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 earth...in 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 personally...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 individual...it 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.