Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Missionary work

Missionary WORK! The work of bringing souls to the corporate entity known as the Intellectual Reserve. I was brought up to think that missionary work was the most noble and worthwhile pursuit. Now I think of it as a nuisance. The reason I now think of it this way is because I now realize what it really is! It is door to door salesmanship. But it is not just any ordinary product being pushed (nay heartily wedged) through my door, rather it is acceptance that your life must suck since you are not as happy as those two clean cut, 1960's era, IBM reps standing at your door. Since you don't enjoy their level of happiness, they are more than willing to share with you what will bring you up to their level. They have a message of joy, hope and peace that will change you forever!

It will change you all will make you a self righteous, ethnocentric prick who is willing to forsake friends and family in order to lay up a mansion for your self in heaven. A heaven where a man can have multiple wives and spend eternity making babies to populate his own world and start the cycle of life on a new planet all over again. Who needs close friends and relatives to be by your side, when you can just make more of those affiliates through procreation! Procreation is apparently the key to eternal happiness. As long as it isn't enjoyed too much, and only really used for making babies, then it is OK anyway.

Here's what I don't understand; so members of the LDS church are quick to point out that if a person leaves the church, that they can't seem to leave the church alone. Gee, I wonder why that could be? So let me get this straight. Members of the church work themselves into a frenzy over the idea of spreading the gospel to all those ungodly heathens that apparently would accept the truth (that they perceive themselves to have) if they just knew about it, but then whine and complain when former members attempt to share a message with them about how screwed up their beliefs are?! Life's a bitch ain't it. The thing I want to say to members of the church when they say that I can't just leave their precious beliefs alone is that I'll stop when they stop. I'll leave you alone as soon as you stop knocking on my door with your smug and certain passive aggressive insults designed to make you feel better, but designed to make me feel bad until I agree with you. You can't have it both ways folks. I guess now I understand why it seems that churches attempt to inoculate their members by telling them how ridiculous and weird the LDS church is in their beliefs. They are fighting fire with fire.

It never really occurred to me as I was out for two years going door to door attempting to convert others that, while the people who let me in their door were just being nice or genuinely wanting to hear the nice message that I was advertising, that what I was really doing was telling them that their beliefs were wrong and that I had what they needed. How pretentious and arrogant of me to think that! I had no idea what kinds of things these people had been through in their spiritual quest. Nor did I care. My only goal was to get them to associate any good feelings they may have had in their life up to that point, with what I was trying to sell them on. I manipulated those people for my own selfish purposes. I'll say, once the idea of you having the ONE AND ONLY TRUE CHURCH ON THE FACE OF THE WHOLE EARTH is abandoned, I have begun to see how selfish and arrogant this whole attitude I was sportin' really is.

And, of course, I wasn't anti-anything. I was only anti-everybody outside of Mormonism. And, while I didn't usually resort to ad hominem attacks of all the other religions, I did essentially tell people that they were wrong for believing what they did. And, I had all the reasons laid out for why they were wrong. Here's the short list;

- They didn't have a mouthpiece for God that they believed was on the earth today to receive God's precious counsel for them - aka profit (spelling intentional). (No they just believed that God would communicate with them directly if He had something to say...silly rabbit)

- They didn't have a cool story about how Joseph Smith got an answer to his prayer, which included Godly and angelic visitations and the restoration of God's REAL church on the earth. (No, they don't buy Joseph's story when they learn that it all came from a known con-man, whose story changed over the years, and whose motives were power and lots of sex)

- They didn't have a true understanding of who God is and who God wants us to be. (No, they had their understanding which, truth be told, is equally valid and perhaps even more valid than my naive concept interpreted through rigid orthodoxy)

- They didn't have additional scripture. The Book of Mormon, D&C and Pearl of Great Price represent proof that God must love Mormons more than everybody else. (No, they don't accept additional scripture...especially when that scripture is mostly a plagiarism of the Bible and the rest a fantasy about the early 19th century version of explaining where the American Indians came from)

- They didn't have legitimate priesthood authority to exercise God's power. (No, they don't need some permission slip to believe that they can see God working in their lives)

- They didn't have temples where eternally required ordinances can be performed for everyone living and dead. (No, they just have their plain old houses of worship where no one is excluded from coming and partaking because they haven't paid enough to the church. Again, the perception and teachings of the church are what form the need for these edifices to be only for the privileged [aka "worthy"] and the work that goes on in them. In fact, many find what goes on in the temple to be offensive when they find out that their dead relatives are being posthumously converted to Mormonism and the living are being pressured to go along with something that they aren't even allowed to know until after they make the commitment to proceed)

No, outsiders to the Mormon faith don't have any of these things, so their beliefs must be fallen and in the dark. Too bad all those poor souls that have hopes and fears just like all of us can't be respected enough to be listened to for what they have to offer. Instead they are continually put down and criticized as inferior to the further light and knowledge contained in the teachings of the LDS church.

Mormons really love missionary work long as that work isn't being performed on them. If that is the case they feel it OK to ostracize, censor and label you as someone who is an "Anti". Hmmm, this kind of makes all the other religions that put up with the antics of the LDS in their missionary efforts look very charitable, kind and forgiving of those who leave their faith for the lies of the Mormon church. How Christian of them.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Letter to my LDS family and friends

To my LDS family and friends,

I am writing this letter to get a few things off my chest. First of all, yes, I am a doubter. I have encountered some things that do not make sense to me that I grew up being taught as fact from a very young age. You see, I believed that when I was taught that the LDS church represented the “true” church of God on the earth, that it was ACTUALLY the “TRUE” church of God on the earth. I believed that this statement had EVERYTHING backing it up. However, I don't even want to talk about that here. I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about you.

You see, I believed the people that I grew up around, and looked up to very much, in the church were sincerely striving, albeit imperfectly, to live their lives according to the way Jesus taught people to live. I believed they would love and show empathy for those who had struggles in their lives. I believed that they would be the first ones to extend a hand of fellowship and show love and concern for the downtrodden, the poor and, yes, even the wicked that cursed and fought against them. I believed this because this is what Jesus taught. I read the bible and tried to better understand how Jesus would want me to live. I read the part where he said to love those that hate you and spitefully use you. I read those words and I believed them. I believed that those kinds of teachings of love and patience and kindness were, in fact, the most rewarding teachings that I could hope to cultivate in myself.

However, I also had to reconcile this with the other things I was taught in the church. Things like people who are not members of the church are missing out on so much in life or that people who leave the church only do so because they are in Satan's grasp and only want to sin. That or they were just offended and they are the ones that need to just get over themselves. 

I think these teachings taught me to look at others in their differences of opinion as wrong. I had the truth, I thought, so the truth I had could cure all of their troubles. I could show these people love and concern and empathy and, as long as I didn’t listen to them in their wicked and Satan influenced manipulations, I could show that love to them and my testimony and belief structure would survive. However, fully trying to live with this knowledge meant that I sometimes had to ignore the really outspoken among this group of people that were critical of the church and sometimes even remove all communication with them if they seemed to push the issue...but, I felt justified in this. I believed this was what God would want me to do. God would want me to remain pure and un-defiled so that I could remain a worthy vessel for His works to be manifest. 

I believed that God’s love would somehow show through my attempts to limit communication with these people and my attempts to show love and compassion would ultimately be borne out in what I was doing by cutting off all communication with these people. I believed that eventually God would show them the error of their ways and hopefully they would eventually come to see God’s truth. And, if I could be just a small instrument in bringing that to pass, then all the better. Then I could justify what I had done and even feel good about it. I used this way of thinking to simply abandon a lot of good people and their influence and I am here to tell you that I regret this.

Of course I have always had to temper this way of thinking with the desire to spread the good news of the gospel with all those that would listen. This desire caused me to feel bad about all the doors that were slammed in my face while I served my mission but, what I have only recently come to realize is, perhaps that response to me and my message of “love” for them was deserved in their opinion. Maybe they felt I deserved to be treated that way (slam the door in my face) because I felt OK about treating others that way (or telling them that I had the truth and they did not – no matter how much they thought differently than I did). Maybe all the supposed “hatred” that I perceived to be coming from all those outside my faith was merely a reflection of the hatred I was already showing to those that did not agree with me.

I am here to tell you that this is not just an imagined thought that I have had, it is very real. I have now seen it firsthand. I have now been on the receiving end of some very mean and spiteful communication (not to mention effectual disowning, abandonment and disregard) from people that I dearly love and respect very much (even very close family and friends) because I dared to publicly express my doubt about my faith and seek answers to some very troubling questions. Unfortunately, it seems that the church I was brought up in, and trusted as an absolutely reliable source of divine information, is unable to effectively promote anything other than a stance that does nothing but continue to encourage this kind of thinking. Family members and close friends are still being disenfranchised, disowned and abandoned because they dared to question the beliefs they have always been taught are true and unquestionable.

This needs to stop.

I think this was the message that Dieter F. Uchtdorf was attempting to convey at the last LDS General Conference.

Unfortunately, there are many who will hear that message (and many more messages like them) and still cling to old ways of thinking. While I cannot do anything but express my sincere love for these people, I just hope that you are not one of them. It is profoundly unfortunate in my mind that there are many who will not even get a chance to read this letter because they have already put me out of their minds and lives forever. This makes me so sad.

