Thursday, September 11, 2008

Religion (and coincidental quotes)

A passage I just read, not two seconds ago, that seems marvelously coincidental to some of the thoughts I've been having lately:

"If you could take the skewers of religion, those that riddle your frame, make you aware every time you move- if you could withdraw the scimitars of religion from your mental and moral systems- could you even stand? Or do you need religion as, say the hippos in the Grasslands need the poisonous little parasites within them, to help them digest fiber and pulp? The history of peoples who have shucked off religion isn't an especially persuasive argument for living without it. Is religion itself- that tired and ironic phrase- the necessary evil?"
-Elphaba, The Witch of the West
Wicked. pg 387

I'm not sure of my opinion (or knowledge) of 'peoples who have shucked off religion' but what has been on my mind a lot are the stringent requirements/belief structure of the LDS church (skewers and scimitars?) and the relaxed requirement/belief structures of other faiths I am learning about and the various detriments and benefits of both.

Joseph Smith said "Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation."
That quote chafes me now, it smacks of rhetorical propaganda, a carrot on a stick to keep members from being enticed by other less sacrificial belief systems.

But, perhaps, that "sacrifice" is the necessary evil? Necessary to what? I have lost the belief in religion's claims to salvation, but perhaps, on a human-nature level, social level, personal accountability level... necessary, beneficial? (What of those 'peoples who have shucked off religion'?)

Perhaps I am thinking too much, reading too much into Maguire's words (re-interpreting his words).

Perhaps I should just finish the book.


JohnR said...

The thing that bugs me the most isn't the sacrifice demanded by religion so much as the coercion associated with it. Mormons in particular are held deeply accountable for solemn vows that they take at the tender ages of eight and their late teens and early twenties. The one that bugs me the most is my promise to give all of "my time, talents, and everything with which the lord has blessed me"--I made this without any real foreknowledge and with the illusion of being able to back out of it.

Sacrifice is most sanctified when it is freely given, methinks.

G said...

yes, JohnR... I think that is what is getting all turned around (re-examined/ questioned?) for me... sacrafice outside of religious coercion...

individual ability to benefit from the (as you say) sanctification process of sacrifice if it is not associated with the demands of a religion (the need to do x y and z to attain a b and c. salvation and social progression within the community held hostage to the requirements...)

and remembering my mom's comment when I was talking about my understanding of The Quaker religion: she said "it sounds very easy"
her interpretation of a church that didn't require long time investments, 10% of your income, etc...

in other words, a religion that doesn't require much sacrifice, to her way of thinking.

sorry this is jumbled, I'm still working out the connections in my own head (and running out the door as well).

maybe it will make more sense later.

JohnR said...

In response to your mom's point, I'd actually say that it's harder to sacrifice in Quakerism, UU, most of liberal Christianity and outside of religion altogether, because it really does have to be freely given. You're welcome to give 10% and all your time, and many do. But no one's keeping track, no one's applying guilt trips or social pressure. From this perspective, Mormonism looks a lot closer to Satan's plan in the preexistence...

Alisa said...

I think anyone in any religion can lose focus on *being* and obsess about all the *doing*. I guess I figure bringing about salvation, from a Christian point of view, is Christ's job, not mine. Learning how to be often takes much more discipline than following all the things we are told to do.

G said...

thank you alisa, for your perspective. "being" and learning how to be... I think that is a big part of what I am working through at the moment. I appreciate your thoughts.

this all is brining to mind Jessawhy's post about Producing Joy and Making Magic. especially where she said: "Religion has been so passive, but I really want to make it more active. I don’t want to be afraid of doing things wrong all of the time."

G said...

just for kicks, here is more of the quote from Wicked:

"The idea of religion worked for Nessarose, it worked for Frex. There may be no real city in the clouds, but dreaming of it can enliven the spirit." (pg 387)

djinn said...

Joseph Smith was on to something. To paraphrase, Voltaire said (translations differ ) "As long as people continue to believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities." Certainly true for my family. It seems to me Joseph Smith was speaking of a different dynamic--once you get someone to believe, truly believe in something (and notice how generic the original quote is) they can be much more easily be manipulated by those that instilled the belief. Ah, it's past midnight here, I'm getting unduly cynical. You should see me at 9 in the morning; sweetness, light, and all my quotes from, uh, other, less pointed sources. Sorry, that's the best I can do. I can quote Goodnight Moon even in the middle of the night, though it tends to make me cry. Goodnight Moon. Goodnight the cow jumping over the moon.

Enough. Off to bed.

G said...

ick, ya djinn, that being the fip side of the faith coin- devoted enough to manipulated into commiting atrocities.

good point.

oneawesomegirl said...

