Communities make happiness feel like an obligation. But the goal of happiness is elusive, a mirage that never can satisfy. While happiness should be enjoyed when experienced, contentment may be a better state of being to shoot for.
Early in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens introduces us to Sydney Carton. Initially, amongst the other characters, he is forgettable, pathetic, and even loathsome. Perhaps that is a hallmark of great literature. It can produce contemptible, disgusting characters like Sydney Carton in whom a man like me may see our own character reflected. I […]
Taking up the neighborhood barking rather than being informed.
Climate change is not a new revelation, but for those dependent on iron age revelations for their morality and as explanation of how the world works, the climate has been changing for some time. With the progress of secular morality and science, religion has scoured its unbreakable texts in an attempt to make them bend where and as much as they can. From Galileo’s geocentric model of the Solar System to Darwin’s The Origin of Species to Fred Hoyle coining the term Big Bang (as a derisive term, I may add), mankind has found that the scriptural explanations for the questioners existence at this place and time to be unnecessary. Advances in medicine, psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy have challenged the efficacy of prayer and faith healing and divine inspiration. I rejoice in this while recognizing a truth that ought to be embraced. As the villain of Stephen King’s, The Gunslinger, says, “This wealth of information produce[s] little or no insight.”
Here, the scriptures may have something to say of value. Indeed, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are quick to quote the Bible and praise it as an extraordinary work with literary value. There exists a monumental difference between holding to the Bible as scripture versus respecting it as literature. With the former, a reader is expected, under threat of divine punishment, to hold to every word as that of God himself! The epitome of morality and philosophy. With the latter, the burden rests upon the reader to take from it what they will and allows the freedom to disregard the horrors of it. No one need defend slavery as a practice that is morally good at best and morally justifiable at worst. No one need defend human sacrifice including filicide as moral acts. No one must rejoice in the mauling to death of children by bears as the act of a loving god. On the same hand, we can enjoy the euphony and insight of Proverbs and Psalms when they do offer valuable lessons.
I’ve always rather enjoyed versus such as: “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold therefore shall he beg in harvest and have nothing.” This echoes with the lessons of my father toward industry in the face of discomfort. I reject the Bible’s inerrancy and divine origin while carrying this life lesson with me. I can do that without seeing some importance in turning a woman into a pillar of salt for the heinous crime of looking back while her husband is not punished in any way for offering his daughters as sexual objects to slake the desires of a lustful mob.
I was long a strident defender of the Bible and the Mormon fan-fiction that followed it. Feverishly clinging to every word and story of dead and living prophets, drinking the Kool-Aid of the faithful Mormon party line, I contorted and distorted the horrors of the ancient books and modern obscenities to fit the misshapen holes my childhood conditioning had created in my mind and heart. I was an apologist in the making.
In materials science exist words who’s definitions apply well to the faithful mind. To be thixotropic is to become more fluid/flowable under static conditions. That is to say, if you are working with plaster, the more you shake or vibrate the material, the more flowable it will become. The kicker is that such a material will often harden faster after having been thus agitated. A related term is rheopectic. A rheopectic material will become hardened or less fluid when shaken or agitated. Many lubricants behave with this property.
I was admirably rheopectic as a believing member. When I encountered written or spoken challenges to my faith, I responded as I had been conditioned to do. Repeat to myself that these men are and were prophets of God. Console myself the knowledge that everything I heard was a lie meant to discredit a good and decent man like Joseph Smith who would never have practiced polygamy. “Here’s a little story about how he didn’t practice it.” Take refuge in Wilfred Owen’s “old lie” that it is good and honorable to die for my sense of patriotism as applied to my church. Like a good lubricant that kept the church moving forward, I clung harder to the gears and pistons and axles of God’s Kingdom.