All I can say now is that I still want to be your friend. I still want to be regarded in the same warm and loving manner that you regard your most loved family members. I hope that eventually forgiveness for the perceived wrongs I have done in your mind will come. I have already forgiven you for shunning me and believe I can honestly say that I hold no ill will towards any of you.

All that I ask is that you accept me for who I am and not who you believe I should be. I don’t know if this is too much to ask, but I hope that my request will be considered. I am open to having conversation. I want to know so much and I am sorry if my questions are perceived as “anti” or not in accordance with church teachings or standards. I am a human being and I am trying to think on my own and make sure I am not being led astray. 

Just like you, I imagine that feeling loved and accepted are of the utmost desire to you. I am no different. Granted, I like attempting to explore difficult issues and express difficult questions, but I am human nonetheless. I care about what you think and I care about what you think of me.

I hope we can be friends again.

For you who have not abandoned me, or cut me off, because of my doubting heart, Thank You! You have shown true Christ-like love and compassion and I appreciate it. I think those that have continued dialogue with me, in spite of my questions and doubts, have realized that my questions are not really born out of a desire to just be critical, but of genuine concern and desire to know how things all fit together in the world. I have learned that my criticism can be very pointy and sharp at times, but it is not because I am possessed by the devil, it is because I have so much concern and sometimes feel disappointment over not being able to find better explanations to my questions. I also have the personal issue of not liking the idea of agreeing to disagree, but am coming to realize that sometimes that is the only way friendships can be maintained. I also think that those who have put up with me and my questions have learned to recognize the need for agreeing to disagree in spite of my dislike for it.

Unfortunately, I do not believe my words here will have much effect on those who have already chosen to cut me off and effectively disown me or un-friend me on FaceBook or block my posts. My message here is geared primarily towards those who have seen some of my recent posts and may have the idea that they should un-friend me. I only hope my words here can do something to cause you to reconsider. I just hope you will consider that actions taken to un-friend me are seen as shunning and are hurtful.

If you are going to un-friend me, at least have the wherewithal to let me know what you disagree with me about or what I have posted that has been perceived as attacking you or your faith. Then I can work on being more considerate of those feelings in the future. Again, I have no idea what impact my words may have here, but I suspect they will have very little, if any, impact at all. I can only hope that my attempt to express how I feel here may cause you to reconsider how you treat others. I hope I can make some difference in making the world a more tolerant, loving and accepting place for all of us. I hope this letter can be seen as a small step in that direction.

Thank you for your love, patience and kindness.



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I've found a new church!

I found a new church! I am so excited to tell you about it! It turns out to be the original church God established even before Adam and Eve. Here are the core tenets of my new church;

We believe that we have the one true path of happiness in this life and the life to come after death.

We believe that all other churches have lost things along the way of history and that only we have all the truths necessary (as revealed directly by God herself) to be able to get back and be able to dwell in God's presence again.

We believe that the name of God is extremely important, but it is a knowledge that not everyone can actually handle with the appropriate amount of respect and care, so the actual name is reserved only for a very few on the earth.

We believe that this life is a bag of tricks that makes absolutely no sense until we leave this life and can see the label on the outside of the bag.

We believe that everyone can know the true sacred name of God, and that God will tell Her very elect Name to those who truly desire to receive it, which is the way to know the truth of the sacred name of God. The teachings of Ma'at say that all those who receive the sacred name of God will know Her name and therefore know the truth of Her church and teachings.

We believe that everyone can make it to get back to Aarula (the proper name of forever life with the sacred name of God - abbreviated to SNOG - in the afterlife), however, there are a few conditions. These conditions include; 1. You must be a certified member of the society of the sacred name of God (SNOG) 2. You must have entered into the sacred hall of Ma'at to receive all the secret rituals of Aarula (they are secret because they need to be...if they fall into the hands of Seth - the most evil of all the enemies of God) then all would be lost. All cannot be lost! 3. You will be rewarded according to your level of devotion and faithfulness to the principles of Ma'at. The more devoted you are, the more reward you will receive in Aarula. 4. All others who do not choose to follow the path to Aarula will not receive happiness in this life or in the world to come. 5. You must pay 9% of your income to the brotherhood of Ma'at. 6. You must submit to the will of the sacred name of God as interpreted, and given to us, by the sisterhood of Ma'at. We believe that some* (*likely many, actually, since the SNOG church only has a few members worldwide, but it is growing very rapidly for being the only true church on the face of the whole earth) will be cast off forever and never enjoy the happiness to be found in Aarula, but it must be this way because that is the will of the sacred name of God.

We believe that goodness and benevolence are the true characteristics of the sacred name of God and we should constantly strive to obtain them both.

We believe that all will have the opportunity, at some point, to learn the sacred name of God, however if they reject it they will be forever caught in a large black hole, where not even light can escape their fate. I do hope that my family members will eventually see the light of Aarula and choose to join me in the hall of Ma'at someday. Sometimes I get sad when I think that there will be many who I will not get to spend forever in Aarula with, but I know that the sacred name of God will make it all worthwhile. I will likely be given a replacement family in Aarula that I will come to love just as much as my family here on time anyway. I will be so much happier than I am now, having to associate with so many unbelievers now. If you have been called up and had revealed to you the sacred name of God, I would invite you to join me at the church of SNOG. I invite all to come and partake of the goodness that is found there. We meet once a week in the SNOG building downtown at 10am. I hope to see you there!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Letter to my parents

Here is a copy of a letter that I found that I wrote to my parents back in May 2009. I never sent it to them because I had a discussion with them shortly after that pretty much went over most of the things in the letter. For your reading enjoyment here is my letter:

Dear Mom & Dad,

I wanted to let you know what has been going on with me over the past year. 3-4 years ago my co-worker (who is LDS) and I got into some lengthy conversations about the church. He basically told me that he didn’t believe in the church anymore and I tried to give him every response I could muster to respond to his concerns. I thought I did pretty well and I remained satisfied with the answers I had come up with to his questions and we ultimately decided to agree to disagree. Well, about a year ago things started to bubble up a little bit for me. On my own, I began formulating questions to things that had been nagging me for some time. Of course, I had become very good at ignoring or putting on the shelf things that were uncomfortable or that did not add up for me. Until one Sunday I was pondering the pictures that had been taken from the Egyptian papyri discovered and printed in the Book of Abraham.

I really sat and pondered those pictures and began to have doubts that they were really representative of the life of Abraham as Joseph Smith had represented. I began to wonder if they might actually have a different meaning. I wondered if there was any other interpretation of the facsimiles and the hieroglyphs contained in them that might go against what Joseph Smith had taught or if he was accurate in his translation. Well, looking through the illustrated book of Egyptian archeology we got for Christmas a few years back (I think from you, actually) the same elements of the pictures in the Book of Abraham have been found in other places in artifacts and what not. I also learned that scholars are now able to read Egyptian with ease thanks to all the historical work done, artifacts unearthed and the discovery of the Rosetta stone back in 1799. What I found was that there was very little accuracy to the translation that Joseph Smith presented in the Book of Abraham of the facsimiles. This discovery, of course, led to questioning the authenticity of the text of the Book of Abraham and to Joseph’s ability to translate altogether. The shadow cast in my mind was very dark and very deep.

Needless to say, this question led me on a quest to find out everything I could to formulate a better understanding of who Joseph Smith really was and whether or not all of the foundational events in church history could be called into question. Well, about a year later, I have ultimately arrived at my answer.

I want to point out that, as you know, I do suffer from an acute case of foot in mouth disease and I certainly do have a tendency to be deliberate and hurtful with my words (as Mrs. Facsimilogos well knows) so I want to mention that even though I would love to convince you of everything I have discovered and try to spell it all out here that I will refrain from doing so. I will refrain because such a work would require volumes to relay my findings, notes, etc. (Not to mention addressing any specific questions or perspectives that would come up as I went along). Instead I want to share with you my feelings and hope that you will begin to understand where I am coming from and that you will not think of me any differently because of a change in my beliefs.

As you can imagine, my new understanding and perspective places me in a very big bind. I am not sure what the future holds, but I know that I am 100% dedicated to my children and to doing whatever it takes to make their lives productive, comfortable and peaceful. I certainly could not see myself out of their lives, nor do I wish to be.

Mrs. Facsimilogos and I do not agree on much of what I believe as she is still very much a strong believer in the church. In fact, it was a conversation with her that has led me to write this letter. You see, she got so fed up with me and my questions one night a few days ago that she called her parents to tell them what I was going through and to ask them for advice. I figured it wasn’t fair that her parents should know where I am at and you not know.

