I have no faith. In the stages of faith, that is. I believe in God. I just don’t believe in the universal human trajectory, the idea that everyone is sequentially following a similar path in regards to their personal belief, with a single end point in this life at which all sincere faith-pilgrims eventually congregate.
It strikes me that, in general, those who embrace a model for journeys of faith construe themselves in the ultimate (or at least penultimate) stage, at a point of arrival, where others’ beliefs are plotted at a less developed point on the faith axis. The emotional appeal of framing a discussion of faith in such a way is obvious. Our private, idiosyncratic and sometimes harrowing examinations of personal belief can be slotted into a grand purposive scheme. The journey itself, far from being the chaotic peregrination it sometimes appears, is teleological, and even preordained in a manner of speaking. We can expect arrival; should we choose, we can even construe our confusion and uncertainty itself as an arrival.
In many ways, genuine difference in belief or in emotional reaction to information is difficult to process; after all, if we really understood differences we wouldn’t have those differences. Constructing a narrative of a universal faith journey is one way of accounting for otherwise mystifying differing conclusions: by presuming other people are less developed versions of ourselves who can be expected eventually to cast off their naivete, their concerns, or whatever else and come into bloom as us.
But I don’t believe we’re all following a universal template in regard to faith, nor do I believe anyone has reached a faith apex at which point all earthly knowledge of Mormonism has been discovered and assimilated and all heavenly knowledge of the eternities made manifest. All of us are still on that labyrinthine journey, still subject to encountering new ideas and changing our minds.
For this reason, I find the issue of inoculation in the Church complex. We frequently speak as if we ourselves stand outside the processes that cause faith to change, a perspective from which we can survey the terrain and make recommendations in provisions for those who come after us. In some ways we can, although in fact all of us are still making our way through that terrain. Naturally our most sincere emotional reference point for understanding other people is our knowledge of ourselves, but sometimes even that is not enough. Issues that drive some from the Church are easily surmounted by others, for whom they do not even pose particular obstacles.
Those of us who have been stripped of faith by the investigation of various aspects of the Church quite reasonably suppose others will react similarly if they encounter the same information, while those of us who have discovered emotionally and intellectually satisfying solutions to vexing issues rightly believe these solutions will seal similar holes in other people’s dikes protecting their own belief systems. Both of these positions have some validity and some limitations.
I endorse transparency as a matter of principle. I believe willful and misleading suppression of information to be unethical. But I acknowledge this carries potential dangers, that questions may be posed for which there are no clear answers, or even for which my own answers are not sufficient for someone else. The very term “inoculation” presumes the Church can introduce potential pathogens into an environment the Church itself has the capability of containing. If nothing else, individual variance in temperament may make this impossible.
Ideally I believe we should be open about the Church’s past and willing to discuss our own conclusions where we think it may be helpful, but in the end respect each other’s differences, both in conclusions and in concerns. But perhaps I’m merely projecting my own position–that not all answers are available–as an endpoint onto everyone else’s faith journey. Perhaps, discovering I am lost, I assume everyone else is lost in some way whether they know it or not.
- 29 December 2007