Speaking of old lies, as has become a popular and appropriate motto of the Exmormon community, “Yesterday’s anti-mormon lies become today’s gospel topics essays.” When the essay on Racism in the church, euphemistically titled Race and the Priesthood, was released, the doubts I’d long harbored seemed, suddenly validated. It wasn’t just Satan trying to deceive me. I had been right all along to doubt the idea that the prophets can’t lead us astray. In fact, they could be wrong on an issue as paramount as denying the full blessings the church so smugly peddles to an entire race of people. And, despite previous prophets claims to the practice being so divinely inspired as to be doctrine, they claim with affected remorse, that the practice of denying black’s the priesthood and temple experience were the result of anointed prophets acting by their own prejudices. Brigham Young didn’t think he was the prejudice asshole the current prophets have just thrown under the bus. (He simply and arrogantly thought he was an inspired asshole.)
The second essay that I read, after I already felt the church couldn’t be what it claimed to be, was the Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham. I knew what the title page of the scripture said: “Written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” The strange theories proposed about catalysts and lost pages and whatever else the apologists had come up with flew in the face of what was actually written in the canonized text! You can’t have it both ways. My rheotropism became thixotropism. I was shaken by lies and bent by mental gymnastics to the point of breaking. Integrity will only allow one to remain faithful for so long under such conditions. Yes. I believe that a person who knows all the facts about the founding of Mormonism and remains faithful in the face of that knowledge lacks integrity.
Thankfully, rather than dig in my heels and/or resort to fundamentalism in an effort to remain faithful, for the first time in my life I submitted to something worthy of submission. Under the discomfiting vibration of new facts, I flowed into a new space and changed my mind. Or, rather, I allowed my once happily rigid mind to flow into a more honest if uncomfortable space where doubt had a home.
To change one’s mind under scrutiny is not a weakness. It is an admirable and wonderful thing.
I took a chance, this fall, to be involved in a community theatre production of Steven Dietz’s brilliant, insightful, witty play, This Random World. My mother in the production is a vivacious older woman trying to eke every savory moment out of her final years. Upon receiving an unfavorable diagnosis, she delivers a sweet and, to me, profound monologue on one thing she regrets from her life.
If I could do it all over again, Rhonda, I would have doubted more. What was I so busy being certain about? I chased away most of the wonder from my life by telling myself I already knew good from bad, right from wrong, left from right, and all the rest of it. God, what a tedious woman I must have been. But uncertainty…doubt…oh, lord, doubt is so appealing to me now. Doubt is the unmarked door.
When a person who lives off your donations, not to them, but to the God they claim to represent, tells you to “doubt your doubts” or to simply trust them because God won’t steer you wrong, doubt their doubts about your doubts. Recall that they repeatedly affirm that God is steering His church through a bunch of old men who, as they teach that God won’t allow them to lead the church astray, teach that their predecessors indeed led many people wrong.
To encounter new information and to entertain legitimate doubts is appealing to me now. Partly because I crave to actually stand for what is factual and good. A theory that not only allows itself to be censured but provides the standard to disprove itself and then, repeatedly stands against challenges to its veracity is a theory worth espousing. Sorry Jeff Holland, your claims that The Book of Mormon has managed to do this are wrong. You know it has and continues to fail under legitimate scrutiny. Still, you preach it’s moral and historical supremacy.
To change one’s mind under scrutiny is not a weakness. It is an admirable and wonderful thing.
This isn’t the real problem I have with the faithful. My real problem is that they claim their scriptures are THE standard for morality. However, when challenged with the simplest of standards: slavery, filicide, subjugation of women including as sexual slaves of their conquerors, codified racism that promotes a “white and delightsome” savior complex–the believer must defend the Bible or any other scripture as correct. I’m accused of presentism for even bringing it up when I don’t claim that God exists let alone that he is unchanging, all-powerful, and the author of such heinous outrages to dignity and morality! Look at yourself, believer.
Would you be a slave under the terms condoned by God in the Old Testament?
Would you gut your child to prove your love of God?
Would you tell your wife or daughter that her opinion doesn’t matter and that she should keep her mouth shut in church?
Do you consider yourself superior to another because of the hue of your epidermal layer?
Presentism would be holding another civilization accountable for their actions within the moral framework of our modern day. I don’t. I hold the God that they worship accountable for it which really means that I hold their epileptic, narcissistic spokesman of deity responsible. I don’t have to defend the text or the history. If God can command you to not eat pork, surely He can command you not to hold another person as property. If He can command you to have no more than one ear piercing per ear, He can command you not to declare that “faggots go to Hell.”