Anyway, my new beliefs cause me to be confronted with tough decisions and to be torn in many directions. With our son’s baptism, he wants me to do it…and I probably will do it, but I now find praying to be an empty, rhetorical experience. I think my mind has been very powerful at helping me to believe what I wanted to believe in the past, but now that I really want some objective experience to latch onto, there is nothing but dead air. I will probably have a hard time hiding my true feelings and will probably not be able to do the expected “special” confirmation blessing, although in thinking about it, I could probably say some nice things that would hopefully be helpful to my son, but they probably wouldn’t fit in with the church’s party line. I may go ahead and ask Mrs. Facsimilogos’ father to be voice for his confirmation, we’ll see. (I ended up confirming my son, but was painfully told later that it was not the blessing my son was "entitled" to)

I now struggle with the thought of whether or not to continue to enforce the belief structure as laid out by the church (even though I don’t believe it is 100% healthy) because it is a good moral foundation for the kids or do I begin to introduce ideas of independent thought that would move them towards non-reliance on the church for their identity. This is a tough call…Hey, where is my parenting manual anyway? Of course, this question is only for me to speculate on in my mind, since Mrs. Facsimilogos continues to insist on bringing the kids up active in the church and I must continue to support that.

Getting to where I am at was not easy and will continue to present challenges; HOWEVER, I can honestly say that I am at peace and feel renewed and refreshed in my conscience. The feeling is so exhilarating, yet also troubling when confronted with the reality of what family and friends think because of where it is that I have come from and was brought up with. This is probably the most difficult part; however, most people in the church take solace in just figuring it is a phase I am going through and that I will come back eventually. I don’t see this as being the case, but I guess anything could happen. On the other hand, I think it is unfortunate that this idea of the lost sheep eventually coming back into the fold has been taught over the pulpit. The arrogance of the leaders of the church and their viewpoint surrounding the choices of others does not cease to astound me. In my opinion, people should be encouraged to do what they feel is right for them (even if it is something outside of the church) and not have to be condemned at every turn for deciding  their own happiness.

This is where I am at; I go to sacrament meeting to be with the family, but that is about it. I didn’t go for a while, but it was too much for me to handle. I skip out of Sunday school and priesthood because I can’t stand it (that and it is so boring and nobody wants to hear what I now think). I won’t accept a calling (because I can’t in good conscience) and I don’t pay tithing. Of course, it goes without saying that I don’t have a temple recommend. I have been in to talk with the bishop so he knows where I am at, but as far as helping me, he tried for a little bit, but then sort of gave up on me telling me how he had a good friend who left the church to go be a polygamous fundamentalist. He said the church is still good because of what it does to keep kids from doing bad stuff later in life and that is essentially why he still supports it. However, from what I have seen from our family, church activity is no guarantee that kids will never do anything bad. In my opinion, kids are going to do what they want to do and all I can do as a parent is teach them right from wrong as best I can and trust that they will do the right thing…that and continue to love them unconditionally, right? As far as requesting to have my name removed from the church, I don’t see any point. I don’t care if people from church contact me and I think it would probably be the final nail in the coffin for my marriage if I did make that request. I also continue to wear garments because it helps give Mrs. Facsimilogos something to hang onto. Of course they are pretty worn out, so I am going to need to do something about that one of these days.

You may think that my confession here means that I don’t want to talk about the church any further; however, nothing could be further from the truth. My mind is more open now than it ever has been in the past. I am just drawing conclusions based on my life’s experience and what I think I know. I am open for discourse and would welcome any and all rebuttals to my points. Of course, you should remember that I can be quite belligerent and always think I am right so there’s that to deal with. I hope we can talk about things going forward and I welcome any thoughts or questions you may have.

I hope this isn’t going to rock you to your core(s). I hope it does not make you want to give up all hope in me and my ability to do the right things. I am still that person, I just have an expanded view of the world and I am taking it all in. I am still forming my viewpoints and learning new things all the time. Unfortunately, it is true that the more I reject the teachings of the church the more I see error and fallibility in the things that are taught. Don’t get me wrong, the church is filled with really good people that I really admire, I just wish so much that more people could open their eyes and see what I now see. I will openly condemn any organization that teaches obedience to a hierarchy over independent thought and individual accountability. Boyd K. Packer taught in an infamous address that there are things from the church’s history that, while they may be true, are not very useful. I reject the notion that my exposure to events from church history necessitates being screened and edited until they become faith promoting and useful. The result is lies that are intended to deceive and increase the power and influence of the church. As Gordon B. Hinckley said, it is either all true or all false, there is no middle ground. I accept that and have pretty much concluded it is all based on the ideas of men…granted they may be considered by many to be some pretty good ideas, but they are the ideas of men nevertheless.

I’ll close by telling you that I am sorry to be telling you all of this, but I think it is better to get it out in the open instead of continuing to allude to it all the time when we get together. Please forgive me and don’t hesitate to talk to me. I am still very open to seeing the error of my ways. Thanks in advance for your patience and any advice you can offer. I would really value your feedback.

I hope things find you well. Thanks for your love.

Most Sincerely,

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Is religion a pernicious evil?

Sometimes people marvel at my current view of religion. They think I am too hard on it. That it deserves to be protected and people deserve to have their right to worship how they choose be protected at all costs. They feel I don't have any right to express my general disdain for the whole idea of belief in God, let alone the absurdity of it. Unfortunately, religious folks can't get on me too hard because they quickly realize that the same protection afforded in the United States that allows them freedom of religion simultaneously allows me to express my criticism of that same religion. But what continually amazes me is that, rather than engage in a courteous discourse over the merits of their beliefs over mine, or vice-verse, they quickly become offended by what I am saying and they take their ball and go home. They just would rather not talk about it apparently.

So what is it about religion that causes such angst among its followers, that they don't even want to talk about so much of it (or have it challenged in any way - especially ways that rely on evidence and science rather than faith) without taking offense? It is as if I slap them in the face when I say I don't think God exists. It is like this big deal that people take so much so that they would rather sever relationships (even family or close personal friendships) than talk about the issues in any kind of meaningful way. If you don't believe that this is true, try finding a well populated group of religious people (in person or on the internet - Facebook groups are a phenomenal place to witness this) and then announce that you think they are nuts, and then tell them why. (I tried this on a Facebook group that was all about reading the Book of Mormon again. I wasn't even too in your face rude, I just mentioned that the actual intent behind Joseph Smith's letter containing the quote about happiness being the object and design of our existence - that it was written to Nancy Rigdon to convince her to become another of Joseph's plural wives - was an attempt more to coerce and seduce and not so much to actually instruct on the topic of happiness and obedience. My comment was deleted from the page in very short order). Some few respondents may actually attempt to convert you into their way of thinking, or tolerate your comments for a bit, but what will generally happen is you will either be censored pretty quickly and shut out of the group or essentially told to go away (and some will not be very nice about it, either).

Apparently many religious people are convinced that there is a real entity known as the devil who is attempting to persuade them at every turn and they must be vigilant to avoid his enticements at all costs. And, as I am presumed to be one of the devils' followers, they feel more than justified telling me to get behind them, or censor me, at every opportunity. However, some have a more softened view towards others not of their faith tradition and they allow them to have their differing beliefs - and even maintain close relationships - even if they maintain their disagreement over their faith preferences.

This leads me to my question; is religion the source of such obstinate behavior in people and, if it is, does it deserve to be protected or, at the very least, derided and thrown down at every opportunity?

This is a difficult question. The first part is not that difficult. I don't think it is too big a stretch to say that religious teachings are, in fact, the source of the behavior that inclines people to censor, ignore, belittle or attack those who express beliefs that differ from their own. Of course, they feel justified in this behavior because they feel they are being attacked themselves. Which is interesting, because what religious people can't seem to grasp is that an attack on the merits of an ideology or philosophy or way of viewing the world is not an attack on them personally. However, they tend to take it very personally. It is like if I go around believing that it is OK to drink bleach, as long as I do so in very limited quantities, and someone comes along and says they have evidence that says that everyone who does drink bleach, even in limited quantities, ended up dying as a result of that behavior. If I didn't have a very good reason for drinking bleach in the first place, I might be inclined to listen and consider what they were saying. If it were possible that what I was doing was life threatening, I would think that I would even stop doing it until I could do further research into the merits of drinking versus not drinking bleach.

Of course, if my reason for drinking bleach were not that compelling (let's just say, I accidentally tasted some one time and later I felt better and I attributed feeling better to having tasted the bleach). The evidence for the effectiveness of drinking bleach on my overall health and well being is purely, and weakly, circumstantial. If I find much overwhelming evidence to indicate that drinking bleach is not a good idea at all, I would very likely cease the practice and abandon the idea.

But, here is where the question becomes more difficult; what is my response if a religious leader (who claimed to be acting and speaking under God's unquestionable authority at the time) says that God says I need to drink bleach, in very small quantities, at least once a week? Then what is my response, when someone says they don't think it is such a good idea? I tell them they don't have enough faith, that they are the devil sent to tempt me and that the authority figure I believe told me that evil designing persons would come to me and try to get me to question, or even abandon, my faith. In short, I am much less inclined to consider what that person is saying if I feel they are actively questioning, or attempting to dissuade me from, my closely held religious beliefs. Why is this? Why is it that one who claims, or is presumed, to have some authority (which person may actually be nuts, by the way), and happens to have some followers, is trusted above all others that happen to disagree with said leader? Why are we so gullible that way? Even when there is a very good mountain of evidence to disprove said beliefs?

