Something Other Than a Church

In our sometimes lengthy conversations about religion, my wife Lietta knows that our decision a few years ago to commence a handcart journey – if you will – within a traveling company of faithful Salt Lake LDS human beings, some of whom are family in the blood sense and others who are family in the more important interactive sense has made of us wiser travelers …

It has made of us more perceptive travelers who possess a greater ability to look and feel beyond the emotional and verbal violence of rigid religious rhetoric …

It has taught us that our journey might be long, but it is or ought to be long in the pleasured learning sense and short in the performance-driven-religious sense …

It has taught us that the journey that leads to the beauty, serenity and spiritual fulfillment in the meadows of a greater kind of valley that has nothing to do with salt flats and conformity  …

the journey takes us over high passes that may be reached by many more than one route from which we may not deviate or enjoy the scenic view of a rest stop …

The journey tells us when it is time to move on.

Lietta a while back coined a phrase that became almost a mantra to me: 

Mormonism is stuck in a 19th-century place. 

Just What Was The “Church” Joseph Claimed to be Restored?
What did it look like and how was it different from all the other 19th-Century church models?
What models? 

    When Joseph asked which church he should join, the Savior told him to join none of the churches then in existence because they were teaching incorrect doctrines. – From the Church Website, lds.org

What were those incorrect-doctrine-teaching-churches talking about in 19th-Century America?
What exactly was it that Joseph Smith claimed to be correcting, improving or straightening out?
 Who thought of it first? Regardless, for the most part they were all religious literalists who imagined the same things at the same time as young Joseph. Without that tendency to literalize what it means to belong to a Christian  Church in 19th-Century America, Joseph would have had to design some sort of departure from those literalized notions.

How about …



Restorationism is called “apostolic” as representing the form of Christianity that the twelve Apostles followed.

    “Restorationism” in the sense of “Christian primitivism” refers to the attempt to correct perceived shortcomings of the current church by using the primitive church as a model to reconstruct early Christianity,  and has also been described as “practicing church the way it is perceived to have been done in the New Testament.” 

 Christian primitivism, also described as restorationism, is the belief that Christianity should be restored along the lines of what is known about the apostolic early church, which restorationists see as the search for a more pure and more ancient form of the religion. 

 Experiential primitivism focuses on restoring the direct communication with God and the experience of the Holy Spirit seen in the early church.  Examples include the Latter Day Saint movement of Joseph Smith, Jr. and Pentecostalism.

    Main article: Second Great Awakening
   
    The ideal of restoring a “primitive” form of Christianity grew in popularity in the U.S. after the American Revolution.  This desire to restore a purer form of Christianity played a role in the development of many groups during this period, known as the Second Great Awakening, including the Mormons, Baptists and Shakers. Several factors made the restoration sentiment particularly appealing during this time period.
   
    • To immigrants in the early 19th century, the land in America seemed pristine, edenic and undefiled – “the perfect place to recover pure, uncorrupted and original Christianity” – and the tradition-bound European churches seemed out of place in this new setting.
   
    • The new American democracy seemed equally fresh and pure, a restoration of the kind of just government that God intended.
   
    • Many believed that the new nation would usher in a new millennial age.
   
    • Independence from the traditional churches of Europe was appealing to many Americans who were enjoying a new political independence.
   
    • A primitive faith based on the Bible alone promised a way to sidestep the competing claims of all the many denominations available and find assurance of being right without the security of an established national church.  

So the idea of restoration was “out there” already. These persons were on the right track but, according to Jesus as told by Joseph Smith, not the one true right track:

    Thomas Campbell
    The American Restoration Movement aimed to restore the church and sought “the unification of all Christians in a single body patterned after the church of the New Testament.” While the Restoration Movement developed from several independent efforts to go back to apostolic Christianity, two groups that independently developed similar approaches to the Christian faith were particularly important to its development. The first, led by Barton W. Stone began at Cane Ridge, Bourbon County, Kentucky and called themselves simply Christians. The second began in western Pennsylvania and Virginia (now West Virginia) and was led by Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander Campbell; they used the name Disciples of Christ.
   
    Barton W. Stone
    The Campbell movement was characterized by a “systematic and rational reconstruction” of the early church, in contrast to the Stone movement which was characterized by radical freedom and lack of dogma.  Despite their differences, the two movements agreed on several critical issues.
    Both saw restoring apostolic Christianity as a means of hastening the millennium.
    Both also saw restoring the early church as a route to Christian freedom. And, both believed that unity among Christians could be achieved by using apostolic Christianity as a model.
   
    They were united, among other things, in the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that Christians should celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the first day of each week; and that baptism of adult believers by immersion in water is a necessary condition for salvation. Because the founders wanted to abandon all denominational labels, they used the biblical names for the followers of Jesus that they found in the Bible. The commitment of both movements to restoring the early church and to uniting Christians was enough to motivate a union between many in the two movements. With the merger, there was the challenge of what to call the new movement. Clearly, finding a Biblical, non-sectarian name was important. Stone wanted to continue to use the name “Christians.” Alexander Campbell insisted upon “Disciples of Christ”. As a result, both names were used.
   
