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140 Individuated, not apostate [6 Jan 2023]
Why am I here? Where am I going? People ask religion for answers. It might be wiser to reform the questions-particularly, "Am I of value to others?" Happiness is cultivating my relationships rather than my self-appreciation. My meaning emerges from those relationships. This article defends me from a high-demand religion that provides an uncommonly workable platform for me to use in helping others. I don't seek rest; I focus on being helpful forever.
The watchword in empowerment courses is self-limiting beliefs. This catch-all term can encompass imposter syndrome, guilt, shame, self-doubt, self-denigration, sense of incompleteness, inadequacy, unworthiness, worthlessness, and incompetence. Those themes appear as shadows of autobiography in this blog. Faith injury and its repair can be subtle, as detailed in article 54, Anti-Christ. Article 77, Do not kill unbelievers, exposes the weakness of people trying to convince themselves of dogma. That dogma leads to use of the Bible as a weapon.
On the other hand, the temple picture introducing today's article stirs the fond emotions, the profound awe, that the Manti Temple (along with others) planted in my heart when I first saw it as a small child. That internal inspiration is far more real than the Bible. As harmful as the demanding childhood was, it did implant lasting qualities that contribute positively to my character. Good results can be crafted by faulty tools.
There are many podcasts featuring church members who have grappled with the conflicts they experienced. Some members have exited, some have remained. Their stories have been constructively therapeutic for me. Their thoughtfulness has given me much to emulate as I recognize my self-limiting beliefs being expressed by others. I am encouraged by stories of suffering understood and overcome.
My strong character that was encouraged by the church requires me to break free from controlled thinking that is dominated by the church. On the other hand, I must also break free from a mindset that is dominated by those who have departed from the church. I applaud those who remove self-limiting beliefs and become stronger, but I conclude that disengagement from the church is not panacea.
Today's article weighs costs and benefits that are part of this spiritual journey.
People are not made strong by being taught unquestioning obedience to the statements and expectations of others. Prophets are frequently wrong, contradicting themselves or other prophets. The church cannot deny historical flip-flops.
Education is not receiving and memorizing answers. Growth requires deriving understanding of reality from first principles. In this pursuit, my parents were essentially perfect: they downplayed my specific behaviors and insisted instead that I understand the reasons why I should behave. Ergo, I do not want to be given answers, I want the experience of finding them.
The church devalues individual thought by insisting on obedience to any request made by a person in authority. I was free to decide my livelihood, but never felt encouraged to develop my own moral compass. Creative thinking was quickly quashed. Moreover, I was flooded with testimonies of people who sacrificed their own desires and endeavors to promote the church instead. Numerous stories paralleling the biblical Job drove home the concept that whatever I achieved, God would test me by taking it away. This caused my failure at graduate school, inability to earn adequate income, and failure to practice law after graduating with high honors. There was no explicit prohibition of success, but the flashlight always pointed in a constraining direction.
The business model of organized religion is to give people a cough in order to make cough medicine necessary. As salvation from self-loathing, subjects are taught psychological dependency on the same institution that planted the disease. This pattern did not originate in Mormon practice. Joseph Smith presents a mild case compared to biblical convolutions found in Calvinism's fictional total depravity theory. Indeed, I doubt that this deprecation perversion originated with the Bible, which by itself does more harm than good. Desire for control appears to be even more pervasive than written scriptures.
Organized religion can exercise only as much mind control as the follower surrenders. Breaking free from dogma is necessary to mental health, and post-faith podcasting (sampled above) nurtures this healing. When reading the prophets expands my horizon of possibilities, it contributes to my growth; however, there is no way I will limit my thinking to what the prophets believed. Individuation requires freedom from scripture.
Illustrative erroneous teachings
This section contains perspectives that help me reconcile my humanism with my station in life. It does not make prescriptions. I allow church leaders their space as they allow me my space.
Early publications of the Book of Mormon presented it as history of the ancestors of "American Indians." DNA evidence has dispensed with that claim, and the church has owned up by withdrawing it. Ability to change is necessary for survival.
The church still clings to practices based on a strict gender binary, the false theory that humans are distinctly either completely female or completely male. The church has conceded that homosexuality is not a person's choice, but its practices have not changed to conform to scientific reality. There is a vast accumulation of literature that demolishes the gender binary. Birth certificates in some jurisdictions leave gender blank when obstetricians cannot decide gender at the time of birth. My favorite brief but convincing summary is Jerome McDonnell's Worldview interview on 18 November 2013 with Archbishop Lazar Puhalo. For non-binary individuals, LDS church experience is likely to be painfully toxic.
