Tag Archives: exmormon’s search for meaning

Your Spacesuit | Excerpt From ExMormon’s Search For Meaning

The below is a chapter from ExMormon’s Search For Meaning, available to purchase on Amazon.

The day you’re born the lights get flipped on and the awareness begins. One of the reasons kids are wonderful to be around is because of how transparent they are as they attempt to mimic the adults. Kids don’t know what race, ethnicity or gender means but it doesn’t stop them from picking sides even when they don’t know what sides are. Tarzan thought he was an ape, Mowgli thought he was a wolf and most kids grow up to think they are people. Over time our kids catch onto the game and start to get good at developing their very own sense of self and the accompanying stories about who that self is—what it wants, what it likes and all the other opinions that go along with it. The problem kids eventually face as they get older, and that we all have to confront ourselves, is that we mistake that invented self as who we really are. A too-tight hold on that self is responsible for much of the stress, anxiety and suffering that we feel. 

Ram Dass, the American spiritual teacher, calls growing up “somebody training.” You go about repeating to yourself, “this is who I am,” “this is who I am,” “this is who I am,” while everybody else is also reinforcing their own structure of themselves. Then when two people meet they enter into a kind of conspiracy: “I’ll make believe you are who you think you are if you make believe I am who I think I am.”

Ram Dass continues with an analogy that this invented self is like being born with a spacesuit. Over time you get so good at doing things in your spacesuit that you eventually can’t differentiate between yourself and your suit. People are always coming up to give you compliments: That’s a beautiful suit you’ve got there. But you can’t help but feel, in your quieter moments, that those compliments are misguided. What you know but they don’t is that no matter how much you try to adjust the suit it never gets totally comfortable. But despite the suit not fitting, everybody keeps saying, beautiful suit, you must be happy.

After being told by others that your suit is beautiful, but not feeling it yourself, you may eventually talk to an “expert” who says they can help. What a relief. Someone can finally help me get this suit to fit right! But what the expert ends up doing is not teaching you how to wear your suit, but instead teaching you to wear their suit.  

Former Mormon President Thomas Monson said: “We are sons and daughters of a living God…We cannot sincerely hold this conviction without experiencing a profound new sense of strength and power.” (“Canaries with Gray on Their Wings,” Ensign, June 2010). Monson correctly recognizes the problem of becoming too closely identified with our looks, bank account size, righteousness or reputation. But his prescription for the problem comes up just short of being a real solution. He’s merely suggesting a different suit—the “offspring of a literal deity in heaven” suit. There are worse suits that you could wear, and for many people it fits well enough. But if you put on that suit it’s likely that the only long term change you’ll experience is the people who come up to you saying beautiful suit are the people who go to church with you. Discouragingly for many, this “child of God” suit starts to feel just as uncomfortable. The problem isn’t finding the right suit, it’s thinking that any suit will solve your problem. It’s only after taking off the suit that you can feel good, at peace and content. 

“We do not “come into” this world,” says Alan Watts, “we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.” This is in direct opposition to the admonition to be in the world, but not of the world. No, you are of the world and the feeling of being of the world feels great.

Monson uses a “profound new sense of strength and power” as the incentive to wear the “child of God suit” along with all the other dangling carrots of “thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths” (D&C 132:19) that one stands to inherit if obedient. Now consider what you stand to obtain right now from being of the world and one with the universe: you are all of space and time, including planets, nebulae, stars, supernovas and galaxies. You are currently estimated to be 93 billion light-years in diameter and 13 billion years old. Your expansion is accelerating and in all likelihood you will continue to expand forever. And on top of that you have the profound ability to observe yourself.

Now this is a conviction that we cannot sincerely hold without experiencing a profound new sense of strength and power.

The Idea Of Religion | Excerpt From ExMormon’s Search For Meaning

The below is a chapter from ExMormon’s Search For Meaning, available to purchase on Amazon.

If you asked my wife, she would say I am a Star Wars fan but she would also tell you it’s very confusing as to why I say I’m a Star Wars fan. You see, all I can do is complain about it: George Lucas constantly tinkering with the original movies, Mark Hamill’s whiny acting, storm-troopers that can’t shoot worth a damn, not to mention the embarrassing prequels and the letdown of the modern sequels. 

If you’ve ever hung out with someone who loves Star Wars, or if you are a Star Wars fan yourself, it’s likely you also have come across this seeming paradox: Star Wars fans love to hate Star Wars. In this sense, “Star Wars fans” are quite similar to “Mormon fans.” If you talk to Mormons who are honest with themselves, they’ll say they believe the church is true but there is plenty about it they hate, and not just the euphemisms (“oh my heck!”) and the clichés (“I’d like to bear my testimony…”). Mormons love to speculate every six months about what announcements might be made during General Conference in hopes that some point of doctrine will mercifully be changed. Does anyone really like fast and testimony meetings, Sunday school or the endless meetings during the week? The Church is often treated like the bad tasting medicine that you take, not because you want to, but because it’s supposedly good for you.   

Over several arguments about what exactly makes Star Wars so important to me, where I find it more and more difficult to argue my case, I have figured out why I keep showing up for each new movie. I hate a lot of things about Star Wars, but the idea of Star Wars…the idea I love. When I watched Star Wars as a child I remember having the sense that I was seeing just the tip of the iceberg. There was an entire universe going on behind the scenes full of fascinating creatures and curious worlds where anything could happen. By the same logic, it was the idea of Mormonism that I had such a hard time leaving rather than Mormonism itself. 

