife, but not all changes I’ve seen have been to a faith that promises Heaven.  My guess is that many older people lose confidence in their religious traditions when life experiences don’t align with the teachings of their faith. Bad things happen to good people—and good things happen to the apparently undeserving. If a person’s faith is based on the idea that we can prevent misfortune by particular religious observances, that person is bound to experience disillusionment when life disappoints.

I suspect that the spiritual philosophy which motivates, guides and comforts a person is highly individualistic. Maybe God knows that. Maybe that’s why we have so many different religions.

Moving On

“You’re really a nice person,” my visiting teacher for the past three years told me last month. “Of course I am,” I agreed. “No, I really mean it. You bring out toys and books for Jenny’s (her partner) kids while we visit. You do volunteer work. You’re a good person.”

I found Ella’s comment rather strange since making guests comfortable and volunteering in the community are not unusual things for anyone to do. It occurred to me later that Ella finds my degree of humanity puzzling because I no longer attend Mormon services. Devout Mormons know that people leave the church because they have been lured into the paths of sin. Good people occupy the chapel seats every Sunday.

The idea that people attend church because it meets their needs and stop attending when it does not fails to play into Mormon beliefs—and probably those of some other denominations.

My Mormon ward met my needs when, as newlyweds, George and I moved from Utah to Casper, Wyoming—a tremendous step for someone who had barely been outside Utah. Besides the comforting familiarity of the meetinghouse and rituals, the warm welcome by members in our small ward provided instant friends. One Sunday morning I was surprised to realize I was looking forward to attending church rather than going because I “should.”

For several years church met my social and spiritual needs as we moved to other states and started our family. Studying church doctrine expanded my knowledge; fulfilling callings expanded talents and abilities. My life centered on family and church.

When our older kids reached their teens, I returned to teaching. Church callings became challenging, even burdensome, with my family and work responsibilities, but I felt a need to give back some of what I had received from the institutional church. About 25 years ago, church lessons became simplified with the “milk before meat” philosophy and were limited to a few dozen topics recycled year after year. “So-called intellectuals” were condemned from the pulpit and in classes in our ward.  

I began leaving the three-hour block after two hours, then after one. George caught me sneaking home and joined me. I started using my church time for reading on my own, then began visiting other churches—looking for a place where I could achieve spiritual growth. Liberating ourselves from meeting attendance freed George and me from the frustration and hostility engendered when we forced ourselves to sit through what we found tedious and trite.

The current Church meets the needs of many members, but those who have outgrown the organization do not deserve censure from believing family and friends.  Moving on should not be painful. We keep the good from our previous faith and add to it from new sources. Even my devout visiting teacher recognizes that I’m a still nice person.

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