For example, when I feel grateful, I also feel unsettled until I do something about it. Ack! Tension! So (as mentioned in the previous post), religion formerly provided me a way to "take care of" that tension. Direct your gratitude to God. Say a prayer. Be more obedient. Check, check, check. *sigh of relief*
As I thought more about my former tension-easing mechanisms, it all seemed so selfish. It feels unfortunate to me that so many naturally outwardly-turned people have been duped into a lifestyle of self-absorbed complacency:
How best to fill my desire for knowledge?
By viewing all information as it fits into a gospel context. Downplaying/ignoring whatever fails to support dogma. Becoming an expert in "the mysteries of God."
How best to express my drive to achieve?
By devoting myself 110% to becoming a mother, and then to motherhood.
How best to serve mankind?
By helping everyone else think like me.
How best to care for the earth?
Oh don't worry too much about that, the millenium's coming soon anyway.
I want to know, I want to achieve, I want to love, I want to be wise. I want to address tension by moving towards it, and away from an inward-turned life.
Just now I was reading (yes, the same book I keep talking about!). What I read was enlightening, humbling, humanistic, beautiful. I closed the book and felt the familiar heart-swell.
And then -- what?
Whom to thank???
The author, I guess? And thousands of social and educational psychologists? And generations of earnest parents? Argh, I'm not quite sure.
But, I'm freaking grateful for life and the pursuit of knowledge!
"Many people continue to pass on the cruel deeds and attitudes to which they were subjected as children, so that they can continue to idealize their parents."Kohn adds:
"We have a powerful, unconscious need to believe that everything our parents did to us was really for our own good and was done out of love. It's too threatening for many of us even to entertain the possibility that they weren't entirely well-meaning -- or competent."In light of these thoughts, it makes sense to consider religion a coping mechanism. It provides a way for mankind to justify the behaviorist practices (read: conditional love) of forebears -- by attributing the approach to God.
While I lived there, one of my friends (my supervisor) met with the missionaries a few times. Hearing her pray during the first lesson was one of the most beautiful experiences of my time there. Even now, as a nonbeliever, it's still a precious memory. After a few lessons my friend realized the church wasn't for her. Meanwhile, it was a great bonding experience. The experience whet my appetite and definitely contributed to my decision to serve a mission a few months later. I sent in my mission papers before I left Taiwan.
During this visit, I'll be traveling with my former roommate. She is a very believing Christian who also attended weekly church while we lived in Taiwan. I sent her a Book of Mormon from the MTC. In her response (which I received a few months after arriving in "the field") she explained she would not be reading the BoM and wished I would be more willing to investigate my own church...
Hmmmm. She got her wish. ;)
Man I can't wait til next week!
I considered my friend just as expert in the religion as myself, so thinking about her statement...I had a WTF moment.
I felt completely unsettled, my head spinning. I remember scouring church resources for the next day or two until I could reassure myself that the idea she'd presented was false.
12 years have passed.
Recently I was talking with two other exmormons, one of whom left the church about a decade ago, and the other of whom left the church three decades ago. The church is an evolving system, and so of course in some ways a lot has changed since both of them left. I noticed that occasionally one of them would make a statement about church doctrine or cultural belief and I would think to myself, "No, that's not how it is." What I meant was, "I never believed it that way." As if my more current understanding reflected greater accuracy. Sometimes I would even speak up to clarify.
And then I had a revelation. ;)
I am the product of church correlation!!! There actually isn't one "right" viewpoint of the LDS church, its members, its culture, its doctrine. There is enough material for the religion to be experienced and understood in an infinity of ways. Correlation fails miserably because it selects a modern-day bias and utilitzes only supporting material. It cannot unite the historical beliefs within an evolving system.
Now, I realize my childhood friend could have found plenty of material to support the belief that Mary was God's spouse. She wasn't wrong. I wasn't wrong either; but I wasn't "right" just because I found enough material to support a contrary belief. My view was, perhaps, more aligned with modern-day correlation. Not more or less accurate.
Give me some time, and my experiences and understanding will sound "not quite right" to those who leave the church at a later date. Interesting.
Punch made with cran-raspberry juice, sprite, lime juice and vodka is....really yummy. I was skeptical and quite surprised. Suddenly, social drinking makes a lot more sense. Huh.
Fruity drink + good company = some of the most entertaining girl talk I've had in YEARS.
Recently, I read a fascinating article about how race is a cultural construction. In the past race was classified by phenotype (skin color, stature, skull form, facial features, etc). However, no single physical feature is unique to one race. And furthermore, identifying race by a combination of physical traits is just as problematic, since these traits do not go together as a unit.
So, because race is no longer considered a valid biological concept, scientists have moved away from classifying and have focused instead on explaining human biological diversity*.
Perhaps since I was a teenage transplant to the state, I never felt that Utah was my home. My reason for moving back again three years ago was social: you know, to find a husband and get the heck out (rolls eyes!). Meanwhile, one of my biggest complaints during the last year and a half was that the culture here was just so "homogenous."
Which brings me to a curious observation. Currently I find myself drawn to individuals who I consider "like-minded" -- exmormons trying to make peace with their past, pursue a new future, and maintain loving relationships with mormon friends/family. Often, we have many things in common. Regarding my Utah complaint, I'm forced to ask myself: did i really want heterogeneity, or did i just want association with a different homogeneity?
Recently I came across the "Ugly Duckling Theorem," which argues that classification is impossible without some sort of bias. It's a little over my head, but if I understand correctly it implies that homogeneity and heterogeneity are literally in the eye of the beholder -- they depend on what characteristics are being compared.
