Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What an interesting world...

I'm talking to an old friend today, and refreshing why we aren't still together.

I am reading my notes about Mormonism, it's history, culture, what I personally observed, what it's leaders say, and comparing to my own beliefs. Now there is a massive chasm (by the way, just to get it out, I am Unitarian Universalist, check us out at www.uua.org)

I was thinking about how sad religion can sometimes be. Religions who say that they are the only right path to heaven, otherwise prepare for hell, like Catholicism, Mormonism, some sects of Islam, are considered "normal" "orthodox". My personal experience with this type of idea is it tears families apart. People who don't subscribe to the particular set of dogmas are outcast, and if they aren't related by blood can experience alienation. This is a very common pattern. This belief breeds violence against people who aren't part of the group, whether it is the Crusades, Terrorism, or Mountain Meadows Massacre. These religions (in my personal experience) tend to focus on musts, and ritual, and absolute conformity otherwise watch out. Sects grow out of these religions from people who disagree with the leader, and the system of polity is almost always hierarchical. (even though I have yet to find a religion like that this that doesn't have a hierarchical polity I am giving myself some leeway since there are so many different types of religions.) These types of religions breed atheism, or at least agnosticism, (not that they are bad) as people look at groups with absolute authority and wonder if a God would do that to people. They are self-defeating to people who dig past the surface. By this I mean that in my personal exploration of the world, these types of religions do not survive an investigation into where their beliefs are from and are almost always exposed to be fraudulant at some level. I am not alone in this. There is a sense of control in these types of churches that everyone must agree on a long list of beliefs, that are specifically selected out of the most contradictory book I have ever read (the Bible) while ignoring other laws that are sometimes more or less extreme.In all of these religions, there is some level of fear, maybe it is something relatively small like the fear of going to hell if you don't believe in God, or something that is even worse, that if you leave your family might stop talking to you and you will lose all of your friends from your old church, which would scare me far more than eternal damnation because it would extend eternal damnation into this life. This is not a healthy relationship in my opinion.

I choose not to associate with any religion like that, as I said at the top, I am Unitarian Universalist, I am agnostic, I believe in the golden rule and I believe things are usually better than they seem. I don't believe in hell, and am agnostic about the afterlife. Being able to explore any religious tradition I choose and understand different religions and cultures without being put down if I say that another belief fits better than that of the majority of my church (with only one exception, the golden rule) if there is a majority opinion on anything (except the golden rule) is freedom and I know that the people who also identify as UUs will love me no matter what belief I profess. I know that the people who also identify as UUs will love me just as much no matter if I date another UU, an Episcopalian, a Buddhist, or even a Mormon (as I have). This is freeing in my experience.

So, those are my opinions (or biases) in terms of what type of religion I choose to follow. I've read many different types of religious texts from many types, including the Tao te Ching, parts of the Book of Mormon, I've listened to the entire Quran as an audiobook, different books talking about the Bible and God by various people, various deuterocanonical texts, am working on the Bible which I will hopefully finish by December 31st. Basically, for my age I have read a lot of different types of religious texts.

But as a proud religious liberal, I find it disturbing that most people don't know a lot about what it is like to be part of a close religious tradition that has a variety of beliefs. This is due to a lot of religious liberals being closed about their beliefs, and so the amount of religious liberals in the world doesn't grow with population growth. Also having the belief that there is merit in all religious traditions, while an admirable and defining quality about being religiously liberal, can hurt the spreading of a message of love to all people. There are religions in this world that act as traps, where if you leave you leave everything you have ever known, and religions which go so far as to say that the best way to honor God is to kill yourself. http://brainz.org/10-most-notorious-suicide-cults-history/ This is something which liberal religion offers an escape, and I believe it is important to make the offer of a better life to these people.

Which comes to the crux that I am still dealing with, how do you tell people in a bad position that there is a better life, that there are important things they are not being told about their religion's history, that there is a place where all people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, racial stereotypes, or other discriminatory forms of hate do not play a role in the congregation and all people are truly equal? I have in the past come down too hard and is something I need to work on. When I was dating my only ex who is a Mormon to be more patient and kind when explaining to her why I couldn't convert. I came down too fast, too hard, on my best friend who has never seen life outside LDS. I hurt our relationship, and both of our lives by being too forward with my discoveries. I regret it as I write this months later. It was clearly the wrong way. A better way might be to ask questions and explore the persons faith together with them if you are in such a different religion so that it isn't fast but gradual and there can be self-discovery as opposed to yet another anti-fill-in-the-blank sermon. It is tempting after reading a lot about a religion that you know someone in to tell them absolutely everything you have learned. I have learned the hardest way possible that this is the wrong approach. I have paid dearly, literally.

When talking to people from cultish religions it is important to be absolutely 100% honest about what you believe. It will shock them! People from cults aren't used to be told the truth. Stick to your guns and when they come to you and ask for a good conversation, give them a respectful conversation. Make sure you respect their beliefs as much as possible and practice that most holy virtue, loving kindness. If you have questions about their religion, ask them. If they don't know the answer maybe depending on the person you should try to make a proposal for finding the answer with them. Explore with them. Find the answers together, especially if you are close. Don't be a superior pastor, be an equal friend starting with the same knowledge rediscovering the world as if with the eyes of a child. We owe it to them as their friends and neighbors if they are willing to listen. A lot of people don't know what it is like to have an anything goes approach to questions.

I rightfully am scared as most religious liberals are about full-on missions. But I do think we need to grow with the times. People are looking and we have good things to share with them. If the conversation turns to religion share your values.

We left Europe to practice our religion in freedom.We are the people who founded the United States with a bill of rights. We are the people that fought for abolitionism. We are the people who fought for universal suffrage. We are the people who fought the civil rights movement. We are the people who are currently fighting so that everyone regardless of their loved one's gender can marry the person they love most. We have a tradition to uphold, and have a great record to boot. We always get the last word in.

We are also considered the radicals. We are considered to be the crazy ones, yet the world follows us reliably. We are the ones who always win in the end. We should take the term radical differently than it is meant. We should take it as being ahead of the curve, daring, willing to question assumed notions. We are the people who change before everyone else does. We always get the commandments before everyone else, as I list above. We are the champions, and we should be proud. We should share our faith. We are the people who have a gift to share and people should be able to find us and join religions where the golden rule is supreme. Religion is still a valuable commodity in such a diverse world with so much that needs focusing and values.

It may be my first religious post, but as many pastors close: So may it be. I love you. Amen.

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