Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Problem is Choice

Others? What others?  How many?
Growing up in conservative Christian circles, words like pluralism or multiculturalism were often derided and mocked. I assumed this was a somewhat normal fear of the unknown, and I felt this distaste was not born in the religion. If anything, it was a demonstration of conservative politics infecting religion.

As I was driving home today, I was listening to god is not Great by Christoper Hitchens.  This book is great to listen to since it is read by the author. Mr. Hitchen's explanations often remind me of the Architect from the second Matrix movie.  He reaches for the most accurate word available, and leaves it to his audience to either know it or look it up.

This quote really caught me:

"the end of god-worship discloses itself at the moment... when it becomes optional, or only one among many possible beliefs." (p.67)

My Christian religion taught me that other religions were false. The people in these religions were either deceived or were actively deceiving others onto their path. In any case, getting to know these folks - outside of an evangelistic motive - was not encouraged.

When we moved to Salt Lake City these learned ideas of mine were challenged. Here I befriended people whose faith was just as sincere as my own. As much as I tried to hold on to my learned notions about those of other faiths, one by one the arguments fell. When I looked at my Mormon friends, I saw my own faith and practices being reflected back to me.  I suddenly realized that my religion was one among many possible beliefs.

In that moment, the end of god-worship disclosed itself for me.

I realize that is why pluralism is so frightening for religion and why most cling to an "only us" perspective.  It is no wonder there are usually horrible consequences listed (both natural and super-natural) for leaving religion's embrace. If the religion becomes less than ultimate in the believer's mind - if it becomes one of many - it's days are numbered.

Hitchen's quote helped explain a reaction I got from a Christian during a conversation some time ago. This Christian had opportunity to attend a sacrament meeting at a Mormon ward and had some questions about their beliefs. Though I am no authority on Mormon doctrine, I am pretty well versed in the basics, so I attempted to answer my friend's questions.

However, as the conversation continued, my friend seemed to be more and more agitated. Rather than just asking a question about Mormon beliefs and hearing the answer, my friend began to stop me in the middle of my explanation - to tell me why what I was saying was wrong and what the bible had to say about it. I finally said, "You do understand that I am not Mormon and that I am just telling you how they think about these things, right?"

After the conversation, I thought that maybe I had sounded pro-Mormon in my explanations, and that had brought about the agitated response. However, when I was listening to Hitchens today, another explanation presented itself - I was talking as if my friend's religion was just another religion among many. Nothing I said was giving my friend's religion the favored position. The interruptions were an attempt to assert dominance.

For religion to survive, it cannot be optional. It cannot be one among many possible beliefs.

I think this is a possible explanation for the rise of the "nones" here in America.  When I, and my father, and my father's father were kids, there was an assumption that everyone was religious, and most likely Christian.  Everyone went to church on Sunday.

No more.  The "nones" are growing rapidly.  It is no longer assumed that everyone you know is religious or of your religion.

The problem is choice.


Steve H. said...

Good post Andrew!

That's why I subscribe to what Peter Rollins says
(A Christian author who I am enjoying at the moment) 'that I passionately believe what I believe...or it could have been the cheese I had last night.'

Paul Sunstone said...

A good and thought-provoking post!

Do you think conservatives are more likely than liberals to have difficulty maintaining a belief in deity once they admit that their belief is only one among many?

I ask the question because it seems to me that might be the case, but I don't know for sure.

Don said...

You have succinctly stated the problem you and I faced for so long. When the realization comes, there is little to do but accept what you truly do not want to accept; or, I suppose you could continue to deceive yourself. Obviously, you and I could not do the latter. Well done my friend.

Michelle said...

Examining Mormonism was one of the biggest catalysts toward my disaffection from evangelical Christianity. As I studied, I knew more and more that if I looked at my own faith as critically as I did the LDS church, they would both end up looking the same to me. Two ways of believing out of many possible ones, no one more plausible than the other.

anadine said...

I grew up Mormon in a very non-Mormon place. And while it took me a while to be able to reconcile the idea of "One Truth" and the fact that other people believe otherwise, I did eventually. My personal experiences validate the argument that my church is true, but I have not lived in someone else's life, I have not had their experiences and have not had to make choices with those experiences, so who am I to judge why and how they believe? This has not made me believe any less, but reinforced my ultimate belief in a Heavenly Father who allows us to choose, and that there is truth everywhere. There is a lot more to my story, but my faith has been lessened by the idea that I may be wrong. We have to choose something, a religion or a non, I go with what experience has told me is right and true.

Andrew said...

Steve - I love listening to Peter talk. :)

Paul - I had to make your question into a post. :)

Don - I hope one of these days I get to have a beer with you.

Michelle - The Mormons got you too?! ;) I didn't know that part of your story. It is interesting what happens when we judge our own religion with the same standard with which we judge others.

Anadine - I apologize for a little mind reading here, but I suspect one of the things that allows you to stay in your religion, even while being open to being wrong, is that you put a high value on people. I think when folks value people, they are able to draw on the best aspects of their religion while eschewing some of its more ... not so uplifting... tendencies.

Ron Morse said...

I know I am years late to the party - but this post really hit home. I am loving reading your blog - I am reading it like a book (from the beginning to the newest post) and so much is really resonating with me. I don't articulate thoughts nearly as well as you do so thanks for documenting your journey so well!

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