A friend of mine - who happened to have her foot run over by a friend's car that night - was given some alcohol to take the edge of the intense pain she was feeling. While doing so she got in a real chatty mood. Now, who am I to pass up a potentially fun conversation? Much of the conversation, though, is a blur now. But at one point she admitted that she had been called to serve a mission for the LDS Church but had ultimately declined to go.
As is all to familiar to any of my friends, I am an atheist. I'd like to believe I'm pretty set in my ways. I've tried and tested the "spiritual" realm enough. And for that, I've been given the title "Spiritual Atheist." Nothing shocking really, if you know me. Nothing shocking in the slightest. Let's be honest, categories help us understand and perceive the world around us. But humans are pretty complex creatures. To create simple, one-dimensional categories to fit each of us into is bound to have problems. Therefore, the atheist description is accurate for me, yes. But it's also really narrow. Anyway, back to the story.
She spoke wistfully of how our calling was inspired and even expressed how sometimes she wondered what might have been. You can't really blame her. The mission is quite an amazing experience. It's unlike almost any other experience you can willfully decide to have. So why did she decline? She was afraid she'd develop a crush on her companion and all the other fears that go with that. When I heard this, it echoed the same sentiments that so many other men and women I have known have expressed when deciding to serve a mission. It's the same (though for other men and not women) sentiments I once was worried about.
So, I spoke - or rather waxed eloquently in speech. What I write next is not me bragging but expressing what I have finally come to understand over the years. I have a gift for speaking and writing. Words are something I'm good at (most of the time). I can be very persuasive. So she and I talked some more on this.
My take on things is this: if your reason for not doing something is a fear that is either irrational or not important, you shouldn't heed that fear. I may not believe in the truthfulness of the institution of the Mormon Church. I may think it causes a lot of harm to people. And that may be true and it may not be. But none of that matters to this friend. None of it. Her world consists of an idealized, safe place. The Mormon faith is her home and she feels that within that home the safety and inspiration in that calling. But she also feels somewhat trapped by who she is and troubled. Somehow, her own interests have potentially disqualified her. Yet they haven't.
I spoke as a person of the Mormon faith would have. I used scripture, spoke with kindness, and used my voice and tone in such a way as those in the faith do when acting like they are inspired by the Spirit: soft, gentle, and unbecoming. I spoke in a way that would touch her where it mattered. Logic and reason would have failed. But appealing to her spiritual attitudes and perceptions wouldn't fail.
A mission is a place where a person can go and discover themselves. There are many other paths to do so, yes. There are many experiences you won't have while doing the mission thing. There are many mental hoops you must jump through in order to maintain a neat and tidy belief system while on it. And yes, you are engaging in the time-honored deception of telling others about things that are not there.
But a single drop in a sea of such a situation is hardly going to make a difference either way. Her going won't really matter in the scheme of things as well as her not going. But it will matter to her. She has settled to accept a diminished life where she wistfully wonders "what might have been" instead of facing her fears and discovering a part of who she is out there in this world. So, that's why I thought she should go.
My two atheist (well, one atheist and one apathetic towards religion) friends were a shocked and not sure how to react when I did this. You can't blame them. They had never seen this side before. And it was hilarious to watch their faces! The looks of shock and confusion that crossed them were just priceless, truly. But what was most rewarding was just how they were so unsure of what was going on.
I read the scriptures of the Mormon faith, I studied intensely some of the doctrines espoused in them. I read as much as I could and listened to all the lessons in Church. It is my opinion that such learning should not go to waste. Whether for or against the Mormons, that knowledge is mine to use and do with as I see necessary and good.
Funny thing, also. The first friend now thinks that somewhere deep inside me is a testimony of the LDS faith and what not. I must admit that I hardly think so. I think what she sees is an echo of the person I was long ago rising to the surface to be able to communicate with her. I do not hold hatred towards when I believed and I have no animosity towards my non-believing so those parts of me interact freely. I don't want that to sound like different personalities. Just different parts of my personality interacting. Once I was religious. Now I'm not. So, yeah.
Finally, I think a video should be shared to close this particular rant of mine: