Instead of giving much thought at all to Thanksgiving (or the anniversary of this blog, which is sometime around this time, I think?), I have thought about religion. But more specifically, what makes religion work for the majority of its adherents? What makes religion attractive for the majority of its adherents?
And, in contrast, what makes religion fail to work for those who do not believe and/or those who do not practice? What makes religion repulsive?
In thinking about this, I can’t help but use Mormonism as a framework. I have a friend, Jared Anderson, who often says that his ideal for religion is that it might become so good it doesn’t need to be true. What does this mean, though?
In the context of Mormonism, I can say that it doesn’t seem likely that the Pandora’s box of anthropology, Egyptology, or population genetics is going to close up. (Not that these are super pressing matters to me, but still.) To put it in another way, it seems unlikely to me that I’m going to become persuaded to believing the Book of Mormon because I think of it as a literal history, or the Book of Abraham because I think it is a conventional translation. At the same time, I recognize that for many religious adherents, religious truth is more than (or perhaps, separate from) a discussion about what stuff exists in a physical sense.
Still, at the end of the day, even if I try to discuss Mormonism apart from what stuff exists in a physical sense (did a person name “Nephi” ever travel from ancient Israel to the Americas?), I’m not so sure if, for me, the truth claims that are “more than” or “separate from” those things persuade me either.
The basic problem is this: In addition to not finding Mormonism (or other religions) to be factual, I don’t typically find religions to be relevant to me.
Earlier this month, over at Millennial Star (trigger warning: Millennial Star post), ldsphilosopher wrote a post about responding to heresy and apostasy. Because ldsphilosopher’s post addressed President Uchtdorf’s Come, Join With Us talk from General Conference, I subconsciously related it with my own earlier post asking religious people: why do you go to church? If you recall, I didn’t address much of believing in the orthodoxy, because I was speaking out to the marginalized and fringe of 21st century Mormonism. Instead, I talked about the sense that where many see their churches as a place where one can be vulnerable and open, I don’t really see this a lot in Mormonism. Mormonism for fringe Mormons is more of a place to learn to bear things silently…which if that’s something you can find value in, then great, but understandably, if you’re looking for more openness, personal authenticity, and self-disclosure, then you might make different choice.
So, I was interested in hearing what ldsphilosopher had to say.
The basic tension ldsphilosopher is seeking to discuss in his post is the tension of having diversity of thought and belief in the church, while also having positions on orthodoxy. To snip from the post:
How do we respond to those who don’t just see things differently, but see things differently in a way that clearly contradicts established, core Church teachings? Is this diversity that we should celebrate and encourage? Or is this heresy that should be discouraged? Note: I’m not talking about being a Democrat. I’m not talking about believing that the lost tribes of Israel were abducted by aliens. I’m talking about central issues like the law of chastity, the Proclamation on the Family, the immorality of elective abortion, etc., and I’m defining these as “central” issues because they are what prophets and apostles have recently expressed concern about in recent conferences. Are they core doctrines in the same sense that the Atonement of Christ is? Maybe, maybe not — but when Elder Oaks and Elder Nelson explicitly say that Latter-day Saints cannot condone same-sex relationships, I feel like they are sending a clear message.
The basic way that ldsphilosopher answers this question is to distinguish between “heresy” and “apostasy”. Read more…
The past few weeks in the Mormon world (and especially the fringey internet Mormon world) have experienced thousands going through the anticipation, the experience, and the disappointment of General Conference. I’m too late to add much new to most of the conversations…especially conversations about the assertion of radical self-respect from Ordain Women. Someone wrote on Facebook that General Conference seemed to them to be the weekend when the church undid all the positives that had built up in the prior six months on progressive issues — however limited or narrow those positives might have been.
And in some sense, that seems to be an accurate assessment, at least to me. As a moderator to a fringey internet Mormon facebook group, we want the conversations to be more than anger and disappointment, but at some sense, whatever wounds that existed before are going to keep getting reopened each General Conference. That’s the nature of the situation.
In a private message board that is completely unrelated to Mormonism, someone created a topic asking, “Religious people, why do you go to church?”
The message board in question leans far on the areligious, atheistic side, so the topic did not attract many comments, but I found two comments that were submitted to be quite interesting:
There are a few reasons. Being surrounded by fellow Christians in a positive environment feels good. Not thinking about crap going on in your life feels good. Singing and praising GOD leaves you with a warm feeling inside and gets your mind off of negative things.
That is, at least, my Christian perspective of it.
I was extremely involved in the church until about halfway through college. And not just “I went to meet the requirements blah blah blah”… I truly believed I had a beautiful relationship with the maker of the universe. And I gave god all the credit for everything.
A lot of it is BS…but the catharsis of certain things… Most places aren’t like this but I was in an environment where it was safe to be completely vulnerable in your struggles. Support from fellow Christians and the pure empathy and non judging atmosphere was incredible.
I left the Church due to a life long journey of trying to understand the Bible. When I got into college I dug too deep and it left me deeply disturbed by the Americanized version and Biblical attitude.