Luckily, now that I am an embracer of doubt, I realize that morality doesn’t work that way. If compassion and love must be commands, they are not compassion or love. It is, as Christopher Hitchens often pointed out, degrading to morality and destructive of ethics to claim that we can’t know or perform a right action without a divine mandate. If so, we would hear people claiming that slavery is still okay. The Bible never condemned it and the Bible is the moral standard. How often must we turn on the news and hear of a woman killing her child because God told her to? And God’s word, in whatever form and by whatever interpretation it is taken by the believer, becomes the capricious, relativizable standard for morality.
Grotesquely, there are those who would say, indeed have said in my presence, “Maybe God did command her to kill her infant. She’ll be rewarded in Heaven for doing as God commanded her, even if she has to pay a price to our modern society.” The lesson taken by these individuals who admire the man, Abraham, who would gut his kid to show his devotion to Goda, have found their way to excuse the behavior. Ought we not to fear God more than man? Shouldn’t we be willing to do as God asks of us no matter the consequence imposed by man? Old Testament Jehovah will create a law that punishes people with death for wearing mixed fabrics or gathering fuel for a fire on the Sabbath. The New Testament incarnation of Jehovah, even Jesus Christ, introduced the concept of eternal punishment or damnation. Modern society, though it has failed from time to time, has still succeeded in adopting insanity as a viable criminal defense. The growing tradition of secular thinkers dedicated to religious and social pluralism offer a higher value to the individual’s life than God who would use a child to test the adult’s devotion. Isn’t God omniscient? Shouldn’t he know their level of commitment without such a barbaric demand?
Oh, you are a Bible believing Christian? And others are misinterpreting the text but, somehow, you have it right?
Tell that to Jephtheth.
I believe it is a safe assumption that, of all the women stoned to death for adultery, many had a father and mother and sibling who threw stones. Better to follow God’s mandate than risk His wrath. Better to show your devotion to Him through murdering your own child to fulfill His commands. (As an aside: How many fetuses were aborted by this barbaric practice? Abortions performed in the name of God.) This type of horrid practice still takes place in Islam with honor killings and capital punishment for women and young teens who are the victims of rape.
Is God omniscient? If he knows the woman will kill her child and still demands it of her, this seems horribly meddling, capricious, and cruel. As if he actually delights in the torments of the parent and child. That he would make victory over his enemies dependent upon a grotesque bargain with Jephthah, knowing before hand that the man’s daughter would be the sacrifice.
I grow tired of Bible-dependent believers telling me that I misunderstand a book I’ve read more than they have. One read through will usually be enough, and I’ve surpassed that lowly number. I even had an acquaintance send me a link to the Jehovah’s Witness website and a video that proceeded to tell me that everyone misunderstands the Bible. This is the major problem of our world. God has spoken we simply fail to understand His word. I’m too stupid to comprehend it, but they are not. Come to us and understand the Bible. Sorry, JWs, I was raised a Mormon. They feel the same way about you. The fact is that the Bible is quite easy to understand if you take it at face value, realizing it was written by bronze and iron age agrarians, and written by men for males of the human species. If I assume that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, that his word never changes, and that whatever He says is good, then I don’t need to interpret much. I can see how horrible it is, just like you can and do see it. And I reject it rather than make excuse for it.
The believers who transcend the horrors of the Bible demonstrate that they are good and decent to the extent that they do NOT follow the Bible as their sole source of morality. But the belief in it’s divine nature is a precursor to being convinced that the atrocities within it are not atrocities at all. Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Those who believe the Bible is God’s word are doomed to follow it. It has been and will be our children that pay the price for our devotion to ancient screeds and prehistoric myths.
I’m sorry your truth is inconvenient for you. But, please, Believers, at least own it and be honest about it.
a–Taken from a monologue by Christopher Hitchens in answer to a question during a debate with a monotheist.
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Born, raised, and a Mormon through my mid-thirties. Navigating the world with an open mind and intellectual honesty strains a marriage built on dogma. Like Michael Scott, “somehow I manage.”
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