The journey of questioning everything you believe is an interesting one. If you ever take it, I suggest making a list, it helps you see what you really believe and it is very therapeutic. Particularly if you are truly honest with yourself about the things you find questionable or not. Once you ‘go public’ with your disbelief you are often derided for losing the faith. People on the inside generally think that losing faith means losing a sense of direction or even losing hope.
If you start finding yourself agnostic, atheist or believing in silly things like the divinity of the Fridge, they are preconditioned to believe you have lost all your values in life. To the believer without an afterlife filled with blessings for being good or horrors for being evil there is no incentive for being a good. It confuses them to no end that you would disagree and claim there is.
I first put together the list below in response to a serious question from my parents, “what do you believe now?” they asked. As I pondered it I felt I not only needed to express what I believed and valued, but also I needed to point out the things I no longer believed. The reason was my loss of faith really had nothing to do with the values I held dear (which are values I still see in the religion of my birth as well as many others.) The reason was more to do with the doctrines and beliefs I felt I had to assert as true(but could not) to continue to call myself Mormon.
There are good things in every religion, but good things don’t equal truth. All Religions start as a rebellion and end as an orthodoxy. In the rebellion stage they offer open doors to differences of opinion and thought. Once they begin to solidify ‘doctrines’ are formed that you have to believe to consider the religion true in your heart. Problem is as time passes this enshrines current thinking in a way that makes it difficult to challenge down the road when a better way is learned by humanity. It gives authority too much power in how you are supposed to think. While giving us a community based moral compass and a clear hope to strive for, religion also damns us and prevents us from growing or thinking outside the status quo.
I believe however that there is power in mythology, if you disagree, then the force is not with you young padawan and you wouldn’t get the humor in the preceding reference. There is power in a goal and an ideal to strive for. People that are otherwise selfish and looking our for their own interests will gladly die for something they believe in. That is power. In short the power of religion is the power of its myth. If only we could disconnect it from the abuses it brings when we take it too literally. This is my hope.
So with that, here is what I believe in, call them my personal values:
- I still believe in doing the right thing in the face of opposition, I call that integrity and courage.
- I still believe in getting back up after being knocked down.
- I believe in honesty.
- I believe in tolerance (probably more so now that I did before).
- I believe in forgiveness.
- I believe in kindness.
- I believe in charity.
- I believe in family.
- I believe in unconditional love.
- I believe in inspiration.
- I believe in research. (in the past I called it seeking)
- I believe in faith. (I can already hear paradigms grinding gears trying to shift around that assertion)
- I believe in reason.
- I believe the dinosaurs existed
- I believe in logic.
- I believe in feelings (and I realize that everyone has a right to how they feel, no one can define what goes on inside another person, you can only ask and try to understand)
- I believe in humor. (now including loud laughter!)
- I believe in the golden rule. I think the world would be better with people following just one commandment, ‘be nice.’
- I believe in open and honest debate (this is a change in my way of thinking from before)
- I believe in effort and persistence.
- I believe that what we call holy writ and many other books have great ideas and concepts that are good ways to live, I just do not accept them as infallible and historically accurate.
- I believe that mythology has its place in our lives and can help many people deal with tough times and handle loss and pain.
- I believe that there have been many ‘Christ’ type myths over the millennia that humanity has looked toward for guidance.
- I believe in truth.
- I believe in friends.
- I believe in being open and honest about why you feel the way you do with others.
- I believe that you shouldn’t avoid the issue where you conflict with a person you love. You should face it and work it out. Doing otherwise will only breed resentment and distance you from that person.
- I believe the scientific process is a valid way to progress in knowledge and truth and is far more reliable than any other method the human race has tried.
- I believe you should do the best you can with the time you have on this world to find joy and help others do the same.
- I believe that we as the human race can become something transcendental someday. I hope to live long enough to take part in it. If not, well I hope I did my part so that future generations have that chance.
- I believe being a decent person has it’s own merits wether there is a reward in next life for doing so or not.
- I believe that anyway you slice it, grand creator or not, we are very lucky to be here right now. So enjoy it, do right by it, and don’t blow it.
- I believe that atheists can be just as moral as any religious person I know.
- I believe in hopes and dreams and in the pursuit of them.
Here are some things I used to believe but no longer do:
- I no longer believe that motherhood = priesthood, I believe that motherhood=fatherhood
- I no longer believe that blacks were less valiant in the preexistence, and thus were denied the priesthood.
- I no longer believe that lying to cover up the polygamy and polyandry of Joseph Smith was somehow ok and I just didn’t understand it.
- I no longer believe that God is an all knowing all loving father that is willing to condemn the majority of his children to an eternity without him, simply because they picked the wrong religion.
- I no longer believe that following the brethren absolves you of personal responsibility for your choices.
- I no longer believe that the only chance God will give me to see my family again in the next life is to be LDS.
- I no longer believe that spiritual confirmation is an absolute indicator of truth.
- I no longer believe in blind faith being a good thing.
- I no longer believe that God would hide things from us as some sort of test of our ability to ignore facts and have faith.
- I no longer believe that Joseph Smith was a real prophet.
- I no longer believe that a person that doesn’t believe in God is a korrihor, of the devil, or is causing the nation to become evil.
- I no longer believe that gay people are choosing their orientation (doctrine I was raised with) or as the church says now the might be born that way but shouldn’t act on it after which they are typically compared to a murderer or pedophile or turtle lover. I do not accept that as a reasonable comparison.
- I no longer believe that my mind cannot be changed in the face of new evidence
- I no longer believe eating tiramisu might be a questionable sin
- I no longer believe that a tapir is a horse
- I no longer believe that all contention is of the devil
- I no longer believe that the earth is only 6000 years old.
- I no longer believe that when the prophet speaks the thinking is done.
- I no longer believe that God cursed the American Indians with a dark skin
- I no longer believe that a significant portion of tithing is used to help other people.
- I no longer believe that paying tithing is ‘fire insurance’ to protect be from being burned in the last days.
- I no longer believe that is it ok for an untrained male to have private sexually oriented interviews with my pre-teen and teen age children.
- I no longer believe in zelph
When I read back over that list I feel if I were to ask believers and ex-believers alike to make a list of what they believe and what they do not, that we’d all pretty much agree on the first half of this list of values. Only the second half would vary. LDS people would understand many of the references in my second part and depending on how strictly they believe or not would adjust the list accordingly. An ex-catholic or post-muslim would have his own second list of things that would sound downright weird to anyone else not having experienced their religion.
My point is this, all these religions, all these myths have some common ground. Generally speaking that part is the ‘good stuff’ that makes us feel it is right. The things we have to put on a shelf and try to forget about on the other hand, those are the negatives of that particular ideology. I often say that people are good despite thier religion rather that because of it. These are typically the buffet members, you know the ones that take all the good stuff they like and simply don’t believe the rest. Nope they aren’t the zealous ones, they are the moderates that some of the more fanatical gossip about. Orthodoxy demands compliance and fanaticism though. Wouldn’t it be great if it didn’t? Wouldn’t it be great if there could be a community, a myth to ‘believe’ in but not take so seriously that it becomes an orthodoxy that we use to judge others? I think so.
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” -Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth