Jack's fundamental desire to belief was founded more on the Mormon way-of-life than strictly in the dogma. Eventually he would disregard the way-of-life as he had already lost faith in the dogma. Yet he was making the effort to work back to a level of modest enthusiasm.
Elder Goldman gave a lesson on the Holy Ghost. Then we had a testimony meeting in which there were some good ideas expressed. We went to eat with the other elders in our district. We went by the pensione of the basketball players, they had returned from a trip losing 3 games. Too bad.
The discussion about spirituality and the lesson on the Holy Ghost are related to each other. It is the job of this third member of the Godhead to invade the heart and testify to the soul of each righteous member. The Holy Ghost, presumably, fills the faithful with the thrill of knowing the living God. According to the Mormon myth, that is supposed to happen after baptism when a member of the Priesthood "Confirms" each new member, "the baptism by fire."
Somewhere along the line, Jack figured, he either didn't receive the gift properly or he had lost it. That seemed to be the missing ingredient in his life. He didn't feel that same stirring described by others. Possibly he had constructed some barrier or simply didn't recognize it when it came, or worse, denied it. He found himself in the same mental cramp as Rinaldo had expressed during Jack's discussion with him in Bari. He wanted a sure, absolute knowledge. He wanted to really know. Thus he was chasing a chimera.
Jack recorded another conversation he had with a close friend.
I talked to Elder Hunt for several hours about my future and past. He shared his council and ideas. He is a great guy. We concluded by isolating the major concerns of our minds; mine being philosophy and related aspects of thought, his being using his time most wisely in whatever he is engaged. He is seeking personal progress in the areas of `self-control.' Although he seems to be a very controlled person.
I concluded to train myself to relax and accept religion in myself. In the past I have tried an all out crash program which always resulted in failure, and a gradual deterioration of the will.[cycles] But this time I'm taking it easy and trying for small gains.
This new plan came from the combined advice of his missionary friends, Julie and his family. That was a better plan than any he had originated on his own.
A large part of religion is the society of friends supporting each other. Jack was sensitive to that but never understood how elemental that is to the functioning of any religion and how basic that need is in man, himself included. Any group that intends to substitute itself for religion must deliberately provide that kind of peer group support.
Then we went by the church for a Fireside. We waited for a while and the others arrived, including the basketball players. We saw some pictures and slides of Elder Black's and talked in a circle. Then we ate cake and went home.He was still comfortable inside this polyglot circle of nonhomogeneous friends.
Jack began challenging his non-belief in the same way he had reached out to challenge his belief. With all the encouraging words from his closest friends, how could he go astray? Elders Hunt, Goldman, Seaburg and now Rosen were all sympathetic and supportive. Except for the absence of Al Will, all his closest associates were right there in the same town. If peer pressure could work, if belief and conviction were contagious, how could he help but be infected?
The boat trip to Lake Vernon was a great success because Dan Bailey had done all the planning. Lucky brought the beer as promised. After they returned the boat they were back in the barracks.
"Get dressed and take me for a ride on you bike." Mary Jane was already getting possessive and assertive and it was only their second date. That suited Lucky who was still intoxicated with both affection and beer.
"Okay. How 'bout I take you home and Dan and Margaret can follow in the Mustang. Then me and Dan can ride back later. I got an extra helmet and you can wear my leather jacket."
"That's a boss plan. Dan you got a driver's license don't you?"
"Sure I was safe driver of the month in High School."
"Go figure!" Mary Jane exclaimed.
They all laughed at her expression.
The new plan was hatched and they left shortly to execute. They made it off the Post without incident. The exit wasn't guarded, only the entrance. Mary Jane's mostly bare legs turned a few heads but fortunately not the wrong ones.
On the way back to town they had to pause for a construction zone. Part of the road was gravel and there was one way traffic. The hazard was well posted so there was no problem.
The breeze was warm and Mary Jane enjoyed sitting close with her breasts hard up against Lucky's back. Twice she reached down and pressed on his penis and licked his neck. He managed to keep the bike on two wheels. "God she's good," he thought to himself.
When they arrived in town Lucky yelled back during a stop. "Where should we go?"
"Take a left on 2nd Street. There's a place where they don't hassle about ID." Dan and Margaret followed dutifully. Lucky powered the bike toward the designated location. It was a tavern called the "Blue Moon." Not a fancy place by any standard. They parked together and went in.
The bar was an "L" shape with a juke box at the far end of the room. There was some country western song playing. The group found a table and settled down. The room was dark and contained two pool tables at the other end. There was about ten people there. Judging by the smoke it seemed like a hundred.
