In another post that appears earlier in this blog, I wrote an entry based on a quote by Gerry Spence: "I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief."
Or as depicted in this picture,
BELIEF SET IN STONE.
Since writing that previous post, I have thought even more about belief structures and how detrimental they can be to a person's perceptions. For instance, in Mormonism, people often become so wrapped up in the belief structure that they seem to feel personally attacked if anyone questions their beliefs. And when that occurs, it often leads to the person launching a direct personal attack against the other person, who they tend to look at as the opponent. This recently happened between me and a very good friend with whom I grew up. Of course, since when someone actually begins to think differently, and decides to leave Mormonism, it is seen as not just an attack against the religion itself but also against its members, it wasn't a big surprise to me. But even so, the fact that so much animosity seems to develop between members and what they term as "apostates," even to the point of family members turning against the "apostate," is almost a given, I still find it not only very sad but also extremely unChristian-like.
Personal attacks like this are called "ad hominem attacks." These types of attacks usually involve insulting or belittling one's opponent in order to invalidate his argument, but can also involve pointing out supposed character flaws or actions which are irrelevant to the opponent's argument. Of course, this tactic is not based in reality because insults and even true negative facts about the opponent's personal character have nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent's arguments or assertions.
- "You can't believe Jack when he says the proposed policy would help the economy. He doesn't even have a job."
- "Candidate Jane's proposal about zoning is ridiculous. She was caught cheating on her taxes in 2003."
In the movie Dogma, there's a great quote about belief structures:
Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the shit that gets carried out in His name - wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.
Bethany: Having beliefs isn't good?
Rufus: I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should be malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant.
So in essence, people become blinded by belief, so much so that they can't accept or even listen to any opposing views. Their minds are closed by belief. Being open to new ideas and the possiblity that a person's view is skewed is important to living an intellectually curious life. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I went along with Mormonism for so long and didn't even question so many things that are clearly preposterous to me now. I was not intellectually curious, but rather buried my head in the sand like so many Mormons tend to do. Blindly going along. Not really questioning, but rather allowing others to do the thinking for them. It is no wonder to me that most Mormons actually believe that "When the prophet speaks, the debate is over," although most don't even get to the debating stage. They accept what they are told, that "there are things we can't understand in this life."
When I discovered the truth about Mormonism and the fact that it is based on a stack of lies, I was dumbfounded. For a long time, I tried to blame my upbringing for my lack of interest in finding out the truth earlier. Brainwashing. Programming. But although all that is true to a certain extent, I really only had myself to blame. I should have examined it more closely when I was growing up. I should have looked at the history of the Church sooner and in more depth. The fact that I didn't but rather waited until I was 50 years old to really research and study about it all upsets me to this day.
Obviously, blind belief is not confined to Mormonism. I'm sure it exists in every religion. My experience has been with Mormonism, and so I tend to focus on its idiosyncrasies. But in the end, what it all boils down to is that people in general are told to believe in a certain religion simply because. Because someone said they should believe a certain way. Or because they were brought up to believe these things. Or because (as the below Non Sequitur cartoon points out), "Because, ummmm.... God said so, that's why."
These days, I look at myself as an Agnostic. In my years since leaving Mormonism, I have come to realize that it is impossible to know one way or the other whether God really exists. I do know one thing, though, and that is that the Mormon Church is not "the one and only true church on the face of the earth" (as they like to claim - another sign of a cult).
In my contact with other ExMormons, I have noted that while some people who leave the Mormon Church join other Christian churches after their departure (including Unitarian type churches to a great extent), a great many become Agnostics. And while some stay in the Agnostic mindset (like me), others tend to work their way toward being Atheists. It seems to me that this progression is a result of being "burnt out" on organized religion and its "all or nothing" stance.
One of the things that puzzles me now is that there are a lot of very intelligent people ensconced in the Mormon Church, perfectly happy to live what I consider to be "the lie." Their beliefs do not make sense, and although many of those beliefs have been proven to be false, that doesn't seem to matter to them. Some of these "true believers" include lawyers, who are taught to be critical thinkers in law school, but for some reason, they do not apply that critical thinking to their religion. That is very puzzling to me.
But whether or not the belief is based on truth or lies seems to be immaterial to the "true believer." For instance, there is a huge example of this in the Book of Abraham, which was purportedly "translated" by Joseph Smith from Egyptian Papyri. But even though modern Egyptologists have declared the "translation" by Joseph Smith to be completely inaccurate and not based in any measure in reality, members of the Mormon Church continue to cling to their belief that the Book of Abraham is the Word of God translated by a modern-day prophet. To me, however, when something is proven to be false, then it is false. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck (as pointed out by Steven Kazan, an expert on cults, when referring to Mormonism - which in his opinion, as in mine, is very definitely a cult).
For me, one of the biggest lessons I have learned in my journey away from Mormonism is developing a true belief in Freedom of Religion (not what I consider to be the pretend one behind the 11th Article of Faith ala Mormonism). People should be able to believe what they truly want to believe in actuality, and no one should tell them they should believe one way or another. The phrase "Live and let live" has taken on new meaning for me, as has the scripture "Judge not that ye be not judged."