Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Action versus Belief (and Intelligence, too!)

According to Wikipedia, on this day in 1967, L. Ron Hubbard revealed the fantastical origins tale in his Scientology ponzi scheme. He unleashed on his unsuspecting followers the sci-fi tale of Xenu, the evil galactic warlord who ruled the galaxy 75 million years ago and committed massive acts of genocide by wiping out a species that he placed in volcanoes all over planet earth and detonated nuclear bombs. Because of this, every human being born on earth is "infected" by these "thetans" and thus need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to rid ourselves of these pesky invisible parasites through Hubbard's "auditing" process.

In honour of "Xenu Day", I decided this would be a great day to write about recent debates on the Community of Christ Facebook wall. I started posting comments a few weeks ago when I noticed that someone had asked about reincarnation. I was stunned. To know that a fellow church member is interested in a topic like reincarnation really made me excited. Most people I know are not interested in it at all, so I have no one to really talk to about it. I've read as many as 35 books on the topic, so I feel like I have a good understanding of how the process might actually work. We can never be 100% certain about anything dealing with spirituality, though, so for those who require absolute proof before they believe something, well, there's no point in arguing that with me.

As soon as I started posting, there was a lady who posted some nasty comments. I recognized her type. A decade ago, I had posted on the Community of Christ webboard and dealt with such types before, so I knew all the old arguments and the way they view things. No change. As I learned from various posts, this lady is an "ultra-conservative" member of the church (possibly borderline "Restorationist") and she said something as outlandish as her desire to see the church demand that all members believe that the Book of Mormon is literally true. I tried to explain to her that our church does not operate that way. Historically, it has not. Why start now? Though she believes in her heart that she holds fast to the way the church was in the past (and how the current church keeps moving further and further away from God), her understanding of church history is pretty limited. But, as I understand the mind of conservatives, her comments does show consistency with the way conservatives generally think. Which is, the obsession about the mythological "purity of the past." Why is it that conservative people always idealize the past or some mythological "Golden Age"? They ignore history and create some fictional world or organization that does not reflect reality. She really should see Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris, which is the best film I've seen regarding the topic of nostalgia and having a strong preference over a past era than the current one.

This ultra-conservative woman had shown in several posts that she would enforce a conformity of belief on members, which happen to coincide with what she believes! How convenient. That's another thing that irks me about conservatives: the insistence on conformity. They allow no diversity of views, if they could have their way. Only one acceptable set of beliefs for everyone to agree on. Perhaps this is their way of easing doubts in their mind, but it is not the way of history and human nature. People disagree on any number of issues because our life experience, personality, and ways of seeing the world are different.

What I tried to explain to this woman regarding our church history is this: Since the final years of founding prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.'s life in Nauvoo, Illinois, there were a group of dissenters who did not like his revelations regarding baptisms for the dead, eternal marriage, plural marriage, and temple rites that were ripped off from the Masons. When he was assassinated and the Latter Day Saints movement faced a succession crisis, Apostle Brigham Young assumed the leadership and led the largest contingent of members out west to settle the lands that became Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. Those who remained behind included the martyred prophet's wife and children. Emma Smith hated Brigham Young and did not trust him at all. Instead, she helped preserve what she felt was her husband's true legacy and with the dissenters, this eventually became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which changed the name to Community of Christ in 2001 to reflect an evolutionary return to the "Church of Christ" roots that began in 1830). Under the lengthy leadership of Joseph Smith III, the small church had at the core a healthy respect for dissent and disagreement among members. It became what is known as a "non-creedal" church, meaning that members who join aren't required to confess or profess to believe any doctrine. There is room for doubt and disagreement. It was the fellowship and the dream of a common purpose (that the Kingdom of Zion will be established on earth someday) that mattered more.

So, whenever a conservative member of the church wants to demand conformity of belief or to expel members for not believing the same way, I just have to laugh because they are showing their complete ignorance about the history of the church. It was formed by people who saw things going on in Nauvoo that they disagreed with and when they voiced their disagreements, they were cast out. This was not in keeping with the inclusive nature of Jesus, so I am grateful that the founders of the reorganization made sure that dissent was a founding characteristic of our little faith movement. This is our heritage and legacy, born out of the painful experiences in Nauvoo. The ability of a member to voice objection to those in leadership who may be abusing their power or role is critical in maintaining a healthy church that does not veer off into strange and secretive doctrines. This history of dissent is perhaps what I most love about the church I'm a lifelong member of.

