Wednesday, November 08, 2006

on losing Jesus

I've found that converts to Mormonism who later leave often return to their pre-Mormon religion or belief system. I've also found that a lot of born-in-the-church ex-Mormons end up agnostic or atheist. Some convert ex-mormons can't understand the born-in ex-mormons' disbelief of Jesus. "It's not like Joseph Smith made up Jesus, so why does disbelief in Joseph's church lead to a disbelief in Jesus?" they ask.

When I was first reading "stuff on Mormonism" and realized that maybe I wouldn't always believe, I made a statement to my husband that no matter what, I would always believe in Christ and the Atonement. Now I can't believe I even made such a statement--it seems ridiculous to me.

I specifically avoided anything scholarly on Jesus while I was tearing down my Mormon world, because I knew what reading scholarly stuff did to my view of Joseph Smith. I didn't want to destroy my view of Jesus in the same way. Turns out, I didn't even read a single thing on Jesus, and my belief in his divinity just flew out the window anyway. It was partly because of all the statements Joseph made about Jesus, and I now distrust anything Joe ever said. And it was partly because of my changing world view, a more rational world view that didn't allow for miracles and resurrection, as well as a more ethical world view that refused a God who wanted his son to die. It just didn't make sense anymore.


C.L. Hanson said...

That's exactly what happened in my family.

My dad converted to Mormonism as an adult after having been a Christian throughout his youth and childhood. When he started doubting Mormonism, he went back to Christianity and is now more Christian than ever.

Of the five kids in the family (all raised Mormon) two are believing Mormons to this day, and the three who have left the church are all atheists.

In my case, I didn't deliberately avoid critical study of the life of Jesus. Of course I wasn't really deliberately doing a critical investigation of my religion at all (see my deconversion story, parts 1, 2, and 3).

But the same reasoning that made me doubt Mormonism made me doubt the whole package. I left Mormonism when I concluded that faith is not a good reason to believe that wild supernatural tales people tell are literally true. In a nutshell, I just can't see saying "Joseph Smith meeting an angel? Impossible!!! But Jesus walking on water? That totally happened."

from the ashes said...

Exactly, clh. I'll go check out your story as soon as I get a chance.

I read a "testimonial" from a supposed exmormon turned Christian somewhere online yesterday. The writer left Mormonism, and then failed to critically evaluate the Bible miracles. It made me wonder if the conversion story was true or just Christian propaganda.

But, then again, there are a few Mormons who convert to mainstream Christianity based on comparing Mormon theology to Christian theology, and decide for the latter. It kind of blows my mind.

For a while I thought I could join a liberal Protestant church, where they're not literal about things. But I just can't bring myself to chant or recite things about Jesus as if he's anything more than a man with some ideas.

Zarathustra said...

The critical question we should ask is whether Christianity has anything to say to us as human beings. I take the truths of Chritianity, if there are any, to be existential rather than metaphysical. For me, such truths speak to the human condition in a relevant and penetrating way. To be a responsible Christian, to my mind, means trying to discern what is essential to the Christian gospel, and what is not. Of course, there will be many different, and even opposing answers to this question; but, it is a question that must ultimately be answered privately. I personally do not think of Christ as my Savior. But seeing things this way does very little to help us understand the value of the Christian message. When I am confronted with biblical images of salvation, I prefer to ask questions that speak more directly to our shared situation as human beings. Why have so many of us found the image of a saving Christ so compelling? What is it about the human condition that would give rise to such a need? Are we, as human beings, in need of salvation in some sense. Christianity, and perhaps all religions alike, teach us far more about ourselves than they do about God.

We must ask ourselves why the religions of the world survive at all. To suggest that believers are all misguided and bubbling fools, though you have not suggested this explicitly, seems simplistic and perhaps even a little naive. I do think that religion can be a bastion for ignorance and superstition, but it need not be. Religion can motivate the very best in human beings.

I think many people hold religion to a unfair standard, a standard that coud not be meet by other comparable socio-political stuctures. Religion is about people, and that's why is a mess. But it's no more a mess than our current political situation in the U.S.

Rebecca said...

You wrote: "...I knew what reading scholarly stuff did to my view of Joseph Smith. I didn't want to destroy my view of Jesus in the same way."

This is so funny to me, because it's totally what believers do - they specifically, purposely avoid KNOWING because they're told it can hurt their faith. Um...huh...??? That doesn't ring any ALARM BELLS??? When I told my sister I didn't believe anymore we talked for a while, and at the end of the conversation she said something like, "I appreciate you not explaining the information about the church, since you know I wouldn't want to know." Wha-huh?

from the ashes said...

zarathustra- What, you're going to come here and challenge me? It's a good thing I know you, or I'd be ticked off at your calling my thinking "simplistic and naive." But that's fair enough, as I've posted about you with you knowing it. Touche.