Lucky suggested, "Beer for you guys?"
"Sure." Mary Jane was more than ready.
"Let me get the first round." Dan was trying to impress a little.
"Thanks Dan." Margaret was swooning a little after their unrequited intimacy.
The group drank and danced until well after midnight. Just before they were ready to be kicked out it was Mary Jane who said it was time to go.
"I don't live that far away. You guys follow us so you know where to come when you meet us tomorrow."
Dan put on the helmet and sat behind Lucky. The two followed the Mustang. Lucky was horsing around a bit, driving up close to the side of the car and such. Dan was leaning back against the high back support and enjoying the acceleration. They said goodbye at Mary Jane's house and roared off toward the Post, resolved to get out at the earliest possible time.
It was Thursday before there was anything exciting to report in Jack's life.
Up at 6:00 AM, how about that? I typed a list of books I have read and read more philosophy, then some prophecy, then we went to the Mission Office because our toilet was broken because the water froze. I got 3 letters from Julie. These were certainly welcome. Then we went downtown. I was looking for the American library and a part for my fountain pen. After some extensive walking we succeeded in finding the pen part, not the library... We passed through the Duomo, [Catholic cathedral] then home and read and wrote in my Journal and diary.No wonder he was emotionally apart from the others; he was having a very different intellectual experience. He was reading philosophy and prophecy in the same sitting. Like eating pickles and ice cream, it would give almost anyone mental indigestion, unless they happened to be pregnant.
Julie's writing was not interrupted by Jack's indecisiveness, only by the time it took the mail to be forwarded. Since Jack had decided to try again as a missionary and he wrote an optimistic letter to Julie immediately.
He also recorded his decision and travail in his journal.
If I fail, then try again--until I go home at the scheduled time and then try there. This means I may be trying from now to eternity. But that's the price one pays for existing. My Patriarchal Blessing tells me that I will need to call deeply upon my capacity for faith, and here I have said I have little capacity. But I will go forward in the future, calling upon that which I have; and, well, we'll see what happens.
The Patriarchal Blessing is one of those obscure aspects of the Mormon culture that often escapes examination by outside commentators. Members can receive such a blessing when they seek it, often in their youth as was the case with Jack. It could be given at any time.
There is a Patriarch assigned to each Stake which is a group of Wards and Branches associated in a geographic region. The Patriarch will lay his hands on the head of the member and receive a message that is recorded and then printed. This blessing is always inspirational and may contain warnings and guidance, ostensibly particular to the individual. Each faithful member keeps a transcript of their blessing and reads it every so often to keep themselves inspired in the faith.
Jack had such a blessing but remembered a mystical warning which had not been recorded. He had been warned about his apostasy if he challenged the faith. And now that seemed to be coming true. Possibly when the Patriarch proof reads such blessings he edits any negative comments, because that particular warning was not included. He had discussed that omission with his sister at the time, who had been a witness, but it did not seem so important then. The Patriarchal Blessing is a very strong bond to The Church for most people, because it supersedes any logical proof or rational arguments.
The journal continues:
Not too long ago a thought occurred to my mind, a definition of `faith.' I decided that strong faith was ultimately subjectivity -- to believe in something one must accept one point of view and discard the next or opposite point of view. Can one have a strong belief and still recognize the clarity of two differing view points? I don't seem to be able to do so in my religious activities.
The following is a thought I had some time ago describing people's actions with regard to spiritual things. `The prompting of the spirit,' as people say, is determined by the opinion of the people involved. When they decide if an influence is from the Holy Ghost or the Devil, the conclusion is usually based on the consequences or resulting effects of the influence rather than considering the mode of communication involved. This does not however deny the actual influence of either, but shows the frailty of the reasoning of men.
Jack had been paying attention to the mode of communication and trying to differentiate his spirituality from his emotional makeup. He was over-cautious about accepting the "effects" as a sign of a spiritual experience, considering this to be the method of accepting superstitions.
If one were to judge a religion by the actions of the people, he would be quickly led astray. Many missionaries use socializing as a substitute for teaching. This applies to the same principle, whether a church is a physical organization or a spiritual body, is an all important question to me. Many other churches supply `spiritual' experience for their members and thus gain new converts. How can one distinguish a real spiritual experience, which must be the basis of any `true' religion, from emotional experiences?
I have yet to talk much on this point with many, but there seems to be a general consensus of opinion that when one receives the testimony of the spirit he knows it. I will continue my search. I have not given up yet but wish I could. Maybe my lackadaisical attitude toward success is the very cause of my failure. Once again I seem to be afraid to follow the consequences of success.