So this leads to the next part of my question; should we actively fight against those who stand in support of religious institutions, even if maintaining that belief does not do bodily harm to those involved? If it can be shown that absolutely no harm is being done to individuals who maintain belief in some religion, then, sure, I think it is OK to leave them be and let them have their belief. However, I really don't think it is possible to have religion and NOT have some harm be done at some point. Now, it may not be bodily harm (not everybody gets slapped in the face like I was for expressing my contrarian views. I was slapped twice by women very close to me for daring to question the tenets of the LDS church), but it is most definitely psychological or emotional harm. Of course, since religious people have stopped reading my blog a long time ago I can outline here the emotional and psychological harm that I think was done to me as a result of believing and attempting to closely adhere to the LDS faith (the reason I preface this comment by saying that religious people have stopped reading my blog is because I worry that religious people will claim that I was damaged even before I believed, or that I am making it all up or some such nonsense).

I think I was harmed because I was taught to continually judge my behavior as being in line or not in line with the teachings of the church. Of course, judging my own behavior is fine if it could just stay there, but it did not. I followed the natural course of looking at others and the behaviors they engaged in. If I saw that they were not engaging in the same behavior I was taught to judge in myself as in line or not in line with the teachings of the church, I looked down on them. I may have felt pity for them or some level of remorse or sadness, but I did feel something. It is hard for believers, that I talk to anyway, to acknowledge that this does in fact happen, but I know it does, it can't help but not happen because we are human and must interact with others in the course of living out our lives. And, if you are absolutely convinced that you have the answers to how to live your life in happiness, you cannot help but see others, who do not live according to your same standard, as being deficient in some way. This deficiency in others is borne out in different ways by different people. I know I avoided approaching or talking to people who I perceived to have different standards than me. And I quickly learned that even people in my same faith sometimes engaged in behavior that was not in line with what I was taught. I felt really sorry for these people because they had the "truth" and still chose to ignore it to some degree. I was inclined to believe that they would suffer a punishment in the hereafter (or even to some extent in the here and now) that was greater than those who never had the truth to begin with. So, basically, my emotional and psychological abilities to interact with others in a genuine, and non judgmental way, was essentially stunted because of my religious upbringing.

If we consider all the affects of my judgmentalism towards others, the harm done to them increases. For example, what if I, as a believer, encounter that my child no longer believes as I do? While I will see them as less in my eyes (and may even decide to treat them differently because of this difference of beliefs) this will certainly have an affect on the child. They will be told repeatedly by me that they do not have the ability to make such a determination. However, if they get older and maintain their view, I may decide to attempt to make them feel guilty for their beliefs. If I see behavior that is not in line with my beliefs, I may decide to treat them differently than I would another child who believes...even though they may engage in the same behavior! I will tell the child that believes as I do that such behavior is not becoming a person who believes as we do, while I might tell the child that does not believe as I do that there is no hope for them.

Now, just imagine how the circumstances and impact can dramatically change if differences such as sexual preference and gender become the issue for the child. In the LDS church sexual preference is considered to be absolutely heterosexual, and God-given, and if you deviate from that in any of your behavior, you are sinning and are not worthy of God's blessings. Even though science has made a study of the question of innate homosexuality and determined that it is not able to be changed, just potentially ignored if the will of the person is strong enough. But this does not lead to happiness for the leads to pain and difficulty.

The other question is of gender. If I have a daughter who says that she doesn't think her goal should be to become a wife and mother (to as many children as she is financially or emotionally able to support), what should my response be? To most people, not of religious upbringing, the answer is pretty obvious, you should support her in her goals and dreams regardless of your disagreement with them. However, in the church, gender roles and identity are very inflexible. Men have the priesthood (and therefore the authority to preside and have the final say in making decisions) where the women in the church are taught, in no uncertain terms, to subjugate themselves to priesthood holders and recognize their authority. Women are taught that their worth is very closely tied to their chastity and obedience to priesthood leaders. So what kind of damage does this cause? I don't really know since I was always a male and got to be the one exercising authority over the females. But I have heard it is very difficult for some. Some women do not appreciate being placed in a box of expected behavior or sense of worth, from my understanding, and I believe them.

These things, I believe, cause emotional and psychological harm to others that are under the care of religious people and so I think the answer to the last part of my question is, yes, since religious belief does in fact cause emotional and psychological harm it should be brought down in its influence. This is the answer that some of us contrarians have arrived at and this is why we continue to make efforts to challenge religious people in their beliefs or engage in discourse. It is not, as the persecution complex laden religious would have you believe, a matter of those that leave the church not being able to leave it alone. It is because we see harm being done and we don't think it's right.

One thing I saw recently that I really like was a continuum for cults. It was a graphic as follows:
The LDS church falls about where the finger is pointing. This is why people want to challenge LDS in their beliefs...because they are not just weird and not at all harmful or dangerous, they are in the yellow zone where people are hurt and get damaged emotionally and psychologically. This is real harm that many find difficult to continue to support. Not only that, but they feel a real impact from the way they are treated by those within the church. We cannot ignore these feelings. We cannot just censor them. Their thoughts and feelings are real and someday those that promote such things will hopefully come to realize what affect their behavior truly has on others. I hope it comes soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why am I sad?

Sometimes I feel very sad. I feel sad because it is so difficult for my family members to relate to how I feel about the church now. I don't feel listened to any more. I don't feel like the people that I care about the most are really interested in what I think about things any more. I feel like my loved ones want to just put me in a box and ship me off somewhere until I see things the way I used to. It saddens me that I feel this way. It makes me even more sad to think that, if people that I care about read what I am saying here, I think they might revel in my sadness and see it as punishment for me not believing as they do any more. I don't understand why people who claim to be followers of a man, whose primary teaching was to love everyone - especially the outcasts and dregs of society, choose to be so cruel in their application of those teachings. Of course, what I don't know is if they are even able to see the sadness they have conjured in me. If they don't even see it, shouldn't I be able to forgive them for it?

I have really tried to help my family understand why I feel the way I do. However, when I try to make the attempts, I feel like barriers go up and a defensive posture is assumed. Why can't people try to understand me without assuming I am going to personally attack them? I have been told that I just need to get over feeling this way, and I have often asked myself why it is so difficult for me to do so. Could it be that the sadness and the defensive posturing is all originating from me? That people truly don't care what I think enough to burden themselves with putting me out to pasture? I suppose this is possible. I suppose I make some of these things out to be more serious and pronounced than they actually are. So then I have to ask myself, why this is? Why is it that I am so dead serious about wanting to explain my current stance on the existence of God or what I feel are deceptions put forth by the church? I guess part of it is because I want to be listened to. I want to be heard and understood. I want to feel the way I used to feel when I was the spiritual leader in my home and everyone hung on my every word as I pronounced the veracity of things that I now sincerely doubt were ever there in the first place. However, maybe there is something more.

I think the reason these things are, and have been, so vitally important for me to understand and relate to others is because I have been taught that they ARE JUST SO VITALLY IMPORTANT! After all, if there IS life after death and, if our station in that life after death is PRIMARILY determined by what we believe, and do, during this life here on earth, then this life is pretty important indeed! That idea is what motivated me for so long. I figured that if my ETERNAL existence was going to be SO heavily weighted by what I do here and now, then, by golly, I had BETTER do my BEST! If I didn't do my best, my soul would be tormented for ETERNITY by all of my shortcomings. All the home teaching I didn't do, all the missed opportunities to attend the temple, all the priesthood sessions of general conference that I missed would all haunt me ETERNALLY! I would be so filled with regret...which would be further enhanced by the knowledge of what I could have had, if I had been more valiant, that my misery will know no end. Who wants to be miserable forever? I certainly did not.

So, now I am at a place where I have given up on that thinking. I think I needed to give this thinking up for my sanity. To relieve myself of all the guilt I could easily pile up on myself for not doing EVERYTHING I was taught that was essential for obtaining everlasting life with God the Father in His celestial glory. However, even though I think I have given up on that thinking, I still have to wonder if I actually have? The question of the existence of God and whether or not God has ONE true church, that He fully endorses in place upon the earth today, is still a very important question to me. Is it possible that I have maintained my absolute thinking about the importance of this question and just moved my position from one of belief to one of non-belief? To be honest, now the question of the existence of God (and the origination of life and all of the attendant questions that seem to follow from it) is not important to me any more, but the need to be understood and be correct about it IS still immensely important to me!

If I had to guess, I would say that this is likely the reason that I would classify myself as more atheist than agnostic, or that I don't identify with the sentiment of being spiritual but not religious, now. I am not concerned with spirituality because I cannot sufficiently identify with it in terms that can be easily understood by everyone. We all have had differing experiences with spirituality and, when we attempt to describe those experiences to others, to me, they come across sounding more like bragging than anything that can be mutually beneficial. I cannot escape this thought now. Whenever someone says to me that they had a spiritual or moving experience it grates on my nerves because I cannot help but think what the consequences of that experience being real (in the context of my religious upbringing) must be. I am not irritated because they had the experience, I am irritated because of the fact that this person is essentially reminding me of everything that I am not any more. If, in fact, their spiritual experience is valid, and is actually from God, then that means that my previous thoughts about the ramifications of such things must also be valid to them and I am left to wonder how screwed up that person thinks I will be in the afterlife. After all, I am not active in church, and I don't do any of the stuff the church teaches is essential for eternal life (i.e. all that enduring to the end stuff). How can they not see me as some sort of heretic? At the very least as someone who will be relegated to a lower kingdom of glory where they may, at some point, decide to grace me with their presence every once in a while. Why? So they can remind me how much more glorious and better their eternal residence is than mine? How can people feel good about teachings that have built in mechanisms for looking down on others who do not conform?

