Thursday, November 11, 2010

Confessions of a stupid Mormon kid

So I read an excellent blog post here that reminded me of some stupid stuff I did as a kid in the name of my religion. I feel so bad that I felt such terrible behavior was justified, but I think it is also helpful to share some of my experiences if, for no other reason, it helps me understand better how some of my beliefs were actually harmful to others, even though I could not see it at the time.

When I was in 7th grade I did something that I am not proud of at all. I was raised in an active LDS home and was taught all about how bad coffee was. My 7th grade math teacher had a fresh cup of coffee sitting on his desk when he would start class pretty much every day. I could not believe that a teacher would do such a thing, so I decided I needed to teach him a lesson about how bad it was to drink such a vile substance.

One day, I came into class and my teacher’s hot cup of joe was sitting on the desk, but my teacher was not around. I quickly scanned the room for something I could put in his coffee that would teach him a lesson. The only thing I could find was a can of Boraxo cleaner. I am so ashamed that I actually dumped some in his coffee.

There was only one other student that saw what I did and I told him to not say anything. The teacher came into the room and I could barely contain myself as he would pick up his coffee to take a drink during class. The more he drank the worse I felt. Then I began to wonder if he would even notice. Finally, as we were quietly working on an assignment, he stopped drinking his coffee and said, “What?! What is this?!” He then asked if anyone in the class knew about this crud in his coffee.

I didn’t say a word. I was prepared to go to my grave keeping my secret, but the student who saw me do it obviously wasn’t so loyal. When the teacher threatened to not let anyone leave class until someone fessed up, my witness caved and ratted me out.

For my punishment, the teacher said that it would only be fitting if I drank some of the coffee myself. The funny thing was, I tried to use the excuse that it was against my religion to drink the stuff. It didn’t work. He said I could go spit it out right after, but I had to drink some if I didn’t want detention (or get expelled or whatever). I remember quickly taking a swig and running out into the hall and spitting it into the drinking fountain.

I felt so bad, but I also felt justified because he was the one breaking the word of wisdom. So sad, how my behavior was so hurtful and I had no idea. If only I could have been taught tolerance and love for others instead of the importance of avoiding taboo substances or prohibited behaviors.

I also remember when I was younger, that I felt justified for throwing rocks at a colored girl in my neighborhood. I’m pretty sure that feeling came from my upbringing and teachings about the inferiority of blacks from their less valiant behavior in the pre-existence. At least my mother said what I did was wrong and made me deliver cookies to their family to try and make up for my behavior. Even so, the racism was still there…I just learned I wasn’t supposed to act on it. So sad indeed.

I think now about how messed up sometimes the teachings of the church are when it comes to being in line with the golden rule. If treating others the way I want to be treated would have been more emphasized in my religious upbringing, I probably wouldn't have done some of the stupid stuff I did and even felt justified for. I think that the golden rule has been somewhat forgotten in LDS circles because some are so busy working their way to heaven that they don't have time to stop and actually live the golden rule. Many fail to think of how others might feel about what LDS members teach or how their behavior ends up treating others with judgment as a result of those teachings. What makes me even more sad is that it took losing my belief in the LDS church to help me realize this.

What is even more unfortunate is when I think about the recent talk by Boyd K. Packer and how I might be inclined to treat young people who may have homosexual feelings were I a young person today. If I ever had any idea that my behavior led to a young person committing suicide, I would feel completely awful. The sad thing is that the church is blind to what its teachings are doing to so many in the church. I sure hope the church realizes soon the pain and heartache these teachings are causing so many or I might have to grab my rocks and Boraxo and start taking matters into my own hands! I am just kidding of course...I hope I have grown out of that...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quit the Church

I have an uncle that knows how I feel about the church, so he sends me messages that he feels will "bring me back into the fold". Since I was so amused by one he just sent me, I thought I would post it here on my blog for anyone interested to see. Of course, I had to add my $.02 to the mix offering what I would love to send to my uncle (and the author if there was any way to track him down), however, I realize this is a fruitless exercise because no matter what I say to people like them, they will not be able to see my point. So, without further ado, here is the note along with my interjections throughout. Enjoy!

"Quit the Church"
In a local newspaper there had been an ongoing series of articles written by individuals who wanted to persuade LDS Church members to leave the Church. In response to the highly critical and spirited remarks, a local member wrote this rebuttal:

I have been thinking of quitting the Mormon Church. Yes, if I can, I am going to get even with that church.

(ME: You can tell this guy is trying to feign anger at a non-existing - or at least unknown - list of reasons to be angry. In addition, this statement is pointless because it is extremely difficult to “get even” with a large multi-national corporation such as the LDS church. It is like saying, “I have been thinking of quitting smoking brand X cigarette. If I can, I am going to get even with that rotten tobacco soon as I can find a tobacco company that can tell me ...[all the same things that tobacco company X has told me over the years]")

As soon as I can find another church that teaches about the Gathering of the House of Israel; the return of the Ten Tribes and their mission; the return of the Jews to Palestine and why, and how they are going to build the temple; the building of temples and what to do with them; the mission of Elias, the prophet, as predicted by Malachi; the method for the salvation of the people that died at the time of Noah in the flood; the origin of the American Indian;

(never mind that the explanation offered by LDS, inc. for the origin of the American Indian does not jive with ANY scientific explanations for their origins)

the complete explanation of why Jesus of Nazareth had to have a mortal mother but not a mortal father; the explanation of the three degrees of glory (three heavens) as mentioned by Paul; the complete explanation of why Elias and Moses did not die but had to be translated (since they both lived before the resurrection was introduced by Christ); the restoration of the gospel by modern revelation as promised by Peter and Paul and Jesus himself; the belief in eternal marriage and the family and the knowledge and the place to be sealed for eternity; that teaches abstinence from all harmful drugs and foods; and that sells the best fire insurance policy on earth, for the last days, for only a 10th of
my income.

(The one piece of information this gentlemen needs is that all the things he lists here that he is looking for an explanation to may have all been entirely made up in the first place. All of the above items that he is looking for a replacement for, or alternative explanations for, is like saying, “I am looking for a replacement for my belief in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as soon as I can find a story that explains all the goings on of the people in middle earth”)

Yes sir, as soon as I can find another church that teaches all that, or even half as much, I will say good-bye to this Mormon Church. The church that I am looking for must also be able to motivate 50,000+ youth, and adults, for the first, second or third time, to leave their homes for two years at their own expense and go to far-away places to teach and preach without salary. It must be able to call, on a frosty day, some 5 or 6 thousand professors, students, lawyers, doctors, judges, policemen, businessmen, housewives and children to go and pick apples at 6 a.m. It must be able to call meetings and get the attention for two hours of more than 150,000 men.

(It is pretty amazing what can happen when people believe in something isn't it? However, the numbers in the LDS church are not unique as far as what large organizations are able to command in terms of people and service.)

Yes, it must also teach and show why salvation is assured for children who die before eight years of age.

Mr. Editor, could you help me find a church that teaches all that and more than hundreds of other doctrines and principles, which I have no room to mention here, and which brings solace and comfort to the soul; peace, hope, and salvation to mankind, and above all, that answers the key questions that all the great philosophers have asked;

(The LDS church does all this??? I had no idea. If anything, I have found quite the opposite; the church can’t even begin to provide solace and comfort to women who don’t desire to be eternal housewives, those that are attracted to the same sex or those that just don’t feel like they can measure up. Not only that, but it also does not begin to adequately answer key questions that all the great philosophers have asked...unless you are willing to suspend reason and good judgment in favor of supernatural myths that seem to be made up by men. Men, who claim to be speaking on behalf of an eternal and all knowing being, that speak so-called truths that have had a tendency to contradict each other over time or depending on the circumstance. I would be very curious to hear what questions this author feels are answered by the church and what those answers are. If there could be some listed, I could very easily show how those very answers have not always been held to and do not seem to apply universally when trying to apply to unrelated cases inside, or outside, of the religious context.)

