Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today's random subject...Mormons

Relevant to nothing...did anyone watch the two-part PBS special on Mormons this week? It was really interesting. I watched most of both parts, and there was a lot of stuff I hadn't heard before. If you come across it and you have any interest in religion, history and/or American culture, I would highly recommend you spend the time.

I should preface this by saying a couple of things. First, I am no huge fan of organized religion. I believe in what I believe in, and I don't generally find it useful to discuss it publicly. Religious teachings and traditions serve as a good historical record in many instances, and there are unquestionably valuable lessons in those teachings. Faith-based principles form the foundation of our moral landscape, and that is basically a good thing.

But I think people lose sight of the fact that, often, religious texts are not the un-biased words of the almighty, but are the interpretation of one or more humans of those words. To put it another way...The Gospel Truth is, very often, not quite the gospel truth. Religion gets off course when it loses sight of the forest for the trees, and gets mired in the details of its texts rather than focusing on the larger lessons. I won't say that any religion is any more or less guilty of this than any others, and I don't pretend to be studied enough to apply that universally...it is just an observation.

I have a certain respect for people of great faith, regardless of what faith that happens to be. I guess there is a part of me that wished I was so moved by a set of ideas that I could follow it with complete confidence that it was the "right path". It would be nice to think less logically at time. To apply that to an example from the Mormons...I wish there was something I believed in so completely that I would suffer organized extermination efforts, and then decide to trek 1,000 miles across a frigid, snowy plain to start a brand new society from scratch in the middle of nowhere (which the Mormons did in 1847).

The show spent a lot of time on Polygamy, which is so often associated with Mormonism. I think it is fair to say that, as it relates to the popular perception, plural marriage is inseparable from the outside view of the religion. And clearly, since the day it was added to church dogma, it has been an issue that the church has struggled to explain, to rationalize, and then eventually to eliminate. It is a practice that has left a very important legacy within the church, and has very much guided the relationship between the Mormons, the state of Utah and the United States.

I think the overall theme that I find most interesting relates to the youth of the movement. One of the historians referred to it as something like a "lack of useful mysticism". Dan Brown loves to write about conspiracies relating to the founding of Christianity and the Catholic Church. But in reality, is there really some magic document proving that Jesus was married? It is pretty unlikely that something like that could surface that had survived in hiding for 2,000 years. Martin Luther died nearly 500 years ago...there are not likely to be any skeletons in his closet that magically show up tomorrow and reveal him to be a fraud. Most of Muhamed's life was only formally documented after he died, and while many scholars consider the Quran and other texts to be basically historically accurate, no one would purport that it is 100% factually correct...too much time and too many re-tellings of his lessons had taken place. And again...it is not like there are old newspapers laying around from Medina in 631 that could refute any of this.

But Joseph Smith lived 150 years ago, in a time when a lot of things were written down...and even photographed. Both he and Brigham Young were born after the American Revolution. Therefore, there exists the real possibility that a more tangible proof exists that casts doubt on their veracity. That naturally leads to a kind of paranoia about the basic foundations of the church...no other religions that I know of have nearly the possibility that their basic tenets are proven to be false. That is not a judgment on their validity, just on the historical clarity of the times.

Anyway, I am not real sure about the point of this post;-). I certainly came away with some feelings, but I am not going to bore you with my opinions right now (I'd be happy to share if anyone wants to know...email me, or leave a comment...it is probably an interesting discussion.)

But, this is what I am thinking about today, and I don't really have anything else for you:-P. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and then skiing this weekend:-) More on those tomorrow...

7 comments:

Ally said...

I guess everyone's experience is different, but I can't imagine being "moved by a set of ideas" to the extent I thought it was the "right path." I guess it's just too easy to find flaws with sets of ideas and to rationalize the ideas you don't like away for me to be drawn in that way.

My faith is based on a relationship with God, rather than a set of thoughts or rules; it's through that personal relationship that I've been transformed. Without that that sort of mystical/supernatural transformation, I'd never be willing to give up "my" way for His way.