How did I decide to devotedly follow such teachings for so long without paying any attention to what affect my beliefs might have on others that disagree with me? How could I have been so self centered? I feel really bad about that, but I wonder how it happened? I mean, when I was on my mission and talking to people who adamantly disagreed with what I believed, not because they simply didn't know what I believed, but even if they knew what I believed and yet still chose to deny it was true, how did I deal with that? I think I just concluded in my mind that, even though they claimed that they had some idea about what I believed, they must not actually know what I did. My knowledge was always superior to theirs...unless, of course, they agreed with me...then their knowledge would likely exceed my own, that is, if they seemed to know what they were talking about and it was in line with the teachings of the church as I understood them. Don't get me wrong, I met a bunch of people that I would consider totally wacky, even in the church, that now I ask myself what could have possibly compelled me to feel good about the fact that we would be spending eternity together?

I think something that might help in answering my question is something I have learned about human behavior. We tend to agree with, sympathize with and look up to people that we either associate with or have things in common with. I know out in the mission field I could tell how relieved I felt to be in the company of members versus non-members of the church. With non-members I had to make sure my words and actions were at their most impressive to make a good impression and get them to agree with me and my beliefs and eventually join me at church. However, with members, I could relax, enjoy the food, the company and not be worried that my behavior might reflect poorly on the church. I felt secure with those that I had the church in common with. It is definitely true that we feel more at ease and comfortable around those that we share some bond with. In social settings where both members of the church and non-members are present, the members will tend to congregate together since they share a bond that seems to transcend the other purpose of the gathering. The church creates a bond in people that is immediate and larger in scope than anything else. Of course, this tendency has been used to great effect in Utah where pyramid schemes and multilevel marketing tends to dominate the landscape. But, what is it about the church that readily brings people together that other groups seem to lack? I'm sure a book could be written to answer that question (or I'm sure there already has been one written).

My point in saying all of this is that I feel that I have now lost this bond with my family. Even though I haven't resigned from the church, I am a disaffected, inactive member of the church, who can actually be somewhat hostile towards members of the church (well, not really to most ward members, but I think I come across that way to my family quite a bit) when talking about things that are church related. So why am I so hostile? Because I know the perceived benefits that can be enjoyed when one is "in" the group and I am no longer really able to be considered "in" the group. I am now an outsider. Again, maybe this is all just going on in my head and I just need to not worry so much about it. But that response just feels wrong to me. I know how I felt towards non-members as a believer and I can't help but think that others must feel the same way I did...even if it isn't a conscious or deliberate sentiment towards me, I know it is there. As much as everyone wants to deny it or pretend it is not real, it is real because I have experienced it first hand.

So how did I really see people who didn't believe as I did? I saw them as outsiders. I saw them as ignorant and missing out on what I got to enjoy. I had the truth and the truth was going to bring me eternal happiness that others could only dream of. How naive I was! When I rejected these notions of an afterlife of judgment, misery and glory, I began to see everyone as valuable. Everyone has, not only a contribution, but importance and worth, regardless of their conformity to the church. Not because they are divine in nature, but because they are human and have feelings just like me. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves, just like I do. They are all relevant and I now feel that they all should be listened to and trusted for their unique experience. When people say that they have been hurt by church policies, I will now choose to believe them. And instead of asking how they can better be marginalized to conform to the infallible policies of the church, I might actually decide to denounce those policies in favor of more tolerance and trust of people who may disagree with leaders of the church. And, right now, I don't see how it is possible for me to stay in the church and maintain this view.

So, maybe I have been taught to be an absolutist from my youth, and maybe I still am in the way I see the world, but this is who I am and how I think. If I am going to change from it, I need some help. But, I'm pretty sure that the way I thought about things as a believing member of the church, or trying to get me to go back to that way of thinking, is not going to get me the help that I need. I am looking for a better way. I hope I get there, for my sake and for the sake of my loved ones.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When does life begin?

I just had to point something out. While the official doctrine of the LDS church is pretty silent on the matter, the implied teaching is that the spirit enters the body at around the time of conception. For this reason, it is assumed that, the church highly discourages abortion at any point in a pregnancy. This reasoning would be in line with a belief that the aborted fetus represents a spirit child of God that is having their life on earth terminated prematurely - which is why we would assume having an abortion is considered a sin. Aside from the obvious defect with the idea that any person aborting a fetus, or not, could potentially be thwarting the will of God, the question in my mind is; does an unborn fetus represent a living soul, or child of God, or not? If it does, then it would make sense that pregnancy would be a very important event regardless of whether or not a baby is born.

Additionally, when we consider the importance placed by the church on keeping records of God's children born into the church, we should find that the church would emphasize the importance of retaining a record of all children conceived but not ever living to be born as needed to be sealed to parents. However, this is not the case. The only time a record of a child is created in the records of the church (so that they can have their work of the sealing ordinance done in the temple - obviously, only sealings to parents are performed for children under 8, instead of all of the other saving ordinances, because we are taught that children under 8 are automatically saved in the Celestial kingdom) is when a baby is born and it takes at least one breath (or not stillborn).

Why the disparity of treatment for these children who are miscarried or stillborn? Are they just not as important as those that take a breath outside the womb? Why doesn't the church keep a record of them, let alone attempt to seal these children to parents?

The church cannot say it is because it is inconvenient to keep or find such records since it expects people to go to great lengths to extract family records which surely represents a very large inconvenience to those performing family history traces.

I just feel sad for all those poor spirit children who will be orphaned in the eternities because no record was kept for them and no work was performed for them to be sealed to their parents. Poor little ones indeed. I hope the church fixes this policy soon.

Guidelines that exclude stillborn children from family history and temple work is found on here (under heading: "Determining What Ordinances to Perform").

Monday, April 30, 2012

Inherent worth and achievement

I just finished reading a book that has had a profound impact on my thinking about human behavior. The book is called "Mistakes were made, but not by me" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Since I am thinking about it, I decided to contribute some of my thoughts in response to the last chapter of the book. This chapter proposes to introduce a possible idea about how we as a society can get to a place where we can see greater achievement and less cognitive dissonance (i.e. excuses and self-justification) surrounding the bad decisions we make. You see, I think this is a pretty big problem. That is, I believe there is a general state of apathy among people regarding individual achievement in our society, because of our self-justification in defense of our bad behavior, and our beliefs may only be contributing to the problems we are facing. First let me begin by attempting to outline some of the problems as I see them.

We are a society (here in America, at least, and possibly in much of western society) that values achievement, but somehow believes that doing so must come with a minimum of mistakes. We tend to regard mistakes as bad. We oftentimes choose to see bad behavior (and the mistakes that invariably result) as a symptom of a problem with our soul. Many of us are taught, through our beliefs or maybe even intuition to some degree, that we are either inherently good or inherently bad. And while the teaching that we are inherently bad is not overt, it may be felt by those who do not receive the message as often or as loud that they are inherently favored. We attempt to condition our children in the belief that they have worth that is inherent due to their very nature. The evidence used to support this belief is the good behavior or favorable disposition of the child pointed out by parents and teachers.

This paradigm is especially pronounced in Mormonism where children are taught from a very early age that they are of infinite worth not because of anything they did or did not do (at least in the here and now), but simply because of who they are. Children are not only a gift from God, but they are considered gifted by God with talents and worth that is innate in them. They are further taught that the evidence for this belief is the fact that they are here. Because in Mormonism, the belief is that the people here on Earth are the one's that chose wisely to follow Jesus and the plan presented by Him. The polarization between us and "the others" (those wicked spirits that chose to follow Satan or really anybody that appears to be choosing to follow Satan while here on Earth) begins when we were told that, while we chose wisely to come to Earth, there was an entire third of the hosts of heaven who did not choose wisely as we did. We are further told that we are children of God, even God's in embryo, and that God didn't make junk. We were then told that our life here on Earth is designed to allow God to test our worth to determine if we can live up to His expectations for us. This further re-enforces the idea that mistakes are bad and to be avoided at all costs. If we make mistakes, our entire eternal glory/reward/life with God and our family may be in jeopardy.

I believe this conditioning may be damaging because if a child begins to believe that they have greatness inherent in their being (as many children honestly believe after being taught this as gospel so convincingly by their parents and teachers - I know I did) and that mistakes are something to be avoided at all costs (which seems to be the emphasis of the now correlated, authoritarian LDS church) this can result in a great amount of shame (as opposed to guilt, since guilt is focused on the mistake and shame is focused on the worth of the individual). This shame can result in a great downward spiral of shame that becomes more pronounced and damaging when further mistakes are invariably made. The reason for this is because once a child believes that they are not of inherent worth, their very nature and identity is questioned. I think children are better at questioning their worth than questioning the badness of their behavior.

