Category Archives: Religion

Choosing Relationships Over Belief Systems: An Apology

Knowledge should be shared.  At least that’s what I’ve always thought.  Surely, if I learn something new, I should spread my newly found truth far and wide.

Last year, when I had my crisis of faith, I read and listened to everything I could regarding the religion I grew up in.  And, upon doing so, I felt sad for those living in ignorance so I decided to “educate” them.

I once had an associate that often corrected me when I expressed any opinion.  From innocent remarks like mentioning my favorite colors were pink and yellow – “those are typical colors for females to like, perhaps you should reconsider” – to recounting my mishaps in parenting “hm, if I were a parent, I would have done it this way” – this person’s snide commentary often left me feeling small and worthless.

In a similar fashion, my newly discovered knowledge on religions in general and Mormonism specifically often led to unintended criticisms of my family, friends, and associates when they brought up any religious theme.   I became that associate the people did not wish to converse with because I denigrated rather than uplifted.  People were uncomfortable in my presence and by my writing.

Emily and Andrew have sibling fights daily. Usually they argue over who can play with a particular toy or who can sit/lay next to me or Ben.  During these tense moments, I remind them that they are brother and sister.  It’s natural to have disagreements but they need not let material things ruin their relationship. Apologies ensue and they return to playing happily together.

I know that some people disagree with me politically and spiritually. I am sure that people also disagree with how I parent.   But that’s okay.  Letting that get in the way of positive relationships by criticizing another for how they think or feel – rather than discussing a specific idea – is harmful and doesn’t align with my religion of compassion.  Basically, I’m letting material ideas get in the way of relationships.

So, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry to my parents, friends, and associates for making cruel remarks about their belief systems.  I’m sorry for alienating people by assuming their faith is based on falsehoods and that I need to educate them.

I’m sorry.

I hope that in our world, in which we are ever evolving into people who put aside belief systems to nourish friendships and familial relationships, I can have thoughtful discussions with people about their belief systems.  I also hope that forgiveness and a renewal of friendships is possible.

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I went to church today

I’ve attended church two (now three) times since taking my religious sabbatical. Given that I attended church every Sunday since I was a child, minus the handful of times I was sick, this has been an interesting experience.

When we first moved to Kirksville, I tried out a Methodist church. It was very friendly, interactive, and refreshingly open about their finances. But I wasn’t ready. I was still dealing with church related PTSD and needed more time.

Three months after moving to St. Louis, I decided to try out the Latter-Day Saint ward. I grew up Mormon, you know, and thought it would be a nice experience. It wasn’t. In fact, the sacrament meeting (or sermon) had all the elements that disillusioned me in the first place. Frankly, I didn’t just leave; I ran.

Today, I decided to attend a different church. One I grew up mocking as a sad break-off from the LDS church: the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS).

The sermon was fascinating. They focused on issues like world hunger, talked about Jesus the entire time, and included passages from scriptures I grew up with (like the Doctrine and Covenants). Included in their program was a financial statement that they update weekly. At the back of their program was this message:

“What kind of good news was Jesus announcing? It was good news of forgiveness from sin, of the promise of eternal life, of restored relationships with God and others. And it was also news of tangible improvements in the lives of poor people. Jesus was bringing freedom from conditions that trap people in poverty, hunger, disease, and powerlessness.”
-Alex Kahtava, emphasis mine

That is the Jesus I understand and will gladly follow.

A man gave the sermon and both women and men passed the sacrament.  Female and male priesthood leaders occupied the stand.  In short, gender did not occlude women’s ability to fully participate in leadership positions and Sabbath services.

I’m still unsure of where my spiritual journey will end, if it ever will; yet, I am enjoying fully exploring my options.

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As Sisters In Zion

In many of the groups I follow and participate in, relief society is often criticized for various, legitimate reasons.  Rather than reflecting on the experiences that I’ve had that were negative and un-empowering, I am thinking of one experience that still warms my heart: a time when ladies of my congregation banded together and truly dedicated their Christ-like love and service to me when I was in need.

I was serving as Relief Society secretary at the time of my third miscarriage.  I called the president – a lady who I still admire – and let her know that I would not be attending church for a week or so and might not be able to attend meetings because I was miscarrying. She agreed that was best and I thought that was that.

Within a few hours of that phone call, she and the other presidency members were at my doorstep, cleaning supplies in hand, ready to serve in the best way they could.  They cleaned my apartment, folded my laundry, washed and dried the dishes, and offered many hugs and tears on my behalf.

The rest of the week, other sisters of the ward, including my beloved visiting teachers and my visiting teaching companion, brought meals to our family.  They hugged me close, dried my tears, and listened as I expressed my disappointment and pain over the loss of another baby.

These women epitomized the original words of the hymn, As Sisters in Zion:

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all pull together,

The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek:

We’ll build up His kingdom with earnest endeavor;

We’ll comfort the weary, and strengthen the weak.

I hope I will always provide the same relief to women in need throughout my lifetime.

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Oh Say, What is Truth?