questions and answers that explain the meaning of life,

(Life has whatever meaning we place on it)

the purpose of death,

(Maybe death has no purpose – why does it need to have a purpose?)

suffering and pain; the absolute need for a Redeemer and the marvelous plan conceived and executed by Jesus Christ the Savior? Yes, as soon as I find another church that teaches that, and also that has the organization and the powers

(What “Powers” does the church have exactly? Oh, I forgot, the supernatural power given by the supernatural being to act on the supernatural beings behalf)

to make that teaching effective, I am going to quit the Mormon Church. For I should not tolerate that "they" should change a few words in the Book of Mormon-even if those changes simply improve the grammar and the syntax of the verses-for,

(How come the most correct book on earth has grammar and syntax errors? If you can explain that sufficiently, next you have to explain why the changes were not always simple grammar or syntax changes like changing the word white to pure)

after all, don't you think the Divine Church should employ angels as bookmakers, and clerks, to do all the chores on earth?

(I guess the point the author is trying to make here is that God had to employ imperfect men to do his work because apparently all the angels have better things to do?)

Don't you think, Mr. Editor, that the Divine Church should also have prophets that don't get sick and don't get old and die,

(If God was truly interested in convincing people of his power this would be one way to do it, sure)

and certainly, that don't make a goof here and there.

(Goofs are one thing...deliberate and selfish deceit is entirely another)

No, sir! A Divine Church should be so divine that only perfect people should belong to it, and only perfect people should run it. As a matter of fact, the Church should be so perfect that it should not even be here on earth!

(Amen! The church really shouldn’t be on the earth...but not because of perfection. It shouldn't be here because it encourages delusional thinking in so many areas. It also creates, among its members, dependence on those who run the thing for guidance about how to live life, guidance that should come from the individual for their own benefit and not from a man, or men, who claim to represent God on the earth and therefore claims authority over you as an individual.)

So, I repeat, if any one of the kind readers of this imperfect letter knows about another church that teaches and does as much for mankind as the Mormon Church, please let me know.

(There are actually plenty of organizations that do much more for mankind than the Mormon church corporation. The author should look into the United Way, American Red Cross or Catholic charities for some examples or go here to see the largest charities by revenue)

And please do it soon, because my turn to go to the cannery is coming up.

(So you want a church that does the most for mankind, but you expect that if you found such a church that you would not be expected to serve in such an organization? Why does one have to be a member of the LDS church to go to the cannery? Why are you going if you don’t really want to?)

Also, "they" want my last son (the fifth one) to go away for two years and again, I have to pay for all that. And I also know that they expect me to go to the farm to prune trees, and I have heard that our ward is going to be divided again, and it is our side that must build the new chapel. And also, someone the other day had the gall of suggesting that my wife and I get ready to go on a second mission, and when you come back, they said, you can volunteer as a temple worker. Boy, these Mormons don't leave you alone for a minute. And what do I get for all that, I asked? "Well," they said, "for one, you can look forward to a funeral service at no charge!"... Do you think you can help me to find another church?
--Thomas D. Clark

(Thomas, you make an excellent point at the end of your letter. The church expects [some might even say, demands] a lot from its members. This speaks to the importance of such an organization being able to stand up to any scrutiny related to the authenticity of its claims. Doesn’t it make things so much easier if you just asked, “What do I WANT to do?” instead of, “What does a church WANT me to do?”)

Thomas, I sincerely hope you feel like you are getting your money’s (and time and everything else) worth in a church where the best that can be said of what is received in return is that you get to hold your funeral free of charge. Best of luck to you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Disagreements of faith

So my wife and I found ourselves in our inevitable "discussion" mode last night. I always want to engage in the discussion because I keep holding out hope that she will see things my way at some point. Of course, to my continual surprise (and high blood pressure), she never does. However, I think I was able to gain some insight into the way she thinks, if only just a little.

