Friday, July 14, 2006

Anon Part Two

The discussion continues. I apologize to my non-Mormon readers, as some of this might fly past you, but I hope you get why this matters. Skip down and read the previous post if you haven't already to get the context.

Anon wrote:

Spencer, talk as you will, it looks like college got to your thinking and that you had a bad incident in the church, and I know who your referring to......sorry

(the "bad incident" he refers to was one I mentioned in the comments section of the posting below)

Wow, right away with the ad hominem attack. Come on man, you could have at least addressed a little bit what I was arguing, instead of just attacking my education.

Bizarrely, though, you didn't follow the normal ad hominem route by attacking me as uneducated. Instead, if I understand you correctly, you are attacking me as too educated.

Think about that for a minute.

First of all, let me clear up a misperception you may have about my college experience. If you listen to a lot of talk radio, you might get the impression that college is full of religion-hating left wing secular professors whose only goal is to break down the faith of impressionable young students. My own experience is that that is a load of hogwash. Yeah, I may have had teachers who fit that bill but my professors also included a devout Jesuit priest, a famous Neo-con philosopher who'd been in the Reagan Administration, and a committed Aristotelian who had some serious doubts about whether the earth really revolved around the sun! In other words, it was a diverse bunch. I learned lots of things in college, but there was really only one important thing I learned. That was the importance of applying reasoned critical analysis to any claim.

In other words, they taught me to think objectively about things. To ask why, how, what evidence supported a claim. It didn't matter if it was a math proof or a political theory or a claim about the nature of God, you put it to the test as best you could, struggling to see all the consequences of the claim, all its weaknesses and strengths.

Yes, I did this in regards to the values I was taught growing up. Many of those values came through this process stronger and clearer to me. This was especially true when reading the four gospels. I felt that in Jesus teachings there were many ideas that were incredibly wise and reasoned.

However, I will admit, some of the things I learned in church failed even the most basic questioning. They just didn't stand up to reason. At that point, I was faced with a dilemma. Do you know the allegory of Plato's Cave? Once you've come into a little bit of light, it's pretty well near impossible to retreat back into the darkness. The Good Lord had blessed me, just like he has blessed you, with a spirit of discernment. By applying that spirit, I realized that while there were many valuable things in the gospel I'd been taught as a young man, there were also many bad ideas, and those bad ideas had consequences.

Which brings me to your second point. You say that you know of the incident to which I made reference. Supposing it is indeed the same incident (and I actually heard rumors that there had been more then one) I'm really surprised that you would just blow it off. Let me be clear. A man in authority in our ward molested several young girls. The mother of at least one of the girls went to the bishop. The bishop, using his authority over the woman as her spiritual leader, threatened this mother with disfellowship if she made this claim public knowledge. To this date, the man who did this, and the bishop who entered into a criminal conspiracy to cover it up, have never been brought to justice. The Stake President who found out about this incident, while sympathetic to the mother, also did not step forward to bring this to justice, thus continuing the conspiracy. As a result, this man continued to be a free and respected member of the community and may very well have gone on to repeat the behavior. Justice was denied. Justice to children.

So, yeah, I'd say that's a bit of an incident. But rather then just writing it off, you should think for a second about the consequences. A church, claiming divine inspiration and authority from God, uses that authority to cover up a heinous crime and protect one of its own. Doesn't this call into question the source of the church's authority for you? Doesn't it make you wonder what kind of an organization would put the avoidance of scandal above justice to a harmed child?

Anon, if you are my age, you are into your mid-thirties. You are an adult. Adults have to be responsible for their actions. You have been living in a bubble, and that bubble needs to be burst, brother. If you can justify the covering up of a crime because of your faith, if your faith makes you believe that education is a bad and dangerous thing, then your faith is asking you to be both passive and ignorant. You were not put on this planet to be either.

Look, I know how wonderful faith can be. I know the amazing feelings of warmth and security that comes with taking part in the rituals that you have known since childhood. I too have felt the spirit, the warm glow of the still, small voice. But here's a little secret that I've also learned, and it doesn't have anything to do with college "getting to my thinking". The truth is, the spirit is in you. It is part of you. It doesn't come from some distant planet, it doesn't come from a man in Salt Lake City, it doesn't come from a particular building or ritual. Rather, you can find it in many different places. Personally, I have experienced the warmth of the spirit in a museum, at a concert, and in the wilderness. I've experienced it standing on a Manhattan sidewalk and in an Anglican church in Santa Fe. I've experienced it listening to records, reading books, and while sitting at my desk. We are programmed from a young age in the church to believe that the only source of the spirit is through the church, through it's institutions and rituals and prayers, so we automatically associate it with these things. But we don't have to. You can feel the spirit throughout you wherever you go in this life. Many of my deepest spiritual experiences have come at moments when I realized how narrow and constricting the faith of my childhood had been. The spirit is in us, Anon, it is our birthright. My guess is that it is in every sentient human being on the planet, whether or not they have heard of Joseph Smith. When I think of the claims of exclusivity that I heard growing up, that ours was the one true church and the only one chosen by God, it just boggles my mind. The spirit lives in all of us, Anon, all six billion of us. You won't ever lose it if you choose seek it out in your life.

