Sunday, May 24, 2009

What's wrong with me?

It's been over four months since I wrote a blog post, and it's not for want of material. So much is going on in the world, and so much is weighing me down in my own life, that I could write a heck of a lot about a heck of a lot if I were so inclined. But for some reason I have not desired to write. I suppose a big part of it is that I feel I have no audience for my blog, though this is probably due in large part to the lack of posts. It's a vicious circle!

I could talk about how corrupt/incompetent I suspect Alberta's premier is, or how disappointed I have been by the Obama administration, its DOJ, Joe Biden's pro-Hollywood-MegaCorp opinions and by the disgustingly superficial e-mails I get from "Organizing for America" (which I had hoped would really turn out to be a positive "movement", as they call it, rather than a way to herd sheeple). I could point you to a dozen news items that have caught my eye over the past few months, if I could remember them. But I don't feel like talking about that crap right now. Luckily, for the first time in over four months, there is some crap I am sufficiently motivated to write about.

I saw a movie called The Reader last night, and it left me feeling sad and empty inside. This movie comes in two halves, one a tale of a young man drawn to fornication (with his sexual experience presented in detail), and the other of a tale of a woman whose life was ruined by an awful past--a past the audience is told virtually nothing about. All we know for sure is that she lies to a court and as a result spends over twenty years in prison. It is a tragedy that is unrelentingly realistic--as often happens in life, the protagonist, out of fear, doesn't do the right thing and ultimately the audience is left without any answers, explanations, or closure for what has transpired. It's also a very slow movie, but somehow not boring enough to put me to sleep.

The movie gave me insomnia or contributed thereto; I couldn't sleep, and as is often the case when I can't sleep, I played a video game, which doesn't help me sleep at all. I was slaughtering zombies all night, yet the only real zombie was me.

It seems like I have been tired almost continuously for a month. It got so bad I asked my employer for permission to sleep in, and I saw a doctor, who made me go for a blood test, of which I don't yet have the results. One surely important factor is that for over six months I have had an medical condition (which I don't care to describe publicly) that often deprives me of sleep. My doctor, whose is overly concerned with getting his patients out the door as quickly as possible, decided it should be left basically untreated even though it had been going on for over three months when I first saw him.

Meanwhile, I have stopped going to church, even though I still believe that of all the world's religions, mine is the one most likely to be the truth. I have read and seen media recently that leaves me greatly disliking Atheism, for it is a religion that deceives people into thinking it is not a religion. Yet my mind has been dwelling on the more unsavory aspects of God as we know Him. In particular, the law of Moses and the events of the old testament stand out as something awful. Admittedly, I have not actually read the Old Testament (it's so damn big, and not exactly a page-turner), but I know some of its stories and laws.

I'll give two examples that distress me to no end. In Old Testament times, if you had an affair and it was discovered, your own community would murder you by stoning. Well, let me be bold and just state what's on my mind, because I've been fuming inside: I find this barbaric and evil, yet it seems to be God's own idea--even His commandment. My second example: when the Jews came to the promised land, the land was already inhabited. Therefore, God ordered the extermination of all its people--men, women and children. To me, something like this is even worse than when God killed everyone in the great flood, because this time he had His children do the dirty work rather than bearing it himself. In this instance he actively encouraged His children to develop blood-lust and a belief that violence is God's Way.

People often talk of how wonderful Jesus was and indeed, it seemed in the New Testament as though there were no end to his kindness and tolerance, though perhaps I just haven't noticed the bad parts. Yet in Mormonism, the God of the Old Testament is supposed to have been the very same spirit that inhabited the body of Jesus. How can these be the same beings? And why would he cancel the law of Moses halfway through human history? It does not make any sense to me. Certainly, I would say, good riddance; but changing the law does not excuse the law's original content. I don't worry about those law-of-Moses rules like "don't eat shellfish" or "watch out for the cloven hoof!"--those laws may have made sense at the time on for hygienic reasons. But I believe that a punishment should fit the crime, and death for adultery is overly harsh. Moreover, to have God's tacit approval to kill someone, based on the flawed judgments of man? It is disgusting.

In my view these laws demand explanation and justification. It is not enough to say "that was all in the past, we have new a law now and we can ignore the old law"--no, for it is the same God that made both laws, and God even claims that he never changes. What changed, then? Did man change? I do not think the typical person in 50 BC was so starkly different from the typical person in 50 AD that God should give them different laws or judge them by different standards. It seems to me that there is more variation among human beings in different cultures at any single moment in time, than there was between an average Jew at 50 BC and an average Christian Jew at 50 AD. Why then does God's law depend on the timing of his birth and not on the circumstances of his upbringing? My church has no answer to offer, and I find no comfort in ignorance.

There is also a principle, that God presents repeatedly in the Bible, that I have refused to accept. Basically the principle is the same one that you hear every day from mothers that are in public places with their children. "Don't do that, come here, stay beside me, don't say that, put that away!" The parent gives an order, and the child asks "why?" And usually the mother's response is "because I said so." Or, if the mother prefers to be condescending, "because I'm your mother".

To me anyway, it sounds a lot like God, when he says things like "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD." But "I'm your mother" and "because I said so" are not reasons at all. These statements mean "I refuse to provide a reason at this time". And I know only a couple of reasons why a parent would refuse to give a reason for a commandment. One is that there simply isn't time (the parent needs obedience immediately); another is that the parent does not know how to explain in such a way that the child will understand. So, as our eternal parent, what are God's reasons for his commandments? Every week I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering "why?"