Thank goodness that at least a concept of a savior to redeem people from the shame they feel is taught. However, this teaching leads to further dependence on the organization that is purported to represent the dictates/demands of the "savior" in order to receive forgiveness. Redemption from the shame cannot ever come fully, however, because of teachings that pile on the damnation and judgment (potentially to the level of compounding the effect - which is the shame - of all of the past mistakes if repentance is not thorough or complete to the leaders' satisfaction) once the same mistake is repeated. This can also lead to a general state of apathy regarding achievement. The reason for this is due to the following line of thinking;

I am of inherent worth (because my parents and teachers have told me so)

I know I made a mistake (bad choice or I feel bad)

Since I made a mistake, I must not really be of inherent worth but, rather, my inherent worth is now tainted and not really the case. I am inherently bad.

Since I am inherently bad, what is the point of even trying to be good anymore. I may as well just give up since I can never live up to the expectations of who people say I am.

The solution to the problem of focusing on inherent worth of individuals and the potential damage of the shame spiral that is likely to result, is either to focus on the savior as redeemer or to focus on the ability of everyone to overcome mistakes through learning and experience.

The difficulty I have with focusing on the savior as redeemer is the lack of personal responsibility for dealing with the consequences of one's mistakes. It is not considered a valid teaching in our society that others should pay for the consequences of our individual mistakes, so why do we consider it a valid teaching in religion? There should be an alternative to the idea of a savior as redeemer for those who see the problem with a reliance on this idea and therefore reject it on the grounds that it does not fit with their experience in all other aspects of life.

If the message we teach to children is one of, "Hey, everybody makes mistakes, it's how we learn and grow." and that mistakes are even a necessary part of learning and getting better, the line of thinking is instead;

I am going to make mistakes, it is how I learn and become better

I know I made a mistake, I just learned what not to do.

We all make mistakes and I am not a bad person because I made a mistake. Hopefully I can learn from this experience and remember the bad result the next time a similar situation is encountered.

I think this is a much healthier outlook and should lead to a lack of apathy surrounding growth in people and their potential. The support for this idea comes from the fact that the lowest math scores by students in Japan are higher than the highest math scores here in the United States. Psychologists wanted to try and find out why this is the case so they went to Japan to observe students there. What they found was that students there encourage each other because they believe that no matter who you are, if you work hard enough, you can achieve mastery of even the most difficult problems. They value mistakes and see them as an essential part of the learning process. Here in the U.S. I think we believe that success in math is a talent or something that is a gift from God and therefore that people either have it or they don't. When failure is encountered, we are much more likely to think that we are just not gifted in that area and we then have a built in excuse for giving up on it.

Of course, I cannot say where this mindset, of valuing mistakes as part of the learning process, comes from. Whether it is due to cultural or religious influence in the society in Japan, I cannot say. What I can say is that I believe this simple shift in thinking about our worth and abilities could go a long way towards solving the problem of apathy in individuals concerning their abilities to succeed.

I also realize that this shift in thinking may be more difficult in light of the theology of Christianity, especially as taught in the LDS church. I'm not sure how LDS can even desire to make a shift in thinking in this regard since there is such a built in arrogance towards those outside their circle of influence. They would likely receive such advice as coming from "outside" their revelatory chain of command or from "the world" and immediately dismiss such things as not valuable. However, even if the idea could be received somehow, there is an immense amount fear towards what might happen if children make serious mistakes in judgment. While these kinds of mistakes are possible, if the negative consequences of such actions could be highlighted in a constructive way and seen as a lesson learned rather than something that requires a severe confession and repentance process (which leads to further embarrassment and re-enforcement of the idea that inherent worth has been tainted) I think it could be more productive.

There is some good news, though. The good news is that children are incredibly resilient and have been shown to be able to overcome teachings that lead to undue shame. Children who experience trauma at young ages do go on to mostly live happy and productive lives. The other good news is that the LDS church does seem to be distancing itself from teachings that emphasize that young people today are more valiant (or were more valiant in the pre-existence), and therefore of inherently more worth, than those of previous generations (or races of people).

My fear, however, is that if belief in LDS teachings of inherent worth continues to be emphasized, it may lead to a place where ones outlook on life becomes somewhat twisted. I think this happened to me. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it, but I do feel that my life outlook became somewhat warped. Warped because I was somehow able to maintain a belief in my inherent worth even while I would engage in behaviors that I knew to be bad and then somehow believe that I could minimize the effect the behavior had on me. I did this by believing that if I could keep the bad behavior a secret it really would not catch up with me or have an effect on my worth. I was only fooling myself. I simply did whatever I had to to maintain the belief that I was special and not capable of being "really" bad. I think it is true that as adults we tend to believe that we never do anything wrong. We judge ourselves by our best intentions and others by their worst behavior. It is through admitting and acknowledging that we have made a mistake (and believing it is OK because we are learning) that we are able to eventually overcome the cognitive dissonance that leads to justifying bad or foolish behavior. It is not until we can do this that the damage cognitive dissonance causes can be fully overcome.

Essentially, to get what I am saying here we need to further define cognitive dissonance as I am using it above. Cognitive dissonance describes a state that occurs in our mind when we hold two competing ideas that cannot both be true. In my post here this would be 1. the belief that a person is of inherent worth and 2. the knowledge that they have done something wrong. In order to maintain consonance (consistency or integrity) our mind will cling to the belief that is more painful to abandon. In this case, we are assuming that it is more painful to abandon the idea that I have done something wrong so the belief that one is of inherent worth is abandoned and the sinful nature of the individual is embraced. This leads to the shame that I described, which can turn into a self perpetuating shame spiral.

What happened to me in this example is that I embraced the belief that I was of inherent worth and sought to minimize the fact that I had done something wrong. I justified my behavior by thinking that it just wasn't that bad. I believed that I could keep it a secret or that it was understandable considering my circumstances. While I continue to be very good at justifying my behavior as congruent with someone who is superior to others and of inherent worth, my loss of belief has caused me to have to reevaluate this idea. I no longer see myself as superior to anyone outside of the LDS church, however, I do now see myself as being superior to those who maintain belief in LDS theology. This is something I have only recently begun to realize and need to be continually mindful of. I suppose it would be accurate to say that I have an arrogance toward those who continue to believe in God and religion which is likely not healthy. I hope that this could be considered a positive first step in working to overcome this attitude. As I come to better understand how cognitive dissonance, and the effect of thinking about my behavior has on my outlook and beliefs, I hope that I can arrive at a place of enlightenment and transcendence. Apparently I still have a long way to go.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Brain damage

I think I have finally figured out why I seem to be so disadvantaged when it comes to being able to feel the spirit and retrieve my testimony of the existence of God, Jesus, Satan (Isn't it interesting that if you accept the reality of God and Jesus that you must also accept the reality of Satan? Satan is scary.) and the truthiness of the LDS church as the only "true" church on the face of the whole earth (meaning all the other churches on the face of the earth are lacking in some way in the truth department, apparently). I have come to one overwhelming and inescapable conclusion; I must be brain damaged. This is the only logical conclusion I can arrive at based on the facts I have in my possession. Here is my train of thought on this;

Fact 1: I have no idea if I have felt the influence of the spirit in my life, let alone what this experience would actually be like were I to have it. The additional problem with this is that even if I were feeling the spirit as I have been told many times throughout my life that I would (or should be) no one seems to be able to tell me exactly at what moment I have actually felt the spirit so that I can identify the experience for future reference. Because it is certainly my experience that, while some people claim to have felt the influence of the "spirit" during some occasion, others haven't felt anything at all. I am now the one who doesn't feel anything at all when others claim to have felt the "spirit". Of course, this whole concept of "feeling" the "spirit" begs the question of which "spirit" they are feeling, since there are supposedly a whole host of "spirits" out there that are attempting to influence our thoughts at any given moment all the time.

Fact 2: The brain is the center of emotional activity and "feelings" in people. Since all feelings I have are the result of firing synapses and chemical and electrical activity in my brain, my inability to "feel" the spirit must be the result of a lack of connection somewhere in my brain or due to a part of my brain that is malfunctioning in some way.

Therefore: I must have brain damage.

It's a miracle! I have finally figured this all out! Now I have a great response when people inquire about me not going to church, or ask why I don't believe, I have a simple and concise response, "Oh, I have brain damage that makes it so I can't feel the spirit or gain a testimony."

This makes me wonder how extensive the damage really is for me and if I should have it checked out by a doctor who specializes in determining such things. I wonder if such a doctor exists and what they would tell me? Should I be worried? I mean, I seem to be able to function in life OK. I am able to operate an automobile to travel long distances. I can carry on somewhat coherent and logical conversations with other people. I can hold down a job and complete most of the duties I have there. I can walk and talk and chew gum at the same time. Of course there is this annoying habit I have of looking at things from the opposite perspective all the time, maybe that is the clear indicator of my brain damage. Hopefully people will understand and forgive my defect. I can only hope so.

