Religion: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

on a boatWARNING: This post hits on sensitive subjects regarding my opinions regarding religion, belief, and ‘When Jesus Christ’s Morality Stopped Making Sense’ to me. In a moment, I will spell out some of the good I received from my religious experience and absolute devotion and personal friendship with my ‘Savior and Redeemer’. Then, I will touch on some of the harmful aspects I have traced back to it as well. With that said, I am not feeling I have arrived, or that I have the answers now, but for reasons I deem very moral, feel to be open, direct, and honest about my sincere teachable little boy inside who is struggling to make sense of it all. If you are not interested in this kind of subject matter, then this post would be one to pass on. I know that I will most likely be judged for this by some. Having traversed the valleys that we have, I have gained an increased desire to stick my neck out and be vulnerable, because I now care in a more profound way than I used to about this type of obviously harmful social problem that all of us face.

I am fairly sure some reading will likely feel the need to judge my current opinion as definitively incorrect. I am not writing to them, rather for them, and for me, and for all of us; weak, feeble, and vulnerable humans trying to make sense of it all. I have come to see too many relationships torn apart, because of unwillingness to truly try to ask questions, then listen to really try to understand where someone is coming from. What we all have in common far surpasses what currently divides us. We are all in this together. I am writing because I sincerely want to try to contribute in whatever way I may be able to help attempt to make the world a better place, a safer place, a more loving place.

Although I received so much, of what can be considered ‘good fruits’, throughout my religious devotion, I have now become acutely aware of some of it’s, as Christopher Hitchens called it, “ultimate wickedness and stupidity”.  I am as honest as I know how to be when I say that I feel that much of my life, capacity, and resources have been dedicated to organized superstition. I find the God of the Bible to be much less moral than the direction my internal moral compass points me in. The Old Testament is laden with examples of a deity that wreaks havoc on his own limited capacity creations, and the New Testament is much better, but still has major problems that don’t fit into what feels right intrinsically. I want to be good. I want to be moral. I want to love and be loved, but the Bible has failed, on a whole host of levels, to convince me of it’s overarching goodness and morality. I’ll get into that more in a minute.

As a full-time missionary, I loved to recite a quote I had picked up on, “ Pride must be prickly, because it sure does hurt when you swallow it.”

I now know with first hand experience, that it next to impossible, in the beginning, for anyone to acknowledge that a large part of their life has been consecrated to folly, fable, or fairy tale. But, walking in these battered and holey moccasins, I’ve experienced the extreme discomfort of swallowing my pride, which was there in abundance and I was not self-aware, and asking myself, “If what I hold to be near and dear to my heart and most sacred really isn’t true, would I really even want to know?”

Before continuing any further, ask yourself that question, and take at least a minute or so to let it marinate:

“If I am by some chance wrong, about anything, would I want to know about it?”

WrongIf you are reading this, you probably know bits and pieces of my story. Having my entire identity as a human being torn out of my heavy heart, was the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. Because of what I have been through, I see a whole new world that I didn’t know existed before…a world where Religion and many of it’s zealots masquerade in more ways than one…some, very bad for humanity, and many people are needlessly suffering as a result.

Before I get lambasted, and tossed out with the bathwater regarding the potentially controversial opener, allow me to explain myself.

THE GOOD

I did the whole hellion thing as a teenager and into my early twenties. Based on my decisions, on many occasions, I could have easily ended up dead or in jail. Then, I converted to the Mormonism my Mother did her best to raise me with, and I converted hard. I knew of her goodness, and I knew so many good people that I had grown up with. They had several things about life figured out far better than I had. I was ready. I was, as we called it in the mission field, “Golden”, admittedly needing drastically to turn a new leaf. The track I was on was clearly not leading me to personal fulfillment, then I humbled myself to accept the goodness of the religion I had been raised in.

Although I now realize that most religions and life philosophies have adopted some of the values that seem to be better ways to live in the world, it becomes very difficult to definitively name any one of them as the founder, or most special or chosen licensee of these ‘values’.

Because I have learned about my capacity to be swayed by my own biases, it seems only healthy and fair-minded to detail the good that I gleaned from in my time as a devout believer in Mormonism. Among many other things, being taught the following, brought much joy, and in my estimation, in many ways, healthy thinking:
Bri
Love, respect, forgive, do not judge, be grateful, be patient, be honest, have integrity, care about truth, be accountable, be moderate, be temperate, apologize, have empathy, value family, value community, have stalwart courage, be generous, be humble/teachable, value knowledge, be persistent, be proactive, care about quality, volunteering of my time to help others, work hard, team building, and magnify my talents to do my best to make the world a better place, etc.

As a youth, being asked to give a talk in front of an entire congregation of people was helpful for me to learn about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. That has served me positively over and over in my life.

Additionally, being on my own, with plans needing to be made and a schedule to keep, helped me grow up more efficiently than had I not gone on my mission. Spending so much time thinking about others and how I may be able to help them, feels like it had a balancing effect in my life.

These things seem to have brought many ‘good fruits’ into my life over time…and I am grateful for that.

