Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thoughts of the Ex-religious

I've been struggling with this for some time now. I know many readers will view this negatively, or as a cry for attention. I'm going to try my best to keep it from going that direction. The fact of the matter is the things I'm going to discuss inherently will cause some anger in persons of certain viewpoints, and I can't help that. But, I will try and remain impartial and objective when stating facts.

I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. For many years, it was the epitome of my identity. While I found myself constantly questioning things I thought were wrong or contradictory in the doctrine, I reminded myself god would tell me everything once I died. I didn't need to know now.

In recent years, my life experiences have taken me away from the church. Many of my past friends and even my family view this with sadness, anger, disappointment, judgement, and pity. Perhaps not always intentional, but it is a mind frame that is hard to escape. They tell me "we love you", but I know what they are actually thinking, because I once thought it too. I'm a lost sheep, I've left the straight and narrow, I've become prideful, I've forgotten what the spirit feels like, I've stopped doing the things that would build my testimony. Trust me, I know all of them.

I had a friend from my young woman days who left the church shortly after I was married. I thought those very same things about her. I even attacked her on her Facebook wall, asking how she could consider herself a good Mormon, behaving as she was. Asking what had happened to make her hate god? In a recent conversation, I apologized for my despicable behavior, now understanding exactly where she was, and wondering how I ever considered myself Christian. And the answer surprised me.

I was a good Christian. In every sense of the word. Because it's just that, Christianity teaches it's followers to be inherently judgmental, to be inherently homophobic, to be inherently misogynistic, and to be inherently condescending and very easily offended. To take ideas personally, to make character attacks on those who may disagree. To turn things personal and use circular arguments that place blame and very hurtful accusations on the person they are offended by.

Here is an example. I was advocating for sex education in public schools with someone I know, because they had posted a meme stating people who believe in sex ed and who give out contraception have no business being educators. This person accused me then of sleeping around with anyone I could find. It completely didn't make sense for them to say that, and it was very hurtful. They then said all cultures have a form of morality and consider abstinence to be the best. I contended that politely by saying some cultures even dedicate and entire day to swinging, in a ritual that takes place after drought, where they set aside their marital vows and take a new lover. This person asked how my new life was working out for me, so confused, I asked what they meant. They then inferred I personally was a swinger. Do you see how hurtful and off the wall accusations like this are? Though it seems to be the way most religious, particularly LDS, people react to things they don't agree with. I posted an article advocating for abortion rights, and gave my reasoning. I was told by another person that I was a bad person because I would have an abortion. I had never said that, and I personally wouldn't. But I understand where and why it is necessary.

It is wrong to assign blame and to make assumptions of people just because they are no longer religious. Or because they never were religious. Morality does not exist solely on the basis of religion, and does not come from deity. Morality is fluid, and varies from culture to culture. Morality is a code of ethics developed by individual societies to allow groups of people to function in harmony. So yes, in that sense, there are certain things that are "universally" accepted. But to assume a "godless" individual is amoral is wrong. And to treat them as though they are amoral is wrong.

In my experience, I've received the most contention and anger from people who consider themselves religious. They become very passionate, and sometimes in all capital letters, assert that they will stand for their beliefs and I can't sway them. They turn the blame towards me when I engage them, saying I am being condescending for stating my ideas, and rude for refuting theirs. They will not listen because I have nothing good to say, and then it ends with them pitying me and calling me a know-it-all for trying to say why I believe what I do, or no longer believe what they do. It's a catch-22. No matter how kindly you approach the subject, it's always taken with great offense, and therefore inherently ends poorly. It is because religious people do not separate themselves from their beliefs. So they take it all personally.

A past LDS leader said “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” – President J. Reuben Clark. So if they are so confident in their beliefs, why are they so defensive? Why will they not even allow themselves to listen to evidence contrary to their beliefs? Why will they not seek it out themselves and make an informed decision as to whether they will believe or not? I understand completely why. It has to do with fear. Fear of losing the spirit, fear of disappointing god, fear of not being with your family forever. The LDS church is very much full of fear. "Pay your tithes so you won't be burned at the last day". Don't be the weak link in the chain, be modest or you will cause men to have bad thoughts and want to take advantage of you. It's all based on fear! What kind of a church keeps its members out of fear? A cult. It pains me to say it, but the LDS church operates very much like a cult. And it's members defend it as a cult, even to the point where they will not listen to anything anyone has to say about it. I know, for me it was very hard, even though I had always wondered about certain things, to actually take the first step and examine them for myself. Its scary. It's painful. It's lonely.
Eventually, people you thought were your friends will treat you differently. Family members will stop talking to you, or about you. You will be the object of prayer and fasting, but never pleasant conversation. You will become a "taboo" subject as one person told me. I couldn't believe that. I was told they no longer talk about me or what I am doing. I'll tell you what I am doing. I get up in the morning and feed my kids breakfast. I answer emails from my photography clients, walk the dog and pick up toys. I'll wash dishes and fold the laundry. Maybe I'll watch an episode of America's Got Talent or Project Runway. Then at the end of the day, I'll make dinner, get my kids ready for bed, and spend an evening with my husband. But all of that is "Taboo" to talk about because I didn't pray, I didn't read scriptures, I didn't do visiting teaching, I probably drank a cup of coffee, and I might have thought a swear word or two. Religion is so good at being an exclusive members only country club, and very good and shunning, shaming, judging, hating and blaming.

