Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Positives of Religion

Posted by Lynnette

Before I got sucked into the world of Mormon blogging, I spent a lot of my online time participating in a community which dealt with mental health issues. I met a lot of great people there, and I learned a lot. While I appreciated the thought-provoking and informative discussion on topics like surviving depression, I was also particularly interested in the lively conversations which took place about issues related to faith and spirituality. Many expressed extremely negative views of organized religion; I heard repeatedly that it was to blame for all the problems of the world, that it was something for the immature who didn’t want to think for themselves, etc. At one point I attempted to explain why, despite some of my reservations, I’d stuck with it. This is what I came up with.

  • I like being part of an organized religion because it gives me a basic identity, a grounding for my life. I like having that framework to use, even when I don’t agree with all of it. I like the ways in which it gives meaning to my life. I even like having rules to live by. I don’t feel like they coerce me into conforming, but rather that they keep me grounded, reaffirm my identity, remind me of what’s important to me. I like being committed to something larger than myself.
  • I like that religion reminds me that it’s not just about me and God, but that we are relational beings and we live in communities. This is a hard one for me, because I tend to be perhaps excessively individualistic. But I think it’s good for me, too. I learn things about God from being part of a community that I don’t know that I would ever learn on my own. It challenges me to go beyond my own biases, my own blind spots, my own sense of the way things are. I encounter God in the context of a community perhaps in different ways than I ever could if it were just up to me on my own.
  • Despite all the times that my religious community has been difficult to deal with, when I’ve felt alienated and pressured and miserable, I have to say that there have also been times when having that community has been a true blessing in my life. I’ve encountered numerous people in my church who have done a lot to help me, who have genuinely cared, and who haven’t expected anything in return. I respect them a lot, and I owe them more than I can say.
  • Even though I do question radically, and I actually see that as an important aspect of my faith, I like the idea that learning is more than about me figuring out things. I like the idea that there is a reality beyond what I am aware of. I like the idea that God can challenge my thinking, can push me in new directions. And even though I’ve struggled a lot (and continue to do so!) with the somewhat authoritarian character of my church, I think it’s good for me to have to take seriously other ideas than the ones I came up with or that seem right to me– to have a tradition that challenges me. I think the tension between taking my own feelings and views seriously and also having to listen to authorities in my life is a good and productive one– I don’t want to reduce morality or truth to my personal feelings about things any more than I want to preach blind obedience. I think that both halves of the equation are important. And even when it makes me crazy, I think it’s good for me to keep having to negotiate that balance.
  • Because of my religious beliefs, I am firmly committed to the proposition that all human beings have inherent value as children of God. This is a real basic for me, and I like having that foundation. It forces me to challenge the ways in which some of my behavior is destructive to both myself and others, and it gives me a context in which to think about people and life in general.
  • I like having the hope that this life isn’t all there is, that I don’t see everything now, that my current vision is clouded. Hope is a difficult one for me, and not something I understand terribly well. But when life seems completely hopeless and awful and dark, sometimes I can find a glimmer of faith in something beyond all that. And that glimmer, as small as it’s been at times, is something that has really been crucial in helping me survive the tough times.

7 Responses to “The Positives of Religion”

  1. 1.

    I can add two more.

    – The sense of being part of something greater than myself, the sense that together we are greater than the sum of our individual lives. The metaphor of the beehive is especially apt for us, I think.

    – The basic narrative of the plan of happiness provides a framework for making sense of the events in our lives.

    What you said in your last paragraph about hope is interesting. It is certainly the least understood and least appreciated of the cardinal virtues. “There is hope smiling brightly before us” is one of my favorite phrases in the entire hymnal.

    Before I got sucked into the world of Mormon blogging, I spent a lot of my online time participating in a community which dealt with mental health issues.

    Their loss is our gain.

  2. 2.

    Really a fine post, Lynette. Online conversation in blogs has a natural bias toward criticism and complaint. It’s nice to sometimes write a post that emphasizes the postitives that we often feel but rarely post about.

  3. 3.

    Uh, I notice one of us is spelling Lynnette wrong. Feel free to correct.

  4. 4.

