Friday, November 8, 2013

Effective religion

One of the unique bits of dogma in which we (members of the LDS Church) believe is the notion of religion that is based on something real rather than something imaginary.  We don't just "believe" in God.  We have Faith in Him.  Yes, Faith with a capitalized "F."  The most commonly quoted canon on the notion of faith is this snippet from the Book of Mormon:

"[F]aith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true."

The whole chapter where you will find that gem is a beautiful syllogism that justifies theology in general.  The Book of Mormon is pretty cool that way:  there are a lot of succinct but profound moments.  I submit that "hope" is investing ourselves in something.  In the LDS case, then, faith means to invest something in "things which are true."  It means we frame our actions around the expectation that certain things are real.  We do what we believe God says because we believe He exists and that he is nice and has our best interests at heart, and for the best of us, because we love Him.  Faith, specifically in Jesus Christ, and a correct understanding of who He is, is a basic principle of life for us.

In short, we believe in living an "effective religion," or one that gives results.  We are mystics.  We believe that Heaven is indeed a physical place.  A lot of other Christian religions see Heaven as a destination, an end goal.  Some LDS people have this sort of thing in mind as well.  They think this mortal experience is just a test to see if we're ready to really begin living.  They think that God will really begin teaching us His ways only after we've passed the test.

That is a problem for a lot of us.  In my opinion if you spend enough time studying LDS theology you come to understand that from the perspective of our scriptural canon, and from the perspectives of Joseph Smith and others, you find out that we really are not to believe that life begins once we have received a reward after death.  No, we are to believe that life merely continues.  We are to believe that God can teach us now, that we can "really begin living" right now.

Sure, there is a distinction between mortal life and the afterlife, but it is not that great.  We expect some pretty awesome enhancements to ourselves (some examples:  no sickness, physically perfect bodies post-resurrection, the ability to withstand the presence of God at least during Judgement, immortality).  All of that said, what I am trying to make clear here is that we expect living our religion will give us results right now.  We don't give the Atheists any ammunition because we really value the mortal experience and do not discount it because the afterlife is perceived as more valuable.

A non-Mormon who is quoted a lot by Mormons is C. S. Lewis.  His novel The Screwtape letters follows interactions between a servant of Satan, someone whose job it is to tempt people and to lead them down to Hell, and his nephew who is kind of like a tempter in training.  The letters are essentially tips on how to improve the nephew's chances of success in the business of tempting people.  I think about my own understanding of this entry from chapter 15 in the book often (keep in mind that references to "our Enemy" refer to God):
The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity.
It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time--for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays 
 Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.
I omitted a couple of barbs at Humanism and Evolution (see the second set of ellipses) because it's my blog and I can do things like that.  One of the things the Atheists use rightly to contend against most religion is that it focuses on the future at the expense of the present.  Why worry about blowing yourself up and killing a bunch of other people if it means the victims of your attack will be saved from their hedonist, godless ways, and you will secure a place of everlasting happiness for yourself?

There are some pretty cool religions that focus more on the present.  I happily propose that the LDS Church is one of them, but the purpose of this blog entry and its context with my mixed-orientation marriage is that sometimes it isn't.  LGBT people who are also Mormons face some challenges.

For lesbians and gay men, there is a great deal of homophobia, not just from the general membership but from leaders in the most influential positions, and gay men/lesbians are left for themselves to decide whether God gave them a birth defect that happened to influence the most core parts of their identity and personalities or whether the current doctrines as taught simply contain some mistakes; for bisexual people, any part of them that is attracted to the same sex and that does not fit into a gender stereotype is considered dangerous; for transgender, intersexed, or transexual people, important parts of church activity are strictly divided along defined gender boundaries.

One of the reasons that fitting into the LGBT categories is problematic for Mormons is not just because some homophobic people used a couple of bits of canon to decide that non-heterosexuality was sinful, but because in the last century marriage between a man and a woman has been defined as the ONLY way whereby we can inherit the best blessings God has prepared for us.  Sin, we can deal with, but a lack of progress for eternity, not "living happily ever after?"  THAT is terrifying.

There was a great graphic put up by someone on Facebook that is being circulated.  I won't identify the person, but I will link to the image (click to enlarge):

While I don't think it's entirely accurate, that isn't the creator's point.  The point is that to get that ideal, the best that God has to offer, official doctrine as taught (note that extremely important prepositional phrase) is that you can't do it outside of heterosexual marriage, and there is no definite indication from "the higher-ups" that LGBT people will have a chance to achieve that ideal outside of heterosexual marriage having been sought for and achieved during the mortal experience, the "pre-afterlife."

So how does this relate to my spouse and me?  Well, we married with a belief in effective religion, not one that would "un-gay" her, but one that would help us be happy now.  We chose to obey the rules so that we can enjoy the spiritual joys of temple worship (an especially intense experience at times), of the sort of "re-baptism" that members who stay within certain norms can enjoy at weekly meetings.  We want all of that.

All of this said, we demand of our religion, that is the collective of beliefs and doctrines and organizations and policies that are part of a follower of what we call "The Restored Church and Gospel of Jesus Christ" today, that we be able to give us realistic possibilities for fulfillment, that will give us a sense of safety and peace, and that will give us the confidence that we are following God's plan for us specifically.

We are not getting that.

As a "straight spouse" I've become aware of a lot of stories, a lot of people's lives, and their interactions with my Church, the LDS Church.  The recent language of understanding and comfort and empathy without any sort of general and public apology feels hypocritical to me.  The organization that was supposed to be the best refuge available on earth for any human being earnestly trying to follow their conscience has not been that refuge.

While we criticize the "LGBT Community" for lifestyle choices or pompous pride or selfishness, and say that the community is an unsafe place to be, we fail to remember that when as a culture we were kicking our children out of our homes, or trying to get them to hate some of the most core parts of their identity, or excommunicating them or causing them to live in fear of everyone around them should their identity be disclosed, this supposedly depraved Community was making them feel more welcome and safer than we ever did.

For my spouse and me, there has not been enough of an effort to get that "effective religion" we expect.  Like everyone whose identity and destiny is not covered by current doctrine as taught or revealed, we have to make life work based on our own judgment and our own experiences communicating with God.  We have to consider the possibility that disobeying our leaders could be obeying God.

For those of you who are LDS and consider your religion to be a mere accessory, who can and do very easily go with the flow of the mainstream of the population of the Church, and don't face existential challenges, get off your butts.  For us this religion is real.  We've married because we think it's that real, because we believe the spiritual benefits, here and now (not necessarily in the afterlife exclusively) for us are worth obeying some norms that we suspect could arbitrary and not exactly in line with God's will.  Remember Paul told us in the Bible that grudging obedience to God is worthless.  We grudgingly obey man's norms, and we do it faithfully because we feel those spiritual benefits of straight privilege are worth it.

Could this change?  Could our marriage be less helpful than hurtful to everyone involved?  Every day I wonder if this is the case.  Personally, I think God intends for faithful families with spouses of the same sex to get all the same blessings that families with spouses of the opposite sex can.  I think as humans we haven't understood that yet and may understand it one day.  For now, we live in the present.

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