When I had my rapid de-conversion from Mormonism, I didn’t know what to think about God or religion anymore. Many ex-Mormons become agnostics or atheists when they lose belief in Mormon theology. When you’ve been told your whole life that Jesus told Joseph Smith that all other religions are wrong, that “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt” (JSH 1:19), it’s easy see why no other church sounds worth visiting. And yet I was drawn to visit other churches, to see if I could approach the idea of God in a way that would still resonate with me and inspire me. I didn’t even know what God meant to me anymore. One thing I did know, is that I no longer believed in God as a person sitting on a throne, pulling the strings of our lives, meting out rewards and punishments to everyone. A scripture kept echoing in my mind, that seemed to be so opposite to reality that I wondered how I ever believed it:
20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (D&C 130:21-22)
Why was I so blessed to be born a healthy, white, middle-class American male in the late 20th century, who happens to be good at a profession that allows me to comfortably provide for my family. I never had to worry about clean water or food, or worry about getting sold into sex slavery, or any other horrific thing that happens to some people. Are all of my “blessings” because I or my parents were obedient to laws, either in this life or the previous life? In my last meeting with my bishop before I resigned from the LDS church, I asked him how it was that I had been given so much, and yet children could be born into a slum somewhere in the world, where they might not have much of a chance to have a healthy and long life. To me it seems like dumb luck, a matter of pure circumstance. “Maybe those children are born there because it’s their best chance to reach the Celestial Kingdom,” he told me. On one hand I was shocked at the answer, but on the other hand, what else can you say? If you believe in a personal God who makes the best choices for all of us, and gives us all what we need even if we don’t understand it, what other answer can you give? For me, this answer didn’t work, and it still doesn’t. That’s not the kind of God I believe in.
So I went to other churches, while deep-diving into Biblical and other religious academics. According to my study and my understanding, many of the stories we read in the Bible aren’t literally true. The Bible is made up of poetry, mythos, origin stories, satire, pseudepigrapha, letters, authors wrestling with the idea of God, and people trying to explain their interactions with the divine. I noticed that I could have intense spiritual experiences in those churches or on my own, even though I had lost my literal beliefs in many stories of the Bible. I found out the Bible can be true, even if it’s not literally true. It’s true, because it contains truths about humanity, and our attempts to describe our interactions with God. The first time I visited Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS church), a female pastor started the meeting with a meditation about Jesus. Even though I no longer believed Jesus literally shed his blood for my sins, as she described the scene of meeting Jesus, I could see it so clearly in my mind that I was overcome with emotion. Tears streamed down my face as she described Jesus kneeling before me. He looked into my eyes, took my hands and said: “You are worthy. You are enough.” Jesus is a powerful symbol that resonates deeply in me. I believe in the Jesus described in the New Testament who was all about loving and including everyone around him. He said the two great commandments were to love God, and to love others. That’s theology I can get behind.
The God I believe in is found in literally everything. Each of us, every living thing, every particle in the universe, is part of that divinity. I believe in an emergent God who grows and progresses as life progresses. As we improve our lives, and grow in scientific and ethical understanding, so does this all-encompassing divinity grow and improve. This divinity can’t be described by simple language like “God is our father.” Rather, I would say “God is like a father”, but also “God is like a mother”. None of these ideas are my original ideas. I have heard these words and ideas spoken and written by people like Rob Bell, John Shelby Spong, Pete Rollins and Kent Dobson. Yet I have had my own very personal experiences, where I felt the divine in myself, in my wife, in my kids, in the mountains around me, in the creek water swirling around my legs, in the fish I freed from my hook and let go again, in the limitless starry sky that dwarfs me, and in the words of the Bible that make me weep even though my belief and understanding of those words have changed so much.
I’m aware this all probably sounds like nonsense to any orthodox Mormon or Christian believer. I’m OK with that. All I can say is I have never felt closer to the divine than I do now. I know many feel powerful spiritual experiences in all kinds of religions, and even with no religion. I honor and respect their experiences, and I’m grateful for the divine nature of human beings that allows us to have these experiences in so many different ways.
- “How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee” by Bart Ehrman
- “Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy: A Journey into a New Christianity Through the Doorway of Matthew’s Gospel” by John Shelby Spong
- “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic” by John Shelby Spong
- “What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything” by Rob Bell
- “Bitten by a Camel: Leaving Church, Finding God” by Kent Dobson