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Monday, August 14, 2006

Treatise on Belief: To Thine Own Self Be True


I don't know much about the religious convictions of my family and how they were reached. It's just one of those things we never really talked about in my family. I think my dad has been an atheist all of my life, and perhaps longer than that. My mom doesn't believe in Mormonism as far as I know, but she believes in a god or force in the universe, and purpose in life. She attends church for the social aspect. My brother Zac is an atheist, and I think my brother Alden probably is too, but really, it's just one of those things we don't talk too much about in my family.

Growing up, my parents wanted Zac and I to make up our own minds about religion. They introduced us to Mormonism because that is the culture they themselves grew up in. They kept a close eye on what we were being taught, though. When my brother, at nine years old, came home from Sunday school talking about feeling guilty, my parents decided to pull him out of Sunday school and to not have me baptized in the church. They did not think it was healthy to raise children to have morally guilty feelings at nine years old. Guilt is prevalent in Mormon culture. If you can manage to reach adulthood in Mormonism without having a low self-esteem and plenty of guilt, then you are a strong person.

When I was eight, I told my parents I wanted to be baptized. They asked me if it was my own choice, and I told them it was. And it really was my own choice, too, although it was influenced by the fact that all my friends were being baptized around that time. And so I was baptized on my ninth birthday. My parents let me be baptized despite what happened with Zac and despite my dad's atheism. Mormonism tends to try to prevent its followers from thinking too critically. But my dad was not about to try to impress his beliefs on me without allowing me to think for myself, and that I appreciate.

I was active in the church until I turned 16, when my activity started to wane and my doubts started to grow. This was a period of what a lot of ex-mos like to call "cognitive dissonance". The claims of Mormonism just didn't seem to make sense to me. My belief in the church was in serious doubt. When I turned 17, I began a major identity crisis in light of the death of a close friend. For a long while I was angry. I cursed god for taking my friend from me.

After awhile, I began to question the existence of god. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense that god was a human creation, not the other way around. There is a lot we don't know about the world and the way it works, and why we're here and how we got here and what will happen to us when we die. It is human nature to fear the unknown. So we created god to explain what we can't yet explain otherwise. Some things that used to be attributed to god or supernatural forces now have scientific explanations. But for the big questions that we may never answer, god is still a convenient explanation. Keep in mind when I say god, I'm not necessarily talking about the Christian version. I'm talking about any supernatural means for giving explanation or meaning to our existence.

I grew into an agnostic at 18, and unofficially denounced my Mormonism. During my first year of college and some time in a course on the world's religions, I found that I philosophically connected with Buddhism to a large extent, but I did not believe in a spirit separate from the body, and I did not believe in a supernatural being that may be classified as a god. I began to explain to people that I was agnostic with atheistic tendencies, in that I did not believe it possible to prove one way or another the existence of god, thus my agnosticism, but that I personally believed god does not exist, thus my atheism. But I began to feel that the atheism portion is the crux of what I believe. Not what I know, mind, but what I believe. Thus today I simply call myself atheist.

After my first year of college, I decided that I wanted to officially resign as a member of the Mormon church, for my own sake of closure and personal integrity. But seeing how this is a rather ramificated (yes, this is my own coinage) type of denunciation, I decided I ought to think carefully about this decision and do some research. I joined an exmormon mailing list, in which I sought support from others who had done the same thing as I was doing. It's always nice to know you aren't alone. Many claims about the Mormon church were brought to my attention and I began to collect documentation regarding these claims. After much study of the documentation, I became convinced of my conviction that the Mormon church is based on false claims. The particulars are not so much important, since I don't care to try to convince anyone of my convictions, and anyway, all the information is readily accessible for those who really want to see it.

Having decided to go through with my resignation, I drafted two letters: one to the bishop of my local ward requesting that my membership status be rescinded, and one to my parents expressing my atheism and decision to leave the church. I didn't feel like this would be an issue with my parents, of course, but I felt my family deserved to know. I happened to visit my parents the same day they received the letter. I sat on the sofa as my dad read the letter, and when he finished, he came over and kissed me on the forehead. Not being a very affectionate family, it meant something for him to do this. It meant that he was proud of me. I think it must have been tough for my father to watch me in the church all those years and to hold his tongue regarding his own beliefs, but he was pleased that I got there on my own, and so was I. I have been much happier in life ever since.

It is my own personal feeling that god doesn't exist. This makes the most sense and the least cognitive dissonance to me. To ME. I emphasize, to me. Since my loss of faith, I have recognized that faith is important to others, that it makes them happy, gives them hope, and purpose in life. For me it does not do these things, but serves to cast doubt on my integrity to myself. And I must be true to myself. I also believe, though, that others must be true to themselves. Do I think they are wrong? Of course I do. The fact that I believe something is true means that I must believe the alternatives are wrong, as it is with everyone else who holds convictions true. But I don't think other people ought to adopt my way of thinking without getting there on their own. And if they never do, as long as they are happy in what they believe, then I feel fine that they believe as they do. I do not want others to encroach on my right to believe as I do, and I wouldn't want to do the same to others.

I guess the real question now is whether having this attitude means I have a superiority complex. I concede the possibility. I am rather egocentric, and have recognized this in myself for many years. I am the most important person in my life. And I believe this is the way things should be; after all, I'm the only person I have to live with for my entire life, therefore I ought to look out for my own needs above the needs of others, and I ought to be happy with myself. Selfish? Yeah, maybe. But I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing.


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6 comments:

Faye said...

You gave my faith in God a boost today! Thanks!

Sra said...

Happy to be of service.

Tom Dobber said...

It is only our prejudices and biases that allow us to think of "God" as a reasonable idea. Congratulations at overcoming your ignorance.

Tom Dobber said...

It is only our prejudices and biases that allow us to think of "God" as a reasonable idea. Congratulations at overcoming your ignorance.

Sra said...

Happy to be of service.

Faye said...

You gave my faith in God a boost today! Thanks!

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