Religious Villainy

Mormon in the Real World

Wednesday night I went to a reading by Penn Faulkner award winning author, David Bradley.  He is the son of a preacher and grew up with very specific religious views.  He mentioned that,”Religion is fact.”  In other words, his religious beliefs are indisputable truths that define his world.  He believes this is the case with all religious people.

Like David Bradley, to me, religion is fact. Everything in my world is defined by my religious understanding.  Life makes sense because of it and I want to share that with others.

So when I began a course in Death and Dying this term I thought, “Here is a perfect opportunity to share my views on death and dying.  Maybe it could me of help to someone”.  Do I always enter social situations with this mindset?  No, but for some reason this thought crossed my mind.

The first two classes found me eager to share this but with no opportunity to do so.   In the third we watched a documentary, “Flight From Death – the Quest for Immortality” and all my hopes of sharing were dashed. In only a few minutes of film, I became a villain.

At 2:49 a sociology expert says:

The big problem with seeking immortality is that we invest in these larger structures [religion] as our basis of security and immortality.  And then whenever something suggests that our structure is not right, we’re going to feel threatened and we’re going to have to react against that.  More people have been killed in the name of God and country than by all the serial murders [. . .] put together is just a drop in the bucket compared to how much killing has gone on out of loyalty, patriotism and love for God and Country.

The film then discusses how we cope with having our “belief structures threatened” (political, cultural or religious) by converting people to our beliefs or eliminating them (the threat) altogether.  This hit me hard.  It was like someone saying that I must convert or kill people who don’t believe as I do and that all religionists respond this way to other faiths and cultures.  It was a blow.

In an instant I became the villainous religionist who would sooner kill someone than accept them for who they are and what they believe.  Am I really that dangerous?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints sends out missionaries to share their gospel message but is that in response to feeling threatened by other cultures or religions?  If conversion doesn’t work, do we kill them?  The concept is absurd to me.

The majority of my family do not share my beliefs.  I love them for who they are and what they mean to me.  Yes, I would be incredibly happy if they shared my beliefs because my religious views answer so many things and bring me an incredible happiness, courage, confidence, and comfort.  I want the same for them.  It is only natural for me to extend my religious beliefs for this purpose. Would I declare war against them for not believing so?  No.  Would I defend my life or faith if others attacked me for it?  Yes.  Would I die in efforts to live righteously, to love, defend, and do good by others?  I hope so.

Unfortunately, such ideals are often twisted into villainous faces and means.  Just as people confuse love and hate, we also confuse good and evil.  What may seem a good, righteous, and glorious mission could spur suicide bombers or war mongering dictators.  They may believe they’re honoring God and higher ideals, but are far removed from the truth of their selfish choices.   Such actions are far cry from anything Godlike.

President Spencer W. Kimball gave these insights about the ministry of the Savior: “Never did the Savior give in expectation. I know of no case in his life in which there was an exchange. He was always the giver, seldom the recipient. Never did he give shoes, hose, or a vehicle; never did he give perfume, a shirt, or a fur wrap. His gifts were of such a nature that the recipient could hardly exchange or return the value. His gifts were rare ones: eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were opportunity to the downtrodden, freedom to the oppressed, light in the darkness, forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing. His friends gave him shelter, food, and love. He gave them of himself, his love, his service, his life. The wise men brought him gold and frankincense. He gave them and all their fellow mortals resurrection, salvation, and eternal life. We should strive to give as he gave. To give of oneself is a holy gift.” (The Wondrous Gift,Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, p. 2.)

The Savior did not go about starting wars or killing people of other faiths. He served and taught them.

Belief can be dangerous when used to harm or overrule others.  My faith often identifies such abuse as “unrighteous dominion”.  True righteousness gives life and love.  It does not take it away.

-Chickout 😉

P.S.  I actually really liked the documentary and highly recommend it.  Very interesting.

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About atmchick

I'm a well grounded (a)typical Mormon (Latter-day-saint) chick.

Posted on April 17, 2010, in Mormon in the Real World and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I agree with what Hannah. I think it is really important to come into this class with a lot of respect, sensitivity, humbleness and open-mindedness.

    I just finished my training on hospice work. I don’t know if you know much about it but hospice is basically end of life care for those terminally ill who want to spend their last days at home with their families and not in a hospital undergoing futile medical treatment. I must say, death and dying are two different things. And I know one day I might actually be present in the humbling time of watching a person die but I also know I’ll always be present with the dying – that’ll be my job. Dying is an extremely painful process, for many people, especially when cancer is involved. Death is usually very peaceful.

