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Born Again

I like calling my exodus from Mormonism and religion an “awakening” because that’s what it felt like. Domokun reminded me of Plato’s cave allegory and how well it describes what leaving religion has felt like for me.

Imagine prisoners, who have been chained since their childhood deep inside a cave: not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains; their heads are chained in one direction as well, so that their gaze is fixed on a wall.

Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which statues of various animals, plants, and other things are carried by people. The statues cast shadows on the wall, and the prisoners watch these shadows. When one of the statue-carriers speaks, an echo against the wall causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows.

The prisoners engage in what appears to us to be a game: naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images. They are thus conditioned to judge the quality of one another by their skill in quickly naming the shapes and dislike those who play poorly.

Suppose a prisoner is released from his cage and turns around. Behind him he would see the real objects that are casting the shadows. At that moment his eyes will be blinded by the sunlight coming into the cave from its entrance, and the shapes passing by will appear less real than their shadows.

The prisoner then makes an ascent from the cave to the world above. Here the blinding light of the sun he has never seen would confuse him, but as his eyesight adjusts he would be able to see more and more of the real world. Eventually he could look at the sun itself, that which provides illumination and is therefore what allows him to see all things. This moment is a form of enlightenment in many respects and is understood to be analogous to the time when the philosopher comes to know the Form of the Good, which illuminates all that can be known in Plato’s view of metaphysics.

Once enlightened, so to speak, the freed prisoner would not want to return to the cave to free “his fellow bondsmen,” but would be compelled to do so. Another problem lies in the other prisoners not wanting to be freed: descending back into the cave would require that the freed prisoner’s eyes adjust again, and for a time, he would be one of the ones identifying shapes on the wall. His eyes would be swamped by the darkness, and would take time to become acclimated. Therefore, he would not be able to identify the shapes on the wall as well as the other prisoners, making it seem as if his being taken to the surface completely ruined his eyesight.

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God Kills Compassion

When I try to step into the religious frame of mind, I get a deep urge to scream and run for the hills. Religious ideas feel like ill fitting clothes on a sweaty, sticky summer day. They chafe and confine. Their irksome restraint gives me no moment of peace. I want to leap out of my confining clothes and into a refreshingly cool shower.

Such has been my experience as I try to explain why we need compassion for people whose inclination and perhaps action deviate from cultural norms. I hoped to demonstrate the need for compassion by using religious ideas and doctrines so that my religious interlocutors could see the need. I don’t expect them to become atheist. I just hope to speak up for true compassion.

But God looms large over the shoulder of the faithful. They might want to be more compassionate, but they first check with God who gives a slow, stern shake of the head. The faithful turn back around and say, “Sorry. God says homosexuals can’t get into heaven.” God hampers our native inclination to compassion. God kills our humanity.

People think they know the mind and will of God. The arrogance! Then they justify their own bigotry in his name. Their false idols sycophantically echo the believers’ prejudices back to them with the appearance of authority. When the compassion of their views is challenged, they assume that since God is Love, his laws are loving. The believer is satisfied that all is well in Zion (2 Nephi 28:21, 25).

If anyone needs me, I’ll be outside tilting at windmills.

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False Idols

I like the clearcut format of formal philosophical arguments like those I’ve been reading at Tractatus Blogico-Philosophicus. It appeals to the computer engineer in me. So I’ll try my hand at one that I thought up while sitting in the foyer during Sunday School yesterday.

  1. God is infinite.
  2. Human minds are finite.
  3. Finite human minds cannot comprehend all of God. [From 1 and 2]
  4. All human conceptions of God are incomplete and false. [From 3]
  5. Worship is directed to the worshiper’s conception of God.
  6. All believers worship a false concept of God. [From 4 and 5]
  7. Biblical idolatry is the worship of false gods.
  8. All human worship is idolatry. [From 6 and 7]

I think the weak point is (5) where another concept of worship could be offered. For my purposes, I could have ended the argument at (4), but I liked the flourish of showing all religious systems to be idolatry. :P

I’m not arguing that if an infinite God exists that worship is useless. Even though I don’t truly comprehend my wife, I still benefit greatly from our relationship. I imagine a believer would still benefit from religion if an infinite God exists.

What I would hope is that this thinking would combat the dangerous conviction that ones own concept of God is absolutely true. If God is infinite, then believers should have some humility because I’ve just shown that their conceptions of God are false, no matter which religion or tradition they adhere to. They should have some healthy doubt about the truth of their own beliefs.

Perhaps God’s commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) should be interpreted as a command to purge all false notions about God from our minds as much as humanly possible, to make our concept of God as close to the truth as possible. Then again, this command seems to be impossible to fulfill in practice if interpreted that way.

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