Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why my religion makes me a better person

One significant impact the internet has had on our society has been to bring together people on the fringe, who otherwise would sit alone with their quirky beliefs. Atheists (antitheists really, a true "a-theist" would not care) are a prime example. Practice of organized religion may be at an all time low, but the vast majority of Americans still profess some kind of belief. What these antitheists lack in number, they compensate for in the sheer noise they make. Indeed, you will not find any group active on the 'net today who are anywhere near as vociferous as these so-called atheists.

Anyone surfing the 'net today sees it constantly. Blogs, message boards, youtube comments, and any other place where it is easy to leave a quick, snide, anonymous, remark are filled with outright denials that any God exists, and attempts to demonstrate that religion has never done anything but harm mankind.

I take issue with the claim that religion is harmful because I know that I am a much better person today than I would be if I had no faith.

Christianity encourages charitable giving and service, it fosters wholesomeness in personal appearance, as well as in the general way a Christian lives his or her life, and it dissuades personal gain at other's expense by teaching that we will all be ultimately held accountable by an authority that we cannot hide anything from.

Christians proclaim the unique sanctity of human life, that we not just another species of animal, but were created in the image of God. Our scriptures teach over and over again that the worth of our souls is great (while not a single verse would indicate that animal life has any intrinsic value, sorry vegans). In a world where life is cheap, where so many young men engage in gang violence, and so many young women consider killing a pre-born child to be "freedom of choice", this message is sorely needed.

For a Christian, the focus is on the eternal, rather than immediate gratification. A world without any religion would most certainly have a lot fewer relief organizations than our world does.

Even if no God exists, religion is an influence for good. While it is certainly true that an occasional person uses religion towards his own malicious or selfish ends, this hardly changes the fact that overall, religion has been a positive for humanity.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My journey

I grew up in the suburban city of Concord, California. The Golden State has some great places that I enjoy visiting on vacation, but I consider the negatives of living there as outweighing any advantages. My opinions of that state's public school system are strongly unfavorable. Many of my Summers were spent with my grandparents, who owned a cottage on a lake in Michigan. I would have chosen to settle in Michigan as an adult, however my life was changed forever when I discovered the state of Utah and the Mormon faith.

By nature I am a religious seeker. My parents held strong Christian values, though they did not feel it necessary to be involved in organized religion. I consider this to have been unfortunate, as a I really could have used the kind of support system offered by a church during some very difficult school years. One of the (few) advantages of life in the Bay Area was a wide range of religions to explore. I made the rounds, but it was the claims of the Prophet Joseph Smith which impressed me more that anything else I found. All the other Christian denominations seemed to be a rehash and reinterpretation of the same old information. The Prophet Joseph stood out as someone with something more.

After a few semesters at the local community college, not really accomplishing very much, I decided to submit papers to serve a mission. I'd been in the church a little over a year at that point. I received a call to the England London South Mission. For me, day to day life as Mormon Missionary was drudgery, but the high points made it all worthwhile. High school had not prepared me to effectively function in society as an adult, but after my mission I was able to return and this time complete an associates degree, marry in the temple, and begin a career in electronic communications.

As religious seekers do, after a few years in one church I was beginning to get restless, hoping there was something more out there to find. At that time I embraced a strongly fundamentalist approach to religion. On my first visit, I had fallen in love with Utah, and determined that this would be the place where I would pertinently settle down. Now, Utah had something even more to offer: Mormon splinter groups.

I relocated and traveled all over the state, meeting some rather interesting people. Over the next few years I met with Ogden Kraut, Ross LeBaron Sr., Fred Collier, Alex Joseph, Art Bulla, some representatives from the Peterson group whose names I do not remember, and some followers of John Perry Chaney. I was a guest in Jim Harmston's home and attended his 2-day "models" presentation. I attended a Sunday service with the AUB, and once drove around and had a look at Colorado City, though no one seemed to watch me, or even notice me.

For a while I attended a weekly study group held at a Sandy library. Both Sterling Allen (greaterthings.com) and Rich Kuchinsky (prominent Republican, recently deceased) have claimed to have started this for political topics, though when I got involved a lady named Nancy Ross was running it, and most of the speakers discussed the advanced concepts of Mormonism. A well attended meeting, presented by Randy Dalton, who at that point had been expelled from Harmston's TLC Church, brought the meetings to an abrupt end. At that time, the TLC was the subject of a lot of interest and concern. Two leaders from Church Security were in attendance. One of the regulars recognized them, and announced who they were. After that, the number of people who continued showing up was not enough to keep the group sustainable.

In all this searching, the only people I found with whom I felt a desire to establish an ongoing association and fellowship were one extended family by the name of Sharp (Will, Roxanne, Bob, Kelly, their spouses, and their children), most of them living in Emery and Carbon Counties. The Sharps were strongly pro-life, and pressed the issue so forcefully in their LDS wards that they had been excommunicated. Afterward, they adopted Fundamentalist Mormon beliefs and would protest the LDS Church's weak position on abortion at General Conference and the Manti Pageant. On several occasions I joined them in protest. I was living in West Valley at the time, so distance prevented me from regularly attending their home church meetings. Eventually the Sharps came to completely reject Mormonism, and became Roman Catholic. In October 2009, Utah news media reported that Will and his wife Charmaine had been murdered by one of their sons, who had suffered serious brain damage in an auto accident some years before.

Having come up empty in my search for spiritual fulfillment, I began to try to "find myself" in other ways. On my own at the time, these were some lonely years. I needed to go through these experiences, but by the end, I was glad to put that episode of my life behind me.

Today, I am back with the woman I originally married twenty years ago, I have reconciled with the LDS Church (mutually), and I disavow fundamentalism as simplistic and intellectually limiting. (I go into detail on my perspective on the general topic of fundamentalism in my 7 Nov. 2009 entry, and Mormon Fundamentalism specifically in my 9 March 2011 entry). My religious beliefs are now more in line with many in the Sunstone crowd (though politics are a completely different matter, note my 15 Sep. 2010 entry).

It disappoints me that I was never able to find anything better than the LDS Church. Following a radical out in the wilderness like Joseph Smith, doing his best to provide his people with an alternative to life in mainstream society, appeals to me much more than sitting in a respectable church on Sunday morning. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that there is nothing better out there to join, and that being active in the LDS Church is where I belong, at least for now. My career has advanced to the point where I enjoy a very cushy, low stress job, which pays sufficient to afford a modest but comfortable home, a few nice cars, and a few pieces of top-of-the-line equipment so that I can make the most of my hobbies.

I may not have ever done anything that has changed the world, then again, God grants the talents necessary to change the world to very few. What I can say is that I am at peace. That when the time comes to account for those talents I have been blessed with, I can honestly answer that I did what I could with what I had. My life cannot a characterized as a steady course, but then again, in my wandering I have been to places that the average person seldom sees, and have found opportunities for personal growth that only a rare few get to experience. A progression which is ongoing.

Continuing my introduction of myself