Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Contradictions lead to happiness

A 6th generation Mormon, Jeremy Runnells had expectations and plans of living in the Church of Latter Day Saints for the rest of his life. However, in February 2012, Jeremy experienced a crisis of faith. In the spring of 2013, Jeremy was approached and asked by a Mormon Church Educational System Director to share his concerns and questions about the LDS Church's origins, history, and current practices. In response, Jeremy wrote what later became publicly known as Letter to a CES Director, and very quickly went viral on the internet. The CES Director responded that he read the "very well written" letter and that he would provide Jeremy with a response. No response ever came.

You can download the letter from this web site (click on "download the PDF" when you get there - it's a free download).

I found this letter - and the silence from the Mormon church - so hauntingly familiar. I had very similar, specific questions when I was in my teens and was realizing I just wasn't really believing what I had been taught all of my life by Christian churches, that I'd never believed it. The number of Bible contradictions - such as the examples listed here and here - I was realizing for myself were mounting. The cruelty and violence, the misogyny against women were disturbing me in particular, and no one had answers to my many questions and observations - they just kept telling me to "accept" and that I would have answers "some day." I was made to feel bad for my many questions and statements that I felt nothing people assured me I would feel if I said things like, "Christ, I accept you as my savior. Live in my heart." I might as well have said abracadabra over and over.

When I was trying to be a Christian, deep joy was always out of reach. Happiness was oh-so-fleeting. I was afraid of my own emotions, because I was being told I shouldn't be upset no matter what horrors in life I might encounter, no matter what happened in my life or anywhere in the world, because God had a plan, and to be upset was to doubt that plan - in other words, children being raped, people being slaughtered, villages and cities being destroyed by natural disasters, people dying slowly from the most horrible diseases you can imagine, and all other suffering was a good thing, a divine thing, and I would just have to hope and trust there was a reason for it all. God Makes No Mistakes and God is Good All the Time. And I was supposed to seek out other Christians as friends, specifically, and avoid non-believers. In fact, many people said I was to seek out only certain Christians - no Catholics, no Mormons, maybe not anyone that sprinkles instead of dunks...

When I quit trying to believe, when I embraced that life-long doubt in a magical invisible all-powerful friend who allowed, or caused, misery, life very slowly started to get better. No one was allowing tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters to kill millions of people - those things happened, without any meaning behind them other than weather patterns and geological realities, and there were all sorts of things we, humans, could do to mitigate the damage. And there were all sorts of things we can do to reduce horrors visited upon humans by other humans. And God hadn't abandoned or ignored me as I prayed every day, desperately, for an end to the abuse in my family - there is no God, and I needed to find help to get out of that situation and live a very different life than I'd grown up in.

And I got to be kind to everyone, no matter their beliefs. I got to pick friends and associates based on the character they showed - the kindness, the understanding, the care - not their proclaimed religion. I get to embrace humankind, the brotherhood of man, as a species, as a family.

And I got to hope, in a way I never could before, because I knew there was no omnipotent sentient entity with some master plan causing everything in the world, helpful, glorious or harmful - instead, the world was full of endless possibilities, some of which I could control, some of which I could influence, and all of which were real.


Why I love being an atheist