    About what your class was teaching on the religion aspect that made you feel like a “villain”. Don’t take it as a personal attack on you or religions. It might not be a statement of fact for us, but in religious history, it is. You don’t have to look that far back to see it – Israel vs. Palestine…The Alcada in the Middle East…then further in the past… the christian crusades, spanish inquisition, famous and not so famous genocides in various lands, etc. Even in our own Mormon history there are examples of what the teacher was trying to say. As long as their has been a God, there has been people fighting in his “his name”. And there has been people who not only were willing to die for him, but willing for someone else to die too. It’s another perspective of religious history and present of discrimination, persecution and wars that happen over religious ideals.

    When it comes to a person dying, it’s really important to come as they are. Those last days or weeks of their lives, is not the time to try to change them or teach them the gospel (despite what someone might personally think). If they are not religious, then it is really important not to impose religious ideals on them. It’s really important to focus on the person and their own spirituality (which is different than religion).

    I was just wondering, why are you taking a death and dying class? Is it for your major or career interests, or personal? I think it’ll be good for you – but it will be challenging on a personal level. I know this subject is for me. I’ve only experienced unexpected death (except for Uncle Mike), and that was very hard on me. But to have expected death..watching someone dying and then ultimately die…is an intimidating prospect for me. I know I can do it though.

    If you ever want to discuss what you are learning, I’ll probably be able to relate or give some kind of insight, especially as I get more experience in hospice work. Good luck with your class, Marz.

    • Cynthia –
      I loved your comment for so many reasons.
      1- I appreciate your thoughts on the video not being a personal attack. I knew that it wasn’t meant to be so, but I couldn’t help relating it in that manner with the thoughts I was having at that moment. You make a valid point that religious wars are part of our history.
      2- Great thought on death and dying being two different things. Neither of which scare me right now. And while I had my own “death threat” when our last child was born – I didn’t experience it. My husband did – for about 4 hours he didn’t know if I was going to live or die. That was when he started calling me “dear”.
      3- Hospice work not being about sharing your religion, but honoring another’s beliefs and helping them with what they need. Agree.

      Also – something that may be of interest to you. Our past class we learned about the “Twilight Brigade”. It’s a volunteer organization that helps people in their process of dying. We have the opportunity to do an intense 20 hour weekend training in place of our large final assignment (planning our own funeral). One of the things they teach is that it isn’t about you and what you believe – it’s about the person dying. I understand that the training is amazing and that in order for you to be an effective aid to the dying – you have to first come to terms with dying yourself – which is something they do during the 20 hour training.

      I’m taking the class because it looked interesting and fulfills one of my generals.

      Are you loving your classes?

      Thanks for your insightful comment.

      • That’s cool about the 20 week course. I just got through a 28 hr course over a 6 week period. Exactly what you said about “it’s about the person dying” is what I was trying to say. It’s so important. I understand the whole coming to terms with dying thing. But I don’t think a class can teach me that, it is something I’ll have to do on my own through self-reflection, experience, etc. I don’t fear death. I fear the pain of dying..feeling physical and emotional pain of my body being killed by a cancer or what have you and feeling it shut down…I fear the lack of independence that comes with old age (from bodily functions to mobility)…I would fear the knowledge that I would be here with the people I love while they are still alive – missing out on their lives – primarily my children’s (that’s the big one). And I fear watching someone go through extreme pain, watching their body shut down before my eyes, listening to the death rattle after they took their last breath, etc. Are you feelin me? These are the things I meant when I say I am intimidated by the prospect of watching someone go..not only do I have to deal with those fears but the fear of “will i be able to separate myself from this and not make it personal?” These are the honest self-reflections I have done and know that are deep within me. I learned in my other class that a big fallacy we have as a society is to think that grieving ever stops. It doesn’t. It lasts your whole lifetime. But whether or not you are grieving in a healthy or unhealthy pattern is key. Active grieving lasts a certain amount of time but after that, you might grieve when certain memories are triggered. I agree. This hospice I will be working at is for military retirees. So giving back to humanity at this particular place is so important to me on so many levels. Hope all this made sense. 🙂 let me know how that 20 week course is – i know you will get a lot from it. you know the shocking thing? a lot of medical personell have not taken a proper death & dying class and do not know how to work with the dying…

        • *wouldn’t be here (typo sorry)

        • Cynthia –
          Sorry – did I say “20 week course”? It’s actually a 20 hour course that they teach in one intense weekend.

