God Bless America

Read this carefully! Does he say that no other Mormon leader will be able to tell him what to do, while implying that he will be free to respond according to his own Mormon beliefs?

The question remains:

How can we tell the character of another person… is it revealed by their biography, the story of their formative years, their education and activities? Is it revealed by their achievements as adults, their business resume or academic curriculum vitae, their contributions to the economy or society in which they have worked? Is it revealed by their intentions, their promises, their dreams; by what they are determined to accomplish with the rest of their lives? (IMIMM, Tell Me)

For me… unable to follow my mother’s advice to avoid judgement, to accept people as they are, to love unconditionally… this is an important life challenge. I want to know what my friends think, what books they read, what influences them, what disappoints them, what excites them… and also, alas, what they believe. I say “alas”, because while I think this is paramount, it is really the most difficult… and dangerous… to talk about.  I want to learn “what makes them tick”. If you have been following this blog you will have a pretty good idea of what I mean.

My friends talk about their churches, but not their religion. Our minister is leaving.  My grandson is being Christened next weekend. Our organist is pregnant again. Our women’s group  is baking 1000 butter tarts for the Christmas bazaar.

Once I expressed surprise to a Catholic friend that women were not raising an outcry and leaving in droves because of the misogynist and punitive attitude of the Church about reproductive freedom. Oh, she said, we don’t listen to any of that! No, I wanted to say, because if you did… and took it seriously… you would leave. Then the churches would be empty, or they would have to change to survive. I did not say it, as she quickly turned to speak to someone else.

I want to probe more deeply, to ask, for example, whether my friends really believe what they say when they stand to recite the Apostles’ Creed. If they do, that is wonderful, I am happy for them, but it will be hard for me to take them seriously. If they don’t, if they are merely mouthing the words without thinking about what they mean, I feel sorry for them, and it will be hard for me to take them seriously. If they do, but with a dismissive attitude of unbelief, then I feel contempt, and it will be impossible for me to take them seriously.

So it is better, for the sake of friendship, not to probe, not to ask. But this epidemic of  hypocrisy erects glass walls between friends, confuses judgement and decision-making, and prevents real intellectual and social progress.  Which leads me back to my last blog and the questions quoted above.

We “know” the religious affiliation of all the candidates… it is a matter of public record. What we do not know is whether each is a sincere orthodox  follower of the creed and moral teachings of that religion. If they are, then how will their sincerely held religious beliefs influence political decisions that affect the rest of us? If they are not, then why do they accept that religious identification, and supposedly, the loyal support of others in the same denomination? If they are not, then why do they allow themselves to be identified with that religious group? Why don’t they speak out, or leave?

A case in point is Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. The Frontline broadcast: The Choice, 2012 tells us that when he was eighteen he went to France as a missionary… at eighteen expecting to be taken seriously as a religious spokesperson, recruiting others. At the same age, Obama was still finding himself, studying and travelling, making friends with other young people from all over the world, living and working in the inner city.

Which is more impressive… religious certainty, or curiosity and social experimentation? Do we want leaders who know they know the truth, or who know that they don’t know but are keen to find out?

Slate Magazine published an article about the attempt 45 years ago of the Mormon leadership to reverse their history of racism.

The Mormon leadership has changed its policies on racial discrimination, but the underlying arguments that supported it remain part of their holy book.  If Christian candidates were held strictly accountable for poisonous attitudes and the atrocities of the Old Testament, many of them still taught as part of the Biblical narrative, but then largely ignored except by extremists, then we would have to challenge their ideas as well.

George H.W. Bush famously said in 1987, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

Is it possible that there will ever be An Atheist as President of the United States?  Read this article by President Reagan’s son, speaking about any prospects for a political career being cancelled by atheism:

There is a terrible stigma associated with atheism in the United States, as if reasonableness were some kind of sickness that should be subject to quarantine. There is so much talk about whether we will see a female president or black president in our lifetime, but wholly ignored is the fact that any politician who identifies himself as an atheist stands no chance at reaching the nation’s highest office. Of course, it is quite possible that there have been atheistic presidents, just none that came out of the closet, so to speak. They end every speech as an American president must: “God bless the United States of America.” Will this change in our lifetime? Will an “out of the closet” atheist ever be elected President of the United States?

How could decisions about character and leadership be any more problematic for an atheist candidate than it is now for candidates with identified religious affiliation?

An examination of ethical standards, unfiltered by irrational belief systems… it sounds good to me.

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4 Responses to God Bless America

  1. Ellen, are you saying that anyone who recites the Apostles’ Creed (which is done at most mainstream churches, as I’m sure you know) is someone you can’t take seriously? Who would want to talk to a ‘friend’ who won’t take them seriously simply because their choice of religion isn’t the same as the ‘friend”s? Isn’t that the antithesis friendship and open discussion?

    (Just for the record, I don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed – although I am familiar with it.)

  2. motleydragon says:

    Thank you for your reply… I have been away at a quilt retreat for several days… hence the delay in answering.

    My comment sounds harsh. It is an issue I struggled with for many years, and still am not completely sure about.

    When I was young I was taught that to pray without sincere and fervent belief was to lie to yourself and to lie to God. I was also taught that grace and faith were gifts, and that if we acted as though we had them, we would receive them. The Loretto nuns who taught at our school had what I would now call a fundamentalist approach to Catholicism… there was nothing metaphorical or symbolic about scripture and sacrament. You said what you meant and meant what you said and it was unthinkable to do otherwise.

