Monday, August 26, 2013

Religiosity 101: An Explanation for the Non-Believers

I grew up in a religious home, and as such, learned about religion from a very young age.  I can never remember a time that I wasn't taught about God, and taught to pray.  Our religion was an integral part of our daily life.  So having grown up with this constant, it has always been hard for me to imagine a life without religion.

I've often wondered through the years what I would have been like if I had not grown up in a "mormon" home.  In our religion, we don't drink alcohol, coffee, or tea, nor do we smoke or use any illegal drugs.  If I hadn't grown up in my home, would I have used these things?  Part of me thinks that I would never have smoked, simply because I loathe it so much.  But it's really hard to know what I would have been like if I had been raised differently.  As part of my religion, I didn't date until I was 16, and I was taught sexual abstinence before marriage.  How would my life have been different if I had not been taught these guidelines?  It's hard to know if I would have made those choices by myself.  I will never know, but it is interesting to contemplate.

So with those questions in my mind, it's been fascinating to me to read comments by blogger friends who are not religious.  It is interesting to see their take on what it must be like to be religious.   It gives me an insight in to how I might have thought if I had never been taught religion.   Shackman likened religion to an addiction.  Ursula thought it must be something like opium.  For the non-believer, it must seem strange for someone to believe and have faith in something that can't be proved.  I know that many people in the world assume that those who are religious have a lower intelligence, or have been"duped" in to believing.  There is this common belief that people with a religion are merely "sheep" who follow along blindly.  These misconceptions couldn't be farther from the truth!

Let me explain a little more about what it takes to become religious.  You see, there are many of our children, siblings, and other family members who do not remain religious, despite having been raised with a religion.  So it is not automatic that a person taught a religion will follow it.  My parents taught me the principles of our religion.  They taught me the "thou shalt not"s, and the why's.  They taught me the history, and they read the scriptures out loud to me.  But in every person's life, there comes a time when you can't rely on your parents' faith.  It takes great faith to live a religion that has strict requirements.  If you don't have that faith, you won't be able to live it.  But I do believe, as one of our prophets rightly said, that a religion that does not require sacrifice, does not produce the faith necessary for salvation.  (I'm paraphrasing here.) 

So at some point in a person's life, they have to find God for themselves, no matter how much it was taught to them in their youth.  For me, that meant that I had to pray on my own, privately.  I read the scriptures for myself, to see what they contained.  I did attend early morning seminary so that I could learn what our religion teaches.  But it was those private moments of prayer, and moments when I reached out for help from God that I really became converted.  You see, I got answers from God!  I never heard a voice, but I had distinct impressions come to my mind and heart.  I had feelings that drew me to the answer to my problems.  Sometimes I had intervention on the part of others who helped me when I most needed help.  I believe they were prompted by God to help me.   Throughout my life, I have had clear answers from God, so much that I could never doubt that He is real.  I actually do not like to share those sacred experiences publicly, because they are quite sacred to me, and when I have shared them in the past, there have been those who have belittled them, or ridiculed them, or have tried to convince me they did not come from God.  But this is the core issue about religion; it is immensely private, no matter how much time you spend in a church.  It is those private moments of communion with God that really convert us.  It is those strong impressions and feelings that bring peace to our souls, and direction to our minds.  That is what keeps me religious.  Those feelings of assurance, peace, and faith to move forward cannot be gotten from the world. 

Is religion an addiction, or an opiate?  Absolutely not!  It takes work and faith to live my religion.  Does it "dumb" me down?  The opposite is actually the truth; it makes me think and helps me increase my capacity to think!  Can I live without my religion.  Yes, I can, and so can many others who have become inactive in their faith.  But it sure makes life more difficult to not have direction and help from God during our dark times.  It's ironic how many soldiers find God in the foxhole.  They had perhaps been taught as a child, but veered from their parents' faith.  But in the darkest of times, we all will return to the faith taught to us by our parents. 

When I look at this grand world, I see the hand of God in it's design.  You can't spend a lot of time in nature and not be amazed by the grandeur of it all.  This can't have happened merely by chance.  The ways  that one single enzyme could have been misplaced, thereby destroying everything, are infinite!  And if this great world was not merely nature's "fluke", then by extension, neither are we, and there is a God who has a plan for us and our lives.  Having that knowledge brings great peace to the soul, and faith to keep going even during the darkest of times.

There are still many who will scoff at what I have written, and say that I am a confused product of brainwashing.  I would say that they are those who have not tried this experiment for themselves.  They are those who have not sown the seeds of faith, and nurtured them long enough to develop a relationship with God.  But I can tell you that if the effort is put in, and the faith is exerted, anyone can find God.


Ursula said...

Delirious, you write a heartfelt piece.

Since you mention me in your post, and to put the record straight: It was Karl Marx who said that religion is the opium of the people. I have as little opinion on it as I do on the old Roman saying: To keep a people quiet give them bread and games (panem et circenses." I think religion to be mostly a comfort to some of us as we are living in a sometimes frightening world. God - the guiding hand, the shining light, the father who will protect us - yes, I wish.

I think it important to distinguish between religious belief and the institution which promotes their particular take on God. You use the word 'non believer'. I am afraid that's a simplification. Whilst I do not worship at an (organized) shrine I still call myself a Christian. Why? Because that is my CULTURAL heritage (Protestant, Martin Luther).I have nothing but respect for Jesus, the man, the crusader who talked about moral and ethical principles of life. Principles which ALL religions share. Thou shalt not ... etc etc etc. And you shouldn't and I hope I won't.I try and live my life by those principles though I do not believe in an all seeing all knowing benign God. What I don't, and cannot, condone is when wars are fought in the name of religion. It flies right in the face of "... love your neighbour like yourself." Those wars are fought on behalf of (see above) an institution. And I feel nothing but pity and compassion for those misguided foot soldiers who die for a cause they barely understand.

So, no, I don't 'believe' in the way it's conventionally understood. But, occasionally, as one does, I too find myself appealing to that higher power (usually when I am in dire straits: "Please, dear God, ..."). It's not mercenary, just helplessness. And not making me feel like a hypocrite, just a little ridiculous. But you never know: God may have a sense of humour. And roast me in hell at some time in the future.

Rationally, and this is where I disagree with your "see the hand of God in its design. You can't spend a lot of time in nature and not be amazed by the grandeur of it all.This can't have happened merely by chance."

I am no scientist, Delores, but I know enough that, of course, it can and has happened 'by chance'. And I do spend a lot of time in nature, and looking at my fellow humans, and I AM 'amazed by the grandeur of it all'. In fact, I am in awe.

I hope you do understand that I'd never ever belittle someone's faith. I too have faith. But not in a God. Maybe just in myself. Or as my mother explained to me: "God is the good in us." And if that is true, then, yes, we should appeal to it every day.

It's a difficult subject, but please please please do not think that I don't respect your believes. I do. If anything I pity those who need to "defend" their faith. I put my faith into all the different philosophers (and that includes Jesus Christ) who have walked this earth. And it's not a purely intellectual exercise. It's full of emotion. To the point of tears. And I am very fond of churches (the buildings), the art that the institution church has encouraged. I love walking graveyards and cemeteries. And yes, sometimes I do wish someone was watching over me. Not wishing to be facetious: I trust God outsourced that particular task [watching over me]to my Guardian Angel, Lady Luck and my own good sense.


Shackman said...