While discussing the issue of faith, my mind was drawn to something I read concerning the warping of the definition of the word faith from something innocent to something relied upon without seeking for understanding. Let me elaborate. Faith is a word that simply means proposing an explanation for the way things are until you can actually prove that they are the way you think they are. Scientists use faith all the time when they come up with a hypothesis. They suspect that something is true based on some thought experiment or observation. This suspicion is then articulated, and experiments are formulated and attempted to try and discover "proof" of the correctness of the hypothesis. Until the experiments can be devised and carried out, the scientist is motivated by faith to continue on in the face of the unknown. The scientist is driven by hope that what he thinks is true may actually be so.

So it is with the traditional understanding of faith. Faith is the substance (action in the form of experiments) of things hoped for (as determined by the hypothesis) and the evidence of things not seen or currently known.

The problem with the current religious definition of faith is that it has morphed into something a little different. Faith, in the religious context, now stands for continuing belief in something that cannot be proven even in the face of evidence that stands in contradiction of it. When I ask religious people what they have faith in, the answers come very easily. However, when I ask them why they have faith in those things, the answers don't come so quickly. I think faith is a stepping stone to knowledge and is only useful until the knowledge can be obtained. If the knowledge cannot be obtained, faith in that idea should be discarded in favor of something that knowledge can be obtained in. That is my opinion any way.

For example, to illustrate the ultimate effect of having faith in God, I ask myself the following; If there are two people in heaven standing before God (which I apparently still feel the need to capitalize out of deference or respect to the 95% of Americans that supposedly still believe in His/Her/Its existence - then again that statistic may be outdated and come from religious sources). One person did not believe in God and the other had faith that God did exist while they were living on Earth. Which one is better off? When presented before God, the non-believer simply says, "Oh, OK, I guess you do exist, God. I'm so glad to know that now, so where do we go from here? (and they're thinking what was THAT all about anyway???)". The one that had faith in God's existence says, "Wow! I was right all along! I'm cool. So, now that we're here together what do we do now?"

I really can't see how one is better off than the other. Unless, of course, God is a sadist and delights in making people miserable if they didn't believe in him all along...which, I suppose, he could be, but I certainly would not choose to hang my hat on belief in that sort of being.

Needless to say, when I try to make that argument I get angry because my wife starts bearing her testimony to me in some fashion.

Well, I wanted to come up with an analogy that would address our particular situation and not result in the changing of the subject due to the overwhelming cognitive dissonance by my wife. So here is my analogy I decided to share with her;

Let's say I was an Amish man living in my Amish community with my Amish wife in my traditional Amish home without electricity. Let's say as an Amish man, I became exposed to the wonders and ultimate convenience of modern living with electricity and all of its associated appliances. So one day I come home to my Amish wife and say, "Honey, I'm tired of living without electricity...tell me why we don't have it again?" She says, "Well, the Amish good book or good leader tells us it is because it is what God wants." So I say, "That's not good enough anymore. I don't see how having electricity is really harming anyone out there in the majority of the world and unless you have a better reason I think I might just have to get our house wired with electricity." If I insist, apparently an argument ensues which I cannot win. If I raise my voice, I am full of the spirit of contention and am of the devil and am only serving to prove to my wife that I am possessed. If she yields then she must also "suffer" because she believes she would be displeasing God even though she might learn to actually enjoy not doing laundry and dishes by hand any more.

So my wife actually responds with, "If I were that Amish woman, I would say too're not getting electricity in my house as long as I live here!" Because to her, the belief trumps the convenience and all the evidence. Unfortunately, if I want to stay married to this woman, I have to continue to go without electricity as it were. She has faith that not having electricity is better than having it and she continues to follow that faith in the face of (at least I would say as a beneficiary of electricity) overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Of course, she would never consider actually going without electricity...which I hope only serves to make the cognitive dissonance more severe.