    Alexander Campbell
    The Restoration Movement began during, and was greatly influenced by, the Second Great Awakening. While the Campbells resisted what they saw as the spiritual manipulation of the camp meetings, the Southern phase of the Awakening “was an important matrix of Barton Stone’s reform movement” and shaped the evangelistic techniques used by both Stone and the Campbells.

But Joseph and those who gathered round him in pursuit of the one true track were seeking something cleanly and primitively true, untainted by 19th-century contemporary religions notions. Well maybe except for Sidney, Orson and Parley Pratt, Lyman Wight, Edward Partridge and Frederick Williams who were all devout disciples in the Campbellite Movement.


The Church website continues: 

As a young boy in 1820, Joseph Smith wanted to know which church was true. As he searched the Bible for help, he read that he should ask of God. Acting on this counsel, Joseph went into the woods near his home and prayed. Suddenly, a light shone above him and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. When Joseph asked which church he should join, the Savior told him to join none of the churches then in existence because they were teaching incorrect doctrines.

Through this experience and many others that followed, the Lord chose Joseph to be His prophet and to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church to the earth.


The rest is history.


What constitutes genuine  spirituality to the majority of practicing Salt Lake LDS? As I have said before, the following equation can be considered a way of expressing the answer to that question.

Obedience + Worthiness = LDS Spirituality which pleases God who rewards with blessings.

Ask any active “True Believing Mormon” and you will get some form of the above equation as a description of what constitutes  spiritual human transaction with God.

This is neither good nor bad. It just is. 

I came to understand that in the peculiar way Mormons practice their religion, see the world and trust God, it is of little matter of who is right and who is wrong. As a spiritual practice it either works for you or doesn’t work for you.

It stopped working for me long ago. After leaving the Church 25 years ago, I was not bereft of spiritual nourishment – contrary to expectations engendered over my lifetime within the Church. 

My own spiritual experience changed in form and content. That very feeling consciousness that informed how I perceived and loved Divinity drastically changed. I came to an altered personal relationship with the Divine that is – as the 12-steppers say in one form or another – God as I understand God.


Bottom line then is that Mormonism for me is not religion. 

It is lots of other things and I will leave it to apologists, critics and loyal dissenters to hassle over what Mormonism is.

The important fact of the matter personally – as it should be for everyone –  is what matters and what works for me, not who owns what narrative and whose script becomes the norm for belongers.

Salt Lake Mormonism does not work for me, does not function as a vessel for spiritual growth, participation and communion with the Divine. So long as I stay connected in any kind of participatory way, Mormonism will effectively waste my time in more ways than merely chewing up 3 sacred hours of my Sundays.

After a few years of spiritual turmoil and seeking, I read a book I discovered in my wife Lietta’s collection; a book of which I had never heard: 

Behold The Spirit, by Alan Watts.


I’ve reread it several times, have had to buy a replacement hard cover copy and of course have it on my Kindle. I recommend it.

In summary, I am going to do what I mostly try to avoid, quote someone else’s magic. But in this case Watts’ magic has been extremely nourishing for me and has served to assist me in creating an alternative context in defining spiritual values that inform what kind of human being and more particularly what kind of man I want to be.

Watts:

The present low ebb of Church religion consists in the fact that rarely, even for Church people, does it give the soul any knowledge of union with the reality that underlies the universe.

To put it in another way, modern Church religion is little concerned with giving any consciousness of union with God. It is not mystical religion, and for that reason it is not fully and essentially religion.  The truth that religion, to be of any use, must be mystical has always been denied by the seemingly large number of people, including theologians, who do not know what mysticism is.

They associate it with ecstatic trances, with the solitary life of the hermit, with purely negative conceptions of God, with keeping one’s mind perfectly blank for hours on end, with vague reasoning, with pantheism, with a distaste for action and concrete, physical life, forgetting that all these things are the freaks or aberrations of mystical religion and have nothing to do with its essence.

 Its essence is the consciousness of union with God and this will only involve these freaks of negativism if God is thought of as hostile to the world, and not as its loving creator. In almost any Church one cares to choose there is and has long been an absolute minimum of the teaching and practice of mystical religion.

Even for intelligent congregations Church teaching and preaching is concerned almost exclusively with a multitude of minor matters having mostly to do with the smaller points of morality or, in liberal Protestant churches, with politics and vague ethical principles.

One may go even further and state that the whole atmosphere and attitude of modern Church religion impresses the modern mind as having little or nothing to do with the Reality which controls and causes our universe.

Science has given to our age a most impressive view of this universe, and this demands an equivalently wonderful and splendid conception of God together with an appropriate manner of worship. In comparison with this view of the universe, which, without the aid of religion, has so staggered man’s thought of God as to stop it, present-day Church religion seems utterly paltry.

It is my conclusion that there are many more important things for us to experience, enjoy and accomplish and we are at the point where certain aspects of our lives need to be excised because they waste our time and make unreasonable demands on our emotional vitality.  

As I’ve learned among my newest Freemason acquaintances, you and I can be spiritual but not religious if we choose. We can also practice a religious way of life unstructured and unfettered by human notions of text-defined behavior and conformity-driven ritual.


We can live the First and Second Great Commandments without needing anyone to tell us how.