Why did God change his commandments? Why doesn't God help us reconcile his version of history with science? Why did God forsake every person on Earth in the dark ages? Why did God create sex and sex drive in 12-year-olds and then tell us never to have sex before marriage? And most of all, why won't He tell us why?

Unfortunately, God uses the rationale "because I said so" by default. I am not even certain that God ever provides reasons for his commandments. Reasons are often provided, though typically brief and superficial, but I wonder sometimes whether the reasons actually came from God or if it was merely the writers of scripture writing the reason they assumed would justify the commandment. Bah, never mind, I'm probably just getting cynical from all my heartache over this issue.

God told Adam to kill a lamb every so often and burn it at an altar. As I recall, Adam did this without question, until one day an angel appeared and asked him if he knew the purpose of this action. He replied that he did not, and so the angel explained that it was symbolic of the death of the messiah that would later come. Centuries later, God told Abraham to kill his only son, Isaac, and when Abraham told Isaac of this commandment, he agreed to allow himself to be killed. As Abraham was about to stab his son to death, an angel appeared to stop him: the commandment had been given only to test his obedience.

I feel as though God has made this the measure of a man: his willingness to obey without demanding a reason to. And I think many Christians would agree that this is a fine way for God to choose his leaders and to rule his people. But I am utterly unsatisfied by this approach to governance. It may make sense in a military relationship, where the superior gives orders and the subordinate obeys, but for God's sake, God, we are your children, not your soldiers and not your slaves!

Yet I seem to be the only person around that feels this way. We sing a song: "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war / with the cross of Jesus, going on before." I don't like this song. I mean, I like the music, but I don't like the attitude. I do not wish to see life or eternity as a war: I prefer peace. I do not wish to be a mere soldier in God's army: I want to be His son. Is the purpose of life to expose us to war? Is this why God will never attempt to justify himself in our eyes--because he is our commander, and we are here to obey, and if we do not wish to obey without reason or question, we can damn well report to the brig and tell it to the court marshall?

My problems in the church started in the groin. I was told that masturbation was wrong, and even as I did it, I believed it was wrong, too. But I couldn't stop; I was too weak. I used to feel so guilty, though now I feel less guilty and more unhappy that I am a weak person. But as time went on it slowly dawned on me that the commandment did not seem to make sense. Incidentally, should any non-Mormons be reading this, it should be noted that the Bible doesn't say anything whatsoever about masturbation; rather this commandment is given by the modern prophets (whose existence might come as a surprise, I know...)

It doesn't make sense because God created it. We are told He created not only the genitals themselves but the associated urges--hormones, and whatever it is in the brain that makes us feel the way we do. You may have heard a rumor that 98 percent of men masturbate--and the other 2 percent are lying. While I have no doubt some people don't do it, I think this little joke just reflects the reality of how difficult it is to remain 100% sex-free. How can God himself create something and then condemn its natural use as a sin? Consider the related doctrine in the Catholic church that one must only have sex with the intention to have a child. Mormons don't go that far, thankfully. But consider the church's justification: they say God only "intended" that the genitals only be used to procreate. It's like if God created the cat, then condemned it for licking itself, saying God only "intended" that the tongue be used to assist in food consumption; ergo, any other use is a fault in the cat's character (and God can disavow all responsibility for the behavior--it must come of the devil!)

I don't think you can blame this one on Satan, and it's a stretch even to blame it on man. How can we be held responsible for the design of our bodies? It isn't fair! It just is not fair!

Yet despite a probable prevalence of masturbation among Mormons, "good" Mormons (i.e. not me) do not need to know why they have been asked not to masturbate (or fornicate, for that matter). They just accept the claim that it's a sin, often feeling a sense of shame instilled at a young age, and somehow, they do not see any contradiction in the fact that God is both encouraging them to have sex (because of His design of body and mind) at the same time as he absolutely prohibits it (but only in word).

I often liken our bodies to the Garden of Eden. In the center of the Garden of Eden, like the center of our bodies, there was forbidden fruit, from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat. Eating of this tree was beneficial in the sense that it bestowed knowledge upon the partakers, yet forbidden because God said so. In the timeless land of Eden, according to Mormonism, nothing noteworthy would ever happen as long as Adam and Eve obeyed this commandment--they could not have children, for they did not know how (for some unspecified reason, their immortal junk didn't work); and they could do no good or evil, for they had no knowledge of either. And so, inevitably, a day came when Satan convinced Eve to partake of the fruit, and God's response was to cast them out and cut them off from his presence. Why? Because they did not obey. And yet this had been his design from the beginning. So far as we know, partaking of the fruit was a sin for only one reason: because God said so. And so it is with masturbation.

Because He said so.

I can't tell you how frustrating this has been for me. "Because I said so"? Why is this reasoning sufficient for everyone else? Am I the only Mormon on the planet who can't stand the fact that God is keeping the reason for such an important commandment secret? By the way, is this commandment even important, or am I "making a mountain out of a molehill"? I know that church leaders take it seriously. I have a Church-published pamphlet here called "Repentance Brings Forgiveness", which lists the unforgivable sins (murder and denial of the Holy Ghost) and says "Next to the unforgivable sins come sexual sins. Some such sins may be committed with oneself and some with another person".

So there you have it. Masturbation is "next to [...] unforgivable". