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The irrelevance of religion to me

September 29, 2022

As a reprobate, a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction, someone insensate of the music of the spheres, unable to act or be acted upon in matters of the spiritual realm, or, for my fellow obscure video game aficionados and TVTropers: SaGa Frontier 2 “steel user”, Final Fantasy Tactics 0 faith, TVTropes page “anti-magic”…here is my main conundrum with certain kinds of religion or a certain way or religious thinking…

And I understand that because of all of the above, many of my conservative religious friends will read the below and say, “Andrew, you are missing the point!” and that’s part of this message:

Religion is *useless* to me to the extent that it insists upon a vision of perfection or a vision of the ideal that is not applicable to me.

(oh yeah, this is a post about LGBT rejection by conservative religious traditions, but it could apply to so much more.)

What’s an example of this? When someone says, “Well, LGBT relationships and life are a sin and you should just not do that,” that is not useful for me.

I say, “I would like to know how to be a better husband,” and all that certain varieties of religion can give to me are, “You should simply stop being a husband because your very attempt is sin.”

And maybe in an eternal sense, that is true, but that is not relevant to my life as someone who is completely insensate about things so vague as the eternal. Maybe for people with eyes to see and ears to hear, the pressures and sights and sounds of heaven and hell are loud enough and vibrant enough to motivate you, but I, blind to nearsighted as I am in matters of the spirit, have to focus on my life here and now, seeing through a glass, darkly.

I get that what I am suggesting sounds like an unacceptable compromise from the perfect vision that religious folks have. They would say: “Well, the church teaches the divine pattern and cannot stray from that.” But don’t you realize that when you insist that only the “perfect answer” can be abided by, taught, celebrated, accepted, that you drive away anyone who cannot and does not live up to that..?

I get that for many religious people, the thought may be impossible to countenance. It may be to them the same as someone asking, “How can I be the best abuser possible?” To which the response is: stop abusing.

Yet, from my vantage point, this doesn’t feel like the same type of thing. And again, it could just be because I’m a reprobate ignorant of the ways of God and so I just can’t see things clearly, but from my point of view — and this is an argument many LGBT people have made before and will continue to make — comparing LGBT relationality to things like alcoholism, a penchant for anger, etc., doesn’t work for us precisely because we do not see our relationality as bad. (and I get some people may say: some alcoholics don’t see their alcoholism as bad, so maybe this doesn’t actually move the needle.)

I know that every exmormon has their own story for why they left the church. There is a heavy pressure to leave for “good” reasons rather than stereotypical reasons. Good reasons: because they learned the “truth” about the church. Bad reasons: because they were offended, or because they wanted to sin.

When I stopped attending the LDS church, I still kept many of the practices I followed while in the church. To this day, I see that the LDS church taught me a form of respectability politics that I still adhere to (even though I also recognize this is problematic, leaving wasn’t due to wanting to break that paradigm.)

But at some point, I asked myself: if I leave the church, will my life fall apart? Will I become a worse person (in terms of the material effects I can see in this life, because I cannot see or judge whatever will happen in a spiritual or afterlife perspective)?

And the answer became apparent very quickly: no, my life will not fall apart. I will not become a worse person. In fact, rather than worrying about the things that I could not grasp — all of these spiritual questions that I could never figure out — I could just stop worrying and live my life. Maybe faithful folks would say: but you should worry more! but worrying and never getting anywhere doesn’t seem productive to me.

I’m not claiming to be a perfect person. I have my own issues. But the sort of issues I have and want to work on, the sort of things I want to improve about myself, are things that the church cannot or does not want to help with.

The last time I went to church was a Young Singles Adult college ward, where the classes were about finding a spouse and starting a family as soon as possible. I was not trying to date back then, so I would not say that I left to engage in “the LGBT lifestyle”. But I knew enough about myself at that point to know that anxiety about trying to be straight was not productive or relevant to my life.

But the miss that I see is that the church was trying to teach us young adults about forming families and being good participants within family life. But instead of meeting all of us where we were to provide us with guidance on this topic, it looked to some of us — us who are gay and lesbian — and said either, “You should try the same thing as your straight brethren and sisters” or “you should simply not attempt to participate in family life.”

(I know other conservative religious traditions have a telos to celibacy and a telos to not being in family life, but still…it does not call all people to that, and the LDS tradition is different in that it leans more strongly on the idea that it is not good that man should be alone.)

There is this missed audience of people who just want to be good participants with family life, but their families may look a little different…but because the church is so insistent on catering to “the pattern” or “the ideal” and rejecting anything else, it cannot provide anything to those who don’t fit the ideal.

