Monday, August 15, 2011

All the answers

I have a lot of childhood memories of my mom teaching me. Even though I've rejected the religion she raised me in, I will always be grateful to her for her teaching. She taught me to love learning, to ask questions, and to think my own thoughts. I have several memories of her helping me with math homework. Several times I tried to get her to just give me the answers to the problems I was trying to solve. Like any good teacher, she refused, insisting, "you have to figure out the answer for yourself."

When I stopped believing in the church, the most devastating thing for me was the realization that I didn't have answers anymore. Worries about the the afterlife and how to tell my family of my apostasy were frightening, but the most terrifying thing of all was the realization that where I thought I had knowledge, I had only ignorance. My recurring thought during the month leading up to my final epiphany was that the rug had been pulled out from underneath my feet. I felt like a cartoon character who, after rushing off a cliff, looks down and realizes that there is nothing beneath him.

Not having answers is scary, especially when it comes to big questions like the meaning of life and what happens when we die. Mormonism gave me very neat and sensible answers. Leaving Mormonism meant leaving the answers. But I still wanted easy answers. I realized almost immediately that there probably wasn't a god, but I held on to the idea of him for more than half a year. I wanted him to exist and I wanted him to give me answers. I kept praying, sometimes desperately. I wanted so very much for there to be a wise, all-knowing being who loved me and had my back. But more than that, I wanted answers--solid, sure, indubitable answers.

Those answers never came. When I finally realized what I'd known all along, that pleading with the silence was not doing me any good, I had to accept that there was no cosmic authority figure who would tell me the answers. I had to figure things out on my own, I knew that I was fallible. Life doesn't have an answer key like my math book did. And I wouldn't have it any other way. As my mother taught me when she refused to tell the answer to that long division problem, the point isn't knowing what the answer is. It's knowing how to think for yourself--because when you think for yourself, the answers you find are really yours.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post. Have you seen Kathryn Schulz at TED? Check out:
    Your reference to the cartoon reminded me of it.