It was nearly 5 in the morning when I went to bed, but even then, it took a good half an hour before I finally fell asleep. In a few weeks, I’ll be flying to Utah to be with my family as they participate in my youngest sister’s wedding. Because of my current religious beliefs, I won’t actually be permitted to attend the ceremony itself, but I’m looking forward to being there anyway. During the week prior, I hope to be able to see and spend time with many of my family members. I hope the experience won’t be too awkward. The church is such an important part of their lives that it can be difficult for some of them to talk to me now as they would have in the past.
When we moved here to the eastern coast of Taiwan several months ago, we attended church a couple times to see how it would feel, but soon decided that time was up. Unlike in our previous town, we felt no connection to this new group. We stopped going and turned Sunday into a family outing day instead. Honestly, we’ve had a blast traveling around the area and enjoying more family time. I pretty much forgot the church completely. I stopped paying any attention to it whatsoever.
Recently though, because of my plan to be with family in America soon, the church keeps intruding on my thoughts. I’m glad we live in Taiwan because it has been much easier to get on with life being far away from the church and my Mormon family members. I do love them though and care about them, but the church is no longer what it used to be for me. Like a delicious looking fruit that you suddenly realize is riddled with worms just under the surface, I can no longer feel the same way about it anymore.
The shiny exterior is nothing more than a wax coating. The promise it seemed to offer is broken. But although I have discovered this truth, others still hunger after this tempting fruit, convinced that I am the one in error. So what do I do about it? I let them chase after the fruit. It’s their life. Most of them seem happy enough to see that beautiful exterior and they trust that at some future point after they die, they’ll be able to fully taste of it. All of their suffering and sacrifices will be worth it. And actually, in order to taste of that fruit, they live better lives in general and experience some joy as a result. What does it matter that the fruit itself is a lie if the direction they are moving in to chase after it is beneficial to them? But not all of them are happy, and some suffer quite a bit as a result of following a path that is wrong for them.
Realizing it’s a lie though doesn’t exactly make anyone feel better. I’m fortunate to have passed through to a better place, but others that leave the church are often left bitter and angry. Hatred may even consume some of them. Faithful members of the church often attribute those negative feelings to the ‘devil’, but I think this does them a great disservice. Former believers often feel lied to and deceived. They feel that years of their lives have been stolen from them. They are often hurt and feel a great void take the place of the church. Losing the church can be as bad as or worse than losing your family, and faithful members don’t seem capable of really understanding how it feels to be on the other side.
The church itself may not be true, but I am still grateful to it. Because of the church and teachings of my parents, especially my mother, I sought a connection with divinity. I learned to commune with some entity I called the Spirit. I learned to feel more than I could feel with just my regular senses. I’ve shared some “spiritual” experiences already – about loving others on my mission, an animal intervention, praying for a friend, being led to China, and so on.
I’ll mention a few other short ones. As a youth, I remember sitting in a church room with a group of raucous teenagers waiting for a speaker to come and talk to us. All those around me were totally irreverent, but I had been praying for a spiritual experience and I was waiting for God to answer that prayer. As I faced forward, meditating silently, I suddenly felt energy course through my body and knowledge that our speaker was here and that he was a good man. Nobody else in the room was aware of his presence yet, but I turned and saw him walking in at that moment. He was a humble follower of Jesus Christ and I respected him greatly.
In early March of 1995, I was nearly 17 and a part-time student at the community college. I attended my class as usual, but I remember having a feeling come over me that something sad had happened. I felt rather more depressed than usual but I couldn’t understand the reason for it. When my Mom came to pick me up at the college after I finished, I saw that she had been crying. She told me that our Mormon prophet, Howard W. Hunter, had just died. At the time, I had special feelings for President Hunter and I was sad at his passing. At the time, I thought I was feeling the loss of a great man from the Earth, but now I wonder if I wasn’t somehow tuning in to my mother’s feelings as she found out the news.
As a missionary in Budapest Hungary, I taught a woman about the Holy Ghost and the love of God. I remember feeling that love and energy overwhelm me and I testified to that woman that the Spirit was there in that room and was witnessing the truth to her at that moment. Despite it being one of the strongest feelings I had ever experienced, the woman claimed to feel nothing whatsoever, despite a truly honest and even desperate desire to feel something of what I felt. My companion at that time (we were on exchanges so he was not my regular companion) also felt what I did and admitted to me later that he had never in his life felt the Spirit so strongly.
These stories could go on and on. The church is not true. I’m more sure of that than I am that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, but there are still great mysteries in the Earth that neither science nor religion has yet answered for me satisfactorily. Every day around the world, people in every culture and religion are having experiences that they can’t explain. When science comes around to try and verify the claims, there is almost never any evidence to back them up. It seems to me that belief and faith are probably the most important contributing factors, but it’s not simple.
Most often, people seem to have experiences that confirm their beliefs. If you believe that the Mormon church or the Book of Mormon is true and pray to know whether that’s right or not, you may have an experience that supports the belief you already have. Faith precedes the miracle. If you don’t believe the church is true, then you will probably not have any such experience. There seem to be cases though where individuals have experiences contrary to their beliefs. Believers are given experiences that contradict the belief and faith that they have.
Most of the time, people seem to pray and have no experience whatsoever. I sometimes wonder if spiritual experience might not be related to genetics. My mom is quite spiritually sensitive. Did I inherit my gift from her? Many others have never felt anything though, despite true desire, faith, and effort. It doesn’t seem fair. These experiences though are not limited to members or investigators of the Mormon faith. Countless people around the world have claimed to have experiences with spirits or ghosts. Others believe that they are communicating telepathically to aliens from other planets. Some people have had near-death experiences and have seen things that nobody can explain.
Various experts go and try to prove some of these experiences to be hoaxes, hallucinations, and the like, but because of my own personal experiences, I can’t believe that all of the experiences people claim to have are all false, though many of them certainly are. I’m still searching for the truth, and I don’t plan to stop. But, I think, truth truly is stranger than fiction. We can all find evidence for the beliefs we want to hold, but what about when we take all of the evidence together? What is really real?
The truth? I have no idea. Maybe we create our own reality. What you believe bumps up against what somebody else believes and sometimes the realities we have created clash and maybe even crash. As far as religion goes, I think many of them, especially ones that promote belief in spiritual experiences and unseen entities, take advantage of this strange tendency of the universe to give us what we expect. I don’t know how or why this happens, but it seems to be true. You very often see what you expect to see, feel what you expect to feel, and experience what you expect to experience.
I have a lot more to say or write and I’m finding it hard to stop. I haven’t written much about these topics for months and it all wants to come out at once. Anyway, maybe as I try to write some of these things down, I’ll be able to sleep better at night. But, I’ll take a break for now. Thanks for reading.