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12 January 2017

Broken Faith

In the first week of last term, I was sitting in a lecture hall with all my fellow theology-studying peers. One girl sitting in front of me was reciting her course load to a friend, which included classes on Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. Her friend seemed confused.

"Really? I thought you were a Christian. Why aren't you taking any classes on your own faith?"

"Oh," came the girl's emphatic reply, "I DO NOT mix my faith with my academics."

That moment stuck with me, not only because I live my life with pretty much the exact opposite attitude, but also because after last term, I get what she's saying. I really do. 

The 'Christianity and the Arts' program at King's is amazing. I couldn't have imagined a program more perfectly suited to my brain. It is everything I hoped it would be, but it has also pushed me and pulled me to the point of almost breaking. 

In November, I was furiously working on my research papers. I had intentionally chosen topics that were hard-- things no one has ever published on. Some were doctrinal, some were scriptural, but they all forced me to take a long hard look at my faith. 

This particular day, I was feeling unbalanced. The previous weeks had introduced me to so many new ideas. My brain was reeling, just trying to figure out where to file all these paradigm-shifting thoughts. On top of this, I was waist deep in academic papers about the history of Mormonism. There was so much information--so much information I had never heard before. I had heard the metaphorical cracks starting several days before, but on this particular night, it was like someone ripped out the foundation stones. Everything I thought I knew and understood about the world got sucked down this vortex of doubt and my testimony crumbled. 

I realised I had no idea how anyone knows anything. I had always prided myself on having searched deep into my faith's history and doctrine and faced the demons long ago. I had had so many encounters with other faiths and had studied them out, and I was certain Mormonism held the truth. And yet there I was, crumpled up on my bed not even sure if there was God. 

I cried to Jon that night (who was up in Sheffield). This is just one of many breakdowns I've had in the last year-- from infertility to being stuck in Australia, from personal issues with our extended family to twenty rejection letters from potential university funding sources, it had been a tough year. This time it felt more serious though. This was an existential crisis if ever there was one. 

Jon was perfectly calm and simply said, "Babe, it's ok. I went through this exact experience on my mission. You are going to have a couple of really really crappy weeks, but then you are going to be ok. You are going to get through this."

His confidence made me feel safe. I loved him for holding together my world even as doubt pulled me down into a really dark place. 

The next couple of days were rough. I couldn't think about anything without feeling like a tiny trembling puppy. However, I noticed that even though I wasn't sure if there was a God, I felt myself praying. I wasn't sure to what, but something inside me was calling out to something higher than myself. 

I realised that if there was no God, then belief, or disbelief, was pointless. If there was a God, belief was necessary. Either way, disbelieving offered me nothing. 

Heartened by this realisation, I sat down with Jon and we started philosophically rebuilding my understanding of the world. Completely independent from scripture or anyone else's beliefs, we constructed a theology. "If x is true, they naturally y must be as well." "What about z? Does that logically make sense with x and y." 

It started off so basic (what/who is this higher power?) and evolved into places that were so deep it is hard to put them into words.

In hindsight, this conversation might be the single most important discussion of my life. From it, I finally FULLY understood Christianity, not as Bible stories or separate doctrinal parts, but as a cohesive, interwoven, beautiful expression of human existence. I can tell you that right now, my testimony of Christianity is so certain. My belief in Christ and his atonement and all that comes with that is completely mine. It has nothing to do with the way I was raised or habit or loved ones. It is my own. 

I'll be honest and say my testimony of Mormonism isn't quite at that level. There are things with which I am still struggling. Yet, it must be said that even in my darkest days, the theological beauty of Mormonism left me awe-inspired. If Joseph Smith didn't get his ideas from above, the man is probably the single greatest theologian ever to walk to Earth. 

I say that fully admitting that it is stuff from Joseph Smith that has caused my problems. However, if you spend any time reading books on theology, you'll start to see how intimately interconnected doctrine becomes. When you shift one tiny idea, it comes with an avalanche of philosophical issues to resolve. Most theologians agonise over dogmatic minutia for hundreds of pages, only to realise several years later that they missed some crucial logical fallacy. 

But with Joseph Smith, it's like he just woke up one day and BAM! A perfectly stable theology, which in many ways departs drastically from mainstream Christianity, was born with what appears to be almost no conscious deliberation. It is impressive and, admittedly, quite heartening to someone who is doubting. 

So, going in to a new term, my journey of faith and learning will move forward.  I don't know what tomorrow will bring... but whatever it is, I'm hoping it is just a little bit brighter and little bit more full of truth. 

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