Friday, September 5, 2008

Religion: Good, bad, or neither?

Actually, I should post this one years from now, when I actually have more than 3 or 4 people looking at my blog. Because, I honestly want everyone who reads it to share their thoughts.

Growing up in Utah, was there really any chance I'd be raised anything but Mormon? Well, a very slight chance I suppose. But, I was, in fact, born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I suppose, before I go too far, that I want to say that I am grateful for how I was raised. I'm grateful, mostly, for how I've turned out and, I owe that in great part to being a Latter-Day Saint. The focus of this blog entry, however, is religion in general.

I have limited experience. I've never belonged to another religious organization so, I can't speak specifically about other people's religious experiences. Hopefully I'll not make an ass of myself if I do speak about another faith.

Here's a question: Why religion? Why do people believe? Why do people have faith--a belief or confidence in the unknown? (OK, perhaps I meant, "Here are some questions:"). What draws people to relgion? And then, what determines what religion people will be drawn to?

Throughout most of recorded history, it seems there has always been religion. But even going back as far as we can find, there have been multiple religions. To me, this means people have always disagreed on religion. And people have always moved on, from one place to another, to find what suits them best; some of the best evidence that PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT. For many, that bolded text is easy to say but tough to truly accept. (More on that later).

I once heard the saying, "Religion is Prozac for the masses." Hmmm....religion is a drug then? Well, that kind of a phrase might get you kicked out of a Mormon fast and testimony meeting. But I can see its point. People do use religion to make them feel calm. It's used to make them feel special. For many, religion is an escape from "the real world." So, yeah; I suppose religion is a bit like Prozac for the masses. I have an aunt who I think is a bit of a religious zealot. I'm sure her first reaction to reading this paragraph would be to gasp with horror. On the other hand, aren't all of those "drug-like" uses of religion good things? I mean, anything which can calm a person, make them feel like it's going to be OK, or make them feel loved, like they're special, is a pretty wonderful thing, especially if it isn't an actual drug. So, I can agree with that phrase.

Are there any other benefits to religion? Of course. Religion CAN BE a good, even great institution. For instance, Christians want to be good, or be better than they are, as a way of showing love and thanks to their deity, God/Jesus Christ. Religious organization is a great way for people to help other people. For instance, and this is definitely a Mormon thing, my sweet wife has been on bed rest for nearly a month. Now, we have rarely ever been big, sit-down-to dinner people. Instead, a sandwich here, a frozen burrito there always suffices. But for the last month, fairly regularly, various members of our local congregation (ward) bring us home-cooked dinners. What's especially amazing about this, my wife has been to church once since we moved here a year ago. (The church people are still waiting for me to show). Religion CAN keep us humble. Simply admitting that we didn't just suddenly appear in this life on our own--that there is a higher power/being out there somewhere who/that is in charge can keep our egos in check. These are just a few benefits that religion can offer.

By the way, I served a mission for 2 years for the LDS Church in Los Angeles, CA from June 1995 to June 1999. I'm sure I'll blog about it down the road. Suffice it to say that it was wonderful and I'll forever cherish that experience.

Most people don't think of religion as a bad thing, even if they're not particularly religious. But history, and the present state of some of the world show that it can, in fact, be a bad thing. Many have died for their own religion. As well, many have been killed, in the name of someone else's religion. (Remember when I said people have a difficult time truly accepting other people's differences?) Sadly, many Americans are presently taught that people of other faiths are "the enemy." Many, some in my own family, are deathly afraid that Barack Obama is a Muslim. There were rumors that he was sworn into the senate on a Koran, rather than The Holy Bible. Oh my! Are there some crazy people of the Islamic faith? Well, crazy is relative. But there certainly are some Islamists that will kill you in the name of Allah. By the way, if you still haven't found out, Barack Obama is a Christian. All better now? I'm not done.