Friday, April 6, 2012

My testimony

Children of the earth! I would like to make bare my testimony to you of a knowledge that is very plain and precious which I recently gained. You see, there is a phenomena that I have only recently become aware of, among the humankind, that deserves further reflection for sure. It is this interesting state that occurs among people of religious organizations, or affiliations, that causes them to feel that their beliefs are only found to be strengthened by information they encounter that may cause that very same organization to be discredited or, at a minimum, severely questioned in their integrity. I have often pondered this question as I have encountered this sentiment on at least a few occasions. Well, my friends, I think I have finally discovered a key reason for this reaction. The term for this phenomena is "cognitive dissonance".

Since I was introduced to this fabulous phrase, I thought my understanding of it was somewhat complete. However, I have now come to realize that I do actually have a capacity for further learning. I was recently introduced to a book that began to summarize exactly what this state of mind means but, more importantly, exactly how its impact is manifest in the behavior of people. You see, and here is the most precious truth of all, we tend to defend most vehemently that which we perceive to have sacrificed the most for. Let me try to say that even more plainly if I can; If we give up something (our money, time, talents, labor, self-respect, friends or family) to be part of a group (church, club, fraternity, social group, cult) then, the greater we perceive our sacrifice to have been, the greater extent to which we work to build up the merits of that organization - to ourselves and to others. This can be demonstrated repeatedly by looking through history or by experiment, if desired.

First, a look at history. It seems hardly worth mentioning, but the most extreme cults are where this oddity of human nature is most heartily exploited. Countless thousands of lives have been lost because devout followers of charismatic leaders were more willing to give up their lives than admit that their faithful leader was a little bit nuts. Why is this so? Why is it that, when a group of cult members discover that their leaders' predictions did not come to fruition - or that their leader is really just a liar and a fornicator - do they find themselves adhering ever more closely to what that same leader tells them to do? It is literally mind boggling! It defies reason to a most ludicrous degree! Yet it continues to happen. The amazing thing is, these people are not dodo's, at least we wouldn't consider them such by reviewing their level of education or history of worldly credentials. They are reasonably intelligent people, but their intelligence seems to fall flat on its face when observing their behavior towards that which they have the most faith in.

When Susan Atkins, a follower of Charles Manson, was interviewed by a grand jury, deciding whether or not to pursue charges against Manson and his devoted followers on seven counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder, she gave a remarkable, bloodcurdling testimony of the events. What amazed the jurors most was her complete lack of any sense of remorse or shred of guilt for the actions she had participated in. So what could possibly have caused someone to act in such a way? Well, the peculiarity and confidence of Charles Manson as a charismatic leader is likely a big cause, but what is even more close to the root cause can be found in what his followers gave up to become one of his followers. They left their homes in San Francisco and rode on a bus around before settling north of Los Angeles. In leaving their homes, they were fully committed to that lifestyle. Even though that lifestyle meant living off of scraps of food pulled from dumpsters and living in a crowded and communal community lacking many conveniences of personal hygiene. This sacrifice led to what is known as "self justification". Since nobody wants to entertain the thought that they have given up so much for nothing, we deal with the cognitive dissonance that is created in our mind (by being told or reminded somehow that what we are doing, or the person or ideal we are following, is less ideal than we originally thought) by justifying our actions.

We humans are great at rationalization and self justification.

The thought that we might be doing something that is harmful or painful, boring or worthless is overcome by the build-up of justification for our participation in the group. We build up the positives in our mind, while successfully ignoring, or blacking out, the downsides. People can come to us with factual information that, on the whole, completely discredits our faith, and what do we do? We adhere more closely to its tenets. We ignore the information. We label it as not credible. We label the person who gave us the information as not credible in some way. And, if the information turns out to be confirmed, we immediately work to minimize the impact the information has on our belief. We say things like, "My beliefs are only stronger now because of this." or "You haven't shaken my faith one bit." We use absolutes to minimize the damage that has been done. We may say things like, "I know this is true, absolutely." or we may be a little less certain, albeit not willing to concede we may be wrong by saying things like, "Well, its still the best thing out there." or "Have you found anything better?"

This phenomena has also been conclusively shown to be the case by experiment. Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills performed just such an experiment. Their hypothesis was that the greater the level of sacrifice, or amount of personal discomfort, the initiation rite was to join a group, the greater the individual would work to find the good that the group provided or express positive things about the group. Even if the group turns out to be boring or worthless, rather than admit that, it seems it is easier to enhance the value of the group than admit that we might have made a mistake in joining the group. Since the mind doesn't like to hold simultaneously contradictory information (e.g. The church may be a farse, but I have paid in money and time to be a big part of it) we tend to move away from the least comfortable conclusion to justify our behavior. For many, it is easier to negate or discredit any information that might show the church to be a fraudulent organization, and admit they have given so much to something ultimately not true, than it is to admit they might be wrong and everything they have given wasn't worth what they believed it was. This is a painful decision many members of the church face and, therefore, it is not difficult to understand why so many make this choice in the face of discrediting information.

When I think about what I gave to the church over my life, it is a wonder that I was able to see what I now see. I was willing to give up 2 years of my life specifically devoted to church service on a mission. I gave up 10% of my income (or at least tried to) for so many years. I gave up time with my loved ones so I could go out and visit members or attend boring meetings. For crying out loud, I stripped down naked in the temple so some old guy could touch me on my stomach, knees, chest and shoulder and pronounce me clean from the blood and sins of this generation! However, the way I have dealt with all that I gave up to be a member of the church in good standing (the severity of the initiation) is that I now tend to discount what I really gave up to join and, instead, I have chosen to enhance the seriousness of my finding the untruth of it. I am human after all.

This is my testimony and I leave it with you, to do what you will with it, in the name of all that is good and true in reality. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are you brainwashed?

Here I am going to outline a summary of the circumstances and techniques commonly used in brainwashing. Since brainwashing is a term that can sometimes have a negative connotation, we could also use the term sometimes utilized by those in the field of hypnosis; conversion. Conversion techniques are another name for brainwashing and involve some form of manipulation that is used to effect, or most often, control behavior. I believe many religious meetings (including those of the LDS church) utilize these techniques in varying degrees to extreme effectiveness which would, in my opinion, explain why many religious people have thought stopping mechanisms put into place to prevent them from being open to alternative explanations for "spiritual" experiences or being resistant to reading things that might cause them to question their faith.

The first thing to recognize about brainwashing or conversion is that people usually do not know it when they have been affected by such techniques. These techniques are very powerful and are very effective at controlling behavior and the most devious method of their use is when people have no idea when they are being used. People in the business of using forms of hypnosis, if they are respectable, will always disclose what they are doing and how they are doing it. Even when disclosed, however, even the most resistant people can still succumb to its control and influence. Needless to say, people that utilize such techniques unknowingly can be the most dangerous. It is also true that the techniques are utilized in many instances without a conscious awareness of what they are doing. Many people have been conditioned by effective conversion techniques and will go on to duplicate or reinforce those techniques in future circumstances.

Conversion and your mind
Conversion is accomplished through getting deeper into a process of progression of the state of suggestibility that your mind is in. The Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov (famous for the dog salivating experiments) identified the 3 general states of the human mind. The most aware and alert state is full beta consciousness. This is also known as the EQUIVALENT phase. This phase is marked by the brain responding equally to both strong and weak stimuli.

The next phase is the PARADOXICAL phase. In this state the brain responds more actively to weak stimuli than to strong stimuli.

The most suggestible state that the mind can be in is the ULTRA-PARADOXICAL state. This state is when our conditioned responses to stimuli, and patterns in behavior, can be flipped from positive to negative or from negative to positive.

As stated by Dick Sutphen on his website entitled 'The Battle for Your Mind: Brainwashing Techniques Being Used On The Public' he says,
"With the progression through each phase, the degree of conversion becomes more effective and complete. The way[s] to achieve conversion are many and varied, but the usual first step in religious or political brainwashing is to work on the emotions of an individual or group until they reach an abnormal level of anger, fear, excitement, or nervous tension.

The progressive result of this mental condition is to impair judgement and increase suggestibility. The more this condition can be maintained or intensified, the more it compounds. Once catharsis, or the first brain phase [ultra paradoxical], is reached, the complete mental takeover becomes easier. Existing mental programming can be replaced with new patterns of thinking and behavior.

Other often-used physiological conditions that are used to modify normal brain functions are; fasting, radical or high sugar diets, physical discomforts, regulation of breathing, mantra chanting in meditation, the disclosure of awesome mysteries, special lighting and sound effects, programmed response to incense, or intoxicating drugs.

The same results can be obtained in contemporary psychiatric treatment by electric shock treatments and even by purposely lowering a person's blood sugar level with insulin injections."

Environments of conversion
Some characteristics of initial meetings that utilize conversion techniques include things that are designed to get the participant into a trance like state. This may include:

    - Music with a beat between 45-72 beats per minute (which most closely mimic a slow resting beat of the heart - Most LDS hymns are played at this rate)

    - Lighting and/or effects that are designed to encourage relaxation (think of the lighting in the temple endowment - when you enter the room the lights are turned down to represent a lower kingdom of glory)

    - Speaking (or a speaker) that speaks in a monotone, repeating fashion. This is also referred to as a "voice roll" and is a patterned, paced style of speaking that is designed to induce a trance in the listeners. Ideally this speaking style resembles a metronome ticking away at a beat of 45 - 60 words per minute. In addition to hypnotists, this is a technique utilized by many attorneys in the courtroom when addressing jurors as well as preachers at charismatic style or revivalist church meetings. You could also identify this as the kind of voice used by speakers in many LDS church meetings or the voice recording used in the LDS temple endowment session.