That is indeed a great, heartfelt post D.
Ursula made a great point about the distinction between religion - the institutions - and faith. My comment was directed at the institution of religion and how they hit the same points as addiction. Obviously I am not a fan of religious institutions - especially the LDS because of my experiences back when I was an active member.
I have said before - perhaps not clearly enough - that to me you represent all that is good with Mormonism. I don't know you beyond our blog interactions so you cannot be held responsible for the things that caused me to leave. I've also mentioned that my wife attended BYU and I almost did.
There is an implication in your comments that without your upbringing you might not have evolved into the same person you are today. True - there is no way of knowing but when the choices are logical why wouldn't you make the same or a similar decision? Can only religious people support abstinence? Not date until 16? Of course not. Good sense is good sense.
Now your adherence to the LDS Word of Wisdom is clearly a choice you made, I assume because you have faith in your church leadership and history. Fair enough. But I am no longer an active member and I do not smoke. Another choice, no religion required.
I'm really very similar to Ursula's description of several things. I love the beauty of churches - the architectural beauty. I love the symbology, the secrets and the mystery aligned with many churches and institutions – especially the Catholics simply because they had wrought more havoc on humankind than most religions (they have also done many good deeds).
I do not - as does Ursula – refer to myself as a Christian though Jesus Christ is the most fascinating and certainly one of the most important people to stroll the 3rd rock from the sun. But I don’t by the son of god part. He was just a Jewish rabbi – end of story. Personally I think he would be appalled at some of the things done in his name – wars fought, inquisitions and so on. I find it somewhat humorous that the things most often thrown in my face by the uber-right wing so called Christians are actually Jewish traditions.
I somewhat lightheartedly suggest to my religious friends that IMHO – if western religious traditions are really true, then there are only 3 options available – Jewish – the oldest, Catholic – the first to spring up AD or the LDS because the other 2 screwed things up so bad Godly pressed RESET and rebooted.
The truly faithful do not need the “guidance” of religion if the Word is real. My late friend Pete Dintino – one of the best people I have ever known – and a staunch 7th Day Adventist used to admonish me (with a smile) and suggest I was more faithful then I let on. I corrected him by saying never confuse spiritual with faithful. While not the latter I admit to the former.
Like Ursula, I’m no scientist but I believe in science and the randomness of nature. I do not require a god’s involvement to appreciate the wonder that is the Grand Canyon and the beauty that is Yosemite or Yellowstone. Nor do I require the faithful to preach to me that god created the universe in 7 literal days or that earth is 6-10,000 years old. Nor do I require intelligent design folks guaranteeing me that evolution and randomness are absolutely NOT part of god’s plan. I often wonder when they last had lunch with God and he enlightened them.
I suppose I am one of your non-believers. At least I don’t believe the same things you do. That makes you a non-beleiver too – LOL. So we do indeed have a basis to be friends and carry on with the discussion.

Delirious said...

Ursula and Shackman, I hopd you don't mind if I respond to you together, because your comments are quite similar. :)
First of all, if you noticed an "edge" to my tone, know that it comes from conversations I've had with friends who have criticized my intelligence because I am religious. I didn't mean to direct that at either of you. I have had many conversations over the years, some on the internet, with those who believe that they are intellectually superior because they are athiest. It can be very frustrating.

It find it very interesting to see how non=religious people think. Like I said, I grew up in a religious environment, so I always wonder what I would have been like, or how I would have been different if I had not been raised religious. I know that some of the things I would not do, even if I hadn't been taught. But other things I may have done. I also always wonder if I would have found religion on my own, even if my parents hadn't taught me. Sometimes I think I would probably have absorbed whatever my teachers at school taught me. I was raised in the south, so I was actually taught religious principles in school. I remember one grade school teacher who read from the Bible to us every day. But there are so many contradictory voices in the world, that it's hard to say which voices I would have followed. It's really impossible to know. I tend to believe that God placed me in a home where I would be taught, because He knew it would be difficult for me to find it on my own.
I appreciate the discussion, because it helps me to understand the world from a non-religious person's point of view. It helps me to articulate my own beliefs, and helps me to find ways to explain them.

