Thirty Days of Blog, Day 9a: Your Beliefs (Religious)

Thirty Days of Blog, Day 9a: Your Beliefs (Religious)

Hey, I never said it’d be thirty consecutive days of blog.

This is an interesting topic… and one that I generally don’t talk about much with anyone. I feel like my beliefs in both religious and social matters are deeply personal. I don’t mind if your beliefs are different from mine. In fact, they probably are. I’m cool with that. I’m not gonna try to tell you why I think that your beliefs are wrong unless you push me to. But you know what? I’ll talk about my spiritual beliefs here and then in a later post do a rundown in bullet points of my political beliefs (spoiler alert: I’m pretty much a traditional liberal, although there are a few things that I majorly disagree with).

This is a bit hard to write about, so I’m gonna hold my breath and try. If I say something that you disagree with, please let me make it clear before you start reading… I’m not out to attack your beliefs. I’m simply stating my own. And if you don’t like me perverting the original intent of the Thirty Days of Blog topic, I’ve got three words for ya…

I was raised to make my own choices when it came to spiritual matters (and for that I’m insanely grateful to Mom and Dad). I did go to church (LDS, specifically) with The Parents for a little while when I was young (I think when I was four was the last time I remember going regularly) but for most of my younger years I didn’t go (and didn’t feel ostracized by the other kids in my neighborhood and school… I was lucky, since I’ve heard of far too many other kids who ARE shunned). We had occasional (and unmemorable) visits from the home teachers (for those of you who don’t Habla Mormon-yol, home teachers are male, priesthood-holding members of the local congregation or ‘ward’ who are called in pairs to visit several families in the ward area a month and talk to them about… well, anything really, but also talk about a religious or moral concept as part of the “lesson”, and yes, this is relevant) because Mom, even though she’s an atheist, likes talking to them. I knew about basic Christian (and LDS-specific) concepts and that there are other religions out there too, but I was never overly interested. I went to Church a few times but not that often… enough that at one point I got a CTR Ring and wore it for a little while.

When I was 9, we were in the process of moving from our condo into a house and living in the basement of my paternal Grandma and Grandpa’s house. At the urging of Grandma, I started attending church semi-regularly with them. I got a Book of Mormon with my name on it from her for my birthday that year (that I still have) and started reading it and becoming more interested in Church, but not to the extent that a lot of my relations did.

When the house was finished and we moved out I… didn’t really go to church all that much anymore. I went every so often, but Church involves getting up early and y’all know that’s not something I’m particularly good at. We got our new batch of home teachers after the ward had split (one of many, many times before we moved) and one of them was a Brother Price (Another Mormon trivia tidbit: Everyone else in church is “Brother” or “Sister”, although “Elder” is used for High Priests and Missionaries and Bishops are generally referred to as such).  Brother Price seemed to like me and wanted me to attend more regularly (the fact that he also was the Sunday School teacher for my age group probably played a part).  I started going to church regularly, and on top of that…

Missionaries.  At the time it seemed like they showed up out of the blue, but as I’m writing this post I’m getting the sneaking feeling that someone, maybe Brother Price or some other well-meaning ward member, called them and said that our family was interested.  Since Mom and Dad were already baptized into the church missionary visits wouldn’t really do much, but I wasn’t.  I don’t remember the names of the two Elders who gave me the standard mission lessons, but I do remember that one of ’em was from Chicago and his companion was from somewhere Central American-ish.  (Also, as a side note… you’re a 19-year-old Mormon boy who lives somewhere outside of the Beehive State. You’re about to get your mission call… and you’re called to… the Provo, Utah mission. Wouldn’t you be a little bit disappointed? Or would you be happy because your mission would be a cakewalk?)

I did a lot of soul searching and a lot of praying while I received my lessons (as was strongly suggested for me to do) and came to the conclusion that The Church was true, that Joseph Smith received revelation from Heavenly Father and Jesus, that the Book of Mormon was another testimony of Jesus Christ, that Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings, that Lehi, Nephi, and their whole clan landed in the Americas by boat from Israel and settled here, and all of the other things that the members of the LDS Church believe.  I decided to get baptized.

