Believing in something outside yourself is hard work

Since my last post, the woman who has been calling for LDS women to become priests has been excommunicated.  The church did not publish the announcement, she did, and even though it shows that her church leaders have been working with her officially since at least December of last year, she has been obstinate in her path.  Good for her, and I wish her well, but the freedom of association works both ways: any organization who feels that one of its members is working to undermine it declared principles is free to revoke that person’s membership.

But in wondering how to approach the subject, since it tends to be somewhat outside the average American’s understanding (the doctrine isn’t hard to follow, its just that most Americans don’t even realize that the LDS church can and does excommunicate people), I came across this article:

Religion shouldn’t be this hard.

An assembly that exists to help people shouldn’t be so willing to hurt people — by declaring them worthless, unacceptable, undesirable or strangers at the gate.

An assembly that should relax into the serenity of God’s unconditional love shouldn’t be so filled with hatred and fear.

An assembly that should do what Jesus did shouldn’t be so inwardly focused, so determined to be right, so eager for comfort, so fearful of failing.

An assembly that follows an itinerant rabbi shouldn’t be chasing permanence, stability and property.

An assembly whose call is to oneness and to serving the least shouldn’t be perpetuating hierarchies of power and systems of preference.

Faith should be difficult, yes, because it inevitably entails self-sacrifice and renewal. Life, too, is difficult. Dealing with Mammon is difficult. Speaking truth to power is difficult. Confronting our own weakness and capacity for sin is difficult.

It bothered me, and it took me a while to understand why.  He first says that Religion should not be hard, then explains failings of institutions of religion, then affirms that personal belief can indeed be challenging.  I’m sorry, but my understanding of religion is that it is personal first, and then organized.  Of course religion is difficult; we have to deny the selfish impulse, learn to think and care for others, and then work at putting our beliefs into practice in a world that does not often respect or reward those who do.

He says that religion shouldn’t be hard, and then proceeds to show why it is hard: because human beings have a natural tendency to gather together in groups that have similar beliefs, but without constantly working at practicing those beliefs, the gatherings tend to become corrupt, excluding some harshly, responding angrily to criticism, seeking after monetary or social gain instead of working together for the common good.

This article offends me because he paints every church with this broad brush, says that all assemblies suffer these problems, that any organization that professes to be religious in nature will suffer these issues.  And I call foul.

Any large institution can be faulted at some point for failing to live up to its ideals, but this applies to corporations, governments, and home owners associations as well as churches.  You don’t get a free pass to apply your critique solely to church organizations because you have “36 years of serving churches as a pastor and consultant”.  If anything, that kind of experience should allow you to understand that men will always turn to evil in any setting unless actively fighting the impulse.  It should show you that even bad men can repent of their bad choices and make good choices, affecting not just their lives, but the lives of many around them.

And you should have seen that for every person who changes for the better, a dozen more change for the worse, because that is the easy path.

Never forget that the itinerant rabbi drove people away from the Holy Temple.  That He healed, forgave, and then commanded: go forth and sin no more.  That His teachings, though full of love and acceptance, also affirmed that no imperfect creature could return to God.  And the church He belonged to cast Him out and had Him killed, and yet even when He overcame death, He never denounced that church, that religion, and had His disciples remain faithful members even as they tried to improve it.

Evil works very hard to defeat good.  We have to work harder to defeat Evil.  And this applies not just to our institutions, but to our own hearts most of all.

Religion was never meant to be easy.  It has all the forces of hell arrayed against it.


I don’t have to change for anyone

There is an assumption in America that we are individuals, capable of self-determination, and protected by the Constitution from being forced into betraying our deeply held beliefs.  I’m beginning to wonder if this is true.

