Every year in April my BYU department's student association hosts a social. It had been a while since I spoke to Dave at length, but I now saw his position in a new light. While I didn't feel like I could announce my lack of belief to the world I at least wanted him to know I understood his position. At an appropriate time, we got together and I let him know of my struggles, my change in heart, and my new found lack of belief. He and another friend named Nate were then the only people I knew who didn't believe in the department.
A lot has happened since then. Dave and Nate introduced me to some new friends. I've made other new friends, lost some old ones (and even some of the new ones), moved to a new state (twice) and started graduate school. I've also had a chance to deliberately, slowly study and restudy the issues I ran into during the first four months of 2011. Part of me hoped that the evidence might bring me back, but that hope has been dashed to pieces, ground into a powder, and thrown to the wind. I've also run into further problems with claims made by the church. It seems that no matter where I look the myth I grew up with has been proven to be just that - a myth.
Now you might ask me if I'm more happy now than I was. To be honest, I don't know. The roller-coaster of emotion I've been through in the last two years hasn't been easy. Giving up over 20 years of belief doesn't come easily. I've discovered depths of despair and heights of joy I never knew were possible. I've learned a lot about myself in these two years, too. I've had to rebuild my moral world from scratch and have attempted as best I can to create something, at least for myself, of value. I don't know if I've yet succeeded. Maybe that will become clear in the future.
I've also learned what it means to truly tread your own path in the world. I now no longer have someone above me that can tell me if my decisions are right or wrong. I have to make that decision myself and live with whatever consequences that decision entails. I'm starting to see the world as less black and white and more gray. Not every decision has a clearly right, more right, or wrong choice to it. Treading this path hasn't been easy - but as they say in the church, I think it has been worth it...at least so far. In any case, I've met some good people along the way who have helped.
I must say any relationships I have now feel more real than they were when I lived under the yolk of Mormonism. I tend to over-think things quite a bit, and the Mormon tendency to assign a heavy weight to all decisions didn't help when I was a true believer. I now feel free to make mistakes and learn from them. I don't always beat myself up over things I perceive I've done wrong, and I often assume my acquaintances will act the same way. I also feel I can sometimes take my decisions lightly and see where they lead without worrying if the decision is right. This has been freeing for me.
I'm also more comfortable with doubt and uncertainty. I don't always know the answer, and that's ok. I don't feel I always need a ready rebut for criticism of my position. If my way of thinking is proven untenable, I'm more free to abandon it. To be honest, though, I still occasionally allow my human tendency for validation overcome my better judgement. I'm still human, after all.
I also see people differently now. I no longer look for what someone believes in my interactions, because I just don't think that matters. (Well, mostly. I still find myself occasionally putting someone in a category because of what I think they believe. That thought pattern seems to be the hardest to get rid of.) More important is how that person acts. A person can be a religious jerk or a religious saint, an atheist hypocrite or an amiable atheist, a self-righteous non-believer or a tolerant non-believer. People are people, not beliefs. It's that simple.
So what do I now believe? Well, I don't know. After dropping my Mormonism I briefly considered mainstream Christianity as an alternative, but that idea soon fell flat on its face. I also considered Buddhism. Buddhist thought was appealing, but I just couldn't accept the supernatural elements of the religion. I spent some time studying Islam, Hinduism, Shinto, Confucianism and Taoism, but I just couldn't bring myself to accept any of their creeds. It all just seems man-made to me now.
If I were to label myself anything now, It would be "agnostic". I can't really prove god doesn't exist, but I also don't think there's any credible evidence that proves he/she/it is there. Maybe god started the universe and let it go, kind of like a computational physical simulation. Maybe god IS the universe. Or maybe there is no god. Maybe we are all part of a universe inside of a computer, living out our lives in fantasy. Who knows.
What I do know at this point, though, is that I now can never take claims of divine intervention without a dose of skepticism. Don't expect me to accept at face value your claims without some backup. Expect me to challenge your position. Don't think the challenge means I'm trying to slight you personally, though. After all, the only way we can figure if our worldview is valid is by testing that worldview against others. In the world of ideas, the best ones should rise to the top regardless of who conceives of it.
I'm excited to see what the future holds. I've always been curious - and now my whole life is an unwritten book. I don't know where it will end up, but I'll be happy to see the result when it's all over. After all, what fun is a story when you already know the conclusion?