Tuesday, February 7, 2012

10 reasons to stay in the church

I have had a hard time getting up to writing about the reasons to stay in the LDS church. I guess I need to understand that while I don't find any reason tenable for me personally at this time, there are those that have reasons for staying and those reasons are perfectly valid. I hope their reasons fall somewhere on this list. So, without further ado, here is Mormon Expression's 10 reasons to stay in the LDS church:

10. Because enough of it is true. Since I am such a black and white thinker, the truth or falsehood claims of the church are very important to me. Even though I cannot indulge in church participation because of my characterizations of seeing the church as being mostly bad, I suppose some could say that there is some truth there. I guess they would say that it can be found in bland and non-specific counsels from the "brethren" to do good stuff and not engage in bad behavior. This is so hard to write because I just can't buy into it. However, the flip side of this is that if I attempt to hold any organization up to the standard I am demanding of the LDS church, would I ever be a member of ANY organization? This is a great question...and one I am not prepared to consider right now because it hasn't come up for me yet. But it seems to me that while any organization may have shortcomings or flaws, what should be of primary consideration is the mission or values of the org. If I want to be more involved in the education of my children, it would make sense that I would join the PTO or PTA. Certainly, I wouldn't demand perfection out of them, but that is not their stated purpose either (i.e. to make everybody perfect), but when an organization has as part of its stated purpose for existence, to make it's members perfect, there should be a right to demand some level of perfection on the part of that organization.

9. The church provides structure and direction for life. This one is actually the most appealing to me. The thing that I struggle with is wondering what my life might have been like if I had not been brought up in the church. As a believer, I would have readily confessed that my life would have probably turned out in the gutter. However, honestly, I don't think I gave myself enough credit when I thought that. Sometimes I envy those that were brought up in normal households, being taught normal worldviews, that were not so skewed by religion. But then I think about those that I know who were brought up under such circumstances, and, maybe I just don't know very many of them very well but, my opinion of them is that there is a large variety of attributes (good and bad) among them. I think much of the drive in my life to be a seeker of good things and have ambition and strive to become more was rooted in my LDS upbringing. Unfortunately, I saw those who did not believe as I did as inferior. The worldview that I am special and have limitless potential (to become like God after all!) was very appealing and caused me to want to excel...of course, it is just as likely that I haven't really excelled at much of anything but I believe that I have, and that feeling is at least a very optimistic one, right? So, even though it may have been self-delusional, it may have caused me to feel that my aspirations were above the curve, and that is at least noteworthy, I suppose. Of course, that just breeds more questions about the virtue of honesty leading to feelings of apathy and self contentment with mediocrity as compared to delusion that leads to inaccurate feelings of grandeur and self accomplishment...whilst alienating many in your social circle. I don't have any good thoughts on which is better, except that I am a strong leaner towards honest, evidence based, mediocrity.

8. Hope of future rewards or to avoid punishment in the afterlife. This would be the reason of hedging your bets. The really sad thing is that if the believers have it all correct, then they will be able to gloat on for eternity saying I told you so (which I would hope would get old for them at some point), but if the atheists are right, they lose out on any "See, I told you so" gloating after we all die. Sometimes it just sucks to be right about stuff. My feeling is that if it is as believers claim and there is some final judgment that damns me to an eternal existence of servitude, then at least I will be at peace knowing that I truly cared for others and did not wish for certain (very large, I might add) segments of the population to be excluded from living in my mansion of eternal reward and glory. The whole thing sounds a little fascist to me and I will likely just opt for being cast out with all the other partying homies. At least it will be not as boring. Although having celestial sex all the time with multiple partners to populate planets with my spiritual offspring does sound pretty enticing. (Imagine, all the fun of sex all the time, without actual, physical babies being made with all the crying and feeding and dirty diapers...hey, that sounds pretty good alright! Unless they have spiritual crying or spiritual poo to clean up?) My approach to this is to just wait and see. And if Joseph Smith was right after all, there is hope for everyone since endless doesn't necessarily mean forever, but is just a title that is representative of God's punishment. At some point it will end and I will be able to make it to the top after a few millenia of suffering. So, I'll just arrive at the party when it is just starting to get good. But, it won't be good til I get there, so that's just too bad for those that are having to wait around for me to get there. I am a great life of the party, by the way.

7. Church is actually enjoyable. Not because of the social aspect, either (that's next up). The teachings, the feelings of being part of something bigger than yourself...these can all be reasons that people enjoy staying active in church. I personally don't find it enjoyable now, I find it boring and counter-productive, but that's just me and where I am at.

6. The social aspect. Friends, neighbors and community members are all there on a regular basis. Church is like a very regular meetup group for some. People can go to church purely for the social aspect and the church actually has a lot to be enjoyed in this respect. For some people truth or falsehood is not really important, but being surrounded by like-minded people in frequent social settings is what it is all about. I think this requires a certain personality type, of which I happen to not be. While the social aspects of church cannot be entirely overlooked, the cringing that I experience when thoughtless and potentially hurtful or damaging things are said is enough to keep me away. I actually think the church is much different in the social aspect than it was when I was growing up. The church used to be a vibrant and creative place where creativity could be expressed and appreciated in a myriad of ways. That is just not so any more. The stage in our ward chapel was replaced with classrooms during the renovation to the building that last took place, so there is no longer any emphasis on ward "productions", roadshows or talent shows. These things have just been correlated out of the church and this is just sad. This cultural shift makes it harder for people, in my opinion, to actually be fully in because of the social aspect. Much has been lost here in recent decades.