I am sorry that you had troubles in the LDS religion Shackman. The truth of the matter is that although God is perfect, and His church is organized perfectly, it is run by flawed humans. So some people, in their weakness, say things they shouldn't. Some people are flawed, and profess one belief, but actually live another. I think of church as a big hospital where all of us wounded people come to try to get better. None of us "patients" is entirely healthy. We all have some ill. Even the Bishops, and stake presidents etc. have struggles that they are working to overcome. So it is understandable that some may have said or did things that pushed you away. It doesn' make it right, but it is the human condition.
And of course, difference of opinion will not stand in the way of our friendship. If that were my criteria, I would have very few friends. lol But I do appreciate your comments, because they help me to see the world through different eyes....eyes that weren't raised in the religious environment in which I was raised. It gives me a glimpse in to the life I didn't have. :)

Max Coutinho said...

Hi D,

You don't drink coffee or tea? Now that is a sin ;).
Religion can be a beautiful thing (despite what people may say) and I grew up in a home where God was always present as well. Only we didn't have so many rules as you did. Ok, I don't drink, I do not smoke and never took drugs but it was/is my personal choice not to. As for dating, in my family no one dates before 18 - too busy studying and being engaged in activities.

Religion as opium: that's what communists used to tell the ones they duped.
Religion as addiction: for some it is, yes. For instance, most Brazilian evangelicals and their followers are blind and addicted to the nonsense they are taught (a lot of prejudice and misconceptions that go against many theological concepts).

"So at some point in a person's life, they have to find God for themselves,"


D, I only have one word for you and your words: Amen!
Superb article :D.


Amber said...

what a great post!! well written too! I know that my life is better, happier, and I have more peace when I am living my religion, than when I am not.

Looney said...

The discussion of organized vs. non-organized religion reminds me of earlier discussions of "The Establishment". A tenured professor from a centuries old leftist university with a chair richly endowed by a wealthy industrialist would tell his class that they need to rise up against "The Establishment" and throw off their fetters. Some students would dedicate their lives to zealously doing just this, oblivious to the fact that they were doing exactly what The Establishment had personally directed them to do.

Similarly, I think that escaping from organized, institutional religion may just be an illusion.

Rummuser said...

Great post Delirious and I salute for it. I am a Vedantin. It is not a religion in the accepted sense of the word. It is a method of learning about Truth. There are no rituals, rites or tithes to be paid and no hierarchy to guide you. We believe that there are many paths to Truth and each is valid for the individual concerned and the context. So, I have no quarrel with any religion or belief bar one. I am unashamedly an islamophobe but not a Muslimphobe.

Rummuser said...

I have dedicated a blog post to you Delirious.

Ursula said...

Not sure what your point is, Looney. It is NOT organized vs not organized religion. Fact is most of us (myself rarely included) do look after a higher 'power'. Fact also is that church (as in organised - a faith you put a name to) will use you, your fears, and appropriate you. Appropriate you under a flag (just as countries and their flags do). When in truth, and I am repeating myself here, what pure religion does is so damn simple: A code of morals. Which we'd be well advised to at least consider. That some need a confessional, a need to give their 'belief' a home is by the by.

All different 'houses' of belief do is pit us against each other. Shame over the 'institutions' who do just that [pitting one against the other].

I know too little about each single religion to dissect them one by one. All I know is that it's all one hell of a shamble what we (humans) have made of it.

And this is where I rest my case, and I say, as painful as it maybe, let's just take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. The only 'leader' we need is our own inner compass. God has retired.


Looney said...

U, that is a nice summary of what I was taught in the government schools. Problem is that it is traditional, orthodox, Mainline Religion and is now about 250 years old. Kant and others rose up against organized, institutional religion in the mid-1700's. But then their followers organized and institutionalized themselves and became just another specimen of what they purported to rebel against.

Thus, do the leaders of your religion exploit fear? Do they use this to get power? Do they crave money? Yes, and even more so. The theology of modernism is specifically designed for these purposes.

Max Coutinho said...