    I am happy for my friends who can recite the creed and believe it. I envy their certainty and serenity. But it is difficult for me to take them seriously as adult, independent thinkers… if you have examined thie creed, how can you believe? If you have not, why not?

    If they are merely going through the motions… and I do not know that, only suspect from other things they say… then I feel sorry for them. They may be going through the same turmoil of doubt and self-recrimination I faced. But I also feel impatient. It is much easier now to inform yourself and find a community of fellow doubters or non-believers. If you are heading in that direction, don’t torment yourself over many years, as I did. Decide, and move on. Trust your own mind, become a serious, independent thinker.

    The third group are going through a ceremony by rote. I think that, like someone who “enables” a person with a drug or alcohol problem, this is wrong. People who say that they don’t really believe, but that it is so nice to go to mass on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday, who hang around for the church wedding or infant baptism, who don’t want to ruffle any feathers, are being hypocritical. I have friends, very intelligent and well educated professionals who openly maintain this point of view. They say the music is lovely, and they don’t want to upset their mother.

    “Who would want to talk to a ‘friend’ who won’t take them seriously simply because their choice of religion isn’t the same as the ‘friend”s? Isn’t that the antithesis friendship and open discussion?” (Debbie)

    You are right on point here. Being a lapsed Catholic, a free thinker, is hard work in a society so saturated with Christian beliefs. “Coming out” is dangerous, because you risk alienating so many people.

    “So it is better, for the sake of friendship, not to probe, not to ask. But this epidemic of hypocrisy erects glass walls between friends, confuses judgement and decision-making, and prevents real intellectual and social progress.” (Motley)

    I have learned when to bite my tongue and say nothing. My friends know this. I dissemble well, and try to be tactful, but I would rather be honest. It is lonely not being able to talk about something so deeply personal and important with your friends. And I have learned to recognize and value other significant traits as a basis for friendship. Maybe some day the trust will be deep enough to have that conversation.

    They do not read my blog.

  3. Ellen, I completely understand what you’re saying. There are many, many, many people today who never really think through their religious beliefs, or who profess a religion because of the reasons you stated – and more (excuses).

    Although it may not feel this way to you, atheism is actually the fastest-growing ‘religion’ in North America & Europe – and many people are turning to atheism because of seeing the empty ritual of church-goers, let alone the hypocrisy of churches & other religious institutions, There are lots more ‘free-thinkers’ out there than you think.

    But wouldn’t life be richer if you could talk to people of all beliefs and not come away belittling them because of what they believe? I think that belitting belies a double standard in your argument of ‘free-thinking’.

    I sense that you’ve been ‘hurt’ (for lack of a better word coming to my mind just now) by some who disagreed vehemently with your disbelief and, who you felt, thought less of you because of what you believed. Your reaction is to think less of them (‘not take them seriously as a\n adult’) in return.

    We each of us has free will to choose what we believe (and atheism is a belief system). Open discussion helps us to strengthen, modify, or discard our own belief system. And we all have to guard against dismissing someone as a person (again: ‘not taking them seriously as an adult’) because we can’t bring them around to our point of view. When someone believes strongly in something that I don’t, I want to examine the “whys” that support that belief, and reason on those “whys” – with them and with myself. How about you?

    (P.S. After reading about some of the defining experiences that affected your decisions, I might suggest that you not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as is so easy to do.) 🙂

  4. motleydragon says:

    Hello Debbie

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply!

    Yes, I read on line about the growing numbers of free thinkers and atheists, but I rarely meet any.

    Perhaps the people I meet are still struggling with the idea and have not “come out” yet. It is a terribly difficult and risky thing to do. After a few tentative overtures, I retreat to safer topics… I would never want to tell another person their belief is questionable or wrong. I have far too much experience with people telling me what to believe or not to believe to ever want to interfere in that way. I never try to “bring them round to my point of view.”

    I said, “But it is difficult for me to take them seriously as adult, independent thinkers”. Perhaps I should have said mature, independent thinkers. I think we demonstrate different levels of maturity in different aspects of our lives. People can be fully adult in their daily lives and still believe as a child if they have not examined and decided for themselves the religious instruction they received as children. I am sorry you thought I was belittling them. I try to be accepting and respectful, but perhaps my analysis is condescending and therefore belittling. I will have to think more about this!

    I am not at all sure that we have free will in any absolute sense to decide what we believe. We are products of our families, our education, the neighbourhood, the culture, and the era in which we grow up. There is no “tabula rasa” … children are tremendously impressionable, and the people with influence and authority in their lives make a lifelong impact. That is what makes it so difficult, perhaps impossible, to disengage and access that “free will” to embrace independent thinking and atheism.

    None of my friends has ever challenged my disbelief, although I make no secret of it. I “lost” my faith… and tried for many years to find it again. I miss the certainty, the serenity, the sense of grace. I would go back in a minute if I could get over my intellectual… social and historical as well… objections.

    I quilt with several devout Catholic and Christian Reform women who witness to their faith at every opportunity. They are fine people, and if they are praying for me, I am grateful. Apart from the way their faith informs their thinking and shapes so much of their conversation, we do not talk about religion or faith. It is as if they are inside a glass bubble, and I am on the outside, looking in. I have no wish to move inside that bubble… it would never be possible for me, or for them. For them to move out, they would lose everything they value; the prospect is unthinkable.

    So I am a “reluctant” atheist.

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