Which has left me agnostic for the most part.
Fortunately I have found a solid group of people who,yes, are a tad more cynical but care about me just the same. And am treated differently by those very people. So it was an illusion I suppose.
I do still long for the catharsis though…I know it’s an insane and maladaptive by product but that is probably something that I will never not crave.
What I find interesting (especially about the second one) is the sense of this benefit (safety in the presence of other believers) that is conditional (as the commenter has shifted beliefs, he is treated differently.) This raises a seeming contradiction — it was safe to be completely vulnerable in his struggles, but when the struggles were doubts about religious tenets and interpretations, then not so much.
As I read this blog post, Can you have the bells without the believers, I was amazed at how easy it would have been to read this as being a blog post about/for Mormonism…if only it hadn’t used specifically identifying terms like “Anglican,” “Richard Dawkins,” and “Catholic”. Check out this line:
…being a cultural Catholic or Anglican or member of another tradition requires that there be committed members of the same tradition. Of course, Dawkins is in a slightly different situation, since his aesthetic comfort is state-supported. But, even in that case, and even if he is right that many Anglicans don’t actually believe anymore, when there are no more believers, the churches will be just museums and the sepulchers—as Nietzsche’s madman had it—of the dead God. That is not quite the same thing as a functioning church to which you have a cultural affinity, any more than an altarpiece in a museum is the same thing as an altarpiece in a church. Having been divorced from its purpose, it loses some of its meaning. There’s no contradiction in being a non-believing, though culturally-entwined, member of a tradition. There might be something elitist about it, maybe it causes a tension, maybe it might even be bittersweet.But my point is that being a cultural Anglican or Catholic does place a kind of restriction on one. Since what you love relies on committed others, they deserve respect. You can’t run around with and cross-promote the work of people who claim that religion poisons everything, a la Hitchens; or, that those who pray are no more stable than those who believe God can be contacted by talking into a hair dryer, a la Harris; or, that all religion is a delusion, a la Dennett (and Freud); and, you can’t claim that people ought to lose their jobs because they take their religion seriously, as Dawkins himself has—though that was with a person who believes a religion for which Dawkins has no affinity. …
It reminds me of this Millennial Star post about the secret in the Mormon sauce (warning…Millennial Star post…)
…but as an aside, who knew that Richard Dawkins considered himself a cultural Anglican? I almost feel like all the people who hear the latest things that Pope Francis is saying and think that the Catholic church must be making a heel face turn — while I want to believe this is a big deal, I know that really, it probably is just evidence of my gross ignorance of the subject.
Anyway, the article where Dawkins declares himself thus is from this month, so I’ll take it that it’s a recent revelation. Read more…
I just saw this post from Young Mormon Feminists: “a letter to the mormon on the fence.” It begins:
Growing up Mormon, you’re taught you either have to accept everything the Church teaches or reject it entirely. And now, you’re on the fence trying to figure out which side you want to be on, trying to figure out if you believe the Church is true or not (whatever that means).
I am not writing this in order to be one more person trying to persuade you towards one side or the other. I am writing this, however, in order to tell you that I think the best option is to be yourself, to be honest about what you do or don’t believe, and to do what you think is best for you.
This isn’t some grand binary decision, some major either or. In reality, there probably is no fence, there probably is much more than just two sides when it comes to these complicated social and religious decisions.
I think the best thing is to find out what you believe about Jesus, what you believe about the scriptures and the priesthood and the law of chastity, what you believe about evolution and fate and psychology and gender and sexuality. You can address each of these subjects individually! You can find that you believe in Jesus but not in the priesthood. You can find you believe in the priesthood but not in the law of chastity. It’s O.K.!
And in choosing what you want to do, if you enjoy praying, pray. If you enjoy having a drink, have a drink, too. If you enjoy going to church, go to church. And if you don’t enjoy those things? Don’t do them.
I don’t think life is about total obedience or total rebellion. I think it’s about finding out what works best for you.
On the one hand, I just want to give Curtis a huge round of applause. It’s the message I want people to internalize — whether they are Mormon or not.
However, I can definitely see some of the counterarguments. Maybe life isn’t simply equating what one enjoys with what works best for one. For example, see this comment:
As I have alluded in passing in certain other blog posts, I have been involved with the Mormon Hub Facebook group as an administrator. While I have been an admin to other media (Wheat & Tares in particular), the Mormon Hub’s “back stage” discussions are more frequent and animated than any other moderation group that I have been a part of. And, in general, Facebook groups are a different beast than blogs.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about. Instead, I wanted to write about the fact that for me, the Hub means something a bit more than what a Facebook group probably means to most folks. It is not just a place to chat, but also a living experiment and a proving grounds. The Hub is trying to do something that many other sites and groups have tried, but that seems (based on the graveyard of previous attempts) to be difficult, if not impossible to maintain. (Either that, or the Hub is simply trying to do something that has never been attempted before…can’t decide which).
