Posts Tagged ‘freedom’
The other day I had a conversation with a work colleague about religion. Or rather, she did most of the talking and I listened, interjecting a comment only occasionally. She felt that another work colleague of ours took her Christian evangelical beliefs much too seriously and had missed the point of religion all together. Religion, she explained, was all about being kind to others and doing good. You could do that without all the conditions that religion placed on faith. Our mutual colleague, she said, was wasting precious time adhering strictly to codes that were restricting her life, rather than enhancing it.
She went on to explain that she, too, was a Christian and had been quite fundamentalist in her views and actions for about 20 years. She had given her all to her church, rising to positions of responsibility that had required a lot of her time, effort and resources. Gradually she began to notice the self-righteousness of her fellow church members, an attitude of being better than others and a strong tendency to form exclusive cliques. She had finally decided that the core of religion was simple goodness and had resigned her onerous responsibilities and opted for a much more basic approach to her faith. She had received no thanks for all her previous hard work and no support from her co-religionists. She now attended a church that preached and practised simple faith and caring for others and felt a lot happier.
I could relate to much of what she was talking about. As a dedicated Mormon, I had been zealous in living my faith. So much so that, looking back, I can see all too clearly the social life that I missed out on, the potential friendships that I forfeited and the unnecessary restrictions that ruled my life and almost completely obliterated the person that I really was inside. Baptism into the church was said to be symbolic of burying the “natural man” and being reborn a new person. It was many years before I realised that my baptism had buried the real me and raised up an artificial stranger in its place.
As a Mormon, my thoughts and actions were dictated by scripture, commandments and church teachings. I had to suppress my natural instincts and impulses and act in accordance with someone else’s script for my life. Of course, in those days I thought that the someone else was God, acting through his earthly representatives. Whereas, before, my attitude had been “live and let live”, following baptism I developed very fixed ideas of who and what was wrong and right (viewed through the lens of Christianity and, more particularly, Mormonism). I began to value conformity above individuality, to look down on people who acted in a “worldly” way (i.e. smoked, drank, went to pubs or clubs and generally enjoyed themselves) and to see any deviation from complete obedience to church teachings and commandments as a sign of weakness and lack of faith.
As my co-worker had noticed in her Christian acquaintances, I too was very self-righteous and judgemental of others during my true-believing Mormon years. I realise now that it was a most offensive and unpleasant attitude to have. Like her, I had noticed the “clique-iness” of my own church congregation, mostly along social and economic lines. I had worked hard for the church, often at the expense of my limited free time, never refusing a call to serve and taking on responsible positions within the local children’s and women’s organisations of the church. When I finally realised that the church was not what I had always believed it to be and decided that I needed to step away from it for a while to get my bearings, I received no thanks for over 20 years of service and virtually no support from church members who I had naively thought were my friends.
Unlike my work colleague, though, I hadn’t turned to another form of religion when I became disillusioned with Mormonism, although at one point I did consider possibly attending a Unitarian church. My journey away from my church turned into a journey away from God and religion in general and it’s been a journey of personal self-discovery and a cause for great rejoicing.
One of the interesting things about our one-sided conversation was that, at any time, I could have recounted my own parallel experiences as a believing Mormon and as an ex-Mormon (although technically I’m still classed as a member of the church). But something held me back from revealing my religious past. I decided that I didn’t want to be known as a former believer, but as the person I am now, someone who has no belief in God or religion, a humanist. It’s as though the “new person” that was raised up through baptism has now been buried and the natural me has been resurrected. I can make my own decisions about how I view things and accept that most people are just trying to get through life in the best (or sometimes the only) way they know how. I can say what I think and do what I want, regardless of whether or not it conforms to someone else’s ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable or “righteous”. I can embrace my natural instincts instead of repressing them and I don’t have to continually measure myself – and others – against some impossible standard. I can swear and drink wine and watch R-rated movies without the least twinge of guilt. I never did those things very much before I joined the LDS church, and I don’t do them a lot now, but that’s my choice. That’s me, not the artificial goody-goody person that I used to be.
To some extent I can identify with the young woman that my colleague was talking about, because I can see my own experience in the way she is choosing to live her life. I wonder if, one day, she’ll feel that she’s missed out on some important things because of the restraints that her faith imposes. I hope, if she does, that it won’t be too late to build an authentic life outside of religion and enjoy the freedom and satisfaction that casting off those shackles has brought to me.
