Saturday, April 16, 2011

Religion versus the World

A friend recently passed along an article that I swear was written by a woman who had insight into my own thoughts. The article is, "Some Kinda Mormon," by Jennifer Pemberton.

In the article, Pemberton writes of her fascination with the Mormon religion and although she has Mormon family members, she is not Mormon. Jennifer, I can kick that up a notch: I don't even have any Mormon family members, that I know of - although with the baptism of the dead bit, maybe now I do. Both Pemberton and I lived in heavily Mormon populated areas, and both of us, upon leaving those areas and returning to the "real world," couldn't shake the fascination.

The article definitely interested me because of the Mormon bit, but what really caused me to pause was this line Pemberton wrote about abandoning her own Christian beliefs during college, "The world became too big for my childhood belief system." I also abandoned the beliefs of my childhood when I entered college, because I left the comforts of my own family and their beliefs and went 2000 miles away to Logan, Utah. I was, for the first time in my life, in the minority. I was a Christian when I moved to Utah, but I wasn't Mormon and that second point made all the difference. It put me in a position in which I'd never been before, and I was pretty angry. If these people, who felt I wasn't good enough to enter their temples and who felt I didn't accept the truth, believed in God then maybe it was time for me to separate myself even further - so I started denouncing my belief in God, publicly.

It wasn't that I actually didn't believe in God, but I talked about religion and beliefs as if there were the possibility that God didn't exist. As I delved into philosophy classes that dealt with religion and myth, I also became exposed to the idea of the Bible as stories of symbolism, not stories of actual events. This was a new concept for me and it made so much more sense than Jesus being born to an actual virgin or literally rising from the dead. I embraced these ideas and felt myself drifting further and further away from the island of Christianity on which I'd been raised. I got so far off the island, in fact, that when I did want to return to it later, I just couldn't swim that far.

During college I also met people from other countries and other cultures (yep, in Utah!) and started to think about the selfishness of my childhood religion, that only Christians have the truth and will be saved. What about the really nice people I met who didn't believe in Christ, but had beliefs stemming from teachings long before anyone even heard of Jesus Christ? I was suppose to believe they were wrong? How egocentric! Also, what if I had been born in say, some middle eastern country? Would I have been raised a Christian? Probably not. I started to see religion as more of a sociological formula than truth. What solidified this view for me was the conversations I had with many people, of many religions, who had never strayed from the religion in which they were raised. Do we believe in a religion because it is true or because it has been hammered into our head and viewed through the actions of our society that it is true?

In her article, Pemberton writes of her grandmother's worry that Aunt Ruth, a Mormon in the clan, goes to hell after she dies. The grandmother is in tears, feeling there is no more they can do to save this woman's soul. I gave up on the idea of hell a long time ago - I'm not sure I ever really believed in it. I do know that, according to many religions, my actions have secured me a place in hell, so I just fall back to a line from a song I've always liked, "All the best people are burning down in hell..." "Now Heather", some of my friends would kindly ask, "Why would you want to hang with people who have committed atrocities and are suffering eternally?" Well, because of the alternative, which I see as hanging with a bunch of people who worship a God who allows for their fellow human beings to suffer eternally. That's just nuts!

Admittedly, my fascination with the Mormons has waned a bit the last few weeks. I gave up reading The Book of Mormon and I've realized that there are aspects of Mormonism I think are wonderful, but there are aspects I just can't swallow. I also feel this way about Christianity. Religion must serve some sort of purpose, because a whole bunch of people subscribe to it, but why do they choose one religion over another? And why can't people believe in an all-loving, all-knowing God without following the rules that are so obviously man-made? What is the appeal of belonging to a religion that states that your fellow human beings, who do not belong to the same religion, are wrong? It just seems too elitist and exclusive to me and if it is those things, then how can belonging to them be serving a God who created all of us?


  1. These are tough questions for sure. I think you'll eventually find the answers that work for you though.

    In the meantime, it's intriguing to watch you take the journey. Thanks for being open enough to share it so publicly.

  2. I go to church for the sense of belonging to a community that agrees there is a God/Spirit who loves us, yet does not need to be superior to another religion. Although, every organization has "rules" or guidelines and navigating those--- and various people can be precarious, I'm the one who is stretched and learning through it. P.S. I could only attend a church that believes as a whole in equal rights for ALL and community service, because that's how my God rolls :)

  3. I like how you state your points with no apology and just let us know what you think. I love your candor Heather.

    I'd like to comment on a few things though. The comment "these people, who felt I wasn't good enough to enter their temples" is so far from the truth. I know you've probably heard the same tired line before, but ANYONE can enter the temple, if they take the right steps to do so. And I know you never will be interested in joining the LDS church and that is just fine. But, know this, your not being able to go into the temple has NOTHING to do with your value as a person and you not being good enough. There are simply a prescribed set of rules (for lack of a better term) before you can enter - EVEN for us. I wish I could explain it better.

    As for Hell Heather - in the strict sense of the word people who are in the LDS church do not believe in it either. At least not in the way that other Christian churches do. I'm sure someone has explained to you the degrees of glory we believe in. What we believe states that EVERY one of Heavenly Father's children will go to a "heaven" and have eternal life and glory and be perfectly happy and will progress and go on with life. The difference is in where we are placed.

    There is one "hell" but we call it "perdition" and it is reserved for only those that have a PERFECT knowledge of Christ (as in, they have seen him and known him and been in his glorified presence) and then choose to reject him. This doesn't even qualify the people who knew Christ in his mortal ministry. Because they didn't see him as glorified. The only one that might possibly qualify that we know of is Judas Iscariot - and yet we can't even judge him because we aren't god. The number that go to perdition are very few. That might be considered "hell" and they are there because of a choice they made. There is NO WAY you or I are ever going there. :)

    Our scriptures also speak about "hell" as being a separation from God, which we all experience at one time or another. As we commit a sin we feel the wrongness of it and the spirit of God withdraws. The more we do this, the more we are separated and in the afterlife, we believe that it will be more apparent that we can't return fully and that is what a "hell" is. Not fire and brimstone and eternal torment in the physical sense, but in a mental sense of guilt that we bring on ourselves. And even then, we will experience the pain and guilt and it will be taken away after we repent.

    To answer your question about being born before Christianity came about - I have a thought for that too. We also believe that if someone has never heard of the truth before or never had a chance to hear it on earth, they will get the chance later. In some ways it is merciful that so many people have lived and died without hearing it because in the afterlife it may be easier for them to accept. I know that probably sounds so bogus to you. But, it is what we believe.

    I hope I didn't ramble too much. I think too often I don't answer your questions or defend what I believe. And since you know I'm a convert, I have obviously thought very hard about all of these things. :) I think you are right though Heather, many stay in their churches because they were brought up in it. But in my experience, if someone just stays because it is comfortable, and NOT because they truly believe, they will eventually leave. Each of us has to make a choice at some point.

    I honestly think that there is NOTHING wrong with not having a religion. I love my non LDS friends just as much as my LDS friends. Sure, I'd love them to believe the same as I do, simply because I believe it to be the truth and want what is best for them. But I don't feel that they are "wrong" and should be placed outside of my friendship.

    Hope SOME of that makes sense. :)