INCEST vs EXOGAMY
If humans were truly most attracted to those most like themselves, they would marry their brothers and sisters. But incest is a universal taboo - humans everywhere consider some people too closely related to mate or marry (true, some societies are more lenient about intermarriage than others - ancient Hawaiian royalty encouraged brothers and sisters to marry to keep bloodlines pure, and within judeochristian tradition, Sarah was something like Abraham's niece? As for me...when I found out a boy I liked once was my 4th cousin, that kind of gave me the heebie jeebies).
Okay anyway, the idea is that humans promote exogamy - marriage outside one's group. In fact the healthy perpetuation of our species depends on it.
So what do I conclude from all this? We affiliate as groups based on perceived similarities, but that doesn't mean our similarities are exclusive to the group - and they're certainly not uniform. And though we are attracted to people who seem "like" us...it's just as human to seek connections with people who are different from us.
As I've stated before, I'm inspired by the idea of a pluralistic world, in which cultural relativism is balanced with some sort of shared code of ethics. That kind of world only exists if we follow our preferences and continue to divide into groups based on certain shared values or characteristics or whaterver...but it also only exists if we can agree to disagree, and be honest that we prefer some people's ideas (and company?) over others, and not want to kill eachother over it.
*As explained in the article, race still has meaning - in social, cultural, and political terms. Just not biological.
The question and the response are telling. Isn't it interesting to note how a cultural group (in this case the LDS Church) can be so convinced that what gives meaning to its families by default makes everyone else's families seem meaningless?
Because this group can't find meaning without eternal perpetuation, they assume that no one else can either. Also evident here (watch the video above, it's only a minute long) are some unspoken assumptions. 1) Man is inherently selfish and lazy; 2) Man resists having a family because of the work/risks involved; 3) Man is ultimately motivated by external rewards.
Those assumptions (at least about man's aversion to family life) are just not supported by history. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of us (at least) enjoy, value, and seek family relationships without hope of eternal life!
If the church can't answer it's own question, it should at least ask its members the following: "How do others find meaning in family life without our shared view of eternity?" Pondering such a question might serve to foster empathy and understanding, rather than to merely reinforce ethnocentricity ("what we consider meaningful must be universal").
I had a great conversation last night with an open-minded TBM friend. He asked what I would change about the LDS church (if I could/if I cared). I said I would change the behaviorist approach, starting by eliminating home and visiting teaching, and well, most auxiliary programs for that matter. Here was my reasoning:
- By approaching service as a duty/obligation, the church undermines and nullifies instinctive human desires to serve.
I'm not saying that home and visiting teaching are never meaningful. I'm just saying that I think that love/service would exist without the structure, and would perhaps be more genuine and satisfying.
- By emphasizing programs that socially integrate (and keep active) members, the church fosters false connections and inauthenticity.
My guess is that, if the church dropped all its programs, the dynamic of membership would change dramatically. There would be fewer lonely individuals sustained by false friendships (you know who I'm talking about). I personally think this would be a good thing. Everyone deserves the chance to seek love, without being deceived by its counterfeit (pity). Also, perhaps more of those individuals less-committed to the mission and objectives of the religion would leave (unobstructed by a church-based social network), but that is because they really don't belong/want to be there! So also, they'd be better off.
I think such changes would help make the LDS church a more authentic place. But I still wouldn't want to be there. And anyway, it's not gonna happen - because over authenticity (heart), the church values its appearance (behavior).
She brought up food. "Think of a food you don't like," she suggested. My mind went blank. Suddenly I had an aha! moment and giggled. I explained that it was probably difficult to think of anything off the top of my head, because several years ago I'd decided that I should be able to like all foods if I tried hard enough.
That approach has been useful to me. I've discovered that I enjoy a much greater variety than I'd originally thought. But at the end of the day I must admit...I still don't like everything. I don't like oyster omelettes, or pigs blood rice, or animal skin/fat/gristle. Blech.
And furthermore...as yucky as it feels...I don't like some people. Particularly those that (in the words of my therapist) "sh*t on me for the third or fourth time."
While I value and will try my best to utilize an accepting approach - I'd like to try to like all people (and foods!) - I also have to be fair to myself. Part of what makes me me is my own set of preferences and expectations.
This kind of reminds me of our conversation about allowing for cultural relativism while maintaining some ethical standards. I can treat others with empathy and respect, but I should not confuse those feelings with unconditional love, and I should also seek to be honest (with myself) about my aversions.
Can anyone else relate to this?
There are no good or bad foods, just more or less healthy diets.
The idea is, it's not so much the individual components that determine the quality of our diet as it is the long-term, overall combination. Related to this concept is the Vicious Dieting Cycle -- in which attaching negative values to foods [desired by the dieter] can lead to avoidance, which feels like deprivation and may lead to binging...which produces guilt...and perpetuates the cycle.
I bring this up because it helps me to understand something I've been learning in therapy. It is this:
There are no good or bad feelings, although there are more or less healthy ways of dealing with them. Or something like that.
After a lifetime of trying to avoid/minimize/mask/deny certain feelings (sadness, anger, apathy, pride, etc) because I assumed them to be inherently "bad" and thus make me unworthy by association...anyway after so long, it has been difficult to reprogram my way of thinking (or rather, my way of responding to such feelings).
Difficult, but so incredibly rewarding!
I find it meaningful to compare my historical management of emotions with the vicious dieting cycle. It makes sense to me to consider my cycles of depression as a "binging" of sorts on all the bad feelings I didn't feel permitted to experience, much less express, for sooooooo long.
Thank GOODNESS for psychotherapy!, and for the chance to learn that whether or not feelings are comfortable - it doesn't make them any more or less valuable. They can all still be experienced and expressed within an emotionally healthy individual.