Throughout five years of graduate school, I essentially coasted as a liberal but fully active Mormon. The scriptures seemed more ridiculous and contradictory than ever, but I was OK with that, because I blamed it on the transcribers, not the almighty being who supposedly inspired them. I read Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought off and on, because this “liberal” journal seemed to be the only place people were doing much thinking about Mormonism. Church publications responded very rarely and superficially to critics and questioners, but never proactively addressed tough questions about church history, Mormon intolerance, doctrinal contradictions and so on (publications such as the Ensign and Church News simply have different purposes).
With time, however, it became clear that liberal Mormons didn’t have any answers either. I quit reading Dialogue and similar literature and began to feel like one of the most intellectually lonely Christians on earth. Nobody seemed to have good answers to my questions, church was becoming increasingly annoying and God seemed to be “answering” my prayers by dragging His feet long enough that I would forget what my question was and quit worrying about it.
And then, the year before I finished graduate school, I thought I had an opportunity to get to know God like I never had before. For many new parents, having a child increases religious devotion. I’m not sure why—perhaps religion is their way of managing stress, or their hope for turning their child into a decent human being—but it did not work that way for me. Fatherhood changed my values, and things I might otherwise have let slide at once became extremely important to me. At no time in the preceding years had I ever seriously dabbled in atheism or agnosticism; but now that I faced the greatest responsibility of my life, I wanted, more than I had in years, to know and to know powerfully that God was there and wanted people to live a particular way. That is precisely why it bothered me so much that I never felt anything when I was praying.
No matter how trite it sounds, there truly is no other feeling like the feeling a neurologically healthy parent has for his or her child. I remember thinking at that time that God and I should be bonding in some way over this new similarity of ours: I knew what it was like to love a child and want the best for her more than anything. So as I prayed during that period with renewed fervor, I began to wonder whether the consistent non-response I was getting was the clearest message I was ever going to get.