Having been a fan of Pat Condell for quite a while now, I have to say that he hits a bullseye with his latest video: Religion of Fear. It’s refreshing to find somebody who’s willing to speak his mind without fear of retribution and, as a matter of fact, echo my own inner thoughts on the matter. I wish that he would run for Parliament ‘cos I would back him all of the way.
On a related note, I find the news story of the Muslim bus driver who insisted that the passengers on his bus get off while he prays completely ridiculous. Religious observance shouldn’t give anybody an automatic right to do as they wish at the inconvenience of others.
I found it to be a wonderfully liberating feeling when I eventually rejected my religion and started to do some of the things that I had previously been indoctrinated to think were wrong. For example, Mormons have a revelation that’s commonly known as the Word of Wisdom, which is fundamentally a health code that, when obeyed, enables individual Latter-day Saints to avoid destruction as the Israelites who put blood around their doors according the instructions spoken by Moses when they were in bondage to the Egyptians (Ex. 12:23). Part of this health code prohibits church members from drinking tea and coffee, so imagine my exhilaration when I brewed my first cup of tea after so many years of going without. And dunking half a packet of biscuits made the whole experience even better. I am a Brit after all! It doesn’t sound like much, but I guess it was my way of giving Mormonism the finger. Plus, it made me feel good inside, but with a twinge of guilt that paradoxically increased the pleasure ten-fold.
I further detoxified myself by refusing to pray, purchasing normal underwear, ceasing to pay tithes and offerings, not attending long and often boring church meetings, drinking beer (which is actually permissible by my reading of the Word of Wisdom), shopping on Sundays, no longer furthering the cause of Mormonism, and I could list many, many other things besides. Posting my patriarchal blessing on The Mutt’s Nuts is my latest step in purging myself of my former programming. If you don’t know what a patriarchal blessing is, this site will tell you more about it.
I was incredibly disappointed by the content of my blessing. It consisted of no less than 900 words that said, in essence, nothing much at all. For the life of me I couldn’t find anything of any worth in it, except the same old tired-terminology that I was already accustomed to hearing week in and week out at church. It was supposedly a personal revelation to me from a personal God but, sadly, it had all of the hallmarks of a mundane church talk masquerading as an individual blessing. It should have been something special, but it wasn’t.
Brother xxxxxxx, xxxxx, xxxxxxx as the patriarch in this stake of Zion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I lay my hands upon your head as a servant of the Lord to confer upon you your patriarchal blessing. To receive those things which are important to you in your life that shall be as guidelines to you through all mortality, as you may gain spiritual strength and desire to continue to serve the Lord in all faithfulness throughout all the days of your life. That you may, by doing so, gain your eternal exaltation in the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.
So the scene is set. And how intriguing, which is what I initially thought at the time, that my blessing will be of huge importance and as “guidelines” that will serve me throughout mortality, eventually leading me into God’s kingdom. Understandably, I was actually quite excited when I heard the patriarch say that. Any excitement was short lived though, as will become clear as I explain by way of commentary.
For this is a great work which you have embraced and it is because of your diligence and your faithfulness and your humility and willingness to serve the Lord that you have been brought forth at this time to accept the gospel, as it is restored in all its purity and with all of the gifts and powers that are embraced in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That you may also enjoy this companionship of the spirit of the Lord to be with you, that he may lead, guide and direct you in all your endeavours in life. That you may assist in strengthening, building and extending this great work for it is the work that has been given unto mankind for its salvation, for the gathering of the House of Israel and all the faithful that shall come unto it.
There’s nothing of particular interest and absolutely zero that I didn’t already know in this paragraph. Surely I didn’t need a supposed personal communication from God to tell me what I’d been thoroughly lectured in at church? And the reasons why I’ve “been brought forth” to accept the Gospel “at this time” can be deduced from the fact that I accepted it in the first place. I had been a member of the Church for at least six months when the blessing was given, so it was safe to assume that I had those qualities in some degree. Humility being my most noticeable character trait and, coming in a close second, diligence because I was immensely good at showing others how to be humble.
