I read more and more trying to come to terms with the questions that I had. Some questions I didn't even have the vocabulary for. For my entire career as a christian, I never really did figure out what it meant that "Jesus died for me". I had an emotional response to that. I know that. As I matured in my beliefs I couldn't quite put a finger on what it really meant. I know it meant something because it was the reason I clung to what little faith I had. It had to be more than just the emotion, didn't it?
I read books. Lots of diverse books. I had the emotion, but the rational side of me needed justification. It had to be something other than the feelings. I knew that religion brought out the best and worst of people. I think it brought out the best in me. And lest someone question, I still do think that the theology of the LDS Church is superior than that of the rest of Christianity. My faith in scripture had eroded substantially. The Book of Mormon simply put me off as time went on. The writing was poor and the storyline became more difficult to rationalize. My own beliefs in the scientific method and my own sense of reality had already pushed the Old Testament into nothing but mythology. I found great wisdom in the story of Adam and Eve but I didn't believe that Adam actually existed (but this didn't lead to my discarding the revelations of JS, oddly). I doubt Moses existed and viewed the Pentateuch as more of a tribal history than anything that actually happened. The morality of the OT, the genocide, killing of all but virgins, and the God presented was certainly not something I found worthy of worship. Isaiah still held my interest but very little else did. It seemed more and more the sacrifice of Jesus seemed tied to the killing of animals in the temple. If killing animals couldn't cleans sin, why then would human sacrifice do it? It is only the scale of it that gave it meaning, and that seemed to be what the BoM was telling me too.
My faith in the New Testament was put into question by "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture" by Bart Ehrman. He showed by scholarship how much the scriptures had been manipulated (His study eventually led to his leaving the faith). I also found that the High Christology presented in the NT was of a much later edit and that was a problem with the BoM as the Christology was way too high for the jews of the pre-exile period. The more I read the more the BoM presented itself as a post 6th century document. Even the defenders had issues with it. More and more of my friends on the boards were leaving the church. Little did I realize that if you are an apologist, you are already in stage 4 of Fowler and the cognitive dissonance is manifesting itself. Some sort of resolution needs to be made and most leave the church in order to calm themselves of the conflict. But all that is what I accepted later. At the time, I just wished them well.
Sometime after our adoption of our children from Guatemala (2006), I was turned on to a man named Blake Ostler. His books were incredibly educational. While most of it went over my head, I found some comfort in the philosophical musings on LDS thought. The second book, "The Problems of Theism and the Love of God" was a flood of ideas, language and an epiphany on my thoughts on the atonement. Here was what I was wrestling with, but I didn't have the words. Literally, I didn't have the words. (punny, that). My conflicts were there expressed. My difficulty was made manifest. My Review. I must have tired my wife to no end as I tried to sort out my emotions, excitement, and the theory of the Atonement that Ostler presented. It provided some solace, but eventually, it wasn't enough.
Ostler presented an idea that the atonement was best modeled after the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that the pain of the atonement was based on his resolve, his hope to build a more intimate relationship with us, as the father did in the Prodigal. Forgiveness is pain. It isn't that Sin is pain, but forgiveness is. That is how the Atonement is devoid of time restrictions. That pain transcends time. This did leave an issue with what Sin really consisted of, and eventually that is what I found as being the weakness of the theory. He, Ostler, needed Sin to be meaningful, so he constructed a meaning. I saw it for what it was, a construct for what he needed to shoehorn it into the scriptural record. I soon became disconsolate again.
Then Facebook Happened.