The dramatic 2019 reversal of 2015 policy regarding baptism of children of "gay couples" demonstrates that prophets claim revelation for items that later require reversing revelation to correct. That suggests that God does not get it right the first time (for long-term circumstances). Fortunately, flexibility eventually prevails, and corrections are made. More are needed.
The ongoing favorite nefarious guilt-inducing weapon is denying that masturbation is natural, healthy, and beneficial. Unreal expectations and negative labeling lead directly to guilt complex and self-loathing which are toxic to self-esteem and personal growth. The church has pursued dogma that collides with biological reality, pushing members to self-deception and hypocrisy. It is heartbreaking to hear podcasts about women who leave their husbands and look for spouses who do not masturbate. That misinformed impossible standard is a marriage-wrecker (5 minutes) of the most severe order.
Regarding abortion, the church laudably maintains its policy that reproductive decisions belong to the individual, not government. That is a good orientation. In the distant past, contraception was condemned. It is increasingly evident that contraception is necessary for survival of the species, and its acceptance is another good orientation.
When I was very young, there were sermons condemning the teaching of evolution. Fortunately, I have not recently sensed muzzling of this area of study.
Although the church opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, lately there has been definite movement toward gender equality. Change is not finished.
Godhood is not a pass to play footloose with laws of science. No supreme being made those laws. Instead, the power of godhood derives from knowledge of, and obedience to, natural laws.
Personhood despite dogma
I apply Plato's Form of the Good in article 62 to establish the eternity of human identity. Article 52 identifies eternal progress through ever higher orders. Concepts of sentience and resurrection are important in article 72 and article 88 and run throughout this blog.
The LDS doctrine of "three heavens" (three degrees of Glory: Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial) accurately describes our present humanity: those who make things happen (creators), those who watch things happen (constructive followers), those who wonder what happened (detractors without a clue).
Many of my church friends want their doctrines served up in traditional metaphors on a familiar platter. On some level, we inhabit the same reality. However, I express it in creative ways that they find unfamiliar. My ideas are meant to stimulate thinking that is fresh, friendly, and personal-that is, individuated.
Podcasters acknowledge that there is a function for those who stay in the church, but the podcasts do not develop that construct as they could. There is room for reshaping rather than escaping the church. Having been born into the church, my developing self is changing it-from within. I have established firmly that we create our own worlds (and heavens) starting here and now. Eternal life includes the present. Although I emphasize the welfare of others over my own, my reality begins inside me. My fundamental identity--which originates inside me--is my contribution to the world.
I am encouraged by the prospect of eventual creation of worlds in the astrophysical sense. However, during this lifetime emphasis should be on caring for our present physical environment and on constructive relationships among people. Here and now, we have the opportunity and responsibility to create our new world here by wise stewardship and social collaboration. My fundamental purpose is not self-purification. Instead, it lies in my contribution to the well-being of those around me and those who come after me. This is my most recent testimony to an LDS congregation: "I am here because this is where we help each other."
For a purpose
I have listed above several hopeful changes and look forward to more. Institutional membership preserves my relationship to the community and family who count on my cooperation. Enlightenment is not walking out on the expectations of others. I continue to support them with the assurance that I am not destroying their worlds by showing them mine. Doing this well spares them and me from unnecessary suffering. My writings consistently point out that where some people see confrontation, I see blending that preserves collaboration. My loved ones are not injured by what I believe.
For example, I obey the rules and attend the temple with family, while believing in evolution and denying the gender binary and human depravity. Nobody has asked me in the qualifying interviews whether I believe the Bible to be the word of God. (I don't.) While official membership is a license to perform some of the services I render, it has no control over who I am. Other humans can govern my privileges but cannot touch my character.
Individuated and still respectful
My mother stood up to our 6'6" bishop to tell him boldly "when God makes a prophet, he does not unmake the man." That example helped me not to expect the people or the church to be The Truth. (Mom's independence faltered later when she tried to force some of the erroneous teachings on me to suit her purposes.) I was not aware of all the church lies, but I was prepared for learning about them as they became public. I encountered a few of the deceptions on my own and have condemned the "only true church" rhetoric for decades.
I respect the Word of Wisdom (fruits, grains, and vegetables, exercise, little meat, no tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco) and the modest underclothing garment. They honor my health and body. If the church were to disappear, I would continue being vegetarian and not begin drinking alcohol and coffee. Article 132 expresses how deeply I have internalized the commandment to be equal in material things. I do not know any human institution that matches the mobilization within the church for rapidly including "others" and caring for the needy. Dedicated collaboration is the strongest human power I know, and it can be directed toward the ends that I pursue. I choose to comfort my compatriots as we build on the good.
Of course, I am peculiar among latter-day saints, who themselves believe in being a peculiar people. Being constructively peculiar suits me.
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