    An organized religion gives us accountablity. Many people would argue that we don’t need this, but I believe we do. When I’m accountable to myself, I don’t always preform at my best. I only have my own standards. But with religion there is an outside person that I’m accountable to. I don’t just have to meet my own standards, but I need to meet their’s. I’m willing to take a stand. I derive strength to be myself and not be swayed by others.

    Prayer is another thing that is wonderful. It allows us to organize our thoughts, and set our priorities before our eyes. Each morning I refocus on the things I need to accomplish. And each evening I’m able to review and see what I got done. I feel a sense of peace, and purpose. My eyes are more firmly fixed on my goals.

  5. 5.

    I really liked this-

    I think it’s good for me to have to take seriously other ideas than the ones I came up with or that seem right to me– to have a tradition that challenges me. I think the tension between taking my own feelings and views seriously and also having to listen to authorities in my life is a good and productive one– I don’t want to reduce morality or truth to my personal feelings about things any more than I want to preach blind obedience.

    I think this balance is probably as difficult for us in the bloggernacle (me heavy on the side of my personal feelings) as it is for the rank and file members (who may be heavier on the blind obedience side). It’s nice to think that we’re all struggling with this same teeter-totter and just on opposite side. Sometimes I think I’m being so disobedient or unrighteous when I’m not: I’m just finding balance.
    Awesome post Lynnette.

  6. 6.

    Thanks for posting this, Lynnette. I find easy to take religion for granted and therefore overlook its many benefits.

    I particularly appreciate the emphasis (most? all?) religions place on family and community. So many stressful parts of life can be made easier by the support of family and community, a fact borne out by lots of social science research, I believe.

  7. 7.

    Mark, I like your additions, particularly your mention of narrative. (In my academic work I’m currently looking at religious narratives and self-narratives and how the two intersect, which is fascinating stuff; I’m having a lot of fun with it.) And I appreciate your point about hope. When I’m seriously depressed, life is so self-evidently horrible and hopeless that it’s nearly impossible to challenge that overwhelming sense that this just how things are– and in such moments I’ve frequently been grateful for my religious background, because if nothing else, it’s given me a framework for belief in things beyond my current perceptions.

    Dave, thanks. I’ve noticed that here in the Bloggernacle I tend to express more of my questioning, doubting side– perhaps because I’m taking for granted some kind of shared faith commitment– whereas in other settings, particularly ones where people are generally skeptical about religion, I’ve found myself talking a lot more about the positives of faith. But I’m trying (as with so many other things) to be a bit more integrated.

    As to the spelling of “Lynnette”, it’s my middle name, and the common spelling is in fact “Lynette,” with just one N. However, my mother explained that when she was writing it on the birth certificate, she decided to throw in as many Ns and Ts as possible, so I got a slightly longer variant.

    Charity, I really like what you say about accountability. I also find it quite helpful to be accountable to people outside myself, I fall into inertia pretty easily. On maybe a similar note, Paul Tillich argues against the possibility of “forgiving yourself;” we humans, he observes, seem to have a real hunger to be forgiven by someone else who is in a position to meaningfully do so. I’ve thought a lot about that. And I really like the idea that ultimate judgment is left to God; it’s so hard to fairly evaluate not just others, I think, but even ourselves. I’m not meaning to abrogate my own responsibility to critically reflect on my own behavior, of course, but I do think it’s good that it’s not entirely up to me, that I can get feedback from others and especially from God in that process.

    Jessawhy, thanks for that observation that all of us have to work out that balance. Like you, I tend toward the “personal conscience” end of the spectrum, and to be honest I think one of my challenges is to not go completely off the deep end in that direction. (Though some may think it’s too late for that. ;) Of course, there were those in this other group who thought I was completely brainwashed for accepting religious authority at all.)

    Ziff, I’m glad you liked the post. And while I admittedly sometimes roll my eyes when I hear the word “family,” I also like the emphasis the Church places on families and relationships with others– while I’ve never found a lot of the language describing the Celestial Kingdom to be terribly appealing (thrones, dominions, etc.), I love the idea that our relationships don’t end here. I think that’s another way religion has played a positive role in my life– it’s continually called me to re-evaluate whether what currently seems all-important to me is really all that important in the grand scheme of things.

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