Part of the American experiment is the melting pot, that we can come together and get along, and work side by side.  I think it used to be understood that this meant that the Dutch, the Irish, and the Italians could work together in an office or factory without regard to where they came from, and then go home at night to their own neighborhoods.  The Italians didn’t force the Dutch to accept Catholicism, the Dutch didn’t force the Italians to become Protestant, and both sides let the Irish fight it out amongst themselves.  In other words, professional integration, but personal segregation.  I can work with you, and you with me, but we respect each other’s lifestyles, religion, personal philosophy, etc. Not agree with, mind you; there is nothing that says that the Italians, Dutch, and Irish had to always like or get along with each other.  It’s just that in America, we didn’t start with ancestry, religion, skin color, or language.  What mattered was can I be your friend and you mine, despite our differences?

Because in addition to our personal culture, we had a civic culture as well.  We told stories about what it meant to be American without mentioning background or belief, and that was okay.  None of the Founding Fathers had the exact same theological understandings, and were of many different backgrounds, educations, and experiences.  They came together to work out how they could make such diversity workable, not to meld it into a cultural hegemony.

This is why even though I understand with what the infamous Vox Day says about multicultural diversity being untenable for long, I think that he is wrong.  What makes America unique, and successful, is allowing everyone the freedom to have personal individuality as long as they support a civic culture that is more homogeneous.  Where he is right is that some cultures refuse to be subservient in the public square (or professional arena) so that all can have personal freedom.

And that is where we are today.  The leaders in our media and entertainment industries have certain beliefs, and if you disagree with them, well, you must be wrong.  And very possibly evil.  Certainly not worthy of having your own rationality for why you believe what you believe.  They have looked at the alternatives, chosen the correct path, and you are expected to fall in line.  It’s the only conceivable option.  And they have plenty of ways to make you feel pressure to conform.

But conformity was never the American ideal.  We were not founded with the idea that we should all hold the same beliefs.  We were founded with the understanding that our laws would protect the ability of the individual to choose their own beliefs, as long as this did not cause harm to others.  And this means real harm, not just have your feelings hurt.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints–a Mormon.  We believe that only men are allowed, by God, to hold the priesthood.  There is a group that believes that women should hold the priesthood as well, because that is fair.  Their idea of social equality cannot, and should not, trump my religious belief.  In fact, the proper response, if they believe that there is a theological reason to let women hold the priesthood, is to form their own church.  And if they claim divine revelation for doing so, all the better.  But their insistence that I change my belief because it goes against their belief doesn’t help either of us.  Believe what you want.  Don’t force it on me, and above all, don’t think I have to change because you have polls, and popular culture, and celebrities, and political leaders on your side.  It doesn’t matter.  And if it does, then I claim God to be on my side, and I win.

Oh, that isn’t fair?  As the Grandfather in The Princess Bride says:

It is not fair that women are sexually mutilated in some cultures.  It’s not fair some of the richest men in the world come from countries that have high populations of abjectly poor people.  It’s not fair that most great Western art comes from Europe.  It’s not fair that the Amish have to do without most modern technology.  Oh, wait, that last one is a choice of the Amish themselves?  And I could choose to live that way if I wanted to?

You don’t say.

You’ll notice that even though my church claims divine authority, so does every other major church.  It’s one of those church things, I guess.  And you don’t see the Pope demanding that we stop allowing bishops to marry, or the Baptists demanding that we stop baptizing people.  They may want those things, they may try and convince me of those things, but in the end they let me choose for myself.

I’m sure Ordain Women thinks that they are just trying to convince people that they are right, too.  And they are.  In that sense, I have no problem with them.  I have also known good Mormons who have shopped on Sunday, and don’t think that they are doing anything wrong (if you don’t understand that, it’s because we believe in keeping the Sabbath day holy, in the Old Testament tradition).  What bothers me is that they are not trying to convince me that I’m wrong, they are trying to convince society that I am wrong.  We all know that society thinks my church is wrong about a lot of things.  But remember what I said about the American culture is about professional integration and personal segregation?  Yeah, that means that even if you convince the entire non-Mormon population of America that my church should changes it’s practice, it doesn’t have to.  Go convince the Amish to use cell phones while you’re at it.