The time comes when child-like faith is not enough.
“Children believe everything adults say. We agree with them and our faith is so strong that the belief system controls our whole dream of life. We didn’t choose these beliefs and we may have rebelled against them, but we were not strong enough to win the rebellion.
The result is surrender to the beliefs with our agreement.
I call this process the domestication of humans. And through this domestication we learn how to live and how to dream. In human domestication, the information from the outside dream is conveyed to the inside dream, creating our whole belief system. First the child is taught the names of things: Mom, Dad, milk, bottle. Day by day, at home, at school, at church, and from television, we are told how to live, what kind of behavior is acceptable.
The outside dream teaches us how to be a human. We have a whole concept of what a “woman” is and what a “man” is. And we also learn to judge: We judge ourselves, judge other people, judge the neighbors.
Children are domesticated the same way that we domesticate a dog, a cat, or any other animal. In order to teach a dog we punish the dog and we give it rewards. We train our children whom we love so much the same way that we train any domesticated animal: with a system of punishment and reward. We are told, “You’re a good boy,” or “You’re a good girl,” when we do what Mom and Dad want us to do. When we don’t, we are “a bad girl” or “a bad boy.” When we went against the rules we were punished; when we went along with the rules we got a reward. We were punished many times a day, and we were also rewarded many times a day.
Soon we became afraid of being punished and also afraid of not receiving the reward. The reward is the attention that we got from our parents or from other people like siblings, teachers, and friends. We soon develop a need to hook other people’s attention in order to get the reward. The reward feels good, and we keep doing what others want us to do in order to get the reward. With that fear of being punished and that fear of not getting the reward, we start pretending to be what we are not, just to please others, just to be good enough for someone else. We try to please Mom and Dad, we try to please the teachers at school, we try to please the church, and so we start acting. – Ruiz, Don Miguel, The Four Agreements
Has the time come when being a child-like believer is no longer adequate to resist one’s normal instinct to think critically?
How was that normal instinct – long dormant regarding religious belief – awakened? Why have you now allowed seed after seed of information to flourish in your thoughts when previously such seeds were ignored or starved by the demands of conformity; true-churchiness of it all.
In truth, this book might not be spiritually useful at all.
Or, it might be spiritually invigorating.
The mindfully useful in your life depends on your own mental/spiritual constructs. Not my constructs; not those of your significant other; not those of your parents and certainly not those of the priesthood.
Please bear with me as I attempt to explain.
Constructs of Reality and Society
What vision exists in your mind’s eye when it comes to spirituality and religiousness.
Think about the portrayal of Divinity that is part of Christian fundamentalist reality in general and Mormon reality in particular.
God as Boss of the Universe?
A kind and benevolent divine version of Caesar?
God as the Head of a Patriarchal Order prejudiced against women?
God as a power who cannot look upon nor tolerate sin with the least degree of allowance?
Within Mormonism as within any manufactured reality, our lives are living myths of our own creation. Our companion is our personal story, all the stuff inside we use tell us who we are and tell the world the same.
We must address our personal cosmic vision first and foremost. We need to understand the assumptions we have made as we internally constructed our definition of both reality and, if we are spiritually inclined, the spiritual world.
In a very powerful subconscious way, those who practice the current Christian religion do so with an internal image (something imagined) of a spiritual reality not see. Many of us “know” it exists; the very reality where God “is”, where Jesus “is” and to many, where Satan “is” or “wants to rule.”
For many Christians, this imagined reality readily assumes a male-dominated patriarchal “order of things.” In mortal or human terms I call that internal image of the spiritual world a “mental construct” – a perceived spiritual reality born out of our imagination as prompted by religious persuasion from others…
That reality – what each of us personally has imagined the spirit world and realm of God to be- serves as the context for how we practice of religion and exercise our own moral choices.
Although for all or most Christians the realm of God truly exists, we do not all agree on what that existence means or how it impacts our lives. For many Christians, that spirit world exists in some other dimension and interacts with our own world in supernatural ways.
This is consistent with a view of a purely supernatural, all-wise, all-knowing and almighty God who at times intervenes in the affairs of mortals in dramatic or not-so-dramatic ways.
These believing Christians easily accept and live according to the idea of an invisible Jesus/God personage who is vitally invested in human life and directs forces of good against the other supernatural power and source of evil, Satan.
Other practicing Christians do not see the supernatural Jesus/God as a personage who exists “somewhere else” outside the sphere of mortal perception and who communicates spiritually from a distance through the Holy Spirit.
Taking a cue from Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of God is within you,” they have a sense of God being omnipresent and an on-going constancy in which the Holy Spirit is an uninterrupted and steady influence toward good works and a desire to live for the highest good of all concerned.
On the one hand there are people who talk about spiritual warfare, evoking images of the spirit world as some sort of zone of conflict in which Satan and God operate simultaneously for and against human life. Those who do so seem almost oblivious to the mental action of making Satan a god who like the Father is everywhere, omnipresent and forever asserting his contrary will.
