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Here you will find the journal of a Queer, Mormon, Transhumanist.

Mom, I'm Agnostic

Mom, I'm Agnostic

It was an average Sunday morning when I casually asked, “Does anyone want to go to church with me?”

Our attendance had been on a slow decline the last year, and I didn’t expect anyone leaping at the opportunity. Preston was the only one to respond, “Not really. I don’t like singing time, and class time is, well, I don’t think I believe the same things as the other kids.”

I inquired, “What do you mean?”

He responded, “I’m not sure you and I even believe the same things, Mom.”

I assured him, “Preston, I am your mother. I am going to love you and support you no matter what you believe. Dad and I don’t believe the same things, but that doesn’t stop us from loving and supporting each other. Being in love doesn’t mean you have to agree all the time.” I paused and winked at him to lighten the tension as I continued, “Whatever it is you’re worried about, I can offer you full immunity during this conversation. I promise you won’t get into trouble and I won’t be mad.”

He hesitated. I could see he was struggling to find honest words. His mood shifted from casual to anxious. He started slowly, “Well, you see, I don’t think what they say about Jesus is real. Not all of it. Like Jesus being resurrected. I don’t believe he was resurrected. And then he’s supposed to go to America while he’s dead and then come back. I just don’t believe any of that really happened. It’s like a story, like Harry Potter. I mean a person named Jesus probably existed, but some of the other stuff sounds like a bunch of hokey-pokey.”

I smiled at his sincerity and replied, “Thank you for sharing that with me, Preston. We might have more in common than you think. Have you thought about saying some of these things in your Primary class?”

He raised his eye brows as he said, “No. I think I would get kicked out of class and I would have to wait in the hall for you and Dad to come get me.”

“Hmmm. I don’t think you would actually get kicked out of class. Do you really think that would be the case?”

He clarified, “Well, maybe not. But that’s just the feeling I get. It’s like it’s not okay to disagree, and if you do they think you’re weird or something. It’s just a feeling, Mom. It’s like . . . it’s like . . . it’s like they only want you there if you agree with them.”

My heart sank. Even at age ten he could see the social challenges within his church. The message he was receiving was conform or get out. It would be easy to displace blame on a teacher or primary leader, but the issue is far bigger than any single individual. Our culture has a systemic problem of not engaging in honest, compassionate dialogue when it comes to disagreement, intellectual rigor, unconventional ideas, and sincere inquiry. In our all-is-well-in-Zion culture, the challenges facing our children are often patronizingly brushed off as unworthy of consideration, or worse, the result of not having enough faith. Faith shouldn’t require that the tangible evidence of the natural world be disregarded, and when faith is used in such a way it undermines itself.

This isn’t a challenge that I could solve for him, nor was it a challenge that would end if we left the pews. Knowing him, non-conformity would be a lifelong challenge that would affect his relationships no matter what community he was a part of.

I responded, “I see. I know the feeling. It’s hard for adults too. There are a lot of things people don’t want to hear from me either. Sometimes the teacher doesn’t want to call on me when I raise my hand. Sometimes he passes over me intentionally. It doesn’t feel good. But you know what I think? I think most people just want to feel safe, including our teachers and fellow church members. Their beliefs make them feel safe, and if a question threatens their feeling of safety they may get defensive or dismissive. You make people question things they don’t want to question, so do I. I sometimes try to focus on the things we have in common, though at times that can be difficult.”

He seemed unsatisfied with my response, as if he had more to say. There was a long pause. His body was restless as he choked out the words, “Well, that’s the other thing. I don’t think we have that much in common. I don’t really believe in God. Mom, I’m agnostic.”

I waited a moment to respond. I could tell that revealing that bit of information was a serious challenge for him. He asked, “Are you mad?”

I smiled reassuringly and put my arm around his shoulder, “No. I’m not mad at all, Preston. In fact, I’m very thankful you told me that. That seemed like it was very hard for you to share.”

He exhaled with slight relief and said, “It was, because I know you believe in God.”

I responded, “It’s true. I do. I didn’t always believe in God though. I still remember how hard it was for me to tell Dad when I stopped believing in Heavenly Father. I thought I was going to pass out I had so much anxiety. But you know what? Dad was brave. The things I said were probably very scary for him to hear, but he chose love instead of fear. My views of God have changed a lot over the years. You may believe something different in the future too, or maybe not. In either case, I will always love you. And if God doesn’t value loving each other, that’s not a God worth believing in anyway. If that’s the case, we need a better myth. People believe what they want to believe about God and so they fashion God in their image, myself included. None of us are immune. God, at the very least, has always been a story people tell themselves and each other to ease the discomfort of knowing they will someday die and perhaps lose everything and everyone they love. But just because God is a story doesn’t mean it’s not powerful, important, or producing real results. Sometimes people are just too confident in what they think they know as opposed to what they believe.”

His shoulders relaxed as he said, “Sometimes it feels like only you and Dad understand me. I like talking about religion at home, but it’s like we’re not allowed to say what we really think at church. Why can’t we just have church here? Plus, church is so boring. We talk about the same things over and over.”

I offered, “Maybe you should come to class with me, and we should start saying what we really believe about our religion. You’re still Mormon and a baptized member of the Church, so there’s no reason why your voice isn’t as important as anyone else’s.”

He thought about it for a moment and said, “I think I might be able to do that. It could be tricky though.”

I sympathized, “I understand. It’s still hard for me to raise my hand and be honest sometimes too.”

“Can we go next week? I feel like I need time to prepare myself.”

“Sure, let’s go next week.”

He questioned, “Are you still going to go to church today?”

I assured him, “Nope. I love my family more than church. My mother taught me there is nothing more important than loving your family.”

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