Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another boring Sunday. Why bother?

Yet another boring Sunday, sitting through three hours of church. Honestly, it's gotten to where "enduring to the end" means staying awake for all three hours. Is this supposed to be inspiring? Is this supposed to pump me up or "recharge the batteries" so I can go out and make the world a better place and myself a better person? I feel the drive from within myself to do those things, but most weeks it feels like church sucks the life out of me. I'm certainly not recharging anything by going there. I'm sure someone must be getting something positive from it, but that person is not me.

I commented to my wife this morning that I think Jesus would be pretty uncomfortable in our church. He doesn't seem like the white shirt and tie kind of guy. Of course, I said this after failing to get a haircut for a couple months, failing to shave in the past week, and throwing on a green collared shirt after rolling out of bed and taking the world's quickest shower. So I guess I was looking for someone to champion the cause of the bed-headed schlub. I still contend that Jesus has got my back on this one.

A lot of Sundays, I look around and wonder what in the world I'm doing at church. For the past year or so, I've been keeping a positive attitude about church and my own participation in it. In my own mind, my main reason for doing so has been because I enjoy the community and I like being at least a little bit social.

But lately I've been asking myself, is that really true? I can't think of anyone at church I'm particularly close to, and in fact I'm not sure anyone at church even likes me very much. I obviously don't fit in, I wear brightly colored shirts, and the only time I speak up is when I feel I have something worthwhile to say. Unfortunately, that means I rarely say anything because I'm not willing to answer questions like, "What is the definition of priesthood?" Questions like that have no relevance to my life, but the call and response routine is apparently what we have been reduced to. And whenever I do speak up, I usually get blank stares as if I had said the moon is made of cheese and I just had some for lunch. Stunned silence, thinking, "Okaaaaay..."

When I joined the church, I was looking forward to having interesting discussions about deep topics in Sunday school. I was accustomed to that in the Christian churches I previously attended. But in the LDS church, there is no such discussion. It's taken me ten years, but I've finally realized there can be no such discussion in this church because everyone thinks we already know all the answers. Question about the meaning of life? Reference the chart with three circles. Question about the nature of the divine? Reference the Joseph Smith testimony in the back of your book. Question about whether it's okay to wear flip flops to church? Reference last month's General Conference talk. Seriously, we have canned answers for everything.

Because I happened to have it on my iPod, today I also read Why the Church is as True as the Gospel, a Sunstone article by Eugene England from many years ago. He makes some valid points, and I can see what he's getting at, but overall I got the feeling that the church as he experienced it doesn't really exist anymore. The church doesn't stretch me to prove contraries or help me to grow my love for others through service to needy people. It simply annoys me, week after week, as I silently listen to bold proclamations of things I find disagreeable, unsupportable, or factually incorrect.

Some people stay because it's their family, it's their tribe, it's where they feel comfortable, or whatever. I understand that, and that can be a valid motivation. But I've never felt that way about Mormonism myself, even as a believer. For my entire life since high school, I have regularly attended various churches on my own, because I wanted to be challenged and stretched. I have wanted what Eugene England wrote that we should experience in the LDS church, a deeper experience of meaning through struggling to make peace with opposition in all things.

In fact, I would say that's one of the main reasons I still attend the LDS church at all; because I tend to define my own ideas by contrasting them with other ideas that are not mine. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." I sharpen my ideas by testing them in the marketplace and keeping the best ones, and for a long time as a Christian, I found that church was a good place for me to do that. So somehow I still try to do it in the LDS church. But you know, after a while being constantly beaten down with iron gets tiresome. I'm not experiencing both truths on either side of a paradox. I'm experiencing one truth, running unopposed, and I'm not sure how long I can stand it.

So what's the point? I guess I need to branch out socially. Visit other communities, go to more skeptics meetings, volunteer my time actually doing something useful. It's hard to find the time, but that's not a great excuse. Whatever I'm looking for, I'm apparently not finding it here, and I need to expand the horizons.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why wage war on certain people's genitals?

In all the heated Prop 8 arguments that seemingly exploded from every point in the universe simultaneously, there's one idea I hardly ever see mentioned, despite its crucial importance. Perhaps it's never mentioned because it's simply too obvious. I'm referring to the fact that disallowing gay marriage is legal discrimination against certain people because of their genitalia. The official reason that two men cannot be married in most states is because they both have penises. Likewise two women and their vaginas. For all the fuss and foofaraw about religious freedom, freedom of speech, rights, benefits, and tradition, it simply boils down to genitals.

And why? Why should we care so much about what kind of private parts a married couple has in their pants? Why do the parts become not-so-private when it comes to marriage? Is it society's business to inquire about such things, or even further, to ensure that every state-sanctioned blessed union comes with one snail and one oyster? If so, why?

One group of people that is profoundly affected by this policy, but also seems generally forgotten in the public discourse, is the community of people whose gender identity is ambiguous or has changed. Specifically, intersex and transgendered people. In fact, I personally have a friend who was living as a girl when I knew her in high school, but he is now living as a man and is engaged to be married (someday) to the woman he loves. He and his fiancee seem very happy together, and I am happy for them. I have not specifically asked my friend whether he now has a penis, whether he formerly had a vagina, or whether his sex organs are or were ambiguous. The reason I haven't asked is because it's none of my fucking business. Yet from what I understand, our society has taken up the mantle not only of investigating my friend's genitals, but of making it very, very difficult for a transgendered person to be married to anyone.

Again I ask, why? What useful purpose does it serve to forbid certain marriages because of sex organs? If society (somehow) benefits by hiring a bouncer to check people's underwear at the chapel door, does that outweigh the benefit of two people's pursuit of happiness and equal protection under the law?

As usual, the Onion hits this point much better than I ever could, so enjoy this video from a year or so ago:

Conservatives Warn Quick Sex Change Only Barrier Between Gays, Marriage

Friday, August 6, 2010

Just say no to laws based in religion

In case you haven't heard that Prop 8 was overturned by a federal judge two days ago, you're welcome. Facebook and the rest of the interwebs have, of course, exploded, which is great because it's been a while since I got a good dose of internet venom. Personally, I think it's much ado about nothing until the appeals climb all the way to the Supreme Court.

When Prop 8 was passed almost two years ago, it seemed clear to me that it had no real basis aside from private religious views. Maybe it's my relatively small sample size of friends, but it seems like that is still the case. Judge Vaughn Walker said this explicitly in his decision, and the Prop 8 defense lawyers apparently couldn't make a very good argument otherwise.

I almost hate to say this, because I want to think the best of people and I know there are some people who have been convinced to support Prop 8 on grounds other than religion. But for the great majority of Prop 8 supporters in my experience, it simply boils down to the idea that God, the Bible, or church leaders said so. Deep down at a bedrock level, that is the fundamental reason to support Prop 8. It really, really is.

Of course, no one ever leads by saying they object to gay marriage because of their religion. We all pay lip service to the idea that our laws need to serve some secular purpose. But I've seen too many people trot out arguments like "homosexuals can't procreate" or "homosexuals are inadequate parents" or "churches will be forced to perform gay marriages" or "marriage has always been between a man and a woman." And when each of these arguments is refuted, it usually comes down to, "Well, I believe God said it's wrong."

But private religious views cannot be the basis of law in the United States. I wish more people would realize that the separation of church and state is as much a protection for your religion as anyone else's. Just because your religious view happens to be a majority does not make it constitutional to pass discriminatory laws based on your religion. If the rise of Islam overtakes Christianity in the next century, will you fight to pass laws criminalizing graphic depiction of Muhammad? If you understand why not, you should understand that Prop 8 has been rightly struck down for the exact same reason.