For most kids in Utah, baptism is done with a lot of other people.  A Saturday is set aside and all of the kids in the stake (stake = a collection of wards) who recently turned 8 (and their families) meet in the chapel, hymns are sung, and talks are given by the Bishop, Stake President, and various others.  You then dress in baptismal clothes (generally a  white jumpsuit and a pair of tighty whities if you’re a boy) and then one by one they are led into the baptismal font with the person doing their baptism (a male who holds at least the Aaronic or “lesser” priesthood), fully immersed under water (if any part of your body comes up out of the water you’ve got to do it again), and voila.  You are a baptized and full member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  A party afterward with your family is optional.  Since I wasn’t a typical Mormon kid, though, my baptism was a lot more like a traditional missionary baptism… there was a small presentation that was done in a smaller room in the church, the guest list is more a group of family, friends, and some of the other members of the ward (like the Home Teachers and some neighbors). I got to choose the hymns that were sung (I know I had “Praise To The Man” and “The Spirit Of God”, I think there was one other), and the speakers were more personal… the missionaries, Brother Price, and the Bishop. Maybe more, I don’t quite remember. From there the rest was the same. I had my paternal grandpa do my baptism.

For the next five or six years, I was fairly active in the Church (although I had my own days where I didn’t go). I didn’t talk down to my parents for not going or try to force my beliefs on my brother (who got baptized at 8) because I was (and am) a very strong believer in Free Agency— the belief that EVERYTHING IN YOUR LIFE is YOUR choice and that YOU are responsible for whatever results come from it, whether it be a good or bad choice. If Mom and Dad didn’t want to go to church or had incompatibilities with what the Church believes, that’s their decision and I’m not going to press the issue. If I wanted them to come with me, I would ask. I received the Aaronic priesthood at twelve and became a deacon. I passed the Sacrament during the main gathering of the ward (“Sacrament Meeting”). I became the President of the Deacon’s Quorum briefly. I became a teacher at the age of 14 and Brother Price and I did Home Teaching at a few people’s houses. I became a priest at the age of 16 and blessed the Sacrament. I went to Seminary in High School (for LDS kids, that’s a class that’s generally held before school at a local house if you’re not in Utah or a “Release Period” that has you going to a nearby on-property building run by the church to be taught). I said silent prayers over my food and would occasionally pray at night. I would read the Book of Mormon, Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (a log of modern revelation, mostly from Joseph Smith), and Pearl of Great Price (a collection of Biblical works not included with the KJV Bible). I had yearly bishop’s interviews where the Bishop asked me deeply personal questions (Are you a full tithing payer? Do you look at pornography and/or masturbate? What do you believe?) and I answered them truthfully. I got a Temple Recommend (similar process to the Bishop’s Interview) and did temple work (Baptism for the Dead, which I’m not going to go into here). I participated in Boy Scouts and various joint activities with the young women.

So what made me start questioning things and led me to what I believe now?

One thing was a big question in my mind… why don’t women have the Priesthood? I know that the official position in The Church was that the raising of families is just as sacred and powerful as anything that Priesthood holders do. It still didn’t really sit right with me. Same with how late it was before black men were able to hold the Priesthood (1978!) and how coincidental that that revelation came with Brigham Young University’s declining dominance in sports. Or how the native peoples of the Americas are believed to be descendants of the Lamanites (a generally wicked people, long story). Or (and this is a big one) the whole polygamy thing and how revelation by the Church’s fourth President, Prohpet, Seer, and Revelator coincided with a renewed push for Statehood for the Utah Territory. It’s not to say that I didn’t believe in them, per se, but something just wasn’t right to me.

Another huge thing was the hypocrisy that I saw on a daily basis. Even though we were taught to love one another as Christ did, I saw all kinds of horrible things being said about other people and saw how non-Mormon families were ostracized. How gay and lesbian kids were treated. How many other principles of The Church were followed on Sundays and that’s it. How I knew kids who were doing drugs, drinking, and having sex every other day of the week but were wearing their white shirts or dresses and taking the Sacrament without anything else being said about it. It bothered me a lot (and I suppose that if I wasn’t in Utah I probably would’ve seen a lot less of that amongst my LDS peers but who knows).

The final straw, though? That came when we got a new bishop. Our old bishop, Bishop B (who had an endearing habit of, whenever he saw me, saying “Brother (my actual name)!” in a warm, friendly voice) was called to the position of Stake President and we got a new bishop… a bishop whose name I’m not going to mention (but if you knew me then, you know who it is). This bishop decided that he was going to badger me on a weekly (or more if we saw each other at Scouts or other non-Sunday church things) basis about my little brother, Mom, and Dad not going to church. Ask me why they didn’t go and why I wasn’t compelling them to and basically making me feel like a bad person because I was the only person in my family who didn’t go to church.