If the Hub is doing something that many other sites have tried, then that can be best summarized as trying to have a space where Mormon believers and non believers can coexist, but without the polemics of incessantly trying to argue about the church’s truth or falsity. Discussion about Mormonism beyond the truth claims, as it were.
…but when I say parenthetically that maybe the Hub is trying to do something that has never been attempted before, then what I’m referring to is the different idea that maybe, it’s trying to create a space not necessarily for a big tent of disaffected and orthodox and everyone in between trying (tenuously) to make conversation work out…but rather an online space for liberal, uncorrelated, unorthodox Mormons, separate from Sunday meanings (primarily for “orthodox” folks), and separate from most online venues (primarily for disaffected folks). Yeah, try to define that.
Anyway, however unique (or not) the goal is, one aspect of this process that has been attempted several times (but with challenges) is our approach to moderation: we want to be as hands off as possible without allowing for anyone to destroy the environment.
Internet Mormons are a peculiar people. I have commented in several venues that if I had a ward that was like the Bloggernacle, or like the various Mormon Facebook groups in which I take part, I would attend every Sunday. (Indeed, every day, I regularly read various blogs and check on updates to various Facebook groups.)
There is a sense of community among Internet Mormons…a sense that we’ve met kindred spirits, even when the ward environment is stifling, even when our fellow Mormons in the pews either pity or fear us for our doubts, questions, disaffection, or other life scenarios.
The problem, of course, is that as we collect as Internet Mormons, we sometimes forget the implications of our peculiarity. Or maybe we don’t forget the implications of such so much as have no awareness for how peculiar we might be.
How representative are online Mormon narratives about disaffection? How representative are online Mormon criticisms about social issues (e.g., feminism) in the church? Different sides will take different views as to the representativeness, but we just don’t know.
Cue the Mormon Internet Survey.
I always find nonbelievers answering this question to be interesting because I think people overestimate their ability to talk about what sorts of things could persuade them personally…Maybe they could understand a few general things that would be likely to persuade them, but surely, that’s not the total? Maybe this is a frivolous comparison, but while I can think of several foods, drinks, musical artists, and books that I like off the top of my head (and then formulate generic ideas for what sorts of new things I might like in the future), surely, I do not understand enough about my personality and inner workings to be able to pinpoint with clarity everything I could come to like based on my current situation.
Yet, Daniel writes:
If you’re an atheist, how would you answer this question? It wouldn’t be very open-minded of you if you said “no”, now, would it? You want to seem convincible. On the other hand, as Mehta points out in the video, you haven’t been convinced by the same 49 arguments that you’ve heard year-in, year-out, so what new thing are believers going to come up with?
It’s all a bit moot for me; even if I were convinced that the god of the Bible existed, I’d still never worship him because he’d be a homophobic, misogynistic dickbag.
But if it were that pastor asking me, I’d say “Sure. Something could convince me.” And here it is.
- there were some occurrence, happenstance, or phenomenon for which the only explanation were a theistic one, and
- that explanation were well-studied, and
- this were well-accepted by the scientific community,
then, yes, I would probably believe it.
This answer seems to me a little like saying something like, “If theism as is traditionally understood could fit within the scientific epistemology with which I am now comfortable, then I would buy it.” Read more…
In some of my last few posts, I have alluded to the new Mormon Facebook group, Mormon Hub. While I have been an admin at a group blog, Mormon Hub has been my first opportunity to moderating a Facebook group. In some ways, the experience is similar (working with very different personalities, trying to negotiate between heavy, overt moderation and soft, covert moderation)…but in other ways, there are clear differences (Facebook groups are media where the admins/moderators aren’t the primary content providers, where as on a group blog, the bloggers start every discussion assuming there aren’t any guest posts.)
The challenge for the Mormon Hub, as is the challenge with basically all Facebook groups and all blogs about Mormonism, is that of maintaining tone and atmosphere. In particularly, the challenge for groups and blogs like the Mormon Hub is that 1) different moderators have different ideas of what they would like to see the group become, but 2) even when moderators agree on what they would like to see from the group, they disagree on how to carry out those goals.
The “Big Tent,” as I wrote about before, is at the center of many of these idealized communities. But the Big Tent is notoriously difficult to define…More problematic is that it’s tough to decide how to create and support a big tent.
The worst difficulty, however, is what to do with folks who, for whatever reason, don’t seem to be meshing in with the ideal of the big tent.
Yesterday morning, if you were not aware, the Supreme Court released its opinions on the Defense of Marriage Act and on Proposition 8. If your friends’ group is anything like mine, then you probably heard about this. Multiple times. With great rejoicing about the outcome.
Two evenings ago — the evening before the decisions came out — Greg from Mormon Expositor invited me to take part in a BREAKING NEWS!!!11! edition of Mormon Expositor. I could not refuse, partly because if I did refuse, then it would make my impulse buy of a Blue Yeti microphone seem even sillier than it is. (From listening to the podcast, you can tell that unlike the others, I have no idea what I’m doing as far as sound settings.)
So, if you have a little over an hour, definitely check out Mormon Expositor 43: SCOTUS, DOMA, Prop 8, and the Mormons.