On the other hand, others see Satan more as a conceptual part of their attempts to get a grasp on the idea of the existence of evil. Evil for them is not something we are tempted to do by a supernatural Satan. It is more an active part of life that serves as a kind of resistance or counter force against our intention or tendency to behave in an independent manner – acting in a ways that reflect the highest good theme.
A similar controversy exists between biblical literalists regarding God as the “Boss of the Universe” who is commanding humans to behavior based purely on obedience and morality as opposed to a non-judgmental God who fully encourages positive human behavior as a consequence of total agency.
To literalists, Satan becomes the direct opposite and yet needful counter to the goodness and righteous-requiring Commander-God; a supernatural reality who tempts mortals to both “sins of commission” and “sins of omission.”
To non-literalists Satan represents among other things the natural mortal tendency to self-focused, self-interested acts that disregard the good of anyone else. In this regard concepts of laziness, selfishness, arrogance and intolerance, for example, represent an awareness of evil and its impact on their actions.
In my opinion, we may be strongly impacted by our own internal imagery – imagery that began for most of us in childhood.
Many of us, as Dr. Marcus Borg has written, have never gotten away from our pre-critical naiveté that still forms our internal Imaginative spiritual reality.
Many literalists won’t admit it but they tend subconsciously to imagine that Moses looked like Charlton Heston’s movie character;
that the good versus evil portrayals in Exodus portrayed by Edward G. Robinson, Debra Padgett and Yul Brynner were what it was really like
… that 600,000 Israelites walked away from Egypt on a grand camp-out trek.
This is part of how our minds and imagination respond when the story of Moses comes up. Our internal imaginative interpretation of reality is always up, always running. The curtains of our internal stage are always pulled back as we “look and see.”
Most of our internal religious constructs are inherited. What well-meaning but spiritually immature Christians have tended to do is hide behind the more simple acceptance of their own myths …
… of an inerrant Bible containing the once-spoken will of a Judgmental God who cannot tolerate sin with any degree of allowance;
.. .a god more interested in obedience than experience;
… a God limited to rewards or punishments as He presides over a conflict with Satan,
… giving lie to the literality of an Almighty God who cannot tolerate sin and evil with the least degree of allowance.
The God of Compassion taught and patterned by Christ contrasts that Old Testament either-or mindset. Realizing the total implication of “the kingdom of God is within you” ought to unleash our willingness to trust the internal sense we have of God’s reality.
Otherwise, we’re left to wait on extra-ordinary external events such as miracles or perceived “divine retribution events” – from which we may then say, “Aha! There is a God. Or God DOES exist.”
Many are left counting on a rapturous event to validate and vindicate that spiritual construct created from tattered worn out wineskins that were of greater value to a society more rapturously superstitious.
If you doubt, you must challenge your doubts with critical thinking. Your critical thinking must criticize without self-consciousness and with a willingness to correct your course of thinking.
Start with testimony.
We cultural Mormons make much of our testimonies which is why we are invited to share them frequently. I’ve always thought then of public testimony-bearing as a kind of performance by which we validate to others our convictions about certain truths dear to us and to those who hear us.
I have come to reject that sense of testimony and its purposes. Testimony, as we use that word, describes for me a powerful moment of epiphan in which I am reminded of my powerful connection to god. Testimony no longer describes nor refers back to a single powerful moment that occurred in which I suddenly “knew” that it (the LDS narrative) was all true.
That true-churchiness is an assumption by which all Mormons – including me – have perceived and addressed all our lives. It feels – without my having some sense of being observed and found wanting or not-wanting – like the momentous event of a testimony only need come powerfully once. One then “has a testimony” which forms the basis for future bearing of testimony as it expands from that momentous event.
Going back to the late 1980’s I came to understand that my “testimony” is not mere conviction and is not driven by a single moment of epiphany that was subsequently followed by frequent moments in which that original testimony was strengthened.
I once felt like Enos … my soul hungered. Through prayer and the taking literal of the Moroni promises, I came to understand that a testimony experience with God prompted and linked by the holy spirit is not something based on worthiness. Nor does it happen only on occasions when the spirit is strong.
My testimony then is that of my own experience and is not based on outside forms and definitions. Using the Moroni promises as my personal format I learned to ask, knock, search, ponder and pray. I was motivated by a promise to be non-judgmental about each and every answer and prompting that came to me.
Such is my take on search, ponder and pray as written by Moroni.
I live spiritually and religiously in that manner and have since the early days of my mission. Such a pattern and manner of living has lead to serious misperceptions and equally serious assumptions about not only my testimony and personal spirituality, but my relationships with loved ones. Such a pattern forced itself into my formerly subordinate relationship to the corporate Church itself. Such a pattern of being spiritual forced itself into my relationship with loved ones, many of whom are distressed about my eternal salvation based on their perception of … you guessed it … my testimony.
A Mormon Doubter’s Handbook is my attempt to address the issues that face doubting and I offer it in what I hope is a spirit of suggestion and never a spirit of telling God what to do and you how to behave.