For these are the last days when the Gospel shall be given unto the earth and great shall be your joy and happiness as you continue faithfully to serve the Lord in all diligence. Rejecting the temptations and the evils of this world that you may stand clear of these things. That you may speak with conviction and understanding to all those to whom you associate with. It is for this purpose that you may rise, and be blessed in this manner, that you may have the companionship of the spirit of the Lord to be with you to lead, guide and direct you in your decisions and in your faithfulness.
Again, nothing that I wouldn’t know from church. And, to be perfectly honest, I was pretend happy and pretend joyful while I was in servitude. It was quite a lot of effort to regularly attempt to convince myself that I was indeed happy and joyful. “I am fortunate to be a member of the Lord’s only true church, so I should be happy and full of joy!” Barf! I am decidedly happier now as an atheist. Living a sinful life and drinking a lot of tea is so much bloody fun.
At the time of receiving this blessing I was serving as a Stake Missionary, which is something that the patriarch knew as he had spoken with me and asked me questions prior to laying his hands on my head, so it’s a bit of a coincidence that the blessing mentions that I will speak “with conviction and understanding” to whoever I come into contact with (if I feel so moved by the Spirit, of course!) because that’s what missionaries do. That “purpose” sounds dubious in light of this.
All the promises that are given unto you this day are subject to your faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Continue therefore humbly that your joy may be full, and that you may receive the blessings of the House of the Lord in due time to be upon you. That your companion in life shall sustain you, and that you may continue to serve the Lord. That you may gain your eternal reward in this way that you will have the opportunity and the privilege to give leadership and council in a manner which is pleasing unto your Heavenly Father. You are choice in His sight and great shall be your joy and happiness because of your faithfulness.
In the first sentence we have the usual get-out clause that makes everything your fault if things don’t go to plan and ensures that God is never blamed for anything. And after that the standard progression for all men in the Church is laid out – temple, marriage and leadership. The last line of the paragraph is similar to what’s been said already. Surprise, surprise.
You are one through whom the blood of the House of Israel flows and the blood of Ephraim is within you and it shall be manifest unto you as you are diligent to the words of the council, that are given unto you from time to time by the brethren.
All patriarchal blessings inform the recipient of his or her lineage. There’s nothing new here. Though I can’t help but wonder what the patriarch had in mind when he said that the “blood of Ephraim…shall be manifest unto you”. What does that mean?
Seek therefore to bear your testimony, in all truth, and faithfulness, to the knowledge, to the divinity of this great work and to your thankfulness to your Heavenly Father at all times. That you may seek Him in private prayer to seek the help and guidance that shall be yours, for the Lord will delight to honour you and to give you all of the joy and happiness that shall come by being true and faithful to this great work.
Obviously, I got a bum deal from my Stake Patriarch because here we have yet more everyday church stuff. Testimony bearing. Prayer. And obedience. I would like to read some of the other blessings that he gave around the same time to see if it was just me or if they’re equally bland and far from inspiring.
I seal upon you this day that you shall inherit the blessings of your patriarchal fathers. You shall be one that shall come forth in the morning of the resurrection with immortality and eternal life to take your rightful place in the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father. Therefore continue with all joy and happiness in this life, rejecting evil from whatever source it may come, but proclaiming the gospel, in your faithfulness, in testimony at all times. For this I give you that you may have the courage to stand up for the truth and right, and for the work in which you have been engaged. That you may go forth in all comfort and that you may have the health and the strength throughout your body to fulfil the duties and responsibilities that will devolve upon you.
Hasn’t the majority of this already been said? Eternal life? Tick. Joy? Tick. Happiness? Tick. Rejecting evil? Tick. Missionary work? Tick. Health and strength?
Tick. Oops. That’s something new.
Do these to the best of your ability in furthering the work of the Lord. If you are faithful in these things you shall receive the higher priesthood. Continue, therefore, to study the scriptures and all those things that the Lord’s servants have to say and to give unto you in council and advice.
Even more standard church stuff. Scripture study. Obedience to church leaders. And I knew I was pretty much certain to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood at some future date anyway, because that’s how things work in the Church.
All the promises that are given unto you this day are yours to enjoy and will be fulfilled in due time of the Lord. There are many other blessings that you shall enjoy, which shall transpire, and for this you shall bear witness and shall recognise the hand of the Lord in all things. You shall recognise the hand of the Lord in sickness and in health and whatever circumstances or trials of life that you may be called upon to pass through.
