The irrelevance of (Mormon?) religion
I see a lot of reasons why ex/post/former/disaffected Mormons got that way. Many had testimonies, and then lost them for various reasons. Maybe they found out aspects of history that soured against them. Maybe they lost confidence in the Mormon epistemology — how they once knew what they knew about the church. Maybe it was church policies and doctrines and activities and things like that.
Reading the stories of various ex-Mos gives me insight into the diversity of the Outer Blogness (do you have this portal saved, yet?), because while many of the experiences do resonate with me, at the very same time many of the particulars are quite foreign.
I didn’t quite become disaffected because I lost faith or because I stopped believing in the truthfulness of the church’s claims, because in actuality, I didn’t really ever have faith, and my process was more of coming into realization of this. The beginning of the end was when I questioned why I felt an obligation to defend scriptures and history that seemed dubious even to me.
So these things weren’t decisive. Instead, I asked myself a far more dangerous question: couldn’t I live my life the same without church as I did with church and have everything turn out ok?
That was a dangerous question indeed. I guess, if anything, what led me to disaffection was my suspicion…then realization…that religion — and particularly my Mormon religion — seems irrelevant to my life.
This is actually something of a point in the Book of Mormon musical, I hear. (I say I hear because I have to admit I have not seen the musical, but have only read about it and listened to the soundtrack extensively) The Ugandans (as portrayed in the musical, at least) are beset by issues that the Book of Mormon doesn’t really touch, to the extent that to “reach out,” Elder Cunningham must make stuff up (that, to be honest, is in the spirit of what the church espouses…just isn’t in the historical narrative.)
Well, I don’t have issues with AIDS or maggots in my…anyway. But I still do have problems with the relevance of the religion.
So, while in my previous article I talked about how interesting it is for me to see people for whom spiritual experiences have played a great deal in their lives, I am also interested by those people — Mormon or otherwise — for whom their religion is integral to their life purpose and direction from a practical standpoint.
I don’t think I’m being so clear, so let me try to explain in a roundabout way.
I have often noted (and still note) that what I did appreciate about Mormonism was its practical life benefits. I think that there’s a clean (if not prudish, as I mentioned before) life therein. I believe that it is a good primer for business sense, for public speaking, for personal management and professionalism. So are these things “irrelevant”?
Well, no. But yes. They aren’t irrelevant in the sense that they can really make the difference between success and failure in many situations. They can really improve one’s life or prevent one from wrecking it.
But they are irrelevant in the sense that I wouldn’t consider my life purpose or meaning in terms of how professional I am, or how closely I abstain from drinking.
I was really touched by this article at By Common Consent about perverting modesty because this is a bit of what I mean. Rules about covering shoulders and knees is helpful in some senses, but in the big picture, it seems…utterly irrelevant.
…maybe I was just doing it wrong. I mean, I know plenty of people who improve their characters through religions. Who change into completely different people (sometimes, unfortunately, not for the better.) But I can’t help but shake this feeling that many people develop moral inclinations and characters independently of religion, and religion is just a kind of “overlay” on top. That’s why I don’t think I’ve changed all that much since disaffiliating from the church.
This morning I’ve been listening to John Dehlin’s interview with Kendall Wilcox via Mormon Stories. Part of the story seems pretty mundane for a discussion about the fringes of the Mormon church (and I will now proceed to vitally abuse and gloss over the story; listen to the podcast for the nuance and stuff). Guy who’s gay, struggles with his acceptance and understanding of his sexuality and its relationship to his spirituality and his understanding of his Mormonism. The twist might be surprising to some, but I’ve been seeing it often enough that even it is mundane: more and more people are not looking at things as either/or. They aren’t buying that it’s either sexuality or religion — even for a religion like Mormonism. They are coming out and promoting empathy.
There was a line that intrigued me though. From the first part of the interview, Kendall says:
…”Can you [the church] help me learn what it really means, what this experience of sexuality really is like, and what meaning it has in terms of my theological beliefs and understandings?” The more we [in the church] do that…I think the more people choose proactively…to stay within the church, rather than saying, “I’m completely closeted and feeling unloved in the church environment, so I’m going to leave, even though it may be the hardest thing I ever do.”
The question itself doesn’t appear all that special, I don’t think. But underneath it lies exactly what I’m talking about. As things are now, the church really isn’t that relevant to gay people. I mean, it was a bit amusing to read John G-W’s encounter with the sister missionaries regarding why he can’t fully participate in the church, but it was also kinda sad.
It just seems to me that the one thing that is missing to me from religion on a lot of different aspects is accurate answers about what various experiences are like and accurate situations of those experiences in terms of theological beliefs and understandings. Religion just doesn’t seem to “get it,” when I should expect that religion (or God, separate from religion) should “get it” more than anyone and anything else. This is true with respect to sexuality in particular, but race too.
What can Mormonism tell me as a black person about blackness? Well, I’m glad that it’s not saying the same things it used to say, but even if cultural baggage regarding race is expunged from present and future doctrine, the issue is that Mormonism has no proactively relevant doctrines here. (And I can imagine that many people will say that race is irrelevant so perhaps it shouldn’t have any doctrines about it.) This is a point that Chino Blanco jabs at in his reddit link and tweets about a HuffPo article of the diversity of Mormons, but instead of talking about leadership representation vs. membership representation, I feel there’s something ideological here. Maybe it is that the leaders don’t have the collective lived experience to promulgate relevant ideology? Maybe the apostles just can’t project that radically from their current vantage point.
(As an aside, since I’ve only gone to a “black church” once [bad experience…for other reasons] and have only kinda read about the dynamic…I can only say that I suspect things are very different. My reading suggests to me that the experience is very tied to things that are quite relevant to the social issues and social justice of the black community. But I feel like this can’t be a good answer for me, since now I am so tied to Mormonism, so to speak, that I would be a fish out of water in a “black church.” [This gives me an interesting point to wonder from a genealogical point of view. My parents, converts to the Mormon church, have raised me in a way that makes much of their life history foreign to me, which is quite filled with Pentecostalism, Southern Baptism, and other very different religious backgrounds. Will I in turn raise any children I may have in a way that makes much of mine just as foreign?])
…Maybe I would feel differently if I were a white, straight, cisgender male. Maybe Mormonism is far more relevant in that case because it caters to that case. Maybe people find great value and inspiration from Mormon doctrines about the family and the purpose and centrality of the family to the plan of salvation because they “fit” within that narrative, and when they don’t, that’s when there are problems. But for me, it feels quaint, something that need not be religious (and that religion sometimes sullies), and irrelevant at worst.