On Religion and Superstition

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“You yourself say that belief in God… has kept some men from crime; this alone suffices me. When this belief prevents even ten assassinations, ten calumnies, I hold that all the world should embrace it. Religion, you say, has produced countless misfortunes; say rather the superstition which reigns on our unhappy globe. This is the cruelest enemy of the pure worship due to the Supreme Being. Let us detest this monster which has always torn the bosom of its mother; those who combat it are the benefactors of the human race; it is a serpent which chokes religion in its embrace; we must crush its head without wounding the mother whom it devours.”    – Voltaire

My mom always told me growing up that the devil could induce in us many emotions; there was always a counterfeit to what God could inspire. He could mimic all of them except for one emotion. And that is peace.

I wouldn’t consider myself much of a religious person although I’ve been to most Christian denominations in Utah as well as Reformed Jewish and Hindu services. I was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or LDS/Mormon for short.

I am also gay which doesn’t happen to be the most favored class of people in the church. Growing up I would’ve been compared to a sexual deviant – a “crime against nature” according to the LDS church’s former leader and prophet, Spencer Kimball – or as a pedophile. This is something I had to work through that I hope I’ll be able to share with you one of these days.

I consider myself to be very lucky in that I feel I’ve been able to come to terms with my past, my childhood religion, and not let apparent differences hinder my progression. I feel I’ve been able to make peace with these different forces that other people might regard as incompatible together. But with that reconciliation, I’ve also lost the fear that was meant to keep me in line, the sense of mysticism and wonder that surround LDS ordinances, and superstitious control the LDS organization’s claim on the afterlife.

The LDS church does so much good in other ways. I’m inspired by my ancestors that gave up all they had for what they believed in. Most my family comes from England, Scotland, and Demark. Most of Utah’s population is comprised of people from those countries. This is a good example of Genetic Drift in evolution. I don’t much care for it because I don’t really feel like going bald anytime soon. My dad and grandfathers could sport it but not me. I admire them for: first of all, being able to sport the look, and second, that they suffered financially by giving up their possessions to come to Utah, physically by disease and hardships coming here, and emotionally by the rejection of their families and friends for their beliefs or the death of children that didn’t survive the journey to Utah.

Many religions have these same types of people. While I think religious services are very beautiful and it’s mentally stimulating to see the similarities all religious doctrine have in common it’s most inspiring to me to see a group of people working towards a common goal in unity and friendship. Individual beliefs and why they believe what they believe are what make the essence of religion.

There is this one woman I know who I think is just amazing. I’ll call her Sarah. She had a sex change operation a few years ago since she was born sexually male even if she was of the female gender. That might be all right if you’re Episcopalian or some other Christian group that’s more liberal but she just happened to be raised Jehovah’s Witness.

I think out of all the Christian denominations I’ve been to, Jehovah’s Witness’ require the most work and persistence. I’ve been to a couple of services with a friend of mine who had been disfellowshipped because of his marriage to his husband. They got married in Massachusetts back when gay marriage was first legalized. I think that was back in 2005 or something. Anyway, I went to a couple of services with him and there were a few things I liked about it and there were things I didn’t agree with.

I liked how families stayed together for the whole service. I liked how the children were so well behaved and participated in the service. These are great things, but I really wasn’t much inspired to be honest.

For the most part, what I heard most of was how terribly Jehovah’s Witness’ were being treated around the world for their faith; how much evil is in the world, and how their persistence regardless of persecution would bring about their eventual salvation. Anything good said about a person had to be a Jehovah’s Witness or it wasn’t mentioned. It was basically a reiteration of the book of Revelation all over again: Christians being hunted down, hated, some even killed for their belief, the evil nature of governments and organizations, the perspective of eternity, and their eventual earthly and heavenly salvation. Nothing wrong with that – but I personally don’t think it’s healthy to be teaching kids that from the beginning of their lives, people not of their faith hate them or that most everyone is evil. Now I’m sure that’s probably not everything they teach in their meetings but that’s about what I got out of it.

Anyway – as I was saying – Sarah was also disfellowshipped for her sex change. She lost a lot actually. Her wife and son who said they would stick with her ended up rejecting her. The church teaches that if someone comes in open rebellion against the doctrine of the church, they’re not even supposed to give the offender a salutation. (2 John 1:10). So her wife and son had to cut contact with her and she is basically alone now. What moved me so much was the faith that she still had in her religion. She knew it was God’s organization on earth. It really hurt her to not be able to have the ability to go out with her fellow members and preach the gospel. She’s been writing the leaders of the church for a couple of years now trying to get readmitted.

Her faith in her religion inspired me so much that I ended up taking a few of their bible studies from her. I’m a universalist so I wasn’t really doing it out of the desire to know the truthfulness of her religion as much as to just find the truth that we all hold in common. Her passion for it came from something deeper than the religious dogma could normally influence. In all honest, I don’t think anyone can have a monopoly on truth and once you do, that truth is degraded into a form of truth in my LDS culture we call “half truths” which are basically as good as lies around here. At least that’s my opinion. If something is absolutely true, then it is held as truth in all religions and cultures. It’s held congruent with natural law.

For example, there are ancient records written in Babylon that have drastic similarities to the morals taught in the Bible:

“Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned… Slander not.” (Hymn to Samas ERE v. 445). Compare with “Thou shalt not hate they brother in thy heart.” (Leviticus 19:17).

“Speak kindness… Show goodwill.” (Hymn to Samas ERE v. 445). Compare with “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Leviticus 19:18).