I asked a church member how they dealt with scriptures that talked about god commanding murder, like the story of the people who were wiped out, including men, women, children, suckling babies and animals. They told me to pray for peace to be okay with it. I literally wanted to tell them they are nuts if they expected me to pray for peace about baby murder. Especially since they claimed to be "antiabortion". I asked another what they thought about Joseph Smith marrying multiple young women, some as young as 14. They responded it was natural for the time. It wasn't, it was abnormal. Polygamy was illegal, the age of consent was 15, and young girls were marrying young men, not older men. They maintained it was normal for the time, because that is what they had been taught. I asked a member how they got past the fact that the book of Abraham was actually an Egyptian burial text, even though Joseph Smith said he translated it literally by the power of god. They repeated what elder Eyring said, it was just there to awaken the idea for Joseph. I asked another member if they knew the temple ceremony mirrored the Mason Lodge rituals almost exactly, and that Joseph Smith had been a Mason. They said god revealed the fullness of the ceremony to him but he needed to experience it firsthand as a Mason. I asked why god told Nephi to kill Laban for a book, when he could have dictated the scriptures to Nephi to rewrite, or because Laban was drunk he could have snuck the scriptures out. Why did god have to command Nephi to kill someone? Why are the writings of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon word for word out of the King James version of the Bible (a book that has been translated and retranslated)? Why is there absolutely no genetic correlation between the peoples of America and the people of the middle east that would link them together within a timeframe of 1400 years? Has anyone ever thought what a mockery and injustice it is to the indigenous people of America to make up a history for them? That's like calling the story of King Arthur or Frodo and the Ring the literal history of the people of Great Britain!

And worst of all! They way religion, LDS particularly, treats women, treats homosexuals, treats different races. It's horrible! There were camps and programs to turn gay men straight. Church leaders past said black men and women would never be exalted, but serve as ministering angels to the gods. Women are still treated as "equal" lesser members who can't govern themselves and are body shamed, career shamed, and sexually shamed. I grew up wishing I had been born a boy because I hated the role that was eternally waiting for me. I also hated the prospect of being a multiple wife. I hated the way LGBTQ people were regarded, as if they were vile sinners unworthy of being called human. I hated how black people were said to be the descendants of Cain, and that their skin color was a curse. Holy cow, how ignorant is that? I hated how Native American's were "becoming fairer skinned" because of their righteousness. What a load of poppycock! Skin color is based on evolution and genetics, not subjective worthiness!

Bottom line? I don't want to pray to this kind of a god. I don't want to know if this kind of god exists. One that will turn my family away from me for thinking differently. One that will damn gays to hell for loving the way their biology functions. One that will say women and dark skinned people are less than white males. One that will shame women who medically need an abortion but condones the mass genocide of innocents. One that will impregnante a pubescent virgin (who would have been stoned if she were discovered) to give birth to a son who would eventually be brutally murdered because I drank a cup of coffee. One who professes agency exists, but is omniscient and omnipotent and therefore the ultimate reason any of us would be damned anyways. Its basically, "play by subjective rules and I won't lock you in hell". "There is only one way to get to heaven, and it's my way". Hmm, that sounds oddly familiar if you are LDS....Satan anyone? But it's okay because god said it? How many of you parents of kids plan on forcing your children to become lawyers your way? By going to one university? But studying at a certain time of day? Is there really only one way to become a lawyer? And are any of them objectively more correct than another? And if so, tell me objectively why?

Religion breeds hate. Religion breeds fear. Religion breeds. And breeds and breeds. And tries to shame and stifle anyone who wants to escape or stand up for anything different. And is so blind it can't even see what it is doing! Can't even see how much it is hurting the people around it who are just trying to live! Members give countless hours, days, money, and resources to a church that builds lavish temples in starving third world countries. That constructs giant malls with stores 99% of their membership can't shop in. Demands 10% of the income of the destitute and welfare recipients. It's sick. It's wrong. And I am relieved to say I am no longer a part of it. I urge you to look closer at the church you belong to, and ask yourself, is it really worth it? To free yourself of the fear and look at the facts. To not be swayed by anecdotes that say doubt is bad and faith is good. Doubts and questions have brought us to where we are today. You wouldn't be able to be reading this on a computer or a smart phone if people hand't questioned.

But most of all, don't let your religious ideals become who you are to the point that you ostracize the people you should love. Life is short, and life is precious. It's not worth it to remove people from yourself based on unseen deity and unevidenced promises of eternal life. Think about that the next time you tell a nonreligious family member they are taboo and call them an offensive know-it-all for basing their ideas in what is accepted reality. That is all.

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