I'm not saying that you can't seek it out through the faith into which you were born. You can. I cannot, because of the bigotry of the men who lead the church. Because of this bias, I am in a position analogous to a black person prior to 1978; I can only be a Mormon if I choose to be a second-class Mormon. My inherent dignity won't let me make that choice. You are lucky that you don't have to make it Anon, and that you can still receive nourishment from your communion with this particular church. But I am also lucky, Anon. By forcing me out of the church through their own narrow mindedness, the leaders of the church have forced me to find my spiritual nourishment elsewhere. And guess what? I have. I very much have, and I think I am a better person for it. Realizing that I wasn't one of the "chosen few", or that rather, everyone is chosen, has been both humbling and enlightening. It's filled me with more love for my fellow human beings, and broken down the false walls that were built up in me by the prideful teaching of exclusive power and authority that is a big part of Mormonism. Rather, I've had to learn that Mormons are not unique, that like all people, we want to find solace and peace and belonging in this life. Sometimes though, we get carried away and claim power and authority as well. That's where the trouble starts, where the long road to fundamentalism and tyranny lies. It lies in thinking that you are the only people with the whole truth.

You are not. Neither am I. But I am searching, Anon. I am keeping my mind open and striving, yes, to educate myself, to learn and grow in knowledge. Any religion that asks me not to do so, that asks me to be willfully ignorant of all there is to know, is really of little use to me these days.

There is one more truch I'd like to claim, Anon. That spirit I was talking about earlier? That spirit is love. Love of ourselves, love of others, love of life. I try to find that love every day.


Blogger ExMoWeHoMo said...

Whoa... somebody's got their magic unerpants in a twist.

Just remember, the members aren't perfect but the church is! Feel better? I thought so.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Spenny, I am sorry that you have spent soo much of your time trying to defend your actions to those who really know you (as do I). You forgot to mention that you felt the warmth of the spirit while wearing your Mickey Mouse Shirt. The problem that you have and can't escape (because of your upbringing and serving a mission) is that you know and have felt the truth, but you have to make a million excuses to validate why you chose your path.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Buddy Cole said...

Spence, I didn't grow up Mormon. But I did grow up Church of Christ and Southern Baptist. So I have many parallel experiences and insights. One such parallel is associates who I haven't seen in ten years who think they "know" me because we were in the same social circle in high school or college.

I have felt the presense of God at 2 a.m. on the dance floor of a gay bar, while taking a photo of a homeless man at a gas station, and at Church on Sunday mornings in a congregation of homosexual and heterosexual Christians who choose to worship God together without trying to judge who He has damned and who he has saved.

To "Anonymous": If you haven't shared our journey and you aren't willing to meet us where we are now, you don't really have the right to say you "know" us or how we ought to live our lives.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous said...

I love this, Anonymous:

"you know and have felt the truth, but you have to make a million excuses to validate why you chose your path."

How about, Spence was forced into being LDS and serving a mission like most LDS young men his own age. Assuming that he was not heir to a trust fund, he--like most other LDS men of that age--are forced to "go with the flow" and serve a mission regardless of their testimony, or lack thereof.

How do I know? Well, for starters, I'm a physician and have done half a dozen missionary physical exams. Of those six, four did not want to serve a mission but were caving in to family/ward/financial pressures (example: four years of college tuition and a new car/truck if you serve....and if not you're out on the street).

Those four unwilling candidates asked me individually to think of something on the form to get their applications rejected, and in all four cases I was able to make sure they were turned down---while remaining entirely truthful on the application.

So don't assume that everyone who serves a mission would choose to do so if they were free of family/financial/bishoprick/will I find a wife at the Y? type of pressures. Some have no choice.

And yes I think Joseph Smith was a pedophile (two wives age 14) and a fraud.

PS you were WAY off re: my orientation, but I am on the board of a Passat club with >10,000 members. Very few Mormons drive them because there are seats for only three children.

6:27 PM  

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