The Mutt’s Nuts

Where religion is about as attractive as a two week holiday in Afghanistan

Religion hurts

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After nearly 30 years of embracing a particular set of beliefs, I found it very difficult to let go. And yet I knew I had to let go, if I was to move forward with my life. I’ve heard it said that leaving your religion is like experiencing a bereavement and that’s certainly how it felt to me.

But as my life as an active Mormon receded further and further into the distance I was able to see that the faith which I thought filled my life with happiness and meaning, had actually been positively harming me. Six years on, I find little pleasure or interest in talking or thinking about the church and its teachings. This saddens me because, at one time, it was my whole life and, I thought, would be my eternal future as well. But I cannot forget how my religion and its leaders duped me on a grand scale. Nor can I forget the pain its teachings and actions caused to me and to others that I know.

I don’t want to claim that Mormonism, or any other religion for that matter, does not have any positive effects on a person’s life. However, as a former believer, I can now see that it can certainly be harmful and I think this needs to be acknowledged and understood.

Below are a few personal examples of what I mean.

The Mormon church will tell you that it is a family-oriented organisation. That sounds very laudable but, in fact, the emphasis on the LDS version of happy families pays little thought to the needs or feelings of individuals. If you are not part of a standard family unit you are made to feel “different” and being different in a church that lives and breathes conformity is a very uncomfortable place to be.

Both men and women are encouraged to marry by their early to mid-20s. Any single person older than that is patronised into feeling that they are something of a failure, and that they should rectify the situation as soon as possible. This imperative to marry can cause some unsuitable marriages born out of the desperation to be part of that holy grail – the perfect family. Until I eventually married in my 30s, I felt the subtle force of marginalisation that many single church members experience. Add to that the stress of avoiding sexual encounters with the opposite sex, or even developing a romantic relationship with a non-member of the church (particularly difficult in areas where the church has only a small congregation) and already the detrimental effects of Mormon culture become apparent.

Once married, the expectation is that a couple will start a family. Although in later years the use of contraception has not been frowned upon as much as it once was, there is barely-disguised surprise if a couple fail to produce an offspring within the first two years of marriage. Women, in particular, are told that the production and raising of children is their supreme purpose in life. I remember very clearly hearing a talk by one of the church’s Twelve Apostles, which explicitly declared that bearing children was the most important thing any woman would ever do. For someone, such as myself, who discovers that they are unable to conceive, this is a devastating and demoralising doctrine. I spent many hours pleading with God to explain to me why I was denied this incomparable blessing, when children were being born every day to feckless and even violent parents who would never give them the committed and loving upbringing that my husband and I could offer. I received no consolation, either from God, or from uncomprehending church leaders. Thankfully, the anguish that I felt in this situation was immediately eased when I finally rejected the church and its teachings, negating power that it once had over me.

One other example of the damage religious dogma can cause occurred in the life of a young woman who was part of our church congregation. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I am now convinced that the church’s stance on the perfectly normal issue of masturbation directly caused, or at the very least contributed to, this young woman’s ongoing struggle with mental illness. The terrible guilt engendered in her by the church’s disgust of her habit and the effort of abstention, has made her life a misery for many years. Success in avoiding the activity brings great “highs”, but lapses cause terrible “lows” that have blighted any hope of a normal, productive life or enduring romantic relationship.

Mormons are taught to decry those who are thought to have allowed themselves to become “offended” by the actions of the church or one of its members. Being “offended” is regarded as a weakness, even a sin, on the part of the one who is on the receiving end of the offence. No credit is given for the possibility that they may be justly indignant or hurt. Anger is also condemned as a sin which must never be indulged. These attitudes, I feel, are unhealthy and unfair. I will admit that I was angry when I discovered that the church had doctored its own history to eradicate the unsightly blemishes that it really contained. I was hurt by the church’s intimation that I was somehow lacking because I was unmarried and then, later, unable to bear children. I am furious when I think about the stigma that the church placed upon a young woman who felt obliged to confess her private intimate activities to her male leaders in an attitude of shame and guilt, leading to a skewed idea of her value as a person and as a Latter-day Saint.

It’s perhaps this attack upon a person’s self-worth that is the key to the damage religions can wreak in an individual’s life, because our feelings about ourselves are determined by our perceived success in adhering to a set of improbable rules, many of which run counter to our inherent nature as human beings. In the LDS church, we were encouraged to “put off the natural man”, in other words to set aside perfectly natural human behaviour in the quest to become “spiritual beings”. It is this burden, I’m sure, which leads to so much guilt, frustration and unhappiness in the lives of the faithful as they find themselves constantly trying and failing to stifle their instincts. The stress of attempting to live a “higher law” turns life into a series of barriers to overcome, rather than experiences to learn from and enjoy. Accepting myself for who I am, rather than trying to be something different (and, by Mormon definition, better), is one of the happiest results of my deconversion.

There are many other incidents I witnessed as a Mormon which indicate to me that obedience to a set of rules laid down by a different culture in a different era can cause untold damage to the psyche and well-being of believers today. And I’m sure that they occur in all religions, not just in the LDS church. Looking back on these experiences has allowed me to finally rid myself of the fallacy that religion is an unremittingly good thing, that it is the cure for all the ills of the world and that those who extricate themselves from the cloying embrace of religious belief are rejecting something innately valuable. On the contrary, I have found greater peace of mind and appreciation of myself and others since stepping away from religious influence. Losing my religion has allowed me to gain so much more of what I think is really important.

IslaSkye

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Written by islaskye

October 28, 2007 at 8:46 pm

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