“Has he despised Father and Mother?” (List of Sins. ERE v. 446). Compare with “Honour they Father and thy Mother.” (Exodus 20:12).

“Has he approached his neighbour’s wife?” (List of Sins. ERE v. 446). Compare with “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14).

“Has he drawn false boundaries? To wrong, to rob, to cause to be robbed.” (List of Sins. ERE v. 446). Compare with “Thou salt not steal.” (Exodus 20:15).

“Whoso takes no bribe… well pleasing is this to Samas.” (Hymn to Samas ERE v. 445). Compare with “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16).

“Whoso makes intercession for the weak, well pleasing is this to Samas… Has he failed to set a prisoner free?” (Hymn to Samas ERE v. 445-446). Compare with “When thou cutest down thine harvest… and hast forgot a sheaf… thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.” (Deauteronomy 24:19).

What strikes me as very interesting, despite many of the common beliefs these two cultures had in common, is the great hatred they had for each other. Babylon is commonly referred as an “abomination” to the Jewish people. In fact, they not only want restitution for what destruction Babylon caused their nation, but they claim God’s sanction on their physical destruction. “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall be he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock.” (Psalms 137:8-9).

All I can say to that is “Wow… They really must have pissed you off.” Of course there were plenty of wars and Babylon beat Israel 9 times out of 10, but how can you seriously put God’s sanction on such a terrible wish? There are plenty of other examples in scriptures that illustrate the discord that existed between the two countries. I just thought that one was especially shocking. If God is the same then why does Christ (who apparently does nothing but what he sees the Father do) teach that “It [would be] better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:2).

I would claim that these sentiments were not of God at all. They were a political ploy to create a sense of patriotism and nationalism in the people of Israel. It’s sickening to me. Just as the war for independence between Scotland and England when authority was given by the king to allow the pillaging of Scottish towns and of legalized rape. Or even considering the Papal sanction of the same during the “Holy Wars” is disgusting. Labeling things as fine is human but don’t put God’s sanction on such acts!

In not so drastic ways, this happens now. Because my friend, Sarah, was forced to leave her faith, she feels that she may be lost to all hope for a future in the Jehovah’s Witness’ version of paradise; they put a control on her emotional well being. I don’t believe a good Supreme Being would wish anyone to do that or have anyone feel that helpless.

This happens in the LDS culture as well. There is a certain way we feel we have to be in order to be comfortable in the religion. We have to say the right things, we don’t want to question or bring up legitimate concerns around others; we have to look good. We begin to see things in a very black and white way.

I remember when I was little, we went on a family trip to Wyoming where my dad was from. At the hotel, there were people smoking outside. I told my mom, “Look, those guys are bad.” I probably spoke it out loud too. I wasn’t known for being very quiet at all or being very considerate. I embarrassed them a lot I think. There was one time I told my dad’s co-worker that he was fat right to his face… Yeah, I had no filter.  Anyway… but that’s what we were programmed to think. There was good and there was bad and those were always shown by actions. There are sins and there are things we had to do and be. The church was good and everything else was less than good or, in other words, a lie. We were expected to follow the rules as best as we could under threat of terrible spiritual sorrow and social embarrassment.

It was so refreshing to hear of my sister-in-law’s openness to share experiences with depression in her church when talking about such stuff is so taboo. After all, “despair cometh because of iniquity.”(Moroni 10:22). Or “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10). What’s wrong with this sort of mentality is that we begin to think that most all our sorrow or depression comes from being wicked. If that’s the case, then I would say our paranoia of making sure we do everything right is a sin because there’s no way we can be happy if we’re continually beating ourselves up for being imperfect, trying to cover up our imperfections, and then beating ourselves up for further being imperfect.

This is why I don’t believe any religion can claim a monopoly on truth. Because when that happens then God can be used to approve of one thing and disapprove of another. And more often than not, “God’s will” is used to further an organization’s influence or power. Isn’t there enough forces that can depress us from everyday life that we don’t need someone to tell us that there is something wrong with us and that no matter how good we become, there is always something missing? Being gay was a big issue for me. I’ll have to write about that one later because I could go on and on.

This is the superstition I believe Voltaire was speaking of: the dogma of religion. These are the outward ordinances Baptists talk about so much. They have a point for sure. These are actions or words that are frequently done or said but with no real spirit or drive behind them. Conviction that I witnessed in the beliefs of my friend Sarah was very inspiring to me. I still don’t think she needs to be part of the Jehovah’s Witness’ congregation because I believe that God already sees the goodness in her heart and her desire to serve Him/Her and that worship is pure. Everything else is just superstition. All religions can help a person obtain this but I don’t believe they are necessary.

In C.S. Lewis’ last book in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, we see two separate factions of religion. The Narnians worshipped Aslan the Lion, the Calormene worshipped Tash. The true God in this story is Aslan. There was one Calormene named Emeth who served Tash all his life. When he dies, he finds himself in Aslan’s heaven and he recounts his experience meeting his supposed enemy, Aslan there. He says,

“In a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant’s; his hair was like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honor) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome, But I sad, Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou has done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.”

My philosophy is that there is so much good all around us. Why can’t we appreciate it? Any differences we have from each other are beautiful. As Spinoza would say, God is all around us. Everything that is good comes from God (Moroni 7:12). Maybe this God isn’t a personage or a substance but there is good out there and that’s what we should be searching for. What really matters is how we think, and how we treat others. As far as dogma goes, their end is in our peace. When we are at peace with ourselves and with others, then real beneficial change can happen. We ultimately choose our own happiness and peace or our own depression and stress in the end.

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