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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Conflicting Commandments, Abortion, Homosexuality, and Mormonism

Why do religions become so complex and often contradictory? It is because all religions evolve. They begin with a founder and a few simple all-encompassing principles. Once the founders are gone, those who follow add their interpretations, legal rulings, and thoughts of the times, as well as rules for things not originally considered. This happened in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity and even traced in the Bible and the works of Mormonism.

God gave humans one rule to begin with. It was a rule we had to break in order to evolve, but it did protect our innocence. When we failed to obey, god gave us more rules, partly because we couldn’t grasp all that the one rule had encompassed unless it was broken down. Then these got broken down, creating specific rules for specific times until there were rules for everything. In my church, we were given dietary recommendations known as the Word of Wisdom. Most did not live by it and so you had a church of priesthood holders being drunk and disorderly. Thus, it was made a commandment and a dietary law.  When Jesus came, he said that he fulfilled all these laws and again gave one all-encompassing principle, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” This was then added upon by the Catholics until priests, who once were expected to be married, were leading celibate lives and avoiding fish on Friday, while the church was selling free passes out of the Hell they largely made up, torturing those who didn’t fall in line, and burning people at the stake.

I don’t think scripture was ever meant to be a book of literal truth. Scripture is writing that contains spiritual wisdom expressed as memorable stories, not historic or scientific fact. Like with most tales, they are based in fact as adapted, interpreted, misunderstood, and altered intentionally by those who recorded, translated, or chose to include them in the present collection. Scripture is influenced by the times and societies and purposes of those who passed them down. The specifics aren’t meant to be universal, but to relate to the reader at the time of the writer. This makes me hopeful that the Book of Revelation’s descriptions of the extent of the death and damage might be somewhat a matter of perspective. Back then a few million people and the Mediterranean seemed like the entire world. These days, they are a fraction. The impression and words chosen by the writer were such that would make sense to the people of the time, not scientific explain or accurately forecast the future.  Also, due to the need to preserve faith and doubt for the test of life, scripture itself cannot be used as objective proof. It is designed to foil certainty.

As part of the test of life - a test of our free will without the sure knowledge of god’s presence to keep us in line - as well as a result of conflicting interpretations and agendas, some scripture contradicts or appears to contradict itself in places. Because we are here to exercise and deal with the consequences of free will, god gives us choices in all that we do, including between his rules when they become mutually exclusive. Why we make the choice and what we learn from doing so is what really matters.

Mormons are taught that each of us is responsible for our own spiritual development. Others can help, but only we can make the decision and deal with the consequences in our own lives. We are to help, not judge or condemn or persecute. My faith is one where everyone must meet the requirements of a priesthood holder because everyone will be one eventually. Thus the requirements are pretty strict. This includes the discouragement of homosexuality.

Personally, I believe that homosexuality was not labelled a sin because it is evil or an abomination, but because the original small tribes, to whom these laws were given, couldn’t afford to have ten percent of their population as non-reproductive if they wanted to survive and grow in number. This may also be the reason for the guttural distaste many experience around the subject - our genes ruthlessly compel us to reproduce and thus discourage the behaviour. It doesn’t mean that the person is evil or defective, just a genetic dead-end in traditional terms (of course modern science and social arrangements can get around this now). However, it becomes part of that person’s test of life, just as with any major trait, whether personal or biological. It means, for example that you can’t be a member of my church because you can’t be a priesthood holder. That’s not a judgement on the person, just a fact. Just like a four-foot tall person will not be an NBA star. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be member of any church, or even a holder of the priesthood in a church that so allows.  You can’t be part of my group, but I can’t be part of a gay one either. Reality has limits.

If marriage is defined as Holy Matrimony, then I am against all civil marriages. However, that boat sailed a long time ago when the state took over the ceremony. Once there were civil marriages, the principals of egalitarian democracy demanded that all be able to participate. It was a done deal. I’m not against the principal of homosexuals being able to form legal families and participate in social rights and responsibilities; I’m only against it being lumped in with Holy Matrimony.  That is a religious ceremony/sacrament and is open only to members of that religion. This isn’t discrimination as no one is forced to be a member and can go find another group, free choice is not restricted and no benefits of the wider society are denied. It’s just a club to which you cannot belong, no more than I can rightly belong to the NAACP. I can be allied with their causes, but I’m just not one of their constituents. Perhaps it’s mostly semantics, but I’m a writer so words are important to me.