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8 Comments
  1. Agellius permalink

    I think all you’re really saying is that you reject Christianity because Christianity rejects homosexuality.  Homosexuality is a non-negotiable, first principle for you, in a sense, such that you’ll judge the rightness or wrongness of any moral judgment, or system, depending on how it views homosexuality. 

    But Christianity didn’t invent sexual morality just to pick on homosexuals.  It has just as much to say to heterosexuals who habitually have sex outside marriage.  If a Christian comes to such a person and says, “Look, you need to repent of your sins; and doing so will make you happier than you are now; this is no life for a decent human being, all this sleeping around, artificially thwarting the natural results of your acts (pregnancy), aborting or facilitating abortion of your own children in the womb. Turn to God, repent and receive mercy and the assurance of eternal life.”  

    Such a person could respond in the way you do:  My life makes me happy.  Sex is awesome.  I see nothing wrong with birth control or abortion.  I’d be a lot less happy if I gave up fornicating at will.  Why resist my own nature?  God made me this way, I don’t believe in a God who condemns me for being what I am.  

    Homosexuals are not in a unique position here.  There are all kinds of ways in which I must suppress my natural urges in order to follow Christ, on virtually a daily basis.  One of the ways in which Christianity was revolutionary, and cut so strongly against the grain of the cultures in which it arose, was its emphasis on sexual morality.  But not sexual morality exclusively; the principle of disciplining oneself to resist sexual urges was applicable in other areas.  Thus, when you get angry don’t strike, but offer your cheek to your adversary.  If you would be my disciple, take up your cross daily and follow me.  If your eye offends you, pluck it out.  There’s no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.  In baptism we died with Christ in order that we might walk in newness of life.  What does it profit you to gain the whole world but lose your soul?  

    These are various ways of saying, master your nature, don’t let your nature master you.  You don’t have to be “in tune” with the spiritual life to grasp this.  What’s right is more important than what feels good, even when doing what’s right doesn’t feel good.  You deny what feels good based on what you know.  This is placing your mind in charge of your body, making the spirit higher than the flesh.  A spirit is simply a mind considered apart from a body.  The angels are spirits without bodies; people are spirits in bodies.  The word “spirit” in both cases refers to a being’s intellect and will.  The Christian insight is that the spirit must rule the body, and not be enslaved to it.  And this should be taken so seriously that you would let your body suffer and die rather than violate what your spirit knows to be true and good.  

    The point is, this applies to *everyone*.  There have been all kinds of Christians who have literally lost their lives rather than commit sin, or utter falsehood, because their faith gave them no alternative in the circumstances.  But there are many millions more who, though they aren’t called to die for their faith, nevertheless struggle to give up what they love and enjoy and are attached to, often with a great deal of effort and sacrifice.  Why?  Because they place what they know with their minds above what they enjoy and long for.  They place the spirit above the flesh.  Presumably the vast majority of these, as in the general population, are not homosexuals.  

    If Christianity seems to require homosexuals to give up “who they are” in order to follow the Gospel, it demands no less from anyone else.  “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  St. Francis of Assissi, St. Ignatius Loyola, for that matter St. Paul, absolutely gave up who they were, and more, because they saw that following Christ was a far better thing.  

    You don’t see that following Christ is a far better thing, so obviously you’re not inclined to give up “who you are” for his sake.  That alone suffices to make religion “irrelevant” to you. That’s fine, I have no quarrel with that.  I’m just saying, Christianity requires of everyone that he die to self, take up his cross, and be willing to give up the things he loves most, rather than deny Christ or disobey God; not just gay people.  

  2. When you say:

    Look, you need to repent of your sins; and doing so will make you happier than you are now; this is no life for a decent human being, all this sleeping around, artificially thwarting the natural results of your acts (pregnancy), aborting or facilitating abortion of your own children in the womb. Turn to God, repent and receive mercy and the assurance of eternal life.

    What I am saying is that whether repenting (turning away from) any given sin (missing the mark) “will make you happier than you are now” is precisely what is in question.

    In one sentence you say “don’t artificially thwart the natural results of your acts.” And yet in another sentence you say that the point is to master one’s nature, not let one’s nature master them. (I get that you almost certainly have a structure for differentiating these things, so you don’t need to repeat it for me.) Like, I can resonate with the concept of placing one’s mind in charge of one’s body, but I also think that people can choose how they will do that and explore what will make them happier. I get that this requires training and discipline and that there’s a balance between short and long term, fleeting and enduring, and so on. And yet, I also don’t think everyone will come to the same conclusions in particular circumstances and instances.

