The Mutt’s Nuts

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

Posts Tagged ‘happiness

I believe in me

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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.

Isla

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Written by islaskye

January 27, 2008 at 8:40 pm

Fantasy Jesus

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When I was a Mormon I had a great love for Jesus Christ as he was portrayed by my church and in the scriptures (even though my reading was biased by my belief, which I didn’t realise then, of course). Anyway, the other day I heard a Christmas carol being sung and I experienced a few brief moments of nostalgia for those warm happy feelings I used to have as a believer when I thought about Jesus.

As I considered this some more, I understood that the feelings I had once had about Jesus were based upon two things – my own desires and a very clever marketing campaign. I was more than happy to believe that Jesus loved me and sacrificed his life for me. I used to feel very emotional when I thought about this. Who wouldn’t want to believe that they were loved unconditionally and that someone thought they were special enough to suffer and die for? I thought about the words of the hymns I used to sing, and how they reinforced this image of Jesus as our loving Friend, the one who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. I remembered the church talks and lessons I used to hear, where Jesus was constantly portrayed as this loving, compassionate, selfless person. How he blessed us with his grace, condescending to step down from the lofty heights of godhood to become one of us, so that he could understand our sorrows and help bear our burdens. If one believed everything that was taught about Jesus, it was impossible not to love him.

Of course, that was the whole idea. All the information available to us from Bible compilers and the religious leaders who interpret the scriptures according to their own belief agenda is highly selective and aimed at inducing feelings of love and gratitude towards the person designated our “saviour”. It’s a master class in selling – selling an idea, a dream, a personality.

My feelings about Jesus were not just influenced by the great marketing job carried out by my church and by the scriptures, of course. Probably the greatest contributor to the way I felt about him were my own perceptions and ideals. In a way, Jesus was like a famous celebrity that I had never met personally, but who I had heard enough about to believe that I did actually know him in a personal way. In his book – Breaking the Spell – Daniel Dennett tells of a TV programme that he once saw, in which young children asked what they knew about Queen Elizabeth II:

The answers were charming: the Queen wore her crown while she “hoovered” Buckingham Palace, sat on the throne when she watched telly, and in general behaved like a cross between Mum and the Queen of Hearts.

To these children, this was the way the Queen behaved. Not only her actions, but her very personality, may well have been vastly different from their imaginings, but this is how they saw her, and that is what they believed her to be. It’s the same for believers in Jesus. We get a picture of the kind of person he must be, based not only on what we have read, but how we have interpreted those stories and related them to our own experience, ideas and wishes built up over our lifetime.

The “Jesus” that I was so fond of may have been different from the “Jesus” that another Christian believed in. The way that Jesus is perceived and experienced must surely vary from individual to individual. Even those who knew him personally and spent a lot of time with him (supposing that the man we refer to as Jesus of Nazareth actually did exist), couldn’t know him definitively, any more than we know our partners or close friends completely. There is always going to be room for us to wrongly attribute certain characteristics, qualities, motives and emotions to other people, even those who we think we know well. How much more likely are we to have mistaken ideas about someone who we have never met and only have second hand accounts of at best?

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I used to believe things about Jesus that made me feel warm and secure and loved, but they weren’t based on any kind of fact or even any intimate knowledge. That Jesus was a combination of advertising hype and my own personal desires. I believe this is the same for all believers. Gentle Jesus, Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd – all comforting images that simply reveal humankind’s own hopes and needs rather than offering any accurate insight into the person (real or mythical) at the centre of the Christian faith.

IslaSkye

Written by islaskye

December 18, 2007 at 5:58 am

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

Written by islaskye

October 28, 2007 at 8:46 pm