It's very safe to say that more deaths, more slavery, more destruction, and more atrocity has been done in the name of the Christian Church than any other religion. Did that make you open your eyes really wide? If so, better find yourself some better history books to read. A good place to start would be the Spanish Inquisition. Another might be the long version of Columbus' story. Sailing the ocean blue in 1492 wasn't all that guy did. What about the Holocaust? 6 million people killed because they were Jewish instead of White Protestant. How about slavery? The southern states, and many Yankees alike, believed that God was behind them all the way when they enslaved, raped, and whipped their "hired help." So much so, that, in the name of the church, they forbade the practice of the slaves' native, traditional rituals for quite some time. Christianity was even forced on the American Indians. Their alternative to embracing the white man's ways was death. The enforcement of religion upon anyone, if it is against their will, is a bad thing. History has shown us that time and time again.

I don't like that people use religion as a way to justify maltreatment of others. I don't agree with my own church that California Mormons must use all their means to overturn a recent supreme court decision to legalize gay marriage. (If you're unfamiliar, look it up on the internet. Try and find a reliable source though). I don't like how some religions have and do elevate one race of people over another. And many have done it. In a way, the war in Iraq was religiously based. Saddam didn't think or believe as George W. Bush does and that got his country invaded and got him killed. Well, because of that and a little something called fossil fuels. (Don't get mad---I know Sadaam did some really, really horrible things too. He got what was coming to him. I just don't know that Bush was to be Saddam's moral judge). I don't like how different religious organizations assume they are God's chosen and the rest are off their rockers. Instead, how about accepting that "the other people" just moved along until they found what worked for them. It IS OK for people to be different. You can even be really close friends with someone who is "different."

Ramble, ramble, ramble. My brain is spinning and I cannot possibly organize my thoughts in a more coherent manner. Maybe I should take another writing class. Well, religion can be good or bad or neither. I think if you find a religion that makes you really, truly happy, then good on you. Or, if religion just isn't your thing, and you feel perfectly happy and content with that, good on you. My church doctrine says, "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may." I think that most Americans should believe that way, especially since America was founded on freedom from religious oppression. My philosophy: If it's not hurting anyone else, live and let live.

OK. I realize that, maybe, none of the above makes sense. I know I haven't said everything as well or as complete as I would want to. But, I'm not a good writer and it's late. Also, I really love discussing this topic. Finding out how people believe, and why is a huge curiosity. So, if you happen upon this blog, feel more than welcome to ask me questions or just to leave your thoughts.

Good night.


Joel said...

Your blog definitely made me think. This is not intended as counterpoint but just my thoughts on the subject. Here is a concept I have been trying to live by: There are people who are an honest representation of what they profess to believe and people who aren't. For example their are some scientists out there who do some bad stuff ranging from just dishonest to downright evil, but we shouldn't judge all scientist based on the bad ones. Their are a lot of scientists who do some amazingly selfless things devoting their lives to eradicating disease etc. Religion is the same way. We shouldn't judge all Muslims based on Osama Bin Laden. At least that simplifies things for me. I will admit that it isn't always that simple to judge others.

It is okay to judge people by the way. In the New Testament it says "Thou shalt not judge". But, it also says "Judge a righteous judgment". My interpretation of these two seemingly contradictory scriptures is that we shouldn't make "eternal" judgments on people, or in other words don't "condemn" someone. I think the idea behind this scripture is that I should try and emphasize the good I see in people, and forgive the bad. God is the only one who has the knowledge and perspective to make "final" judgments. We do however have to make judgments about people every day. For example: Are there some people you would not feel comfortable leaving your child alone with? Do you make a risky business venture with someone with out making some sort of judgment about their character. I could make a very long list of judgments we all make everyday. The point is to make a righteous judgment. Judgments are good when they help us keep ourselves, or our families safe. We are also judging the presidential candidates in hopes that we can choose the best leader for our country.

In the LDS church we do profess to be God's chosen people. Personally I am alright with this idea. I admit it can be a problem out there though. It should only make us more humble, but it often does the opposite. Mormons, especially Utah Mormons, have a strong tendency to be cliquey. That is not doctrinal though. That is just humans being humans. If only we could all really follow the Article of faith you quoted, to allow others worship based on their conscience. Tolerance is one of the most important virtues in my book.

As far the level of my own spirituality, I have always believed in God. As a very small child I remember liking the idea of God. I think the idea that there is someone all knowing and all powerful who loves us and always has our best interest in mind, is very comforting.