    (When a transgender person places their mind in charge of their body, conservative religious people say, “no, no, you need to let your body be in charge…” Trans people are just supposed to accept that they do not know about what would make them happy.)

    You don’t see that following Christ is a far better thing, so obviously you’re not inclined to give up “who you are” for his sake. That alone suffices to make religion “irrelevant” to you.

    Yes, this is a fair summary. My comment is that it is not obvious that following Christ is a far better thing, not obvious to everyone, not obvious regarding any particular instance in terms of determining what it means to follow Christ (hence difference of views on what that entails in terms of commandments, etc.,) So, it also gets difficult to really get into the difference between someone who plucks out his eye because it offends him in front of God, vs someone who is simply self-harming. What the difference is between someone who is “letting their body suffer and die” rather than violate what their spirit knows to be good…vs someone who is letting their body suffer and die out of a suicidal depression. A lot of the repression and self denial actually looks, smells, and feels like the latter and just saying, “What feels good is not important,” then this isn’t actually very productive.

    When people have personal experience that accepting who they are (e.g., I agree LGBT is just an example, but this can apply across other things) resolves and alleviates depression and other such things, then yes, is it any surprise when those people will trust their own experience more than what a religion says? I’m not sure that that’s the same as calling homosexuality a first principle or non-negotiable.

    Like, I know many religious folks would be very clear: God would rather have a person dead and pure than alive and “sullied”. Yikes, you’re right; I don’t have enough faith for that.

    I think about Paul’s statement: yeah, it’s better to be unmarried. That’s the ideal. But if someone cannot control themselves, it is better to marry than burn with passion.

    Here I get that there’s an ordering for Paul: definitely unmarried is best. *but* people can also recognize when that’s not working for them and marry. That’s the structure here.

    But there isn’t that same “if you can’t do x, then do y” elsewhere. It is: “Yeah, just go ahead and burn lmao”

  3. Agellius permalink

    Andrew,

    You write, ‘What I am saying is that whether repenting (turning away from) any given sin (missing the mark) “will make you happier than you are now” is precisely what is in question.’

    The paragraph you quoted from me was not an argument I was making, just an illustration showing that the call to repentance to homosexuals and heterosexuals is essentially the same.

    You write, ‘In one sentence you say “don’t artificially thwart the natural results of your acts.” And yet in another sentence you say that the point is to master one’s nature, not let one’s nature master them. … (When a transgender person places their mind in charge of their body, conservative religious people say, “no, no, you need to let your body be in charge…”’.)

    Obviously, we both bring unspoken premises to what we say, and it’s not always easy to be aware of them. When I talked about mastering your nature, I was assuming that man’s nature is fallen, and that’s why it needs mastering. If we weren’t fallen then we wouldn’t have this struggle for mastery between spirit and flesh, since the flesh would always obey the spirit.

    When I say it’s wrong to thwart the natural bodily results of your actions, that doesn’t contradict the statement that your spirit should master your nature; as though I were saying the body should master the spirit, right after saying the spirit should master the body.

    That statement has to do with conduct. Right and wrong is a matter of truth and goodness; and it’s your mind, not your body, that discerns what’s true and what’s good. If the mind knows it’s bad to thwart the body’s natural processes*, or to violate its integrity, and on that ground refuses to do so, this is the mind directing what happens, not the body.

    Yes, it’s based on the premise that it’s wrong to violate how the body is designed and operates naturally. But that in turn is based on the fact that God designed the body. That pregnancy results from sexual intercourse is the way he made it to act. Being an involuntary function, it’s not a matter of conduct, therefore it doesn’t enter into the question of whether the body or the mind should govern conduct. But the fact that this was intended by the body’s designer to be its natural result, lets us know that thwarting it is wrong. The mind, having discerned the wrongness of the act, should thereafter govern its conduct accordingly. This is still the mind in charge all the way.

    You write, ‘Here I get that there’s an ordering for Paul: definitely unmarried is best. *but* people can also recognize when that’s not working for them and marry. That’s the structure here. But there isn’t that same “if you can’t do x, then do y” elsewhere. It is: “Yeah, just go ahead and burn lmao”’

    Maybe not in Mormonism. In Catholicism we certainly believe in a hierarchy of goods. Marriage and celibacy are both good things. One is higher or “more excellent” than the other, but neither is sinful. Whereas fornication and adultery are always sinful. Fornication can’t be part of a hierarchy of goods when it’s evil.

    You see a similar thing when Christ says, “If you seek perfection then go, sell all your goods and give the money to the poor.” But selling only some of your goods and giving the money to the poor isn’t bad; it’s just not as good as the other. Stealing or being a miser can’t be part of that hierarchy of goods, because neither is good.