I’d also like to say a word about abortion. Scientifically speaking, the moment a human life begins is conception, when the genes of the parents combine into a unique human genome and begin replicating. After this point you are technically terminating a human life. Before this point is when birth control applies. After this point, you are not using a tool of contraception and you are not performing a simple medical procedure, you are choosing one life over another. The choice must be clear.

I believe in a woman’s right to make this choice, after all it is her life. But she must be clear that she is making a sacrifice. If she keeps the child, she sacrifices of herself. If she terminates the pregnancy, she is sacrificing that life for her own. Either way, a sacrifice is involved if abortion is being considered. It should be a decision never made lightly and as rarely as possible. I’m not against abortions, but I have heard of individuals who seem to treat the procedure similar to visiting the dentist, using it multiple times. Once or twice might be argued as the results of horrible mistakes or accidents of contraception, but having more disregards the seriousness of what is at stake and shows a disregard for life - both the woman’s life and those she is ending. Sex without responsibility is a fantasy. The decision for birth control should be made before, not after the act.

I’d also like to address some hatred and misinformation that I’ve seen in comments on the web about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

·         About it being a cult. By definition a cult is organized around and tightly controlled by a charismatic leader who is unquestioned. Our church is based on personal revelation and direct questions to god, and the responses we believe that we get which forms, at least for me, part of our personal testimonies.  We are told to question everything in order to seek our own answers and to pursue knowledge, including science. And if you’ve ever seen any of our leaders or heard them speak, charisma isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Everyone who has been baptized (which we do at 8 which is what we believe to be the Age of Responsibility when free choice and sin become possible) can cast their vote by show of hands to sustain or object to each leader, including the prophet who leads the church. Even one objection is treated with importance and can potentially leader to the rejection of the person for the position (which is completely voluntary and unpaid).  We try to pick our leaders and other roles of responsibility through prayer, inspiration and council, but everything in the church came through humans and is thus vulnerable to their faults and errors.

·         That we worship aliens. Coming from a Catholic background, I found the notion that we are evolving beings on the same path as much more advanced beings that were call gods much more scientifically satisfying than merely being toys of an infinite unknowable thing called God. Our church teaches that Heavenly Father was a being like we are now and that I is possible for some of us to become like him. All of us will evolve, but the test of life, determines how high we will rise by determining our temperaments and talents and ability to handle power responsibly. This keeps someone like Hitler from rising to the top, though he will evolve to the next stage along with everyone but the devil and his demons, who shall never gain physical form., but Hitler will stay at that stage while the rest of us progress to the next when we’re ready, each of us continuing to develop on the level to which we’re most suited as we help spread the process throughout the cosmos.  The idea that Heavenly Father lives on another planet makes more sense to me than in some otherworldly plane, and the idea of gods who continue to evolve gets rid of the stupidity of the torture  represented by the orthodox idea of unending heavenly perfection or eternal damnation.  The cosmos itself is evolving, with beings like us as its consciousness.
It also gives me a purpose for mortality that makes sense. Our ability to handle free will and its consequences is being tested under conditions where we are uncertain that god exists and we seem to be the ultimate authority and power, before we become such in truth. How we handle free will, conflicting choices and rules, successes and failures, and the physical and mental crosses each of us bears, as well as the rest of life’s complexity. How we treat each other, when Father is not around. And what we learn from the entire experience.  What you learn is more important than if you broke or followed an individual rule, but the choice over that rule is part of the learning process.  
Heavenly Father is an individual entity similar to us, not beyond all understanding. He is omniscient and omnipotent in comparison to us. He is interested in our progress and doesn’t interfere with our learning unless absolutely necessary. He grants prayers, but sometimes with the answer “No”, because it would interfere with the test or our progress, or because he knows there is something better coming.  He doesn’t take our loved ones from us, he welcomes them home when they return, and we believe that what you might call heaven and hell are basically mental attitudes possessed by spirits waiting on Earth to be reunited with their bodies when we evolve to the next stage, bodies powered by spirit and thus immortal.
Oh, and we also believe there is a Heavenly Mother, she just not part of the official Godhead of the Trinity because, although she also has the priesthood, men need it more than women do for our progression. That’s why we must carry the responsibility in mortality and women get it automatically in the next life.