That's like saying: once your in love, you'll know it. How can you ignore the influence of hormones and financial security interests and many more factors? And even then some people fail to acknowledge love because they are afraid to make the commitment or afraid they or their counterpart can't live up to the expectations of what Love implies.
Jack was rapidly approaching a stage of dissonance burn-out. The conflict in his mind made him weary of the whole enterprise. He just wanted to leave the problem and get on with the other aspects of his life, like making money. This was not entirely different from the response Julie's father had experienced under different circumstances.
I described the situation in the following terms to John and Sid. [two brothers] I decided the elemental problem was a lack of internalized or sincere desire to improve and be spiritual. Thus the problem is to gain that desire, which should be sincere and deep, not superficial as in the present case. To do this I must first begin with self-discipline. Self-discipline is the character trait that allows one to continue on a given decision or plan after the initial stimulus has lost its effect. I wondered whether discipline was inherited or whether it was developed in youth by exterior control. I rather favor the latter, and hope that I may be able to gain some in the near future by developing the best habits.
This was similar to the point of view expressed by Elder Hunt. He had been concerned about "using his time most wisely... and self-control." At the time that idea seemed to be removed from religion but now Jack was seeing how the two ideas of self-control and religious belief were integral.
From the discipline I hope to gain consistency. This consistency is important especially in spiritual areas and also in all other areas. Consistency and long-run integrity are nearly synonymous. I was wondering whether discipline was a result of desire rather than a tool to obtain it. I am undone, because I don't have the desire to bring myself along the long road to spirituality, as history has shown.
This then becomes the key point of my decision. That there might be some chance to gain the spirituality by gaining a degree of discipline, but only the future can tell. With the combination of discipline and consistency I can gain the desire. I can internalize the desire. It all seems very clear to me.
The effort described here is similar to stacking dominoes. If each piece remains erect, his faith will be sustained. A failure of discipline will result in a chain reaction and a failure of belief and the dominoes collapse. There might be more to it than that but he hadn't found it. His was a very precarious faith indeed.
If I am consistent, the desire I often have (and it is often strong, usually when it is least needed however) will last over a greater period of time. This will become a driving force for consistent sincerity and this is precisely what is needed to get spirituality, or answers to prayers by inspiration or at least a life of faith which is as good or better than a spiritual testimony. The sincere lasting desire will make my prayers true supplications and meaningful rather than mere words and pretense as they frequently are now, and have been in the past.
Meaningful prayer is another domino.
Lucky drove faster than he needed to; he was a competent driver except for that. They took the corners too fast and cleared the carbon out of the engine on the straight stretches. They were only a few miles from the Post when they passed a County Sheriff hidden behind a bill board. He turned on his head lights as he took out after the motorcycle. He turned on his mickey mouse lights flashing red and blue and his siren. He was nearly a mile behind by the time he got turned around and up to speed, eighty MPH.
Lucky noticed the cop too late. He saw the lights in his mirror and of course reacted as expected. "Shit. I can loose that son-of-a-bitch." He hit the next corner at a steep angle and came out in time to accelerate. He looked back in his mirror just at the time he should have noticed the single warning sign he and Mary Jane had passed earlier going the opposite direction.
Lucky saw, too late, that the paved road ended turning into one lane of gravel and he shifted down to decelerate. There was another car coming and they were still going too fast to stop in the gravel or turn properly. He geared down again and fish tailed. Dan was holding on tight.
Lucky pumped his brakes and leaned away from the oncoming car. He missed the car by a whisker saving their lives but that effort sent them to the side into even looser gravel. He tried to turn back and leaned, but their directional velocity overcame the traction of the front tire and they went over the edge of the gravel roadbed. They were still going about 20 miles per hour when the cycle went into the ditch, there was no way to slow down or turn. The cycle hit the water with a huge splash and at the same time the front tire came to a dead stop.
They were rolling forward until they hit the old beat down barbed wire fence. The top wire hit the front tire and almost went under but it didn't. It caught between the fender and the tire and stopped the bike after the wire extended as far as it could. They had just enough momentum to turn completely over and land flat in the swamp created by the road crew. Lucky flew off and landed face down in the mud. Dan wasn't quite so lucky. His pant leg caught on the frame and he went down with the bike which landed hard on his leg.
The cop car had to slow down for the corner and then for the on-coming vehicle so by the time it passed the scene the two were well off the road flat in the soup. They hadn't left any noticeable tracks and the Sheriff passed slowly without spotting them.