    * although there’s more to it than that; see this post if interested: https://agellius.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/discipline-concupiscence-and-birth-control/

    • *checks the post*

      hmm, seems kinda familiar, let me check the comments.

      …oh no, we’ve been having the same conversation since 2015 lol.

      I want to address something from the post. In it, you wrote:

      In regard to that last quote, consider the topic of overeating and weight loss: In the not-too-distant future someone may invent a fat-burning pill that actually works, that is, enables you to eat all you want and not gain weight. Now, if someone is concerned about his weight, what method should he use to control it? Should he exercise the discipline required to eat right and exercise? or would it be just as well to take a pill that enables him to indulge his appetite without limit, and throw discipline out the window?

      What if there were a pill where, instead of burning fat and therefore enabling a person to eat all they want and not gain weight, it instead directly reduced the appetite and or made junk food less appealing.

      Would this still be “abdicating our responsibility” as you write later in the post because it is a technical mean?

      • Agellius permalink

        That’s basically another way of avoiding the need to discipline your appetite; except that instead of suppressing the result of indulging your appetite, you suppress your appetite directly.

        Both methods treat the human being as an object rather than a subject. Instead of moderating the appetites by self-discipline, discipline arising from within by an act of the will; the appetite is treated as an object to be manipulated by the use of something outside oneself.

        Suppose we relied on a medication to suppress our sexual appetite in order to remain faithful to our spouse; and another one to control a tendency to anger; and another to make us feel kindly towards others? We would then have abandoned the pursuit of virtue and become a mere object of manipulation. But the dignity of humanity (such as it is in our fallen state) lies in our being not merely objects but subjects.

        When someone can’t control himself, when he whines or throws tantrums, or acts selfishly, we say he’s immature; the implication being that a mature, or fully developed human being, is one who is capable of self-control and self-denial. When people complain of being treated as if they were “just a number,” or of being “herded like cattle,” or of being “objectified”, by a big company, what they resent is the loss of their dignity, which consists in being treated like objects, not subjects. And again governments, to the extent they allow people to live and speak freely, are treating them as subjects, but to the extent they seek to control their movements and limit speech, are treating them as objects. It follows that freedom consists in being a subject, not an object; in being capable of self control and self determination. To the extent you lack these things, you lack freedom, and when you lack freedom you lack dignity.

        Someone who uses birth control because he can’t (or thinks he can’t) abstain from sex two or three weeks out of every month lacks dignity. Nobody’s perfect, we all fail to keep our resolutions from time to time. But you must choose whether to keep trying or surrender your freedom and be the slave of your appetites.

        Granted, for medical reasons it might be necessary to use a technical means to suppress an appetite. I’m thinking of a medication I’ve heard of for alcoholics, which makes alcohol unappetizing (or does it cause you to feel sick when you drink?). These may be acceptable since their purpose is to restore the body to proper functioning or preserve its health. After all if an artificial means is required to suppress someone’s appetite, because otherwise the person will eat or drink himself to death, then something is already out of order. These technical means could be a means of preserving physical health while working to restore mental and emotional health.

        I’m reminded of a TV show I’ve seen, featuring people who are outrageously obese, like in the 700-800 pound range, and their efforts at getting help with their problem. The ones I saw were offered surgery to remove excess fat and somehow restrict their stomach capacity, to help them eat less so as not to gain the weight back. But as a condition of the surgery, they first have to demonstrate their commitment to getting better, by losing 100 or 200 pounds(?) by a certain date. If they don’t reach that goal, they don’t get the surgery. The doctors evidently feel that the discipline to eat nutritiously and in moderate quantities is essential, and are making that a condition of providing the surgery.

        Why do they make this a condition of surgery? Possibly because they don’t want to perform surgery just to enable someone to keep abusing their bodies; in other words to use medical procedures as a replacement for the self-discipline needed to moderate one’s diet and maintain health. This would make one a slave to his appetites, and an object of technical manipulation rather than a self-sustaining and self-respecting subject.

        • I’m reminded of a TV show I’ve seen, featuring people who are outrageously obese, like in the 700-800 pound range, and their efforts at getting help with their problem. The ones I saw were offered surgery to remove excess fat and somehow restrict their stomach capacity, to help them eat less so as not to gain the weight back. But as a condition of the surgery, they first have to demonstrate their commitment to getting better, by losing 100 or 200 pounds(?) by a certain date. If they don’t reach that goal, they don’t get the surgery. The doctors evidently feel that the discipline to eat nutritiously and in moderate quantities is essential, and are making that a condition of providing the surgery.

          yes, I also watch that show. Here’s the thing: *most cases fail* extremely tragically. (might be a little macabre, but people track this. The stats are just not good.)

          If you’re pinning things on willpower, it’s *not going to end well* in many cases. The title of my entire blog is because from this standpoint, I think the Calvinists probably have it right. ;p

          I think the point here is: the surgery doesn’t cure appetite. Even if someone gets weight loss surgery, if they are still enabled to overeat, then that person could overeat and “negate” the effects of the surgery (which is even more dangerous than simply never having had the surgery). So, the commitment to lose weight doesn’t actually say anything about whether someone *can* do that. It’s just…if they can’t do it, then surgery is not going to help that. So from an investment POV, why invest in a surgery that will be negated if someone is going to waste it? It’s the “L” of the Calvinist TULIP here.

          In this case, the treatment you describe for making alcohol less appealing is really what is needed:

          After all if an artificial means is required to suppress someone’s appetite, because otherwise the person will eat or drink himself to death, then something is already out of order. These technical means could be a means of preserving physical health while working to restore mental and emotional health.

          But I digress…the main reason I was asking this question was to ask a separate question by analogy: from a Catholic perspective, is “conversion therapy” immoral?

          Because it seems like you’re saying that overall, it’s better for someone to constantly be tempted and simply “self-deny” their way into resisting every day than it would be to not have those temptations in the first place. In other words, if being a “more fully developed human being” or more “disciplined”, more “dignified”, less “objectified” and so on…depends on one’s ability to “self control” and “self deny”, then it seems that someone who has more chances to self-deny and does so more often seems to be more developed than someone who has fewer chances. In this case, someone being gay and tempted, but being abstinent is “better off” than someone “converting” to ex-gay and no longer tempted by same-sex attraction (which TBH, I don’t think that is possible, but assuming it were…it seems you’re suggesting that is a morally worse option)

          on the one hand, i guess i can respect that.

          on the other hand, it seems a bit perverse. so i guess i’m misunderstanding something here…

          • The premise of your question seems to be that, if it were possible to “cure” homosexuality, then curing it would eliminate the need for self-denial and -discipline; hence your question: Wouldn’t this be bad, since self-denial and self-discipline are good things?

            First, disciplining the appetites isn’t an end in itself. The point is to have the spirit rule the flesh, not the other way around. And the reason for all this is to do good and avoid evil. Physical self-discipline isn’t the be-all and end-all of avoiding sin either, but for most people it’s a big part of it.

            Second, your question is based on a false premise. This was the main point of my first comment — that the Christian faith doesn’t make harder demands, nor indeed different ones, on homosexuals than on other people. We’re all called upon to self-deny and self-discipline, and to suffer rather than sin. If it were possible to “cure” homosexuality, enabling people to experience sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex, their sexual appetites (and all the rest) would still need to be reined in and controlled for the sake of avoiding sin. This is true even for married people who, you will recall, aren’t allowed to use technical means to avoid pregnancy, allowing them to indulge their sexual desires at will; not to mention that they might have desires other than for sex with their spouses, which also would have to be suppressed.

            Basically, Christianity allows you to have sex with one person and one only, for as long as you both shall live. If that person dies then you can pick someone else, but otherwise not. If they happen to get sick or injured so that they can’t have sex, that’s just too bad. And those who never manage to get married must live their entire lives celibately. Today this is about half of all American adults, but even 50 years ago it was about a quarter. Thus, 25% percent of Catholics (assuming their marriage rate was the same as the general population) would have been required by their faith to live celibate lives. So this isn’t a requirement imposed only on homosexuals.

  4. Basically, Christianity allows you to have sex with one person and one only, for as long as you both shall live.

    This is not true unless I have missed something about Catholicism recently. You would say Christianity allows someone to have sex with one person of the opposite sex and one only, for as long as you both shall live.

    And those who never manage to get married must live their entire lives celibately.

    But you categorically define marriage only in the sense of 1 man + 1 woman.

    This is a big difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

    This was the main point of my first comment — that the Christian faith doesn’t make harder demands, nor indeed different ones, on homosexuals than on other people.

    Right — the problem is that because the Christian faith makes the same *heterosexual-or-asexual* demands on homosexuals, these demands are harder for homosexuals.

    (And I would say in the same way, celibacy is an easier demand for asexuals.

    I do not see how you can avoid that someone who is not tempted to do something is therefore going to have an easier time not doing that thing. So I don’t see how that’s a false premise to point that out…

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