Friday, September 16, 2011

Where in Hell am I?

I often wonder what my first question was regarding religion. Where did I come from? Is there really a God? Is God covering his face with his beard because he doesn't like the way he looks? When I go to heaven, or hell, will my voice reverberate as well? Are my parents really serious about all this, or is this an experiment? Is God doing an experiment on what would happen if earthlings were experimented on while learning about religion?

One thing is for sure; I don't remember the first question. However, I do remember questioning everything and thinking that it didn't make sense; and not understanding how others believed so strongly. And that was a HUGE problem for everyone.

I grew up in a Mormon, or LDS home. Maybe not just your typical Mormon home. My dad was an institute and seminary teacher for the Mormon church as a profession. That meant he ate, worked, breathed, slept, hobbied, practiced, taught, sang, drank(non-alcoholic of course), and loved his religion. Because of that, I and my siblings were expected to do the same. I was raised under the pretense of a certain hierarchy. First, and most important above all else, was to obey the Lord in all things. Put God first, above all else and others. Second, everything else will fall in to place. "But what about mom?" I remember asking. "Nope, God first, then mom." he replied. "what about me?" I asked. "God, mom, fly fishing, then you". Ok, that part makes sense.

That never eased my mind. I found myself praying that my dad wouldn't have a dream about sacrificing his obnoxious kid. Because if he did, and believed it was from God; according to his hierarchy, I'd be hoping he didn't tie very good knots.

So every Sunday, we drove across town to attend 3 hours of church. I was taught to believe in a young boy that saw God at age 14, and transcribed a book that an angel gave him in another language, when he was 25. I was told that this kid, Joseph Smith, was a simple and innocent farm boy from New York who could barely read, and write even less; and this is why it was a miracle. I was told horrible stories of persecution from outsiders and non-believers simply because of the testimony and message he carried from God. These people would attack him, because he made a book that was claimed to be an addition to the Bible, and the direct word of God. Joseph was eventually murdered and became a martyr for his religion. The others, fearing their lives were also in danger, packed up and moved across the wilds to Utah, with Brigham Young as their new prophet. I was taught that Brigham Young was a man of God, and the only prophet alive on the earth at that time. The Mormons settled in Utah after a long trek with many casualties. They have flourished in the land ever since, thanks to the almighty one.

So this is how I grew up. Did I believe in it? I suppose when I was very young I did. But from an early age, even 8 years old, I remember it confusing me. When I got baptized at the age of eight, I remember being told that I would now have the gift of the Holy Ghost with me and if I remained righteous, I would feel the spirit guide me in all things. Well, when I got baptized and was given the gift of the Holy Ghost, through a prayer by my father, I felt absolutely no different. My whole family was happy for me; everybody celebrated. I felt nothing. Everyone else said they felt it, but I didn't. I took this to mean that I was doing something wrong. God did not want me to have the holy spirit for whatever reason, but I didn't want anyone else to know that I didn't have it. So, even though I felt horrible and shameful, I said nothing.

I spent most of my growing up years under the shadow of my religion. I questioned everything, but I kept it to myself. The thing is, in the Mormon culture, you follow along the norm, or you're out. There is no half-way living. If one starts slipping in one area, they are quickly pushed to return to the norm, or fold as they like to call it. For example, as a teenager, you are part of a youth group. You meet every Sunday as a group, and then at least once during the regular week as a group as well. During these meetings, there are talks given on certain subjects, or rules, that one is supposed to adhere to. Sexual, physical, spiritual and others. Take spiritual, for example. They teach you the proper way to study scriptures, how often to study, what to learn from studying, what specifically to study and what specifically NOT to study. In high school, we met every morning for an hour before school, for spiritual study. I had to go, because my dad was, of course, the teacher and the owner of my transportation. If one varies or wanders from the instruction and it is discovered, there are measures taken to encourage one back to the norm. There is no such standard in the Mormon culture for just wanting to 'put your toe in the water'. You are either "active", "inactive" or "excommunicated".
If your church leaders become concerned that you are sub-standard in your performance, they meet with you to discuss it. If that is not enough, they work you up the chain of encouragement. This will include parental involvement, other leaders and even the Bishop. There truly is no middle ground, and this continues in to adulthood.

As stated earlier, there was no defining moment of clarity, or fog that started me on the trail of religious doubt. I know there were many moments that caught my attention and confused the crap out of me, but no certain circumstance in my childhood that I could say without certain that I knew the church teachings were false. I didn't have any proof. For me, there was no certain evidence that I had available to prove my beliefs. I wasn't with Jo Smith when he claims he saw God, so I can't prove it for certain. I know there is no way it happened, because it is impossible. Thanks to modern technology and easy access to historical records that were not available even 5 years ago, there is all  but video proof that it didn't happen. But I couldn't prove it, and I didn't have access then to what I do now.

So here I am now. Married. Kids. Career. 37. Finally pulling myself away from the thing which has forged much of who I am. Or at least trying to. If anything, I have realized that it is not easy trying to 'carve out' a new lifestyle and way of thinking. I still have family and friends in the church. My kids go to schools that have strong Mormon majorities. I still live in a neighborhood which is predominantly Mormon, and they all know that I do not attend my church duties. Are things different with family, friends and neighbors? Hell yes, they are. It has been an eye opener, to say the least.

As I am writing this, I am trying to figure out what it is I want from this experience. What am I trying to say? What do I want others to get out of this? Why is this even useful, or is it? I think, when it really comes down to it, I want 3 things out of this:

1) I want to use this as a cathartic experience and open up my past experiences and maybe even learn something about myself that would be useful. I want to be completely honest with my experiences and feelings of the past, for the first time. I want to take stories out and open them up, for me.

2) I want to think that there may be someone else out there that has similar situations or circumstances, and maybe I can offer something that hasn't been there; or has and just needed a little more.

3) Even though there is some serious crap in here that I take personal, I still would like to entertain. That is what I love to do.

As I got older, I became more aware of situations that had occurred in the church's history; situations that really troubled and confused me. These were the first moments I verbally questioned the church. However, when I did, I was quickly put back in to place. These were topics like polygamy, blacks not given the priesthood and why women were not allowed to possess the priesthood powers. These were not questions that needed to be answered. The bottom line is, if you have faith in the church and believe it to be true, then the questions will sort themselves out when God is ready for them to be sorted out. I wonder if God knows that...

This was an impossible solution. Why? Because I didn't have faith in the church. I did not know how to put faith in to something that made absolutely no sense to me, whatsoever. I never had faith. I didn't know how to believe in it, because I didn't know what it was I was believing in. Faith is the one thing you have to have in this religion. It is a pre-requisite. Without it, there is no way to be rewarded with the fullest of gifts the Lord can give. I found that out the hard way.

So that's first post. Hopefully the start of a long journey; and I feel that I am ready for it. This is my journey to help create the new life I want to live, the way I want to live it.

If that's okay with my wife...

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