I was the perfect student. Whether it was primary, Sunday school, Young Women, Relief Society, or seminary, I could tell you the exact answers.  On top of that, I had nearly all the scripture mastery verses memorized by the time I was 14 AND I had started reading Jesus the Christ and all others sorts of wonderful side-along books.

When things didn’t quite add up, or I felt uncomfortable with certain scientific/anthropological evidence, I would hide them under a blanket–like a child embarrassed by the mess they made.  I figured that everything would work out in the Next Life.

This lasted until this past January.  To learn more about my religion–because I wanted to be a better church member–I began reading articles and other related essays on the Book of Mormon.  I also started brushing up on my American Indian historical facts.  In about 3 days, I went from a powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness, to an overpowering sense of betrayal.  The book that I have defended for so many years has far too many flaws when it comes to it’s claims of being a historical record for me to accept it as an inspired text–at least in the way I had believed for so long.  As there is an immense amount of information out there–many of it not anti-Mormon (despite common belief) as it comes from anthropologists and other scientists who are studying the native american culture and who have no vested interest in what Mormons believe or don’t believe–regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon, I will not attempt to lay out everything I have learned.  Instead, I want to focus on my journey into disbelief.

In the previous paragraph, I mentioned that I wanted to learn more about my religion.  It goes further than that, at the time I began researching historical aspects of the Mormon church, I was going through a major crisis of faith.  I was praying, reading, and listening to General conference podcasts like no other person could believe.  It was not working.  I could not shove uncomfortable questions away; so, to alleviate my stress, I began doing what I do best when faced with tough questions: research.

Applying the research techniques and critical analysis skills I had learned at Brigham Young University (BYU), I read through countless research articles from both apologists and seekers of truth (who were usually believing members) on the Book of Mormon.  Each presented clear arguments, but the apologists often went against teachings of the Brethren (i.e. quorum of the 12 and the first presidency) which led to further angst as I realized I needed to choose between the church’s hard stance on the truthfulness of the BoM or I needed to go with my gut and accept the conclusions from decades of research.  As I have never been one to side with falsehoods, I chose science.

As with all choices that lead one away from their upbringing, this hasn’t been an easy exit.  I am very happy with my conclusions, but I am still working out what I learned as a child with what I know as an adult and trying very hard to not feel bitter toward the half-truths and outright lies I learned in various church forums.  Naturally, answers beget questions and these are some rhetorical questions I have written down in my journal (the audience varies for whom these questions focus on).

If you have read the BoM, do you have a testimony of it’s truthfulness (in the claims it puts forth)?  And why/why not?  

Would you agree/disagree with my consensus that the BoM, with its outright declaration of white being “fair and delightsome” is an inherently racist book that propagated the horrible belief from the 19th century (and before) of the white race being the most advanced in all areas of development?

And, finally, is there a place for me, with my very doubting heart, in the Mormon church if I don’t believe the BoM is a sacred and true text?  If I look at it like I see the bible: a wonderful story that has many applicable lessons with beautiful analogies but very limited historical accuracy? If so, do you think I would ever be allowed into the temple in the future since I cannot answer all the questions (regarding my testimony) with an honest yes/no?  

I know many people have read the Book of Mormon and I am curious as to how you would respond to these questions.  I ask these not with ill intent, but because I really want to know.  If you are a true believing Mormon, please answer without defensiveness, believing in the Book of Mormon has probably helped you more than harmed you and I find your spirituality an important piece to who you are; however, do not ask me to read/pray/fast more for answers.  I have done that part.  Right now, I am trying to frame my upbringing with a positive light and seeking to understand those whose testimonies I once relied on especially if they have thought about these issues as much as I have.

Outside Sources

Institute for Religious Research (Specifically the article Lamanites No More)

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Specifically the article Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events)

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A Glossary of Terms

There are certain philosophies or ways of thinking that have negative connotations attached to them. As I use many of these words in my blogging vernacular regularly, I want to explain how I define them.

Moral Relativism

This idea has received quite a bit of negative press from religious institutions.  I believe much of this comes from fear and misunderstanding.  Moral relativism, at its foundation, opposes the idea that one society, culture, or religious group has the monopoly on moral values.  To me, I see this as an explanation for why so much good is witnessed in the world–people are born with a conscious and it is up to parents and/or other caregivers to nurture this.  If a child is born in less-than-ideal circumstances, it is up to us–the community–to teach them “right” vs “wrong” within the context of love.  I really do have an optimistic view on humanity.

Atheist/Agnostic/Deist

It would be easy to categorize all of our beliefs within one group; however, most of us realize this is impossible.  I have a very complicated personality that refuses to fit in one box.  Hence my religious/spiritual beliefs are varied and open to change.  At the moment, I do not believe in a God (atheism).  However, the idea of God doesn’t bother me; if I die and find out He does exist I would be pleasantly surprised (agnosticism).  If He does exist, I do not feel He plays a direct role in our lives (deist), nor do I think He actually answers prayers–the world is far too complicated for this idea to make sense to me (i.e. if He really answers prayers, why would He bless a family with 10 children only to take the mother or father away a few years later? OR why close the wombs of women who would be fabulous mothers? OR if gender is essential, why would He make people gay/lesbian?).