5.  The church helps people to live a better life or be a better person. Why is this so hard to type? It is like I am trying to say all of this with a straight face, but I just can't do it. While the church does provide a foundation for being an obedient child, good people can actually be better. I think growing up in the church is a groundwork for being good, but it is based on a model that does not encourage free thought or instilling true freedom of choice. It is one side of the coin, a fear or reward based outlook that cannot be sustained by those who think about their circumstances to any degree. While I guess some would rather stay child-like and ignorant, I think at some point people just need to outgrow that limited framework. But it is very hard for me to maintain respect for someone who wants to believe in something that is designed to stifle individuality and free thought and keeps everyone who believes it in a perpetual child-like state. I especially take issue with teaching people that certain behaviors are prohibited without ever providing a reason for it. I am very much an advocate of teaching the potential consequences of an action or behavior as a tool of prevention...and this makes sense, but when something is prohibited and the reasons often given don't jive with actual experience or outcomes (like masturbation leading to becoming homosexual, for example), the commandments just come out looking like foolishness in my opinion.

4. Makes up for mistakes made as a parent or re-enforces parental authority. It takes a village to raise a child. Having teachers and peers influencing your children can only be a good thing if you, as a parent, are less than valiant. While I do think children learn from more than just their parents (and they will regardless of how much we don't want that to be the case), I don't think using peer pressure to influence their thinking is exactly beneficial. In may case, I am insecure because I worry that my children will see my disbelief as abandoning them and eventually they will choose to reject me. In my case, having my children be encouraged to continue active and attend church feels like a rejection. I can then be seen as a very big mistake of a parent. In my case, having my children continue to attend church is a complete reversal of my parental authority. This reason really only works if both parents stay in the church together. And, even then, if one parent expresses doubts, they are quickly squashed for doing so since the decision has been made to stay active in the church. In the church doubting is discouraged and a sign of weakness - do not heed the doubters!.

3. To keep your job, get a job or maintain status in the community. If this were the case, I could completely understand staying in the church for that reason. All I can say is, I would keep my ears open for other opportunities within the company I worked for or, at the very least, a way to distance myself from LDS supervisors. At my work, my supervisor is LDS, but he came to me with his doubts before I ever even had any. Now that I am not a believer, it is something we are able to share in common every once in a while. I am very fortunate to be in the situation I am in and the job I am at.

2. To keep family relationships in tact. That is; with parents, siblings, cousins, etc. I haven't told my grandfather about my disaffection from the church for this reason. I really don't want him to know (although, I'm pretty sure he already does, but he hasn't said anything to me yet). I don't live close enough to him for him to be able to find out first-hand though, so that is a bonus. What continues to amaze me as I observe interaction among family members who belong to the church, is how little they talk about the church and its teachings. If church stuff does come up, it is just reciting what was taught in a sunday school class and then the conversation usually moves quickly to something else. Once I realized this, it made gatherings with believing family members so much more tolerable. Since difficult questions never really come up, let alone get discussed, I have been able to not worry about being in the room at such. If somebody wants to talk about some doctrinal question, they would quickly realize that I know more than most people they know. I have even been able to use my knowledge of the subject to help answer some doctrinal questions. I enjoy doing this because it, I hope, causes them to think about how somebody so knowledgeable can be so in error. I do enjoy increasing the cognitive dissonance in others, that is for sure.

1. To keep your marriage in tact. I am very fortunate that my wife has not said that I have to go back to church or she will leave me. I don't know if she has ever thought that, but I am glad she hasn't said it. I really feel for those that are not as fortunate as I am though. I know first hand of the ultimatums that have been received by spouses over church activity. It is so sad. I have also seen the families torn up by that thinking as well. It sure does seem ironic to me that members of a church that teach so openly about their interest in staying together as families in heaven would rather tear up their family than risk having a family member not active in church. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that families can be together forever as long as all the conditions are met. Seems to me that an asterisk should be placed after that phrase whenever it is used in marketing for the LDS church to make the advertising true. It's like the intention is really to break families up under the guise of keeping them together. To me, it seems like the Nazi's publicly declaring that they were not mistreating the Jews while they were secretly exterminating them. The LDS church says their teaching is wonderful and beautiful that families can be together forever, while secretly they know that this means many family members will wander and become lost forever. "Families" ought to mean distinguished and lonely guests who all sit around and "wonder" what became of their missing family members. This picture, however, is very different from the one they paint at church. This is just one of the many discrepancies that can be found in the church if people only look for them. Fortunately, I am more amused by these kinds of things than angry as much as I used to be. I am glad to be let go of so much of the anger, but when I think about these things I just get sad.

Well, I was hoping that I could be more open to the position of staying in the church by writing my thoughts on the 10 reasons people could give for staying in the church as presented by Mormon Expression, but obviously, I am just not there. I really want to come to appreciate faith for the virtue that I'm sure it must hold somewhere, but I am still searching for it. Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

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