Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why religion deserves to be challenged

When I first decided to leave organized religion, I had no intention of taking anyone with me. Up until just a few months ago, I listed my religious views on Facebook as "Live and let live." My attitude was, "Well, it's not for me, but if it makes other people happy, then that's fine." However, I've since changed my mind on this matter. I have seen religion wreck too much to any longer think of it as simply misguided but benign.

It's easy to write off examples of religious "extremism," such as 9/11 or the Inquisition, and say, "Well, my religion isn't like that. I worship a God of love." And while large-scale atrocities of fundamentalism fortunately are rare, I assert that the personal damage caused by religious moderation can be even more insidious.

Imagine a homosexual man who commits suicide because he believes that God would rather have him dead than gay.

Imagine a thirteen-year-old girl who believes that she will be eternally cut off from the presence of God unless she submits to the humiliation of confessing to her middle-aged male bishop that she masturbates.

Imagine a man and woman who ignore their strained finances and evidence of overpopulation because they believe that God wants them to procreate as many children as possible.

Imagine a mother who believes that her baby is suffering in hell, because he died before he was able to be baptized, as though losing a child were not painful enough in and of itself.

Imagine a man who dares not attempt to improve his social or economic condition because he believes that this is the lot he earned due to decisions in a past life, and he must endure what karma has dealt him if he is to have any hope of improvement in the next life.

Unfortunately, these are not hypothetical examples. I do not deny that religions contribute to humanitarian efforts and offer social support networks to their members, but they also cause a great deal of stress, guilt and anxiety in believers. It's worth examining whether or not all that hardship is worth it. The old adage, "Anything worth doing is hard," is not true in reverse: Not everything hard is worth doing. 

Ask yourself if your religion is truly making you happy. I once believed that my religion was a source of happiness, and testified to others that this was so, even as I was undergoing treatment for clinical depression. I never suspected that my religion was a cause of my pain, because I had a testimony that it was true, so I thought any unhappiness must have been my own doing. I now testify that having a good feeling while you pray or sit in church is not sufficient evidence to justify the psychological torment caused by religion. If your beliefs are causing you any grief, please be sure that you aren't suffering needlessly.

Ask questions. Ponder and study it out in your mind. You are intelligent and capable, and you are your own best guide to the truth.


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Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism