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.