Authenticity, congruity, faith, and the ex-Mormon
For the most part, since I’ve dis-identified from the church (…for it doesn’t feel right to say I’ve “left” the church, since I haven’t sent any Big Exit Letters) I haven’t really talked to many members I’ve personally known about it. My parents know, although I certainly did not send a letter about that either, but for the most part, I guess I was able to mask a lot by going away to college. So, I imagine that everyone thinks I’ve gone off to school and am attending a student ward here. I guess they are only half-wrong.
If someone really wanted to know, it wouldn’t be tough. On Facebook, I am fans of the Mormon Alumni Association, Outer Blogness, Main Street Plaza, r/exmormon, and a number of post-, ex-, and former Mormon groups. My religious views section still says “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” but that was only because Facebook now allows a blurb underneath. Mine is as follows:
…but an apatheist, agnostic, mere atheist, Mormon Alumni Association, secular, cultural Mormon type of LDS guy.
But I guess I couldn’t blame someone for not checking that. Anyway, recently, I reconnected with an old friend from my ward, and she began to notice all the exmormon stuff. And she was curious for explanation.
Unlike many of you who have had pretty terrible experiences with member friends, the conversation we had was pretty pleasant (although that may be because the only people who chat me up are reasonable people.) Yay.
Anyway, even more recently, this same person forwarded me something she had read as part of her assigned readings for her studies. I was pretty intrigued:
…there is a sense of yearning to find congruity, coherence, and purpose. Such yearning is not as salient in the processes of identification and imitation (unless these processes are being utilized to resolve an incongruity). Underlying this yearning is human faith–what Erikson (1968) refers to as fidelity. Faith is the ability to know that we will reach the goal, resolve the incongruity. In essence, to become aware of incongruity and to resolve the distress a person must have some degree of faith.
Some of you may already be aware that I talk about an idea called “authenticity”. A lot. I think I do it because I’m not sure what the best way is to elaborate what I mean by the concept (maybe I don’t even know)?
Anyway, as I read this, I thought: this has something to do with authenticity! Even if it uses different terms, it matches my feels of growing up in the church and of grappling with it.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t have a lot of fuss from “disaffecting,” but I do remember my father and I having some discussions. He wasn’t too aggressive about it, but he just couldn’t get how anyone could not believe in god. He said something to the effect that while people might disagree on the specifics, anyone who was sincerely paying attention to the universe should conclude that there is some kind of higher power.
I’ve heard this argument around the internet in a few ways. They argue that faith is integral to a coherent worldview or universe-view, and so atheists only claim to be atheists because at some point, they don’t “take their atheism” seriously. All atheists must have some kind of faith somewhere, or else they are nursing an unexamined, yet surely self-defeating worldview.
I’ve had people argue to me that without faith, there is despair. So at the very least, one should have “faith” for a God so that there will be ultimate justice. Without that, one “despairs” that some wrongs will win over good.
…I’ve never understood these arguments. Maybe I’m just not “examining” hard enough, but I don’t feel this kind of “despair.” (In fact, I countered that more worthy of “despair” of a lack of ultimate justice is the despair of trying to force a hope for justice that you just don’t think is so.)
Well, I guess that was a bit of a diversion…getting back to the quote, I was really intrigued by the definition of faith. Not only is it radically secular, but it can in specific instances lead away from religion and religious affiliation. I might be misreading it, but for me at least, growing up in the church was like being given a package to identify with. Much of growing up in the church for me specifically was a game of imitation — I thought everyone was just playing a game, and so I was playing along too.
But then came the realization of incongruity. Others weren’t playing a game. They actually believed this stuff. I knew that I didn’t, and so first I tried what I could to believe what I didn’t. In the process, I had the human faith that, one way or another, I could resolve the incongruity.
Ultimately, I resolved it by dropping the imitation act.
So, where does the faith come in? Particularly as it relates to despair?
The one overriding existential despair I can think of is precisely the idea that one has an incongruity that cannot be resolved. Many “church” solutions feel like that. The church’s position on gay people? It essentially is an incongruity that cannot be resolved except through continuous denial of what most internally feels to be integral to the individual. And in the afterlife, some members say homosexuality won’t exist. It is like saying the gay person won’t exist — for whoever goes to heaven in his stead is an impostor.