For the record, I wasn't thinking of you in the post.

I still appreciate religion, especially in the way you approach it. I prefer to analyze religion for what it teaches about the people who create and define it. I can even appreciate religion from a less academic, more _feeling_ based approach, looking for inspiration, enlightenment, edification, peace, etc. Even as an atheist.

My main point was that I lost a belief in the divinity or supernaturalism of Jesus. I have no doubt that Christianity has great things to say to and about human beings. I just don't feel that I personally can give Christianity the spotlight in my religious thinking. I have no problem with people who do choose Christianity (or any other specific religion) with their eyes wide open. Different religions (or non-religions) fit different people. Kudos to you for finding yours.

Can't we just talk about this over some beer? You're way easier to debate with when you're drunk. ;)

Zarathustra said...

I like what you've said in response to my comment, but most of what I said was directed at C.L. Hanson's remarks; in particular, the way in which he cast the Christian faith. Again, although he did not claim this explicitly, after reading his post in combination with yours, I could not help but come away with the impression I did, i.e., that to be Christian at all meant to accept an overly narrow and ultra-conservative conception of the Christian life. Because I see this way of understanding Christianity to be illegitimate, not to mention that it remains conspicuously indebted to Mormonism and other like-minded worldviews, I wanted to defend what I take to be the merits of the Christian tradition. As you know, I am keenly aware of the problems of faith, but sometimes even in spite of myself, I find myself believing nonetheless.

from the ashes said...

Zarathustra- How many Christians share your liberal view of Christianity? In the liberal area we live in, it's easy to think that most Christians are pretty rational, but there are a lot of fundamentalists, too. I honestly have no idea what the percentages look like.

(And CL Hanson is a woman, BTW. See link Letters from a Broad.)

C.L. Hanson said...

Sorry if my earlier comment caused offense. (I'm doing a really bad job of staying on hiatus BTW...)

The two points I was trying to make were (1) I don't think that faith is a good way of learning things about objective reality and (2) for me the type of evidence that exists for Jesus' miracles is qualitatively the same as the type of evidence that exists for Joseph Smith's miracles. Therefore, I conclude that neither really happened.

I was not suggesting that religion or spirituality are bad or worthless. I'm not even saying that I have a problem with people who think that faith is a good way of learning about objective reality -- only that I disagree with them.

I've discussed this in my post religion and getting along. I hope that -- despite differences in perspective -- we can all have a friendly, productive discussion and get along. :D

from the ashes said...

CL, I took your comments that way, don't worry about it. Zarathustra would agree that the evidence for Jesus's miracles aren't there, but he would NOT then say that Christianity is useless. I don't think you would either. (Z, am I representing you correctly?)

Zarathustra said...

Neither of you should worry about offending me, there are few things that I'm willing to get worked up about, and Mormonism isn't one of them--beer might be! I do think it's good to discuss and to think about what others have to say; and, since I'm no longer participating on LDS-Phil, From the Ashes has, so far, been kind enough to let me chime in here. I hope that my presence hasn't caused offense, I know I can be abrasive.

As far as Christianity goes, and whether it supplies us with a good understanding of objective reality, I'm not even sure what this really means. I guess my question is, what does supply us with a good understanding of objective reality? Perhaps you have history in mind, or maybe science? You should say more about what you mean in this case? In addition, if you mean what I think you mean, I suspect we'll disagree over the value of what you've called objective reality.

With references to miracles, I agree the evidence is slim, perhaps even non-existent, but I don't agree that the strength of the Christian faith turns on the credibility or incredibility of the New Testament. Nor do I necessarily believe that Joseph Smith's accomplishments as a religious innovator depend on the veracity of his claims. But, I won't go into this, unless you'd like to discuss it.

from the ashes said...

Yes, Z, I already know what you think about JS's religious, ahem, accomplishments. Just kidding. The ideas can be good, even if the actions of the speaker may not be (What's that called?). Maybe I'll write a post about that so we can discuss JS more specifically.

...or maybe I don't want to go there. I'll think about it. Or maybe I can arrange Z as a "guest blogger" now and then and he can write the post?

Zarathustra said...

You wrote: "The ideas can be good, even if the actions of the speaker may not be (What's that called?)."

Well, to deny the above would be to committ the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is just to claim that an idea is false based solely on where the idea came from, e.g., don't believe anything he says, he's an asshole. And, of course, being an asshole, does not entail that he is also a liar.