As for the "religious texts" (Bible), a lot of people believe that our God is big enough to have ordained the words used by those individuals, so it's not just big picture messages that need to be taken from His word. But with that being said, I don't expect anyone without a personal relationship with God to "buy" any of it anyway. I know I didn't.

AaroN said...

I've heard a lot of folks speak about how they don't approve of "organized religion" -- and I couldn't agree more. I believe most observe "organized religion" with some exclusive nature that prohibits those not familiar with that particular faith from engaging in the same type of worship as those whom are already members. Obviously, everyone has their own personal definition of what they believe an "organized religion" to be. This is where I believe the church has lost the general public.

Whatever your definition of "organized religion," you may probably agree that you think it has more to do with following a certain tradition and ruleset to be considered faithful. Like Ally said, she came to realize that it was more about her relationship with Jesus Christ than it was about "following the rules." Without that relationship, you may view "the rules" as severely limiting your lifestyle or judgemental of others. (The point is not to start following the rules to have a better relationship with Jesus - but in that relationship you'll modify your behavior accordingly because it's no longer important to you.)

To address other things you've said in the blog (I can't speak for the Book of Mormon)... Christians believe the Bible was written by individuals who were inspired by God and is without error. Sure, it presents an interesting bit about history. But more importantly, it is essentially the history of Christianity from more than 40 different individual's perspective, who often did not know each other, and it all tells the same story. To this day, the Bible has neither been proven, nor disproven. (And I believe it will always exist in that manner. For if it could be proven/disproven, then everybody would be on board (or not). Christians believe the Gospel IS truth.

But you do present a good question in your blog. If you wished there is a part of you that could be so moved by an ideal that you believe in -- what is it that's holding you back?

Kyla Bea said...

I’m fully aware that it’s just a tv show, but since I watched a few episodes of big love I’ve been fascinated by Mormonism. I have a friend whose parents are in a plural marriage and the relationships just seem endlessly complicated – never mind the insurance and health benefits side of things.

I’m not religious either, but I studied Islam in university and I always love finding out about all sorts of religions and philosophies. I think it’s important that we understand the set of beliefs that the people around us are coming from and framing their world view through – and as someone who wasn’t raised with religion I find the faith people have in God to be interesting and magnetic, even if I can’t make the same leap myself.

lisachelle said...

the amazing thing about faith is that is deeply personal. there is no right way to believe and no wrong one. so celebrate your beliefs. im just glad i live in a country where I can believe anything i want. As always, i find your perspective refreshing.

Ys said...

it's so refreshing to read your post and the comments - i sometimes feel like i'm the only one who feels that way! i find religion a deeply personal and private affair. i think it's something you find by yourself. like ally said: my religion is about my relationship with God. organised religion kind of scares me a little cos people get really crazy.

allbilly said...

As the product of a Southern Baptist Deacon and having grown up going to church services 3 times a week, I've thought about this one alot. As a child I bought in. Obviously...three times a week....then I sold out, now I believe in a "God" but I fancy myself as more spiritual. Definitely not religious. The human condition leads us to believe we are "right" and if someone opposes us they are "wrong" and folks can justify ANYTHING.

I think all of the "relationships" referenced above are based on "faith" which essentially is a relationship with ones own beliefs. Beliefs for which no "proof" exists.

So I view it all as relationships with oneself and in the end we are all individuals.

And one should not need a treatise or document or compilation of stories or parables to justify their own beliefs.

Each of us is entitled to believe whatever we want to believe and each of us has no reason or responsibility to justify our beliefs to anyone esle.

I just wish we'd all keep our beliefs to ourselves and stop judging and killing others for their beliefs.

That will never happen, but I wish it would.

Thaddeus said...

A spiritual relationship with God is key, and no religion ever organized could itself induce the happiness this kind of divine connection can.

And I believe there are ways of magnifying and strengthening our relationship with God, particularly through covenants like baptism.

This is where my religion steps in. I hope you don't dismiss it out of hand; my individual faith is genuinely improved by my religion. Take a look at my blog to learn more.

What Do Mormons Believe?