Being the natural optimist that I am, the list goes on and on.


PONDER THIS

Imagine for a moment your most precious relationship, and some of the treasured lifetime memories you’ve created together. Maybe it is your mother, father, a grandparent, and aunt or uncle, a sibling, a cousin, or a cherished friend, etc. Now imagine that person decided they no longer wanted to have contact with you. In other words, you find out you have been ‘forsaken’ by them. With as meaningful as the relationship had been, you are now isolated from being able to connect with that loved one for the foreseeable future. Taking into consideration your history with this loved one, how do you think you would you feel inside? Taking that a step further, what if almost all of your friends and family decided to forsake you, or put your relationship on hold overnight? What do you think you would be experiencing mentally, emotionally, socially? For you, in your heart, doing your best not to think about anything you’ve been taught about it growing up, what would be the acceptable reasons it would be okay to forsake another person?

Forsake DefinitionTHE BAD and UGLY

Now let’s talk about some of the other things wrapped up in the Mormon experience, things I have come to see clearly causing real harm to real people…suffering that was happening around me that I was completely oblivious to before. Among many other substantive problems and contradictions within each book of what is considered scripture from God, some of these specific teachings, observations, doctrines, and policies, etc. I have come across are:

-The world is divided up between the believers and unbelievers…being conditioned since birth to worship belief on the highest of all pedestals. Among other things, this seems to be the baseline for forsaking loved ones for belief.

-Faith is the first principle of the gospel and venerated above all else…belief/testimony is most valuable asset.
-Forsaking loved ones for a belief deserves admiration or out-of-this-world reward for.
-Authoritarianism-Don’t question your leaders. Once the Prophet speaks, the thinking has been done.
-Obedience is the first law of heaven. The ‘obedience first’ paradigm gives pseudo mental protection to those who judge others instead of loving them, and call it something else. It also is the same worldview that allows for the Adolf Hitlers of the world to rise in power, and wreak social havoc.
-The church has the corner on the market regarding highest and best values.
-Feigned concern and using the word love when it isn’t applicable in a more full sense of what it means to ‘love’.
-No actual respect for ‘individual agency’, which keeps devotees mentally captive.
-Scare tactics and fear mongering everywhere in the scriptures and teachings…which I have now learned through personal experience, were not based on truth.
-Apostasy is the worst sin. Denying the Holy Ghost = Son of Perdition (the ultimate forsaking)
-Marginalization and/or shunning of loved ones who are seen as a potential spiritual threat to testimony.
-Proselyting to “help” others “find” the most special, most chosen, most correct way of believing fundamental truth claims.
-The melding of belief and “worthiness” (i.e. temple recommend interview questions).
-Using Holy Scripture, inspiration, or revelation to justify divisive and harmful behaviors.
-Truth is a feeling that trumps veritable fact, logic, and reason. The same thing believers of other religions use to do the same thing in the opposite direction.
-Facts, Logic, and Rationality, in truth seeking are not only unimportant, but looked down upon.
-Misuse of head and heart- logic vs. feelings. It’s all happening in the mind.
-Dissociation from what can be verified as facts, mutually contradictory information, etc. that doesn’t fit the confirmation bias. Constant reassuring oneself that currently held beliefs are indeed the truth.
-Fundamentalism or dichotomous absolutism-All or nothing mentality. “You don’t believe anymore, well I guess we have to get a divorce because you’re leaving our sacred covenants.”
-Calling faith “knowledge”.
-Unwillingness or denial that belief really is merely a choice.
-Protecting “testimony” at all costs…even integrity, and honesty, and more importantly relationships.
-Excuse that members who use their head too much are in danger of intellectualizing themselves out of faith or belief.
-Ad hominem attacks- pointing the finger of blame at the honest seeker of truth, instead of discussing subject matter. (He/she must be deceived by Satan, lazy, unrepentant, too intellectual, can’t just get past the weaknesses of men, etc.)
-Doublethink which leads to doublespeak. Believing two or more mutually contradictory things which is impossible in nature.
-Logical fallacies are acceptable forms of diversion or substantiating bold truth claims.
-Cherry-picking of data, verse, or facts, instead of being genuinely open to examining both sides in a more complete, more objective, more balanced openness.
-Not valuing objectivity and the full truth being the standard to strive for.
-Breathtaking hypocrisy of living counterfeit, while calling others way of living counterfeit.
-The arrogance behind and misplacement of burden of proof for those who make bold truth claims.
-Constant worship of one’s own confirmation bias instead of actual verifiable information, even when verified.
-Exclusivity of ‘most chosen’, ‘most elect’ people or groups.
-Resorting to persecution complex when an actual irreconcilable contradiction within a specific belief arises.
-Misogyny, Racism, Homophobia in any form is acceptable.
-Caving into social pressure and calling it revelation.

-Propping up sacrifice, and noble suffering within the extreme and limited context of the obedience-first paradigm.
-Denial of susceptibility to mind control.

– Leader pressure which produces an unwillingness to challenge one’s own beliefs.
-Not allowing members to honestly leave the belief with their human dignity in tact.

