Someone in my family has been Mormon since the very beginning; the church was organized in 1830 and my earliest Mormon ancestor joined a year or so later. I’m fifth generation. Raised quite conservatively, very active in the church, did everything I was told, was a good little boy growing up, never got into any trouble, etc. As expected of all young men I was a missionary (you know, those overly friendly young men with short hair, dark suits, and names tags that knock on your door). And also as expected an instructed I got married soon after returning from the mission, too quickly before I had the chance to figure out what I wanted with my life and what sort of woman I wanted as my wife. That was the big problem: everything was, or at least felt like was, planned for me, and I went along with it. I didn’t really start thinking for myself until my early thirties. I’m not sure that I ever really believed; perhaps I did, or felt like I did, but mostly I was just following along. I remember being frustrated at never having received answers to prayers; it felt like talking to a brick wall.
“…(mother) points us to Christ, in whom, she says, is the only happiness and truth. Not that she finds happiness, herself.” — T.E. Lawrence
I got interested in Mormon history, started doing my own research from independent (i.e. not church-published) sources, and started to realize that what I had been taught in Sunday School was a whitewashed version of everything. I wrote and published an article in an academically-oriented journal about the history of one of the Mormon books of scripture, and how the “revelations”, what Joseph Smith claimed God had told him, had been changed over time to suit situational expediency.
I started realizing that the church was so focused on numbers and activity reports that they were neglecting being Christian and loving neighbours. The church was run more as a business with a board of directors than as an organized means of making its members better people. Its leaders were chosen, apparently, based upon their management skills; the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is composed of successful businessmen and attorneys. The church spends its tithe revenue investing in real estate rather than in charity.
A big focus was the phrase “follow the brethren”, i.e. the church leadership, that they had done all the thinking, the decisions had been made, that the rank and file had no need to figure things out for themselves. Personal thinking was discouraged, and no questions were allowed. Some close friends were excommunicated for doing just that in an obviously coordinated attack against the church’s intellectual community. That was the final straw for me.
“They say God is everywhere, and yet we always think of him as somewhat of a recluse.” — Emily Dickinson.
At this point I would, if asked, call myself a secular humanist agnostic skeptic. An atheist is one who believes there is no god, but an agnostic doesn’t know. I don’t believe that anyone can know one way or the other; the existence or non-existence of a god is not provable, but don’t see much evidence or necessity of one. If there is one, then he/she/it has been on vacation for quite some time. And if there is a god, which god is it? The Judeo-Christian god? Allah? The Homeric pantheon? Mother Nature? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? If god wants us to worship him/her/it then he/she/it is going to have to do a lot better job of letting us know.
I don’t see the need to attend church every Sunday to be told how to be a good person; I can be good without god. For those who see the need, fine, but that’s not me.
“If god wants us to do a thing, he should make his wishes sufficiently clear. Sensible people will wait until he has done this before paying much attention to him.” — Samuel Butler
Every time I read a news article about some accident, and a survivor says that he or she has been blessed, that god was looking after them or their family member who survived, I want to be ill. Your god was looking after *you*, but not the other people who died in the accident? God is fair and just? And this is a god that you worship?
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able or willing? Then why call him God?” — Epicurus
A few months ago on one of my motorcycle rides I rode past a church with one of those message boards in front. The message of the week was “With God all things are possible.” I wondered to myself, “how about world peace and an end to human misery?”
I read a lot of history, and haven’t seen a single instance of Christian missionaries having improved the lot of any of the peoples that they have converted. Generally the purpose of conversion seems to have been the effort to get more people under somebody’s control. I remember being told, while a missionary, that I should approach young fathers playing with their children in the park, because they would be good candidates for conversion. I thought to myself that these fathers were doing the most important thing that they could be doing in the world at that moment, and how dare I should interrupt them. It was about then that I started wondering.
One more quote for the day:
“I can’t complain but sometimes I still do” – Joe Walsh (from his song Life’s Been Good)
Strangely, I think that my attitude about life has become more positive over the past few years; I may be on my way to becoming a reformed cynic. You usually think of people becoming more cynical as they get older, but my cynicism was at an earlier age. Now, having survived some difficult times in my life, and *because* I’ve survived those things, I’m getting to be a bit more optimistic. I’m beginning to believe that things *can* turn out for the best. BUT: I don’t believe that there are any guiding or supernatural forces that make things turn out that way; rather, because we *ourselves* put effort into making things turn out the way we want them, they tend to move in that direction. This has to do with the simple natural laws: Newton’s laws of motion says that things move in the direction you push them, and the law of thermodynamic entropy says that things fall apart unless you put energy into them. So for us, things turn out for the best because (and only because) of the efforts we put into them. The discouraging part is that it sometimes takes an awful lot more time, effort, and pain than we think it ought to in order to achieve the desired result.
So while I feel as happy or happier than I ever have in my life right now, it’s not luck, or having been blessed; it’s because having gone through hell, and having worked hard at things, they are starting to turn out for me.