Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Comparative Religion

I didn't mention in my original post what religion I was a member of.

That was intentional. It wasn't really germane to the point of that post, and I didn't want to distract readers with tangential information. However, given that if I don't at some point come out and say what religion I belong to I'm potentially going to have a pointlessly difficult task dancing around the topic in future posts, I may as well go ahead and say it.

I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I'm a Mormon.

(I guess maybe I should say I was a Mormon, since I no longer believe in the church--but I'm still officially a member.)

I certainly don't think that there's anything about the LDS church in particular, however, that soured me on religion. In fact, I think if it had been most any other Christian church, I'd have given up on it a lot sooner. For all the historical vagaries and idiosyncratic doctrines of the LDS Church that some like poking fun at (yes, church members did practice polygamy back in the 1800s; no, they don't do so today, it's cause for excommunication, and the "polygamous Mormons" living on the Utah/Arizona border are not members of the LDS church), in a lot of ways I think the LDS church doctrines make a lot more sense than those of any other Christian sect I'm familiar with. Take the question of what happens to those who die without having heard the gospel of Christ, for example. According most other Christian religions, according to my (admittedly possibly limited) understanding: tough luck; they're damned. Bam! See you in Hell. In LDS doctrine, though, they'll have a chance to find out about the gospel in the afterlife, and to convert posthumously before the Final Judgment. Everyone's provided for; God doesn't slap anyone with eternal condemnation just for the misfortune of having been born at the wrong time and place. Seems to me a lot more reasonable than the luck-of-the-draw business.

More importantly, though, the LDS church doesn't teach its members to just rely on the word of the church leaders and a blind faith that the Bible is true (along with the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures). It explicitly asks both members born into the church and prospective converts to find about the truth for themselves.

The problem is, of course, that it doesn't ask them to do so through skeptical inquiry and examination of the evidence. It asks them to do so by, well, praying to God, and receiving confirmation by the Holy Ghost. What form does that confirmation take? See, that's the sticky part. For some people, it's a "still small voice". For others, it's a "burning in the bosom". For others, it may be just a feeling of confidence and certainty. And for others...

If you're getting the idea that someone could just pass off any old thought or sensation as confirmation by the Holy Ghost, yeah, I think that pretty much nails it. But that's what it took me so long to admit to myself. That's why, as I say, that I think if I'd been raised in any other Christian denomination, I'd have fallen away from it a long time ago. If a church's leaders can give you no better reason to believe in their teachings than "because the Bible says so" (never mind all the books of other religions that say differently, or the fact that not everyone can agree on what the Bible says), or "because the Pope (or whoever) says so, and he's the mouthpiece of God" (how do you know he's the mouthpiece of God? Because he and/or the Bible says so?), well, those clearly aren't good reasons at all, and I don't think I would have been able to keep fooling myself this long that they were. But...because God Himself tells you, through the Holy Ghost, that the church is true? That's a pretty darn good reason.

It is, that is, provided you can be sure that "burning in the bosom", or what have you, is really coming from God. The problem is, you can't. But it's easy to fool yourself that you can. Oh, this is different from any normal feeling. No, you can't explain how, exactly. It just is. How do you know it's a message from God? You just do. It's not necessarily easy--particularly after a lifetime of indoctrination--to finally admit that no, you don't really know it's a message from God. The human capacity for self-delusion is truly extensive, and once you're told that you can get spiritual confirmation from God, it's not hard to convince yourself that you've gotten it.

It's frequently said that the LDS church is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world--although there's some question of the validity of that claim. Regardless, I can see the reasons for its being as a successful a meme as it has been. Besides its facility in convincing people they've received confirmation from God of its truths, it's got ways of making them second-guess their doubts, too. LDS teachings are full of mentions of letting things of this world overshadow the things of heaven, and of avoiding any environment where one might encounter criticism of the church--not simply to avoid that criticism, no, but (nominally) because such worldly surroundings drive away the Holy Ghost, and it's important to have the guidance of the Holy Ghost with you at all times. At the once annual and now biannual interviews for a temple recommend, one of the questions members are asked is whether they "support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". So there's an inculcated part of me still trying to convince the rest of me that this all comes from reading blogs by atheists and not wearing my temple garments constantly like I should and hanging out with the wrong crowd and losing the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and that what I really need to do is to read the Scriptures and pray and ask God for the strength to overcome my doubts and regain the spiritual testimony I once had. The rest of me has, of course, thoroughly examined those arguments and dismissed them on very good grounds, but that one part of me still won't shut up about them.

So, anyway, I'm not writing this to attack the LDS Church. I'm only mentioning which church I'm a member of because I figure it's bound to come up at some point, and it might as well be now. But I have nothing against the LDS church specifically. I won't say the church does no harm--I know I'd probably have been a lot happier in several ways had I not been brought up with all that religious indoctrination--but I certainly think it does no more harm than most other Christian denominations, and less so than many. As I said, I'm pretty sure if I'd been brought up in any other Christian church, I'd have left it a lot sooner, so it's nothing about the LDS Church in particular that's caused me to lose my faith, or rather to own up to the fact I didn't really have it--quite the contrary; there are some things about the LDS Church that I think have probably caused me to hold onto that illusory faith longer than I otherwise would have. It was just time, or long past time, really, to finally allow myself to recognize that there was no firm basis for belief in the church or in God, and that I didn't have to keep telling myself I believed in something that I didn't--even if, to avoid disappointing the people I know in the church, I am going to keep telling other people at church I believe it, at least for now.

The odd thing is, I still frequently catch myself silently praying. Old habits die hard.


At 6/02/2006 7:58 AM, Blogger Qalmlea said...

If you don't mind a suggestion, prayer can easily become meditation. Instead of asking God (or whoever) for advice/an outcome/etc, search inside yourself, inside your own mind. It can become simply a way to focus on an issue. My two cents.

At 2/23/2007 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Guess what? I'm Catholic and still have problems with my religion even though I'm older now than a rebellious teen. But certain things make sense to me and others don't. I firmly believe that no matter what religion you are, if you are doing your best to live your life according to your morals, then God/whoever knows that you are doing your best in a world that doesn't accept anything as an undeniable truth. It doesn't have to be God you are praying to or meditating. It can be you trying to figure yourself out, as my friend said in the other post.

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At 5/02/2010 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the proper question we should be asking ourselves is, what is the truth? Before we can do that, we have to decide if there is a truth to be known. I think that the answer to that question is a very obvious yes, and any logical and objective examination of the evidence available to us will lead us to that conclusion. Once we have established that we have to determine what is true. That should be the question. I should say here that I am a Christian, and I believe the LDS church to be, in a word, wrong. I believe the Bible is the unerring Word of God, and the only Scripture. That being said, it's not just because I was raised a Christian, but because, over the years, I have examined the evidence for and against it, and it Just. Makes. Sense. Truth. That is what we should be seeking. Once you find it, you need to determine what you will do with it.


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