Divorce, lust, terror and plunder: The position of the religious doubter.

There was a fascinating exchange awhile back between Rollingforest and Ms. Jack, Tim and Hermes regarding the appropriate response to one who doubts his or her religion. I thought I would bring it before ye denizens of this site front and center for my own edification. I am going to paraphrase select positions  referenced, but I will try to be true to their essence (but please comment if you feel you are being unfairly attached to a particular viewpoint):

Rollingforest appeared to advocate from the position of intellectual authenticity. I.e. when one truly disbelieves the religion, then its dictates no longer have any hold on that person.

Jack argued that a commitment to a religion is like marriage. And like in a marriage, when one has doubts as to its utility, one owes it to their commitments and covenants, and perhaps an abundance of caution, to maintain a practical commitment to flesh out the doubts before moving toward divorce.

Tim approved of the marriage analogy and mentioned that many who claim Christianity or Mormonism may be having emotional affairs with other world views.

There is something about both of these positions that piqued my interest and raised some strange things about religious belief that I have been wrestling with. I think that Rollingforest’s position represents a modern position that a religion only has purchase on our lives insofar as we believe it to be true, and we should follow our own authentic beliefs wherever they lead. Furthermore, if for some reason we are no longer convinced of a particular proposition of faith, we are either free to, or even compelled to abandon that faith. The falsity of some proposition frees us of any commitment because the commitment is based on a falsity. An example of a modern exponent of this approach could be Walter Kaufmann.

Jack’s analogy is an interesting take on another approach. The Bible is filled with marriage/sexual analogies of God’s relationship with his people and his people’s relationship with other religions. Idolatry (i.e. worshiping a god other than Jehovah) in religion is the complement of adultery in marriage.    However Jack’s appears to be a more neutral approach than that of the Bible,  i.e. she refuses to assume a priori that there is only one true partner and you should reject any partner when you find out that they are not it.  When one finds oneself in an unhappy marriage for any reason, we should should consider practical commitments as we sort out what is the best way to go with our head and heart.  William James strikes me as a modern adherent of Jack’s approach. (see the “Will to Believe” here and a summary here.)

Tim’s position seems similar, recognizing that some may caught in marriages that make it hard to leave, and recognizes that leaving may lead to a rejection of the correct relationship, but advocates honesty or authenticity so as not to “make a sham” of both relationships.  The “be hot or cold approach.”

Looking to the Bible I gather a stronger position, which I might call the Aaronic approach to religious pluralism. The Biblical approach assumes, a priori, that there is only one true mate.  When it comes to religion the Bible doesn’t recognize divorce or even choice of mate.   The chosen are betrothed to Jehovah or Jesus and straying is adultery. It assumes that those who are given the truth through scripture or revelation who stray to other views are always in error when they look elsewhere for spirituality.

The starkest description I can think of this attitude is found in Ezekial 23 (CAUTION: Rated R content)

Here God compares Jerusalem and Samaria to two young prostitutes who are seduced away by their foreign clients.  In the allegory the women and their children are brutally killed for their indiscretions.

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Bring a mob against them and give them over to terror and plunder. The mob will stone them and cut them down with their swords; they will kill their sons and daughters and burn down their houses.
“So I will put an end to lewdness in the land, that all women may take warning and not imitate you. You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.”

Now, I don’t think we can imply that the Lord will be as angry with those who choose secular humanism as those Hebrews who sacrificed their children to idols (oops, except those that believe in abortion), but it pretty clear that “tough love” is the route the Lord is taking here.

I bring this up to point out that, to the Bible, casual flirtations with the wrong view may cause the Lord to “get medieval” on you.

There is a lot more to talk about here, but I will leave off here for now.

Where does the person straddling more than one viewpoint fit within your faith system?

Pornography, Bankruptcy and Depression

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. . .

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:16-17, 20-23)

I’ve been thinking more about these verses. It’s been said that Utah has the highest rates per capita of internet and cable pornography, bankruptcy and use of psychotropic medication. I know that the LDS church is at least aware of the pornography problem and is trying to deal with it. The one time I visited a Priesthood session, the lesson was all about avoiding pornography. The discussion among the men then focused on how it was the “world’s” problem that we had to protect our children from. I know enough about pornography use in Evangelical churches to know that this was a lot of hot air to distract from the substance of the lesson (probably 4 out of 10 men in that class had looked up internet pornography within that week).

The problem with pornography and financial irresponsibility is that they are private or secret sins. They’re not the kind of things you can tell about a person by their public behavior. Usually you don’t know until a person becomes severely addicted to either one. It actually makes a lot of sense to me that a church that has such a huge focus on outward behavior over all else would find itself with an epidemic with pornography and bankruptcy. As Paul states regulations have an appearance of wisdom but they lack any real value in restraining sensual indulgences. Regulations get people to do the right thing when they are being watched, but when they’re alone they don’t have the character to exhibit integrity (doing the right thing when no one is watching).

Depression is by no means a sin, but it’s not the kind of thing we want our faith to produce. It’s a complex and highly personal problem. But in my experience one of the things that exacerbates depression is living a duplicitous life. Acting one way in public but feeling another way on the inside. Without the ability to be authentic, to admit that you aren’t perfect and are in sin, while being required to pretend everything is hunky-dory you can expect to find yourself in need of prozac at some point.

I’m more than happy to attend church with sinners. In fact, that’s exactly the kind of church I want to be a part of, a place where people openly can confess their sin and seek help and encouragement. Where grace and mercy are the response rather than judgment and condemnation. Their may be less “righteousness” expressed by the congregation but there will be far greater emotional health (and lets be honest every church is full of nothing but sinners).

If you think I’m just getting after Mormons on this one, you need to read a little bit more about my background here.