Sunday, April 17, 2011

Diverging wills

Read this. After you return from the bathroom having puked your guts out, come back here. I'll wait for you.

. . .

Feel better? Good. Let me ask you something.

Do any of you unbelievers feel anything remotely like the "once-believer" described in this apparently anonymous article? Are any of you consumed with self-loathing? Seeking out increasingly dangerous indulgences to satisfy your insatiable primal urges? Do you dread the evil denouement you know is coming, and wish you could command the rocks and mountains to fall upon you to hide you from God's judgment?

Yeah, me neither.

I am a mediator by nature. It is a fundamental part of my personality that I try to reconcile people who have differences. I try to help people find compromises. I try to help people heal their broken relationships. I value dialogue and listening, and I try to encourage people to see things from another person's point of view. To me, the cultivation of empathy is one of the most important things we can try to do as members of the human family.

What irks me about this article is that it attempts to do the exact opposite. To encourage faithful members to remain in the fold, it caricatures unbelievers as vile, degenerate sinners who are forever miserable. Its intent is to polarize, not to reconcile, except in the rare case where reconciliation means falling back into line under the church's direction. If you're not with us, you must be against us. And furthermore, you must be a bad person. Articles like this actually make it more difficult for me to have relationships with true believers, because they read this tripe and think it somehow reflects who I really am. The article actively impedes dialogue. In fact, that seems to be its main goal.

For the record, the "once-believer" described in this ridiculous article could not be a less accurate description of me. I am not miserable. I am not seeking out ever-increasing levels of indulgence. I do not fear judgment. In fact, I am more at peace with myself and my existence in the world than I have ever been. I am beginning to realize that I am capable of incredible things, and I feel like I have some idea of how to use my talents to make the world a better place.

I wish the LDS church would stop using its official outlets to publish divisive rhetoric. The message of "happy us versus miserable them" is reinforced every six months at General Conference, as well as every so often in the church's other publications like the Church News and the Ensign. Please guys, just knock it off. And yes, my admonition applies equally to unbelievers who claim that all believers are repressed and secretly miserable, though my experience tends to indicate that unbelievers are generally more accepting of a less black-and-white mentality. As in many other areas of life, neither extreme is the truth.

There is more than one way to be happy in the world. There are believers who are very happy with their beliefs, and there are unbelievers who are equally happy with theirs. We should be working together for the common good and understanding. Sadly, this kind of article makes me think that's not what the church is truly interested in. And that's a shame.