WOW! Reading this page makes me sooo sad!

I realize that people need to figure things out for themselves but certain things on here are being misrepresented!!

No one in the LDS church coerces you or makes you do anything. You have the freedom to choose what you will do or what you will not do. If you will live the gospel or not...its all up to you.

And John...what kind of "vow" is it when you go into something, (anything, whatever it is) with the "illusion of being able to back out of it?" Is that like I'll just do this until it gets hard?? Thats why theres so many divorces in this country...people just give up so easily.

I really hope you will remember all that has been given to you and what you are doing with it.

And to those of you who are not LDS and would like to know what we really believe, please contact the local missionaries or the local LDS church.

Take care.

G said...

oneawesomegirl, no one is holding a literal gun to anyone's head. And thankfully, the archaic language threatening death and disembowelment to the unfaithful have been removed from the temple ceremony.

The coersion is internalized guilt threats of divine punishment and heavenly banishment. As you said: you can live the gosple or not. And the LDS concept of living the gosple or not is the choice between spiritual life or spiritual death.

mormon's are very generous in that even really bad people will be assigned to the telestial kingdom after judgement, a pretty nice place to be, no hell fire etc... but then on the flip side, that gentle view hasn't alieviated the extraordinary pressure and guilt to live perfectly/do everything (a rather long list of detailed does and don'ts) mentality that many LDS feel.

but also, as exemplified by alisa, not ever mormon gets so lost in 'doing' and plenty of other religion's practisioners DO get lost in the 'doing'.
it's not just a mormon thing.

REDguy said...

I have to say that I understand the tension that arises when one feels the weight of a celestial burden on very telestial shoulders (mine are quite carnal, sensual, devilish, etc.) but I think with all of the pressure I hear more encouragement, more praise, more elevating ideas, motivating thoughts, and compassionate, understanding words from those whose voices we might be tempted to group with the guilt-imposers and moral oppressors.

I think it safe to say that the program of the LDS church is not to make people prisoners; we're doing that very well on our own. It is we that make the plight so punishing, the road so impossible; when we see ourselves as slaves I think we've made the shackles.

I tend to see that quote from Joseph Smith in a different way: Why in the world would we want to give ourselves to God in any way but completely?

Just the perspective from someone trying to emerge from mists of darkness...

G said...

hey REDguy, thanks for stopping by with your perspective.
Under normal circumstances, I would generally agree that much good can also come from the programs of the church and their elevating enlightening compassionate words etc...
but at the moment I am feeling rather jaded about the rhetorical spin that the leadership and (most?) membership are utilizing to justify banning same sex marriage, and I'm not getting anything but thinly veiled phobias and disgust.

that's not exactly what we were talking about here, sorry for that threadjack...

anyhoo... back to what you were saying, about the programs of the church not being about making anyone prisoners... well, all I have is my own experience to go off of; but when I first began to have questions about things I was 'not supposed to question'... my initial feeling was terror; fear of punishment, banishment, retribution from God, from The Church.
Perhaps, as you say, that was JUST ME, me making my own shackles. but they came from my upbringing in the church. If you listen closely to most talks, lessons, etc... the underlying theme of "Don't Fall, Do Not Be Deceived, Don't Fail" is a pretty strong one.

it took me a while to be able to come to grips with the fact that doubting the church was NOT equivalent to being led astray by the devil, falling from grace, becoming damned.

not sure if that really addresses what you were saying... just some of my thoughts.

REDguy said...

Maybe I'm imposing my experience with more local leaders on those more "general" but I still believe the repeated message of "Don't Fall, Don't Be Deceived, Don't Fail" is one of pleading, an anxious desire to call us towards home, as perhaps Lehi did with Laman and Lemuel. Though I do not know what it is to be righteous, I understand what it means to not want my own dark, spiritual circumstances to be the lot for anyone else.

In addition, I think it important to note that I do not mean to say anything in disrespect to the soul who is doubting, hurting, or altogether "done" with the Church. I know all of those feelings in varying increments, and I don't care to sound like some kind of oblivious saint.

Hopefully, the road back will not be a long one, for me or for others.

G said...

:) no, REDguy, you don't come off as an oblivious saint. I appreciate your comments, and your generous way of expressing your experiences and beliefs.

and I agree, the message of "Don't Fall, Don't Be Deceived, Don't Fail" can be a plea for safety; a desire to protect and heal.
I think how it is interpreted depends upon the particular messenger and the particular audience.

A lot of this reflects my own lack of capacity for nuance when I was a true believing member. I have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction sometimes because I once was that oblivious saint with no ability to see the variety of reasons that would cause people to have doubts about the church.

I am so grateful to discover that not all members are like I was.