Additionally, I cannot fit the divine feminine within the current Judeo-Christian dogma.  I know many people feel God encompasses both male and female qualities but my mind just cannot wrap around this concept–or the idea of trinity.  It would seem Divinity would be much more simpler if we were intended to worship Him/Her/Them.

Intellectualism

Many so-called intellectuals use this self-proclaimed title to put down those who do believe in some sort of religion.  I find this practice to be irrelevant and hurtful–just as hurtful as those who think (or insinuate) I haven’t prayed hard enough or read the scriptures with the right spirit to explain why my testimony is gone.

Religion, in my opinion, is not a following of “blind sheep.”  It is a community center, if you will, that brings people of similar spiritual paths together.  Some churches work for one group, while another church will work for an entirely opposite group.  But to say religion is full of ignorant people is to spew hateful remarks that are unnecessary and completely wrong.

When I label myself an intellectual, it is to be taken like any character attribute or flaw.  I think like an intellectual–my mind is constantly sifting through new information, seeking to correct or expand the current ideas I have–and it is part of my personality.  I wouldn’t change this aspect of myself just like I wouldn’t ask a believer to dispel of their faith.  However, when religious people brand my intelligence as “worldly” or some other derogatory term, I think it comes from knee-jerk defensiveness.  Believe me, when I talk about issues with scriptures, God, or religion, it is my way of thinking aloud; of bridging what I have learned in the past with what I am learning now–knowledge begets knowledge and I am allowing myself to go through a natural evolution of my personal philosophies.

There you have it.  A glossary of the terms I regularly use.  I am sure I will add to this as time goes by.

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In other news, this weeks Parents Supporting Parents theme is chores.  Do your kids do chores? If so, how and why?  Any funny stories about kids “cleaning” and “helping” that you want to share?  Link up!  It will be fun.  I promise.

(I even have a new button.  If you need the code, e-mail me. I’m having problems with getting the handy html code beneath it.)

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Where Are Your Morals?

The biggest question I have had posed since leaving (or taking a break from) the Mormon church is where my values will come from.  I find this query to be the most offensive.  To infer that values only derive from the Mormon religion is to a) accept a very negative view of humanity (à la Thomas Hobbes) and agree that all men are inherently evil; and b) suggest that only Mormons have a strong-hold on acceptable values.  

I do not accept either proposition.  While I think religion has a role in society–it has done much good over the centuries–I also believe we fail to recognize the corrupting influence of religion.  Recall the many wars (i.e. crusades, 100-year war) fought over religious differences and the horrible acts (i.e. witch burning, slavery) done in the name of religion.  To exclude Mormonism from this history is to ignore controversial subjects like blacks and the priesthood, the mountain meadows massacre, and gender inequality.

Ironically enough, at least in how I viewed morals before, I have become more compassionate and less judgmental as I shed the confining coat of religion.  I have become a moral relativist (despite Elder Oak’s harsh criticism of this philosophy) as I research and consider others in situations significantly different from mine.  Consider the woman in China.  Given the harsh laws aiding the one child law (applied to about 35% of the population), can a person logically condemn her choice of abortion?  It is what she’s been taught her entire life.  She does not have the same regard for human life as a person living in the United States.  Her government does not allow that.  But does that mean she is someone who has no values?  Most likely she is not religious (as religion is also strongly punished) yet I have a hard time believing she doesn’t want her child to learn basic global values: honesty, selflessness, and working hard to make a living.

Not going to church doesn’t mean I will engage in acts of debauchery.  It also doesn’t immediately dispel my reverence toward chastity, modesty, and the word of wisdom–though I practice/view them in a markedly different manner that is not misogynistic nor misinformed.

As I consider how I will raise Emily and Andrew, my first goal is to teach them to prize love.  They will learn the value–through shared experiences and via my example–of serving the less fortunate and giving any excess they have, monetarily, to people who really need it.  Our emphasis will not revolve around money.  Instead, I will teach them to give of themselves–their talents and their resources–rather than hoard or seek after riches.

So where are my morals?  Inside.  I would like to believe that I am fundamentally a good person and that I passed this gene to my children.  (Lame science joke.  I am such a nerd.)  I would also like to believe that all of you are inherently good.  You (and I) might forget and/or push aside thoughts of humanity during times of crisis, but when reminded will do anything we can realistically do to help the unfortunate.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I do respect religion and people’s views toward spirituality, but my history of hurt as led me on a quest to define my spirituality.  I still take the kids to church (just not a Mormon ward at the moment) and appreciate Jesus Christ’s message in the New Testament.  Don’t disregard my questions and I won’t disregard your beliefs.  Deal?

**On an unrelated note, don’t forget to write about your own parenting beliefs/experiences/philosophy tomorrow (whether in the comments, on Facebook, or in your own post) regarding sleep.  The more people participate, the better the experience is.  Perhaps we can turn the tide against harsh criticism and remind others that parenting is hard work.  Let’s give people leeway for their parenting decisions.

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