I have always been more spiritual than scientifically minded. There are some things that can't be solved scientifically. Those things are usually the most important things for me. Religion gives me answers to my most important questions.

Wade The Rascal said...

Great comments, Joel. This is exactly the kind of conversation I hope for. I'd love it for more people to read this and comment about it as well.

I think your perspective about judgment is right on. We do have to make judgments all of the time; Will that light stay yellow? Am I too close to that bear? Making judgments based on protecting our well-being is often necessary. As you said, I think eternal judgments are not ours to make on others.

Also, since no one can prove their faith to be true, or their God to be real, or their religion to be right, tolerance is extremely important, and much more productive than judgment.

Iverson Family est. 2006 said...

Oh Wade you have so many things going through your head at all tims.
You know growing up not L.D.S. I viewed the world alot differently, However I believe that Heavenly Father wants things to orginized and easy to follow. He says "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." The question being religion good or bad, is so openended. For most it is very good, and for others its hard to understand. I know that in my life FAITH is what leads and quides me. I have alot stacked against me and no I cant prove that what I believe is true and right. But I know that Heavenly Father hears me and answears my prayers. I have lived through some down right bad things in my life, some of which you know and without the spirit leading and guiding me I think I wouldnt still be here. I promise you Wade that as soon as you hold that sweet little baby you will know exactly what this is all about. He will bless your life in ways you cant comprehend. I know that this post was just Wade being Wade and it totally fasinates me the way your mind thinks. I only wish I was smarter and quicker with come backs so I could debate with you. I think you are a wonderful person, husband, daddy to be and friend and Im so glad that you help me to continue to question things and life and not just except them as they come. I dont know if any of this made any sence but I enjoyed reading this.

Wade The Rascal said...

Lots of thanks for your comments as well Shawna. I loved everything you said. This really was just a general rambling about religion--not aimed at any part of Christianity more than at Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or Atheism. Just that I only know some stuff about Christianity. Anyway, I'm glad you read it and left your thoughts.

Kari said...

Interesting topic, and something I have swirling around in my head a lot. I was raised LDS, but sort of drifted away in college. My husband was raised Catholic but now considers himself an atheist. He has told me that if people use religion for good, to give them comfort, to have a connection, that he sees the value in it. But there are too many people who use religion to exclude, condemn, put fear upon people, justification for wars, etc. that he doesn't support any organized religion.

I have a brother-in-law that grew up Jehovah Witness. Not to bash on the religion as a whole, but his experience was pretty bad. He and one of his sisters decided not to be baptised. Because of this their family was required to shun them. This meant that he grew up having to eat dinner in another room away from his family and would go weeks without having his parents talk to him. In the name of Christianity? I'm just baffled by that concept. It got a lot worse than that, but as a mother I can't ever imagine turning my back on my son because he had a different religious view than me. And especially as a child still living in my home, relying on me for guidance and support.

I'm really torn on the whole religion thing. There are things that I am very glad that I was taught in the LDS faith, but there are things that I'm not supportive of and don't want taught to my son.

Since you brought up the gay marriage thing in CA, that is an example of something that I am fine if people disagree and feel that something like gay marriage is wrong. But I think that there is a line to disagreeing with something and then taking steps to outwardly publicly oppose it. I think the LDS church has crossed that line, and I personally have a problem with that.

I think that in general we definitely need to be more tolerant when it comes to religion. People need to realize that they believe what their church stands for, but so do other people. Just because someone believes something different doesn't mean that they are all crazy people. I recently read an article in Newsweek about the rumor of Obama being a Muslim. They went about it from another view, so what if he was? Don't we live in a country where we say we all have religious freedom? Don't we live in a country that was founded on separation from church and state? So then what if Obama was a Muslim? Does that mean he doesn't have the right to lead our country? Yes there are radical Muslims who hate our country, but that isn't what the Muslim faith was built upon.

I like Joel's comments about judgement and not "condemning" people. I think people need to focus on doing what honestly is best for you. If you can find something that brings you comfort and a sense of calm and support, go for it. And realize that most other people are trying to do the same for themselves.

Wade The Rascal said...

Very well said, Kari. I don't have the ease with words and explanations that you clearly do. As always, thanks for your comments. They're certainly more than welcome here.