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Recently, a member of a support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Mormons, to which I belong, asked for input on the topic of what are the negative impacts religion has upon society. I decided to respond on an expanded question, which was, “Does religion have a negative effect on society or is the way people choose to express their religion what causes the negative impact?” I have discussions with people all the time about this very topic. Consider this, the simplest way to define a Christian, I would argue, is a follower of Christ. Most, if not all, of the hatred and bigotry rising from the various Christian religious groups finds its basis in the Old Testament. If a follower of Christ wants to hate me they need to find the basis for it in Christ's teachings. Don't throw verses of scripture at me (Leviticus) and in the same breath justify why you shave your beard, allow your wife to uncover her face, or choose to dismiss or follow any number of pick-and-choose-your-Old-Testament-beliefs on your personal whimsy. Religion shouldn't be confusing. Christ's teachings are not confusing.
I didn't grow up in the Mormon Church. I developed a faith in the religion on my own and with little if any prompting from friends or relatives. The Church offered me something I had never had - a place to belong. I became active in the Church in my mid teens, and found having faith in the Mormon religion easy. I didn't have an issue with teachings of Mormonism because I was comfortable having faith in the Mormon Church. And although I am inquisitive and scientific by nature, I had no issues accepting Mormon doctrine on faith without proof or reasoning. I accepted what the leadership of the Church had to say without question. I trusted the Mormon Church. I didn't ever expect or assume I would be misled. I was promised, if I behaved in a certain manner, certain promises to me would be fulfilled.
By the time I was eighteen, I was fully immersed in the doctrine of the Mormon Church. I was preparing for a mission. I was considering many things as they related to the Church and me. Having always known of my attraction to men, I didn't define my same-sex attraction as evil until the Mormon Church taught me the evils of homosexuality. I didn't go on a mission but not from lack of faith or desire. I didn't go on a mission because I had an absolute faith in the absolute evilness of my soul. Although I had prayed for hours on end, cried until my eyes were swollen shut, fasted until I was weak, and read scriptures until my eyes were blurry, at the tender age of 18 I had still not been worthy for God to grant me a miracle and make me “normal” - heterosexual. Because my faith was so absolute, I would not consider I had done enough. If I had done enough, God certainly would have granted my miracle, therefore, I was obviously failing God in some way.
So, I did not go on a mission because I didn't feel worthy to enter God's house - the Temple. I was certain if I did, I would be damned to hell for my same-sex feelings. I never spoke to any Church leaders regarding my problem. I could read the scriptures and other Church literature. I knew what I was. I had an almost perfect faith in both the truthfulness of the Gospel and in my own worthlessness. Today I consider myself agnostic and I've grown a lot since. As it turns out, I'm not such a bad guy after all.
Several years ago, I was at the end of my rope trying to reconcile being Mormon and gay. I had used every tool at my disposal to "repair" my broken self. I had been promised by all that I had learned and believed if I was pure of heart, had a contrite spirit, and prayed with all sincerity for something in line with the teachings of the gospel I would find success. This is an old story with which Mormons, and I suspect most Christians, are intimately acquainted. Where my story took me is I gave up believing in God and became agnostic. Many of my friends have had to deal with whether or not they believed in Mormonism, which wasn't an issue for me. When I stopped believing in God, believing in a religion became a moot point. I suppose I had it easy compared to some.
Currently, I am not sure what I believe - maybe there is a god. I do know a few things for certain, though - if there is a god in heaven, and if that god is the god of the Christians then most religions have completely missed the point about what it means to be Christians, believers in God, and faith. In saying this, I have the following points to make to people professing their Christianity:
1. Toss out the Old Testament and put your energies into being true Christians - followers of Christ. If Christ dying on the cross made it okay to eat ham, saved us from offering up burnt sacrifices, and allowed us to stop lopping off our foreskin, then stop choosing what Old Testament scriptures were and were not satisfied with Christ's atonement. He satisfied everything. Toss out the Old Testament and stop using it as a club to beat up those people who are different.
2. Focus on the similarities, not the differences. Is not the fact people share a belief in Christ enough? Shouldn't that be what's important? Why insist upon justifying hatred and bigotry because of differences.
3. Religion is all about faith. I'll say it again - religion is all about faith. The Mormons can't prove anything. The Catholics can't prove anything. The Baptists, Protestants, Methodists, and Whirling Dervishes can't prove anything. It's all about faith, and if a person is secure in their faith, they don't need to point fingers of hatred and bigotry at others who don't share their faith because they will recognize faith isn't about proof it's about choice. It's about having the freedom to believe in something without needing proof because having that belief and expressing your faith brings you comfort.
The hate mongers out there don't get this point. They would have you believe that faith must be expressed in a certain way, and only by certain types of people under certain conditions. I find this line of thinking contradictory to a loving God - and certainly contradictory to the teachings of Christ. Christ's atonement and God's plan of salvation was intended for everyone, not simply those who decided their particular dogma was more accurate and appropriate than someone else's dogma. If hate mongers truly had faith, they'd realize it's not about convincing others they are right and someone else is wrong, it's about expressing your belief in Christ in a manner of your choosing because the important part was a belief in Christ. And lest we forget, God would know the intent of our heart, anyway. Will a strictly dogmatic man who never truly believes in God be saved or will the man who never conformed to a dogma but truly believed in God find salvation? I do not believe dogma is a prerequisite to faith, and I believe religion is all about faith.
4. If my agnosticism ever turns back toward a belief in God, the only god I will ever believe in is the one who will judge me on the intent of my heart. He will know how much it pained me to feel as though I failed him. He'll understand what I would have sacrificed to try and conform to be part of the Mormon mold. He'll judge me for those efforts, and know if I could have been what my Mormon models wanted of me I would have found a way. But, more importantly, he won't care. He's going to know that I am a good person. I try to help people in need, I give to charities because it makes me happy, I am sad when I see people running to catch a bus that just pulled away, I love my friends and family, and God will know I'm doing the best I can. The God of Christ will judge me for the intent of my heart, and not because I didn't conform to a style of religion focusing on the differences between people instead of the similarities - namely, Christians are all followers of Christ regardless of the way they choose to express that belief in faith. A Christian's belief in Christ should be enough for all other Christians - nothing else should matter.
So, with this I close and say the negative impact religion has upon society is not a result of religion itself but of people choosing to focus on the negative aspects of religion and attempting to sway societies opinions with their particular biased and bigoted views. I am still agnostic - but I'm comfortable not knowing for sure if there is or is not a god. He'll either understand, or it won't matter. Either way, I'd rather think of all people as children of humanity and respect everyone's choice of expressing their faith in a manner that brings them comfort.
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