I think the patriarch was running out of things to say by this point as it’s evident from this paragraph that he was trying to wraps things up by making sure he had all the bases covered. I don’t think I’ve ever found generalisations inspiring, and so much for the blessing being a personal one.
All the blessings and promises that are given unto you this day, I seal upon your head as a servant of the Lord in His name, the Lord, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Redeemer, Amen.
And thus it ends.
This blessing was just another thing in a long line of things that contributed to my cognitive dissonance concerning Mormonism. You’d think that if it was really a revelation from God to me, then surely he should have at least warned me in no uncertain terms of anything that would become a stumbling block to me and possibly jeopardise my eternal future. Imagine that you were a father with an important message for your son, a message that you could only give once. What would you say to him? Wouldn’t you make it as personal and as relevant as possible, taking into account all that you knew about his personality and the path that he was likely to take in life? I know I would.
I’ve always been disappointed by this blessing, but as a faithful church member, I would often read it over and over again in an attempt to find inspiration in it. I had more chance of finding a needle in a haystack.
I was listening to the John Lennon song God on YouTube the other day and I could relate to the lyrics – especially the line that said “I just believe in me” and then the addition “Yoko and me. That’s reality”.
Since I rejected religion, I’ve always said that I believe in people, not God. I’ve also learned to believe in myself a lot more. In the past I tried to be what someone else wanted me to be – the people who wrote the scriptures, church leaders, other church members. I conformed myself to other people’s views of how I should behave, what I should think, say, do and not do.
Freedom from religion has meant, for me, freedom to be myself. Several years ago, a woman who wrote on a forum that I used to visit put it perfectly when she said:
Maybe that’s why it hurts to find out the church is crazy. You are feeling the death rattle of a false self. You think it’s your self, but it isn’t. It’s just an identity that was built on something phoney. Your real self is right under it, eventually waking up and stretching its arms like nothing ever happened. And then you’re stronger because you’re living closer to your true identity. – Melissa
There is a deep satisfaction in being my real self, that never existed when I lived the religious life. Not that I’m so very different in my personality, except that I’m much less judgemental, less gullible, more logical and more sceptical. I’m still polite, kind and friendly. I still love to study, but now I study a whole world of absorbing subjects, not just the scriptures. I’m still often forgetful and careless and I continue to procrastinate over tasks that I dislike. One of the big differences is that I don’t feel guilty about my failings – I just accept that I’m human. I still want to improve in some areas of my life and behaviour, but not because someone else tells me I should, but for my own reasons. I don’t have to spend time doing things that I don’t really want to, or that I’m not particularly interested in, because I think God has “called” me to that work. I can say “no” without reproaching myself for it.
Since setting aside faith, I’ve felt the power and strength of reality. It’s not always comforting, but it’s always honest and solid. There’s a simple joy in believing in yourself and your loved ones and knowing that you can count on them absolutely. Believers may fool themselves into thinking that they can count on God, but only because they’ll twist any circumstance to “show” that he was there for them. I know, because that’s what I did. Except, there were certain very traumatic times in my life when, try as I might, I just couldn’t convince myself that I was being supported by a loving God. My belief in him and desire to understand the terribly difficult things that were happening to me in terms of his will, made a hard situation ten times worse. And, despite my faith, there was a part of me deep down that felt that faith wasn’t the comfort I really needed.
Everything about my life has been so much happier and more satisfying since I walked away from religion and from belief in a god. Even if rejecting God and the trappings of belief was the only thing that had changed in my life over the past 6 years or so, I would still be immeasurably richer today than I ever was then. I’m materially better off and certainly healthier psychologically. I’m free from groundless fear, crippling guilt and superstitious magical thinking. And I can believe in myself. That’s reality – and I love it.
Christians will tell you that God provides freedom of choice to individuals, which makes them responsible for the consequences of their actions. For example, we are free to choose whether to believe in God or not; to keep his commandments or violate them; to head for heaven or slide down to hell. This choice is sometimes put in the simplest of terms – choosing good or evil. Good, of course, is defined as God-approved, while evil means anything that is in opposition to God’s will.
The problem with this idea of free choice is that it is purely illusory. It requires people to make a choice only within a prescribed framework . For example, we are told that we can either keep God’s commandments or break God’s commandments. Keeping God’s commandments is the “good” choice, the “right” choice. Breaking God’s commandments is the “bad” or “wrong” choice. But the fact is, there is only one set of commandments to choose from and they have been designed by God. Where is the opportunity to decide that, in certain situations, different behaviours are more appropriate or morally benign? What if you want to decide your own morality, based on your own sense of right and wrong, so you discard God’s commandments and create an individual moral code that suits you and harms no-one?
Limiting choices to within a framework which assures the framer the result he desires, cannot be called “free”. It’s like a mother telling a child she can only choose to wear the red dress or the blue dress, because those are the dresses the mother likes best. There’s no option to choose the green dress or the yellow dress. Nor, for that matter, is there the chance to wear a tee shirt and jeans, or a blouse and skirt. In the same way, God limits our options to ensure that our choices correspond to his own predetermined outcomes for us.
Freedom of choice is also illusory when the person making the choice is given no clear idea of the consequences of his decision. Christians will tell you that if you do this you’ll go to heaven and if you do that you’ll go to hell. They witter on about peace and happiness, fire and torment, but you won’t get a clear description of what an eternity of heaven or hell will actually consist of. The trouble is, apparently no human has actually been to either place and returned to give us a full-blown account of their adventure. It’s a bit like the promise that Hank will give you a million dollars when you leave town but, although plenty of people have left town, no-one has ever returned with stories of the huge spending spree they’ve been on with Hank’s million dollars. To have real freedom of choice you must comprehend as clearly as possible what the results of your choice will be.
And while we’re on the subject, portraying the consequences of our choices in terms of reward or punishment is surely a matter of enticement, rather than the offer of free choice. Just as we are influenced, albeit unconsciously in many instances, by advertising, fashion, or popular opinion, so God influences our choices by manipulating our feelings about where we we would want to spend eternity (always supposing we accept the idea of life after death). If he were to include a third option, for those people who don’t necessarily want to live with him, but whom it would be unjust to punish with endless hellfire, at least the alternatives would be somewhat fairer than a simple happiness versus misery scenario. After all, no-one would choose to live in endless misery, so making that one of only two options is to weight the odds very strongly on the side of choosing the path that leads to heaven. However you look at it, that smacks of blackmail.
Probably one of the most important aspects in making a genuine choice is having the ability to act on reliable, verifiable information. You don’t just need to know what the options are, you need to be certain that they’re real. Imagine a man comes to your door and tells you he has a car for sale. It’s just what you’re looking for, it’s in perfect condition and at a very reasonable price. Probably one of the first things you would want to know is when you can see it. How would you feel if the man told you that he couldn’t actually show it to you, but he had a picture of it? Would that be sufficient for you to hand over your money? How about if he produced a written statement by someone who had seen the car, confirming everything that the man was telling you about it? I’m guessing that unless you could actually have a good look at the vehicle, perhaps even getting a qualified mechanic to check it over, and taking it for a test drive yourself, you would tell the man at the door to take his proposition elsewhere.
Christians will tell you that you need to accept Jesus as your personal saviour and that, if you don’t, you will go to hell. But where is the proof that Jesus even existed, or that he was who he said he was? Prior to the time Jesus allegedly lived, there were many stories of mythical saviour figures bearing strong similarities to the story of Jesus contained in the gospels. Being told that you have to accept some historical myth on faith alone is hardly a strong foundation for making an accurate choice. Just as you wouldn’t accept a stranger’s word for the fact that he had a fantastic car for sale without verification of its existence and reliability, so it would be foolish to accept the need to conform your life to the urgings of a religious believer without corroborating evidence of the product he is peddling.
Some might say that, to be convinced of the reality of Jesus as the son of God and saviour of the world, you must set aside your scepticism and open your heart to belief. That only the holy spirit can confirm the truth of spiritual things. But why should you be expected to make life or death decisions based on emotions and desires rather than on concrete facts? That is no foundation for wise choices in matters that have far-reaching consequences.
No, the claim by Christians that God allows people the freedom to choose to follow him or not is bogus. Without being able to choose options that are unlimited by a framework that manipulates the outcome to achieve the framer’s desired result; in the absence of the fullest details about the consequences of the choices to be made; and without verifiable information about the reality of the options apparently available to you, freedom of choice is just an illusion.