Well, I thought I wasn't going to come back until 2018, but it just felt like the thing I needed to do right now.
In putting aside the influences of the forum for a bit, I was able to realize that the way I feel is my own independent thought. That was what I was most worried about: that I was rejecting one crowd to go along with another. In my hour long drive home from my parents house, I was able to reflect on my current state of faith.
I wish my faith could be simple again. Thing is, It just can't. There is no more shelf to put objections on. I can no longer run away from doubts. I have to face them head on. I can no longer pretend that things that bother me do not bother me. I will not brainwash myself.
I have to keep pretending that I'm TBM on the outside. I wish I didn't, but that's just the way things are in my situation, right now. Maybe that can change in the future, but as a 25-year-old single guy, that's just not a risk I can afford to take.
On the other hand, I no longer depend on literalism for my faith to exist. I love being in this situation because it means that anti-mormon stuff and similar just does not have the same effect on me as it would to a TBM.
I really do feel confident that I can honestly answer all of the temple recommend questions as required. Things are a little more complicated and nuanced than a yes or no, but those nuances are between me and the Lord.
Things I still believe in more or less as taught:
- Jesus Christ is my Savior, Lord, and Redeemer. Nothing I could list in a bullet point can fully explain my belief in and love for the Savior.
- The Plan of Salvation. There is so much hope in every step along the way. Heavenly Father truly loves us and the Plan shows that. I taught a lesson on the Spirit World recently, and that reaffirmed this teaching to me.
- Repentance. To be fair, it's not taught all that well, but when it is taught correctly (as taught in the scriptures by Jesus himself, for example), I believe it 100%.
- Exclusivity of authority (i.e. this is the only true church). At least in the sense that it is necessary. For pragmatic reasons, I believe it happens to be the case on earth right now, but there is no logical requirement IMO for exclusivity.
- Baptism and temple covenants are essential. I just don't know right now. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. Same goes for garments.
- The church is run by God. I have come to believe it is run by men and merely supervised by God. The guarantees of this system are much less strict, so this jives better with my understanding of church history and policy.
- The Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth. I believe it to be the word of God and it is valuable scripture, but I'm not really convinced of its historicity. Even if it is fiction (as evidence suggests), it still has value, much like how the fictional status of Harry Potter does not take away from the wisdom of Dumbledore's words. There is nothing magical about reading the book, and while I have noticed a few occasions where it seemed to have power, I suspect there is another mechanism involved. As far as it testifies of Christ, I would say this claim is true.
- Masturbation is a sin. I have struggled with this one for years. It is unclear and inconsistent. There is no canonical source that spells this out. A few GC talks were given here and there and some GAs were known to make a big deal out of it, but every one of them is well known to be extremely conservative and arguably regressive when it comes to sexuality. Bishops do not treat this issue consistently. It seems to be one of those unwritten rules and I just don't think God would expect us to follow such a law and punish us otherwise. He is not the author of confusion, and the issue is nothing short of confusing. (Porn is a different story, and while I think GAs go a little overboard in condemning it, I believe they are right about its potential dangers and sinful nature.)
- A literal Satan. I don't think this is necessary and it complicates a lot of things if it is true. At its worst, Satan is used as a fear tactic akin to the boogeyman.
- Modesty. I was once a staunch advocate of modesty, but some exploration of the bloggernacle before I joined this forum opened my eyes to the problems with this "doctrine." I think the underlying principle is fantastic and empowering, but the pharisaic traditions associated with it are unhelpful at best and destructive at worst. Modesty teachings have created an unhealthy obsession in me with female thighs, shoulders, and midriffs.
- Swearing is bad. It's about how you use your words, not which ones you use.
- The hierarchical system is extremely resilient. The church has a very high "Bus Factor" of 15 (or 14 until we get the new apostle). The church's organization is insanely disaster-resistant, as it can continue functioning even if communications to SLC have been cut off for long periods of time. It's even quite resistant to mass apostasy through reconstituting stakes and shuffling leadership.
- Nearly any ward can mobilize a service force on the fly. Members are often seen at disaster sites before any other relief groups.
- Every age group is accounted for. While not all ages and (ahem) marital statuses are treated with equal respect and none of the programs are perfect, something has to be said about the youth and YSA programs. Primary seems a bit brainwashy, but I gotta say it helped me on my mission having been in primary, if only for the songs I learned and the doctrine I learned from songs.
- We put our money where our mouth is when it comes to missionary work. The only other church that competes with us in that respect is the JWs. I feel somewhat torn in my role as a ward missionary because of my feelings toward exclusivity and ordinances, but I have no problem testifying to others of Christ. I have no issues with helping make the ward mission work, even if I approach it more clinically than most.
- Missions are a wonderful experience. They suck at times and they aren't for everyone, but I have zero regrets about going.