Of course, no real Amish people were hurt in my example here, but the point is that there has got to be some point where people say, "You know what, you're right, electricity may not be bad and maybe we could get it for just a little while and see how it goes." This would be the scientific approach. However, as I composed that last response, I think I realize what my wife is saying that remained unsaid. I think she may have gone on to say we can't do it because 1. Too much fear that the authorities may be right and God does actually somehow punish those that have electricity 2. Too much worry about how the Amish community would label us and possibly even ostracize us or cast us out.

I really think fear comes from the unknown and there are lots of people who fear leaving the church. So much so that it will not even be considered. Of course, the assumption of those that continue to believe in the face of such evidence to the contrary is that they are doing the right thing. My issue is, who is defining the "right" thing and how do they know that it is right for everyone? Unless there is some way to independently verify that something is, in fact, right, that we can all buy into, we will never cease to have disagreement and conflict about what is right.

The scientific method of asking questions and then attempting to find verifiable explanations, in the face of extreme fear that one may be wrong, is much more noble to me than not attempting to even ask the questions in the first place. But then again, that just may be where I am at and I am not showing enough compassion to those that feel differently. I guess I am still angry.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Halloween Night 2010
5:10 pm: The kids' friends come over and are wanting to know if my kids will be going trick-or-treating.

5:11 pm: Said kids come to my wife and ask her if they can go out trick-or-treating.

5:11 pm: Kids come to me and ask if it is OK if they go out trick-or-treating. They tell me their mother doesn't care if they go out or not.

5:11 pm: I tell kids that I don't have a problem with them going out.

5:12 pm: Kids are ready to go out trick-or-treating getting their costumes on and all share in the excitement of the upcoming festivities.

6:30 pm: I can't find my oldest 3 kids and my youngest (3 yr. old) needs help getting ready to go out. I help him get ready and I can't find any of the other kids. Have to assume they have already left to go trick-or-treating.

6:35 pm: My youngest son and I begin going out trick-or-treating.

At this time my mind is wondering about the appropriateness of participating in the activity on Sunday. Not because of my beliefs about it not being appropriate, but my wife's. I really don't know what is going through her mind or whether or not she truly thinks it is a violation of the Sabbath or not. I had successfully found some justification for it (which I could have easily used on my formerly tbm brain, but it probably would not have worked since I was uber tbm) which is that it is a good chance to meet and greet with neighbors in the area and let them see how cute my kids are in their costumes. This, to me, is a great Sunday activity because it encourages neighbor interaction. None of my kids' costumes were scary by any stretch (Basketball player, Ironman, Princess and Toucan) and therefore not able to be considered evil at all.

The thought that crossed my mind while wandering around looking for houses to visit (most neighbors did have lights on and were handing out candy...probably just a little less than last year, but not much) was what people who are not very religious must think of those who don't participate in giving out candy because it is on a Sunday. My first thought was that most people probably don't each their own. But I couldn't stop there. Since I am an angry apostate (I should rename my blog to that, but I'm sure it is already taken) I had to take it one step further and imagine what people must REALLY think of those that don't participate in trick-or-treating.

My first reaction along those lines was...that they are arrogant snobs. I placed those people right up there with those people who told my kid to only take one piece of candy and, when they took two, would reach into the bag and grab the extra piece of candy back. They are selfish bastards, just one step below arrogant snobs.

Then my mind was taken to what religion does to people. Religion teaches that as long as an institution finds your behavior acceptable, you are encouraged to engage in the behavior whole-heartedly. But the moment the behavior is deemed unacceptable, you are strictly forbidden to participate and guilt and shame should be heaped on you if you dare to violate "the rules".

I'm sure I am being way too harsh here, but these are the thoughts I had. I kind of felt sad that there are people who refuse to participate in a fun and arguably wholesome activity because some religion teaches that the behavior is not becoming of the ideal adherent.

But then again, maybe in this tough economy, people were glad to be relieved of any question about whether or not to participate in Halloween since they couldn't afford any candy.