Anyhow, in another discussion, a member had asked which was more important, belief or action. As a discussion developed, I had come across a comment that was made by my best friend's brother on an article in The Huffington Post regarding the most recent Republican debate. This guy is a hardcore atheist who had de-friended me on Facebook this year because he could no longer "tolerate" my spiritual comments. He wrote that while Jon Huntsman seemed to be the most intelligent Republican candidate and the most moderate, he still would not vote for him because he did not believe that anyone who was intelligent could ever believe anything as patently absurd as Mormonism. When I read that, I was stunned! That revealed a level of hostility and prejudice that I did not even know he had. Wow!!! This atheist actually claimed that he did not believe an intelligent person could ever be Mormon!!! Now I understood why he de-friended me. He is not merely disinterested in religion, he is vehemently anti-religion.

As one who has studied among the Mormons for college and who found Mormon beliefs to be quite strange (though not as strange as Scientology), even during my time at BYU I was stunned by how intelligent and even book smart many of my classmates were. It was a tough university, not just religiously for a minority, but also academically. To say that someone is not intelligent at all because you find their religious beliefs to be illogical and absurd is simply ridiculous. It ignores the fact that for many people, they grew up with Mormon beliefs. They've learned it since they were in pre-school. When you grow up in a church and you're taught to believe something and everyone around you believes the same thing, it is a powerful experience. For many people, breaking out of the mold you're cast in is difficult because it requires asking some pretty tough questions. I believe it is unfair, not to mention dishonest, to dismiss an entire group of people just because they believe something that you don't believe is true. People believe all kinds of things that others find strange. There's Mohammed's "Night Journey" on a flying horse from Mecca to Medina (if I'm not mistaken). There's Jesus' virgin birth and resurrection. There's Noah's Ark. There's Jackal-headed gods. There's reincarnated lamas. There's an elephant god named Ganesh. There's Gold Plates buried in a hill that gets translated by a farm boy. There's a galactic warlord named Xenu. There's the Flying Spaghetti Monster. There's the belief that all of this sprang out of nowhere spontaneously. One man's religion is another man's punchline.

How difficult is it for someone (an atheist, even) to understand that intelligence has nothing to do with spirituality? What I mean is that there are many intelligent people in all religions or no religions at all. One's intelligence can't be determined by some religious litmus test. Just because someone believes something that another person finds ridiculous does not make that believer ignorant or stupid. It is this example of intellectual smugness that I most find repulsive about atheists. They want to believe that they have a lock on intelligence because they reject all spiritual ideas, but this itself is a lie. How do I know its a lie? Because my life experience has taught me that intelligent people come in all religions. I know plenty of intelligent Mormons and we have some really intelligent conversations. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that I even prefer conversations with Mormons over an atheist, because at least we can agree on a spiritual worldview. They aren't so smug that they have made their own intelligence their god. In fact, at BYU is a sign that says: "The Glory of God is Intelligence." That is the BYU motto.

Getting back to the belief versus action debate. I think most people agreed that action was more important than belief because how people conduct themselves can impact others in a positive or negative way. People can believe all kinds of things, but in the end, its the way we all act that matters the most, not what we believe. Yes, what we believe is important, but how we act is far more important.

Ultimately, though, I find it ironic that an atheist would not vote for a Mormon candidate for president because he believes that the Mormon is lacking intelligence for believing the Mormon religion. This same atheist, I know, lamented before that Americans would not vote for an atheist for president because of the fear that the atheist lacks morals or a fear of divine punishment. I guess the street goes both ways. For me, beliefs matter less than actions. Because the only two reasonable Republicans running for president this time happen to both be Mormon, if either Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman (both pictured above) ended up as president, I would have no doubt that they would be fair and impartial, a president for all Americans, not just the Mormon Americans. I may not find the LDS Church to be logical or liberal enough for me, but that does not mean that I don't think Mormons are intelligent. I wish the atheists would stop their chauvinism and smug superiority and realize that intelligence is not a black or white issue. There is no correlation between intelligence and belief / lack of belief. And in the end, what does it matter anyway? How we act is how people will remember us. At the funerals I've gone to, I didn't hear stories from people about how their loved ones believed. It was mostly about what their loved ones did.

1 comment:

T said...

Good post!When people vehemently attack like this woman did, it's out of fear.