Bishop B never rode me about that. My neighbors didn’t ask me why Mom and Dad didn’t go. They just liked us because we were good kids/neighbors. But it was the new bishop’s personal goal to get my entire family going to church whether I liked it or not, damn the consequences. I endured about six months of this before finally saying “Enough. If MY BISHOP, my spiritual leader, is going to grind me down because The Fam isn’t going? I’m not going either.” Family is the most important thing in the Church. They win.

From there, I started questioning more things and being a little bit more critical of what I read and heard during the Church’s General Conferences. I’d noticed a trend of less talk of Free Agency and more talk of Obedience. I started wondering how it could be that the People of the Americas could be descended from the Lamanites when there’s no genetic link between them and people from Israel. Why the Church was controlling everything politically in my state when Agency was one of the biggest things that the Missionaries talked about. How it seemed (to me) like the revelation about polygamy was a cover because Joseph Smith was having sex with a 14-year-old. How there are so many contradictions in the Bible and how few commandments therein are followed. How it seemed like the bulk of wars in history were done In The Name of God.

In fact, was there even a God? And if there is, how could he, being omnipotent, turn a blind eye to the problems of the world? Was Jesus resurrected? Why am I here? What is my purpose?

And so on.

Eventually, I came to a few conclusions…

    1. I don’t identify as truly being LDS anymore. I know the Church doctrine and history and will even defend some of the more “out there” concepts of the Church, but I’m not “one of them”.
    2. I don’t really like organized religion all that much. I believe that spiritual beliefs are something that are sacred to you alone and if you don’t want to share them or discuss them, you don’t have to. I don’t think that you need to be part of a group of people to be close to God (or Nature, or the Spirits, or whatever else you believe in).
    3. I don’t think that there’s “one true religion”.
    4. I DO believe in God… or something or things like Him/Her/It. There are too many unexplained things out there for me not to. However, I don’t feel like I have to worship any type of higher power to be happy. Again, a personal choice. If you want to, I’m happy for you. It’s just not me.
    5. I believe in the soul. In fact, I believe in the eternal nature of the soul. I don’t know what kind of afterlife or reincarnation cycle or whatever there is, but I believe in that too.
    6. As a follow-up, I hope very strongly (I don’t know if it’s quite a belief yet, but close enough) that there is, in fact, some type of system in place that holds you accountable for what you do in life. Basically, I think that if you’re not a dick and don’t do anything horrible, what’s here after you die can’t be altogether that bad. If you are a dick, I hope that you get punished for it. If you’ve led a virtuous life and you think that you’re gonna end up in Valhalla, drinking mead with the other warriors and making it with Valkyries or whatever, you’ll end up there. If you believe in that but you’ve led a horrible life, I hope that you end up in the opposite of that.
    7. I believe in the permanence of the family unit provided you’re close enough to them. I DON’T believe that if you were born to a man (HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE AND NOT ME) who beat you as a kid and sexually abused you that you’re going to end up permanently linked to them… but I hope so much that Grampy is with Grammy right now.
    8. My belief in a soul also applies to animals that are part of your family or that you were very close to. If I die today, go to heaven or whatever, and Tee, Curly, Moe, Shemp, Ubu, and all of the other dogs that I’ve been close to in my life aren’t there… I don’t want to go.

And if I’m wrong about all of this? I’ll accept that. There’s no way that any of us will ever truly KNOW about all of this until we die.

I bear the Church very little ill will. Yes, I don’t like that old bishop I had. I don’t like him at all. I don’t like what they’ve done with Prop 8 or the alcohol laws in Utah or what various members of Church leadership says. I think that as a whole the LDS Church has done FAR more good than harm in this world (through charity work and keeping genealogical libraries and stuff). In fact, I believe the same thing to a varying extent about most religions out there.

I think that some people really need the structure that an organized religion provides. I’m not one of them. If you need it, like it, or believe in it, good! If you don’t believe in God, that’s good too.

Just don’t be a dick, treat everyone with respect, don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t intentionally cause harm to anyone in a physical OR emotional way, if you screw up you should apologize for it and do whatever you need to do to make amends, try to turn the other cheek if someone does you wrong, and whatever happens when you die can’t be all that bad.

And for the one or two of you who stayed through the nearly three thousand words that I spat out above, thanks for reading. I know it’s another Spin Rambling Diatribe, but I’ve been feeling the need to write something like this for a while.

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