Is it worth staying in the Church after discovering it was originally founded on lies just because there are some perceived benefits?
This dilemma is now facing many thousands of Mormons around the world as they discover the truth about the foundational claims of their faith, and come to the awful realisation they have been mistaken.
Some members try to stay in the Church despite realising the lies upon which the foundation of the Church is built. They do so for a variety of reasons, not least of which is staying for the sake of maintaining reasonable relationships with loved ones. Another reason is staying for the benefit of the social community of the Church, and for the opportunity to give service to others through Church callings & assignments leading to a feeling of being needed and of value to others. And some others desperately rationalise to themselves that the Church has made them a better person, so feel a need to stay where they are comfortable.
All of these reasons can be justified by our subconscious minds, yet all are rooted in fear of the unknown.
The Church is very good at feeding our minds with ideas which create subconscious & irrational fears, phobias and prejudices. I seriously considered that I would live a miserable life outside of Mormonism; that I might be punished with illness, unhappiness and failure. I actually believed that my life would no longer have purpose. At the time of my crisis of faith I felt like I was dying on the inside; that who I was as a person had lost its meaning and purpose. The Church was so deeply ingrained in my life that the Mormon belief system defined me. Every aspect of my life, every decision I made was seen in the context of the Church.
Mormonism gave me my identity and purpose in life. To consider leaving Mormonism caused me to suffer something akin to an existential crisis.
How can a belief system be healthy if it creates fear & guilt in our minds when we question those beliefs? Surely a healthy and secure belief system would encourage and value debate and questioning. And promote the best in human flourishing and wellbeing.
I love the members of the Church. They are wonderful people who I do not wish to offend, though this may sound offensive to many gnostics. I was one, so I know whereof I speak. (A GNOSTIC is someone who believes they KNOW, in this case “knows the Church is true etc.”)
I now have less problems tolerating agnostic beliefs than gnostic ones.
Certainty about supernatural beings & events based on spiritual feelings is unreliable at best, & potentially life-threatening at worst. Just ask the many fundamentalist Muslims who are terrifyingly so sure of their beliefs they are prepared to take lives, including their own, in its defense.
I suppose I’m following the counsel of President Hinckley when he said if Joseph Smith did not have the First Vision then this is all a fraud!
I’m trying to be authentic, so for me that means living true to what I’ve discovered about objective reality. If something is not true I believe it disconnects me from reality if I believe & follow it.
However, I accept that people have various reasons for believing in religion: a sense of community, a purpose or meaning of life & a sense of security, and frequently a strong feeling of happiness
But I also think those things are ultimately built on crumbly foundations if not built on objective, factual Truth! If one’s purpose in life is founded on a fantasy then there is always a cost to pay.
Truth is what sets us free, not fiction!
Belief in a fantasy, no matter how comforting, is a damnable false hope.
We look back with incredulity at how Bronze Age people could believe in child sacrifice to placate the gods in order to secure their harvests. Yet Christians still believe in a God that required the sacrifice of His child on a cross. The origins of which belief are rooted in the superstitious prehistory of primitive humankind.
In the end I am not a relativist, believing that truth is whatever you want to believe. I think truth is more reliable than that.
Either God and Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith or they didn’t.
Either Abraham wrote the Book of Abraham or he didn’t.
Either the story in the Book of Mormon is actually a true account of the people depicted in its pages or it’s a work of fiction.
I think the reason religion has such a strong appeal is due to the power of stories, myths & legends on our psyche.
I believe that stories, whether true or false, have power.
I think stories can inspire & motivate us. They can teach us useful principles to live our lives by and lessons on good social relations etc.
I’m reminded of Aesop’s Fables.
I think the problem occurs when the story-teller promotes their fictional narrative to the status of factual truth or reality. I think this is especially significant when the narrative is absurd & bizarre and not related to reality. I think the danger then is that superstitious minds can start to become disconnected from the natural world, other people & their day to day lives, as they start to believe in irrational, supernatural powers & events.
I believe evolutionary psychologists have explained this tendency could have been an advantageous adaption for our ancient ancestors to cope with a scary, dangerous natural world they couldn’t explain or understand.
Is Religion Really Needed?
Now that we’ve gained a greater understanding of the natural world through the medium of scientific research we really don’t need to believe in those myths & legends as actual depictions of reality, even though they are fun to contemplate. (I love Lord of the Rings & Avatar movies).
I think fictional narratives continue to give people meaning, purpose & security, but at what cost? When factual truths are available as the alternative nowadays.
I’m reminded of Paul H Dunn’s spiritually uplifting, but fictional General Conference war stories. He was found out and retired quickly from public service. Lying for the Lord! Again!
My question is: do the ends justify the means?
I think religions use narrative to control people at the emotional level where they are most vulnerable. Fear is often the most powerful catalyst for belief. Particularly fear of the unknown.
I’m not convinced this is valuable, moral or ethical.
I think these quotes are relevant by Anthony Campbell,
“One reason why religions have such a strong hold on human societies is that they are based not primarily on intellectual beliefs but on narratives.”
“Story-telling accesses the human psyche not at the intellectual but at the emotional level where it is more powerful.”
Bishop ]ohn Shelby Spong, Retired Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Newark, USA. said:
“Religion is primarily a search for security and not a search for truth. Religion is what we so often use to bank the fires of our anxiety. That is why religion tends towards becoming excessive, neurotic, controlling, and even evil. That is why a religious government is always a cruel government. People need to understand that questioning and doubting are healthy, human activities to be encouraged not feared. Certainty is a vice not a virtue. Insecurity is something to be grasped and treasured. A true and healthy religious system will encourage each of these activities. A sick and fearful religious system will seek to remove them.”
Gerry Spence said in his book, “I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.”
But sadly this is not the case for most people.
To me it’s simple. Truth Matters!
If a belief system is based on a lie then the fantasy built up around it is a damnable false hope.
No matter how much sugar coating loveliness there is, the lie at its heart stinks.
My problem with religious faith, as opposed to rationalism, is that faith is ‘belief without evidence‘ or even worse ‘pretending to know things one doesn’t know‘.
As a basis for knowledge, or pretended knowledge, faith is without foundation.
I used to think I was having a ‘crisis of faith’, when actually I was having a ‘crisis of pretending to know things I didn’t know’.
Putting that in perspective, I think it’s time as humans we dispensed with faith based religions and focused on science, rationality and reason, the best tools ever devised for understanding the world.
Nothing is perfect, but trying to make a system of belief work when it started with a lie is never a good basis for optimising human wellbeing.
I think the ultimate question we all need to ask is,
“Are we willing to trade TRUTH for SECURITY?
“AUTHENTICITY for PERCEIVED HAPPINESS?”
I remain on aspiring actualist, secular humanist, agnostic atheist & an optimist.