Any or all of these things may be utilized to bring the participants to what is known as an alpha state. The alpha state is when the participant is ready to be reprogrammed with new information about themselves, their circumstances or how they perceive their surroundings or even what they think about to eventually affect behavior.  When in the alpha state, participants are 25 times as suggestible as compared to a fully beta or "conscious" state.

Other things that will aid in creating an alpha state in the participants includes cutting off the participants from their normal routine or contact with those they would normally communicate or associate with. This could be done in any number of places but, usually, it is done in a group setting where the participants are discouraged from leaving, using the restroom or attending to personal comforts.

The telltale signs that conversion techniques are being used in meetings are:

1. The initial meeting is held in a place that is cutoff from the participants normal surroundings and regular follow up meetings are suggested or encouraged to be attended. At these meetings the participants are asked (or reminded) to follow the rules of the group, encouraged to bring in new members and most participants have some form of trigger or activation button that will remind the participant of their promised loyalty to that group, leader or organization. At some point in the initial meeting participants are reminded of the importance of keeping their "agreements" and are asked to make a vow that they will keep their "agreements". This is what is done in the LDS temple endowment session. Members of the LDS church that have attended the temple are encouraged to return regularly to "renew" the agreements made there.

2. A rigorous schedule is utilized, or encouraged to be followed, to maintain a state of physical and mental fatigue of the participants. Long hours are demanded in order to prevent participants from taking time to relax or reflect on the demands presented by the group. This totally reminds me of all the work that is asked of members of the church. Between regular church services (which are actually long - at 3 hours each Sunday - compared to worship service times of other churches) there is a demand of time and energy placed on members to serve in callings, prepare for that service, attend meetings outside of worship services related to those callings, going on regular visits to members homes for home and visiting teaching assignments, going out and doing work with or for the missionaries, preparing meals for others in the group, participating in seminary or other firesides or instructional meetings, going to the temple regularly and doing genealogy or family history. All this is in addition to all of your regular work around the house, vacation time and job.

However, when you ask devoted members of the church about all this work they do for their religion, they say it is not that much, really, or that sacrifice is what God wants from them. Usually they don't realize how much time they actually spend in these activities which take away so much time from their families or relationships outside of church. I think this may be why many active members of the church don't have that many friends outside of their church circle of friends. This causes me to wonder how much of this is by the design of the LDS church.

3. Techniques are used to increase the tension or anxiety of the participants. I think of the tension created when it is Fast and Testimony meeting Sunday and everyone in the room is wondering if they should get up and speak and bare their testimony to alleviate the awkward silence in the room. Sometimes things that are said are done so in meetings to directly cause a feeling of tension in the participants.

4. Uncertainty. This is similar to number 3 above, but it would be more directly referring to the anxiety or uncertainty related to possibly having to speak in front of the group. A public opinion poll, conducted several years ago, indicated that the number one most-fearful situation an individual could encounter is to speak in front of an audience. It ranked above window washing outside the 85th floor of an office building. There is also the uncertainty that is created when one becomes aware that they may be asked about personal or private practices or behaviors (such as sex or masturbation, for example). Participants in groups where conversion techniques are utilized often feel tempted to reveal their innermost secrets because of the environment created, or are encouraged to be involved in activities that encourage them to "remove their masks". This is par for the course in regular worthiness interviews conducted by leaders in the LDS church.

5. Another tip off that conversion techniques are being used is the use of jargon or terminology that has a special meaning to those in the group or a meaning that is different from traditional understanding. Sometimes this language is vicious in nature. In the LDS church there is most definitely a lingo that insiders are familiar with. This vocabulary includes such terms as atonement, dispensation, "latter-days", Jesus Christ (in the context as framed by LDS, inc.), Plan of salvation, endowment, agency, celestial marriage, etc., etc. Again, when asking members of the church about this jargon, they do not readily admit that these words or phrases (or others like them) mean something different to those inside the church as opposed to those outside, but when asking for definitions of these terms it becomes obvious that this is the case.

6. The final tip off is that no humor is introduced until the participant has been fully indoctrinated. Once members are considered fully active, then expressions of humor and fun are encouraged to demonstrate the joy that the participants have now "found" as part of the group. This reminds me of my mission. Meetings with investigators or non-members were highly subdued until agreements were made to join the church. Then the interaction became much more jovial and upbeat. While I was unaware of this behavior I exhibited while on my mission, the more I think about it the more I realize this was true. Laughter and fun were reserved for when in the company of "believers".

While any of the above techniques may be utilized by organizations that seek to control their members, it is readily apparent that not all of these organizations would automatically be considered bad. Many times members of such organizations accomplish much good under this influence, however, members should be able to understand when and how these techniques may be utilized so they can have a more adequate ability to choose their level of participation or to not participate. Continual involvement may result in behaviors that become detrimental to the participant when they have no idea what has happened to them.

Organizational control
Once the initial conversion of the participant is accomplished, critical thinking or dissent among the ranks cannot be tolerated. In order to prevent cynicism from becoming an issue among the group safeguards are implemented. If these safeguards are not implemented, members become dangerous to the control of the organization. These safeguards are known as the decognition process. This three step system is designed to prevent questioning of the organization.

The first step is ALERTNESS REDUCTION. This essentially means that the participant is kept in a high state of exhaustion, or state of sensory deprivation or confusion, to keep them from being grounded and questioning the intent of the group or looking further into the history of the organization. The other outcome of this state is to cause the participant to be confused between fantasy and reality causing the nervous system to malfunction. More overtly, cults will cause alertness reduction through controlling diet and encouraging the consumption of only fruit or vegetables (or cookies and koolaid) and limiting the consumption of a well balanced diet. Being bombarded with intense or unique experiences can have the same effect. This totally describes the MTC (Missionary Training Center - where missionaries go to prepare for going on their mission) and mission experience. Missionaries are introduced to an entirely new and intense schedule and environment that completely alters their state of alertness to receive the programming of the organization.

The next step is PROGRAMMED CONFUSION. Alertness reduction prepares you for a mental assault on your common sense. Once in this weakened mental state, the participant is bombarded with questions which are designed to confuse the person into not being able to discern between reality and illusion. This is the point when perverted logic is likely to be accepted. This can either be introduced directly or subtly by encouraging the participant to arrive at illogical conclusions on their own. The LDS church, I think, will say that they don't make any fantastical claims directly, but their questions and statements don't leave much alternative when confronted by possible alternative explanations.

The final and most essential step of the decognition process is THOUGHT STOPPING. This is essentially the step that causes the mind to go "flat". These are altered-state-of-consciousness techniques that initially induce calmness by giving the mind something simple to deal with and focusing awareness. The continued use brings on a feeling of elation and eventually hallucination. The result is the reduction of thought and eventually, if used long enough, the cessation of all thought and withdrawal from everyone and everything except that which the controllers direct. The best example of this from LDS teachings is the advice that the spirit will teach the member "all things" that they need. The very phrases repeated by faithful members of the church are designed to enhance this thinking and mindset. Actual knowledge and observations are considered secondary to knowledge supposedly gained from the spirit.

Thought stopping is also programmed into members of the church in regards to reading material that goes against teachings of the leaders of the church or is endorsed by the church. At some point, I believe, members reach that alpha state that promotes suggestibility (probably during each general conference) because they are in a trance like, open eye, state (but essentially asleep on the inside) and it is then that members are "counseled" to not seek out anything that is contrary to church teaching. It is further programmed into members that any such information is likely deceptive, evil or controlling. The irony is that the church is the one that is really controlling its members.

The interesting thing is to observe members when they are confronted with information about the church that comes from the church itself. When something brought to their attention obviously goes against what they have been taught (or created for a belief from what they have been taught), the first reaction is to deny that the information is valid. Once they have been shown the source of the information in the context of the church publication, they immediately move to minimize the impact such information has on them or their testimony. It is amazing to witness the degree to which members will work to defend the church in this effort. Only those that are able to wake up to the conditioning that has been taking place on them (in some cases for a lifetime) through regular church participation can they really see what is going on.

Of course recognizing all of these traits of groups or organizations that utilize conversion techniques does not attempt to answer the philosophical question of whether or not people should be encouraged to participate in such groups. On the one hand, it can be argued that participation leads to doing good things for people, even if it is a result of brainwashing or subtle long term mental conditioning. I'm not sure I can answer that question sufficiently. I just know that for me, participation is unacceptable because of the reluctance of members of the church to acknowledge, or even listen to, my objections with what is being taught and the methods utilized to encourage activity and discourage dissent. I wish that productive discussions could be had about these observations, but unfortunately that just won't happen.

I hope this has helped in recognizing traits of organizations that work diligently to brainwash their members. I also hope that more people wake up to the many ways in which conversion techniques are being utilized on them all the time by many different groups, media or politicians because these techniques are only becoming more common. Be careful out there!

Additional reading:

For more websites like these, just use your favorite search engine and type in "brainwashing techniques".