They say that everyone remembers the first time :) I certainly do… remember the first time I admitted my disbelief.
After graduating from college I was fortunate enough to land a job with a prestigious international strategy consulting firm. My job was difficult but rewarding–I worked long hours, traveled extensively and was expected to perform at a very high level with little oversight. On one case, I was working with a senior consultant named Jen (not her real name–I’m changing her name not to hide her identity but because unfortunately her real name slips my mind at the moment). I had come to respect Jen immensely. She was very bright, very positive, and was an intense and determined listener. The way she listened made you want to be all the more careful about what you said. As a consultant there is always the tendency to overstate your level of confidence based on the data in front of you, but Jen could always discern the weakness in your conclusion without making you feel like an idiot. Based on my reviews, I could tell that I had made a good impression on Jen as well. I was pleased to know that by carefully collecting, analyzing and interpreting data I had earned her respect.
One time we were traveling between client meetings from the DC area to Manhattan. Storms had ground all flights and so together we rented a car and began our 3+ hour drive. We had never really had a “non-work” conversation, and so we started talking about our families. Her husband was from the South American country were I had served my mission, and he was also a sociologist studying religious conversion and religious communities. She knew that I was Mormon and was eager to hear about my experiences in South America. I gave her the “greatest two years” story (I still feel that those were two pretty incredible years). She then asked me for the quick version of Mormon history and theology. I walked her through the Joseph Smith first vision, and she nodded politely. After all, if it weren’t for Joseph Smith’s own contradictions of the account (which neither of us at the time were aware of), how can you empirically challenge his claim? We quickly moved on to the golden plates and the *real* history of the American Indian. As I paused to take a breath she said, “you don’t really believe that, do you?”
As I said, I had already come to respect Jen for her intellectual integrity. When Jen posed this question to me, she did so without guile. She had no agenda, there was no one listening. She said the question with the same straight face with which she would challenge my assumptions regarding the market size for anti-retroviral drugs in Southeast Asia. She asked the question because she knew that I was smart, educated and logical–and that the claim my religion was making about the origin of the Indians was anything but educated and logical. Anyone who has had a conversation with a consultant like Jen will know what I am talking about. They will also know that consultants have a tendency to talk *really fast*. Because of the pace of the conversation, I didn’t have time to think before I blurted out:
“I can accept that some parts of our history are apocryphal”.
No sooner had the words escaped my lips when I thought: “I can’t believe I just said that!” It was exactly what was in my head at that time, and was the core of the realization that I came to when I was a 12 year old reading Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites (see previous post). I felt a rush of excitement from the “danger” of what I had done… after all, there were two other employees of the firm in my office that I attended church with. [One of them was simultaneously my church boss and my work boss. And I couldn’t stand him. Those were a long 6 months before he left for business school. But I digress.]
Sadly, since that experience nearly a decade ago I have not had many repeats. To most people inside and outside of the church I’m the model believer. When will I next take the opportunity to bear my “un-testimony”?