I am not sure religion (or Ursula's definition of the church), per se, will use and manipulate people, unless these want to. People think for themselves and they have a choice: if they are born into a certain church they can (and many will) leave it and profess something else (or nothing even); if they choose to enter a certain religious body they choose to abide to that group's rules; if they join a sect they choose to be in a position where they will be brainwashed it will happen because they chose to (and if they choose to stay there, it is their choice to do so; if they ask for help to leave it, then they choose to quit but in the face of an incapacity to leave it is our duty to help them do so - but only because they made a choice).

Not true, not "All different 'houses' of belief (...) pit us against each other." (some do, yes) but some people who do not belong to any "house of belief" will try to pit prospective religious people against religious folks. Interesting, yes?

The main point is: aren't people free to make their own choices. Do we have the right to meddle in their life? Who are we to tell them (often, perfect strangers) what to believe in or not and who to follow or not? If you want to be religious, be it; if you do not want to be it, don't.

Ursula said...

Max, religion is not simple. For either believer or non believer. And that's before we even begin to dissect the role 'the church' plays vs a simple belief/faith which could be practiced in a meadow, in the shadow or the midday sun.

One important tool religion provides is that of "rite of passage'. So, yes, my son was christened in the same church I got married in. However, and this is an important point, either ceremony - as moving as the surroundings and the grand words - was not about religion as pulling people together at the same place, making them sit quietly at the statement/commitment two people make to each other. Or, in the case of a christening (my son was ten months old at the time) an introduction into community, him being welcomed into that community of family and friends.

You ask: "Aren't people free to make their own choices?"

One of the commentators round the LBC shores (can't remember now who it was) said that children have precisely no choice. They are christened at an age when all they feel is wet water on their forehead. I will not go as far as to say that they then go on to be 'indoctrinated'. I grew up saying a simple 'thank you' prayer before we broke bread. My mother prayed with us at bed time. My father tried to hold his tongue as best he could when I attended - against his wishes - Sunday school at age 8. And so on and so on and so on. So many influences in our lives. Which is why Delores's question (how'd have her life turned out had she not been brought up in a certain 'faith') is so very poignant.

When I was thirteen I wanted to be a nun. Partly because most young girls fall in love with Jesus, partly because it took me some time to get used to sudden attention from the opposite gender, partly because I like silence, partly because of the romance of it all. And I do love walled kitchen gardens too. Of which there are plenty in your average cloister.

Where is this leading other than the anecdotal? Yes, you are right, in theory, that people can make their own choices. But only in a setting which allows them to do just that. I was lucky.

And, no, no one should 'tell [anyone] what to believe in or not'. Religion, our need to cling onto something in the face of scientific fact, is very powerful. Not to be avoided. Not at all. But to be taken with a large pinch of salt, healthy scepticism, and a subject of discussion not to be avoided. If I had to summarise my feelings on the subject: Do engage brain. Do not let yourself be overcome by fears that all humans harbour.

Main thing, Max, and that is what is happening here on this blog: Let's talk to each other. Nothing worse than shutters going down whatever the subject.

Enjoyable discussion.


Max Coutinho said...


You are right: religion (or any a spiritual path) isn't simple. But for debate sake we try to parse the bits that are more convenient for each side of the aisle, yes?
You and I share the same view on the "rite of passage".

Well, for people who believe in reincarnation (myself included) and in other spiritual/mystical details, children do have a choice - before they incarnate. So, the argument that children have no choice regarding baptism is only valid in certain circles, but not in all of them.

You wanted to be a nun at 13? So sweet. lol I loved your reasons for wanting to be one: believe it or not, I found them endearing. You are the third person I come across that wanted to be a nun in her teens - and I understand the spiritual allure, I really do.

"Do engage brain. Do not let yourself be overcome by fears that all humans harbour."

Amen to that.

Ursula, thank you for this outstanding conversation. I think I understand you a bit better now and had we not talked, this would've never happened (I was already a fan of your sense of humour though) - thanks *bowing*.