Lucky raised his head out of the water just in time to see the Sheriff pass. "Shit. Fuck, he didn't see us. Dan you okay?"
Lucky moved his legs and arms to take inventory. He got to his knees and then stood in the muck. It was pitch dark and the headlight was turned down into the water.
"Dan where are you?" Finally Lucky could see the red tail light and part of Dan's body under the bike.
Dan moved slowly in the mud. "Shit what happened? You dick-head! You practically killed us! You also saved our lives!" He started laughing and yelling at the same time. "Shit my leg's hurt. Get this damn thing off me. God, I'm all wet. Shit, I think my leg's broken."
Lucky moved toward the bike sloshing and splashing in the water. "God, I'm sorry Danny. I forgot about that damn construction." He lifted up on the bike and turned off the lights. "Shit, what are we gonna do? How bad you hurt? I think the bike's okay. Maybe it'll still work." The seat back was broken and the steering bar was cranked around away from center. The whole thing was covered with mud.
"I don't know how bad. I don't think it's too bad but I gotta go to the hospital. I know that much."
"You stay there man. I'll get this bike back to the road and come back to get ya. How's that sound."
"I'll be alright. Just get us back sometime tonight. Okay?" he said, gritting his teeth against the pain.
Lucky pushed the bike through the mud, over what was left of the fence, through the ditch and onto the gravel surface. He was bruised but whole. He got there just as a car was coming toward him. It was the car he had almost hit. It pulled up slowly and stopped close.
A single man got out and yelled: "You guys alright?" He approached Lucky who was standing in his headlights alongside his bike. "When I saw the cop I figured why you were goin' so fast. I figured I better come back to make sure you were okay."
"I'm okay but my partner is hurt. I think he has a broken leg. Can you help me carry him out of the water? Do you work at the Post?"
"Ya. I'm a civilian employee with the engineers. I work swing shift. Just got off."
"Maybe you could take him to the hospital. It would be better than riding on my bike in his condition."
"I suppose so."
The two went into the water to get Dan. They got him into the car and then to the hospital. Lucky's bike worked okay after the mud was scrapped off, although it sustained some reparable damage. The Sunday bike ride with Mary Jane had to be postponed.
Once the hospital report was completed, Lucky's Commander found out. Lucky accepted another Article 15 and lost a stripe. Normally such an accident wouldn't have resulted in any military punishment, except he worked in the motorpool and was supposed to be a responsible driver. This minor inconsistency didn't improve Lucky's attitude toward the Army. In fact, he resolved to get out at the earliest possible time.
In a different time and place, Jack's agony continues:
`The prayer of faith availeth much,' say the scriptures. Very possibly it [meaningful prayers] will give me the confidence in the scriptures, which is also a basic problem of my mind. My brother, John, suggested that the way to do missionary work is to forget about oneself and do what needs to be done. This is what I hope to develop. But as of yet I don't want it, I don't want that self-sacrifice. I like too much: reading, speculating, learning and widening my horizons. Because faith, as I mentioned, is the abject subjectivity of the mind, which I do not accept in principle and less in practice.
So even though these last two pages have developed a splendid concept, or maybe not so splendid, the success depends on my desires over the long-run. These desires seem to be too materialistic to allow success. My attitude is obviously negative. That may well be my undoing, but it is caused by the present will to perpetuate my personal desires. So be it. Success may come, but if it does, it will be in spite of me, rather than because of me.
This is a circular argument, returning to the beginning of the discussion without touching on the most important aspect of religion, celebrating the mystery in life. This vividly displays the depth of his frustration with his too rational attempt at belief. There is some spiritual growth evident in Jack's willingness to attempt gaining faith; his apparent humility and reverence for life is a good beginning on the way to spirituality of secular humanism.
It might be apt to introduce a thought at this time which came to me a few weeks ago in church or somewhere. Man (as a universal concept) is naturally curious. He has been searching, individually and collectively, for truth in the field of knowledge for thousands of years. And to what avail? He knows not whether he has found it in his logic (unless one accepts revelation and that doesn't apply to logic), yet he continues his search undaunted in each successive generation. In honesty my religion does not allow me this freedom of speculation because it knows we have the truth with us. It may be right? I believe it is, but that will not stop my desire to add my reason to that of men preceding me. I intend to make some contribution in the area of logic, or speculation.
There is here a characteristic arrogance of the modern age, when people think they can judge religious issues for themselves. Jack was wrong twice: First for the arrogance he shares with those other readers of Time magazine of the 60's, and second, he probably overestimated his own capabilities.