          I think the things you voice about dying are incredibly valid – and are universal fears. We all have to come to terms with it on our own – whether through aging, losing someone, etc. As you mention, my worries would be similar – the pain (both on me and the ones I love), and feeling trapped in a broken body.

          C.S. Lewis wrote a small novel about losing his wife. He relates losing a spouse to losing a leg. At first the pain of the loss is horrible – but you begin to heal. Though you do “heal” – and can get around to function in a fairly normal capacity, you never forget that you’re missing a leg. You’re reminded of it in everything you do – getting dressed, going for a walk, taking a shower, even the feel of the sheets on your body when you lay in bed at night.

          Thanks for sharing.

          • Oh, 20 hours..my bad. 😛

            What is the name of the novel? C.S. Lewis hit the nail on the head with that one and depicts loss poignantly.

  2. I love all the truly thought provoking stuff you are writing about — not just for the thoughts themselves, but for the coolness that you are getting to stretch your mind and think about your normal daily experiences in a way that makes them significant and meaningful when so often they would just slip past us like everything else. Good post!

    • Thanks Nanc-
      I hope that some of this sticks and I can use it in the future to help teach my kids. Hopefully – writing it will help me remember it. I often think about the leaders of the church and all their thoughtful personal experiences. I wonder, “How on Earth do they have so many memorable experiences to draw from?”

      So much of life seems ordinary, but if we pay attention – we can see bits of insight in those ordinary moments. It makes me think of realist art. Realist artists focus on sharing the extraordinary in every day interactions. I’m trying to do the same in my life.

  3. So… I’m going to relate a few thoughts and then try to tie them together with your post.

    1) In college I was presented with the opportunity to a) serve a mission or b) study abroad. I choose to study abroad, partially because I wanted to experience another culture without any sort of expectation of sharing my culture with others. Did I share my culture and beliefs with people as I met them? Yes. But it was not my primary motive for being there. My goal was to understand rather than be understood. In fact, I noticed my host mother had several Book of Mormons on her shelf from previous exchange students. However, from our conversations about religion, I gathered that she had not yet cracked the book, and understood little about our faith (she didn’t even know we are Christian). I think our simple talks were much more effective than the, “Here’s a book” approach.

    2) My closest friend is Episcopalian. Growing up I always thought, ‘Who can seriously believe in a church that got it’s start because Henry the VIII wanted a divorce?’ But I’ve come to understand, that this church feeds her soul in important ways. Her preacher joined the ministry because she felt called of God (although their line of priesthood succession may be somewhat muddled). People often are more interested in a faith that helps them grow from where they are, rather than looking for a specific express route to heaven. And I have to say, the choirs that sing in her services are awesome. Having a paid choir may not be such a bad thing.

    I think growing up most people view the kind of family life they experienced as “normal” and/or “truth”. Then we go out into the world and experience other kinds of “normal” and “truth”. Are these other “truths” valid? Some of them I decided yes, and others not so much. I don’t really like the phrase “only true church”, not because I doubt the validity of my faith, but because many churches have so much truth and do so much good. It dismisses their valiant efforts rather disrespectfully in my mind. Everybody has to start their spiritual journey somewhere. Besides in our own halls, things like “funeral potatoes” and “atonement” are often used in the same breath. And some people are willing to fight to the death over funeral potatoes and/or diet pepsi.

    So… I am going to die, but I am not afraid of death. Missionary work is good, but I don’t believe in killing in the name of religion. You might say living the best you can IS fighting for the faith, and I’ll do that. But I don’t believe in violence for religion sake.

    • Hannah –
      I can’t agree with you more. In truth, I don’t really care if people in my class know I’m Mormon. If I share something that’s meaningful to them – I’m glad. If they want to know more, great. But as you point out – I don’t think people are so much looking for religion as they are seeking for bits of truths that help them along the way -something that validates or helps them in this life.

      And yes – I think the best way to fight for faith is by living it, not persecuting others in the name of it.

      Additionally – I also agree there are many truths out there in various religions. There is goodness all around us and I’m fascinated to learn about them, be it in philosophy, religion, or people’s personal views on life in general. I learn a lot through those discussions.

      Thanks for your thoughts. I really liked that you shared your personal experience.

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