Flowering

I have seen some of the worst and most mentally, emotionally, and socially manipulative, and abusive behavior in my entire life from people feeling like God is giving them license to behave this way. Having studied, researched, pondered much, and having talked to so many others charting similar courses, I have gained a few insights that I feel are beneficial to share in the hope that it may potentially help even one person who may be suffering as perpetrator or victim. With that said, I am very open to being shown the errors or lapses in my thinking process.

In reference to the vast majority of Christian narratives specifically, because that is the belief system I am most familiar with, in complete honesty and sincerity, I find some aspects and teachings completely irreconcilable with some of my first hand experience.

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. Matthew 19:29 KJV Bible

For months, I kept asking, “Can there be ANY reason why ‘forsaking’ (in any sense or definition of the word) our most precious loved ones, for a belief system, FITS THE CENTRAL MESSAGE OF THE BELIEF ITSELF?” I had always been taught, the heart and soul-the very core of it all, is Love! If I love people, shouldn’t they be able to feel that love for them? Let me say that again, If I say that I love you, shouldn’t you be able to feel that love for you? Is simply praying for somone from a distance, or calling them to repentance a form of love they are going to feel from you? Isn’t love a two way street. Love is connection, love is tolerance, love is inclusion, etc. If you love me, I would think I should feel it. Seems kinda basic, but I completely understood that concept in a less loving way than I do now.

Another verse boldly states:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Matthew 25: 40 KJV Bible

I have heard many of my Christian friends, so many who very genuinely believe like I did, talk about what they think I am not considering regarding the context, background, epistemology, etc.  and look for a way to try to explain this problem of forsaking loved ones, but in all honesty, it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t sound right at all. Forsaking your loved ones for a belief, in all sincerity, now sounds ridiculous, lopsided, and foolish. I haven’t yet heard one explanation that holds weight, even though I spent much time in the beginning trying desperately to hold on to my precious relationship with my Savior and Redeemer. If we hold that loving people matters, this is just one example of many, but these two scriptures above, taken literally by most Christians, are mutually irreconcilable. If I am wrong somehow, I really would love to know. It would be easier in so many ways to just believe in something. If the honest little boy inside of me felt like someone was making sense, and not repeatedly falling into common thinking traps, I would wholeheartedly welcome it. Those who see themselves as having arrived at a better place than me because of the powerful spiritual promptings they’ve had, will likely dismiss whether I really am actually teachable or not. I always find it interesting that they do so without asking any questions, or trying at all to get to a more full consideration of the rest of my story…and digging to truly try to understand the lengths I have personally gone to to try and figure out what beliefs I could hang onto. My self preservation, my identity, my everything was on the line.

On any given moment, believers will use the latter of those two scriptures to reassure themselves that they have the best way to move along living amongst their fellow humans, patting themselves on the back. But they may also use the former to give themselves license, permission, or entitlement to behave divisively…and feel justified in what can be verifiable as very bad behavior, calling it righteousness or setting themselves up as the benevolent sacrificial lamb. In these cases, piety is only seen through the rose colored glasses. For many, obviously not all, the bad fruit or wake of harm is visually non-existent with those glasses pridefully perched on the upturned nose. In the meantime, the people are still suffering, and they are not feeling any of the professed love or inclusion.

No matter what we think about anything, if it really isn’t true, then why wouldn’t we want to know? Why upon discovering new information that destroys the ability to believe, do we have family and friends that only want to judge instead of asking anything like, “I am here for you…how can I help you patch up these holes in the boat you see as sinking?”

For me, I have learned to love to discover how I may be wrong…and that goes for every single word written here. Being teachable, and learning about and trying to avoid thinking traps has led to an increased happiness, joy, and liberation I previously didn’t know existed. All of this is our current place, all completely without Jesus Christ. In fact, we finally reached the point, where we felt the need to reject him, because we couldn’t in all honesty say we agreed with his complete version of morality. How, if he created me, with my limitations that he would know I have, is it possible that we have happiness and joy in our lives more than we’ve ever had? Obviously, this comes with the exception of having been put on hold or completely relegated to the margins by previous close relationships. How can this be the case based on all the scary things I read in the scriptures that would happen to those who stoop so low as to take any actions that would risk them not being able to believe anymore. How could it possibly be that the little boy in me honestly feels happier, more liberated, more healthy, all completely having not being able to reconcile morality/love with Jesus Christ’s version of it?

Optimistically,

Kenn

Feel free to send a friend request on Facebook, if we seem like the kind of people you’d like to connect with.Kenn and RuthAnn https://www.facebook.com/kenn.sullivan We have made some of the most amazing and authentic friends. They have been very instrumental in our much needed therapy, and we are very grateful to have connected with them, since ALMOST ALL of our believing friends and family have, in their minds somehow ‘righteously’, at some level, ‘forsaken’ us. We look forward to adding many more amazing and authentic friends to our lives. You can also email at: kenn@linkingarms.org or ruthie@linkingarms.org

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