Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Public and Private Expression of Belief

Recently I mentioned to a friend my belief that personal religious and spiritual beliefs should be just that, personal.  I realize that I hadn't posted about that here.  I have posted about what a person is obliged to do religion-wise for family, and my personal reaction to family and friends who are still mormon.

Testimony meeting

For my non mormon readers, the first Sunday of each month is considered "Fast Sunday".  See the Sacrament meeting section of wikipedia here. Many active members will get up and talk about their faith and their beliefs.  Even young children are subtly or not so subtly encouraged to get up in front of the whole ward/congregation and say things like "I know the church is true" and "I know Joseph Smith was a prophet". 

Now, some LDS argue this is more of a "folk" practice, it's not officially sanctioned and by some accounts is discouraged.  But it still happens.  And what child wouldn't want to please his or her parents?  (Not surprising to anyone, I did share these type of testimonies when I was very young - under 12).

There is a strange dynamic between LDS parents and their children.  I found this article about Alice Miller and mormonism to be very helpful. I think it can be very difficult for children to determine what their own beliefs are, and particularly to respond to the need they have to be loved and accepted by their parents and family.
quote from the article:
I don't recall a specific incident in my childhood in which I was straightforwardly told, "You must think and believe this way, or you will never see your family again after you die." But it was certainly implied as the only logical conclusion to what I was directly taught -- which was that only those families who believe in Mormonism and are sealed in a Mormon temple will be together forever.

In some ways the indirect threat that results from this teaching is more difficult to deal with than a straightforward threat would be. When a threat is presented clearly and straightforwardly, it can be seen for what it really is, and dealt with directly. But when the threat is indirect, or only implied as part of what is presented as a beautiful, eternal truth, it can sometimes be difficult to consciously realize that this unspoken threat is a motivating force in our lives.
Children are/were taught from a young age that it's okay to say things they don't mean, just to make other people happy.  And I confess I struggle with this as a parent.  I ask my children to say thank you when someone gives them something.  Am I helping them learn to be polite?  Or am I forcing them to say things they don't mean?  Some LDS parents would argue that asking their children to bear their testimonies in front of the congregation helps them develop their testimonies, to develop their beliefs.

I'm not sure why mormons have testimony meeting each month.  Perhaps by hearing the testimony of someone else, the idea is that one's own testimony will grow.  All this is a very public process.  Some LDS members are encouraged to say things they don't even personally believe, that if they say it, maybe they will eventually believe it.

Private Spiritual Beliefs

I no longer think it's important for a person to share their own spiritual beliefs.  It seems to me that those beliefs are between them and God, or a higher power.  Or if a person does not believe in God, I think that's their business.  Unless a belief is harming another person - does it really matter?

I am supportive of people (particularly adults) sharing their beliefs (or non - belief).  What bothers me is the notion that anyone would be obligated to share their beliefs, or be forced to. 

Is it truly anyone else's business if someone believes in God or not?  How do I know that someone hasn't spent a lifetime studying religious texts?  How do I know they haven't spent each day in prayer and meditation?   And is that my (or anyone's) business?

I personally believe that the LDS missionaries can be incredibly arrogant.  When some 19 year old male or 21 year old female knocks on my door, assuming I haven't read the same things they have, assuming they know more than I do. 

They have every right to share their beliefs with me, but I have the right to keep mine to myself.  Or to share my beliefs with them. 

And while it is complicated when family members are confrontational about one's own spiritual beliefs - I think each person has the right to refuse to answer that question.  To admit they might not know, or might want to keep their opinions to themselves.

1 comment:

Freckle Face Girl said...

Great topic. It is funny that Mormons feel so comfortable asking & sharing their views on religion when it is normally a hot topic that is best avoided at dinner parties. :)

True! I always laugh when LDSers say that 8 is the age of baptism because of accountability. I think it has more to do with an age when kids are more willing to please their parents and think they actually want it themselves.

I too would get up in testimony meeting. My first time was at the age of 3. Talk about crazy. Several years later, we were actually brided to do it. We would be able to have a great dessert for Sunday dinner, which is extra appealing when you are starving. :)