The Mutt’s Nuts

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

Posts Tagged ‘obedience

Resurrected me

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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.

Isla

Written by islaskye

April 13, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Resisting the Mormon melting pot

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cookie-cutter.jpgWhereas IslaSkye had spent much of her church life thoughtlessly acquiescing to the opinions of religious leaders who she believed knew better than her by virtue of their position within the Mormon church, I struggled a lot with the process of “melting” into Latter-day Saint society.

I’ve always been stubbornly independent, so I found the very concept of becoming one with the Saints utterly oppressive. Nevertheless, occasionally, I would make a concerted effort to homogenise into Mormon culture, believing that it was for the greater good – towards building a Zion society – but as soon as I felt my individuality slipping and literally being lost in religion, I would retreat and resist the attraction that the idea of utopia held. It was truly a battle.

I completely believed the claim that the LDS Church was the only church on the face of the earth with which the Lord was “well pleased”, so you’d think that that would be enough of a reason to relinquish the mental hold that I had on myself and fully give in to the truths of Mormonism, sacrificing all and anything that held me back, but no. I truly didn’t want to become another cookie-cutter Mormon, as I thought that I would be, individually, much the poorer for it, notwithstanding that I felt that I was going against an important tenet of the Church – becoming one with the Saints. Often I would tell myself that I could get by with a semblance of balance with other members of the Church, but I couldn’t. Without the real thing I would forever be conflicted within and faced with choices that I didn’t want to make. When I think back on my church life, it’s easy for me to see that it consisted of much going backwards and forwards between blind faith and reason.

It was never easy for me to submit to the so-called “inspiration” received by church leaders because my mind would automatically act as a sort of filter by weighing it up to determine the usefulness or importance of said communication from on high. I’ve never been comfortable with just plunging blindly into somebody else’s conceptualisation of how an individual should regulate his life and thereby gain an unimaginable reward in heaven, and it makes not an iota of difference whether the person claims to be God’s mouthpiece on earth or not, so it was actually a foregone conclusion that my becoming one with the Saints would never materialise – something that I wish I realised at the time, as I wouldn’t have suffered so much heartache when I lost my faith.

Nevertheless, against my better judgement, I did my damnedest to conform to religious instruction as much as possible, mainly because I thought that that would one day constitute my ticket into the highest echelon of Mormon heaven in the hereafter. Obedience to leaders is a big deal in the Church, so much so that you’re reminded of it over and over again from the pulpit – think Chinese water torture and you can well imagine the amount of stimulation such indoctrination held where I was concerned. A church member’s exaltation hangs on how well they’ve heeded the words of their prophets, or holy geriatrics in suits who live in Salt Lake City.

Anyway, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t put behind me the stumbling block that required me to become indistinguishable from the crowd. And as I thought more about the doctrine of having all things in common with the Saints, the more acute my feelings of opposition became.

Eventually, I caught onto the thought that the very thing that I had grown to hate would be fully realised in heaven and so I became unhappy with the idea of heaven – where everybody would be a perfect clone of everybody else. Perfection in heaven seemed to me to be nothing more than the discontinuation of challenges, learning, individuality, progress, fun, wonder and amazement, discovery, excitement, among many, many other things. Or, in short, being perfect would bring to an end everything that makes me feel truly alive. It’s ironic, really, that heaven itself appears to be a kind of permanent death.

Curmudgeonly Yours

Written by Curmudgeonly

October 29, 2007 at 7:12 pm