The idea of Mormonism is that God loves us, wants us to be happy and return to him after we die. So throughout time he has revealed his plan of happiness to us through prophets. Members of the church personify God’s plan by encouraging, helping and loving each other on the way to eternal life. What a nice idea! 

The downfall of the Star Wars prequels (among many) was that they over-explained: learning just how Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side sounds like a compelling idea for a film. But it’s the mystery of how Darth Vader turned to the Dark Side, not to mention all those one-off characters and subtle references to other adventures that get the imagination revving that makes Star Wars so great.

The idea of Mormonism by itself also sounds great, but many can’t help but feel compelled to go deeper than the superficial narrative. What is unique to Mormonism, rather than other Christian religions, is that many questions about it can be answered. It’s a relatively new religion with ample records and testimonies of people who were there when it happened. I thought I was supposed to find the answers to my questions about the nature of God, the restoration of the Gospel and Joseph Smith to increase my faith. Once I realized there was information out there that I previously didn’t know existed that held the possibility of providing additional answers, I couldn’t not read it. 

In the end that’s what I did. And I found answers. And the answers made me disbelieve. Eric Hoffer’s quote from his book True Believer brought on a new level of understanding: “We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. A doctrine that is understood is shorn of its strength.”

Desire is fueled by the unknown. Mormonism is like the magician who has revealed the trick behind their “magic.” Once the gimmick is laid bare, the magic dispels and you lose interest. Maybe if Mormonism came out with some new revelations about the nature of God or new ways that God wants us to behave, it would respark some of that desire. In that regard, Star Wars will continue to pull me into the theater every once in a while as long as it keeps attempting to come up with something new. But as for church, it’s just the idea of a unified belief system that I miss—something that never really existed in the first place—instead of the religion itself.

Ancient Wisdom | Excerpt From ExMormon’s Search For Meaning

The below is a chapter from ExMormon’s Search For Meaning, available to purchase on Amazon.

As a believer I enjoyed seeing the church announce its membership statistics at each general conference. Every year the numbers went up, so, the church was true. One of my first points of interest after becoming a non-believer was to understand how to refute the claim that Christianity’s unlikely triumph is proof of divine favor. Searching for books on Amazon revealed one that was asking my exact question: The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, by Bart D. Ehrman.

While Ehrman’s answer was in itself interesting (Christianty simply out-competed paganism: it wasn’t closed to women, it embedded social welfare into its doctrines, it claimed ultimate truth that foreclosed devotion to all other deities and also included proselytizing in it’s doctrine so that while the growth looks incredible, in fact it’s simply the result of an exponential curve) that wasn’t what caught my eye.

My indoctrination had always included viewing people who were not religious as also not being very moral – how could they be? They don’t believe in God! I was dumbfounded when I learned that the Romans prior to Christianity had morals. God and acting morally were not one in the same? Pagans had no concept of a God that required worshipers to acknowledge the validity of certain truths or live a life that the Gods would deem acceptable. Pagan religions were all about cultic acts: a ritualized practice like animal sacrifice that was done out of reverence to the gods. Ehrman explains, “It is not that ancient people were less ethical than people today; it is that ethics had little to do with religion. Where ethics played a role was in philosophy. Philosophers talked a lot about how people should act toward one another; as members of a family, in relationships, with friends and neighbors, as citizens of a city. Good behavior was part of being a worthwhile human being and a responsible citizen. But it was generally not a part of religious activities.”

To learn morals one need not defer to supernatural deities. Instead, philosophy! Philosophies have two components: they tell us what things in life are and aren’t worth pursuing, and they tell us how to gain the things that are worth having. The result of a particular philosophy is found between your philosophy—how you interpret things, what you think is important—and the quality of your mental and physical health. 

I’d always thought philosophers were just people in universities with patches on their elbows who came up with obscure thought experiments. I’m not alone in this judgment. Donald Robertson in his book The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy relates that in ancient times the ideal philosopher was a veritable warrior of the mind, but in modern times, “the philosopher has become something more bookish, not a warrior, but a mere librarian of the mind.”  Philosophy has always been about transforming the life of the philosopher, in a manner that resembles modern psychotherapy or self-help. As far back as Socrates, philosophy has been compared to the art of medicine for the mind or soul, what we now call psychotherapy. Philosophy isn’t some esoteric thought exercise that you need a degree to understand, it speaks to the everyday concerns of ordinary people.

I may have lost interest in the demands made by supernatural beings, but I haven’t lost an interest in self-improvement. I am very comfortable acknowledging that I am selfish, prone to overindulge, quick to judge, fixated on possessions and status, and hesitant to help other people. Given my faults, repetition of simple, even childlike lessons that I used to get at church on how to conduct myself are not only warranted but welcome. I don’t consider myself above the lessons and reminders that religion pushed, I’m just over the need to be threatened with hell or bribed by the Celestial Kingdom to comport myself in a way that is best for me. My forgetful self needs a constant diet of lessons on how to live well, no matter how many times I’ve heard them before. Philosophy provides the means to that end, no superstitions required. 

I decided to become a philosopher in the ancient sense of the word. I would develop a path to morals, and potentially meaning, that didn’t rely on God, that was practical and based on my own empirical evidence. Socrates, Plato, Epictetus, Seneca, Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius would be my new teachers.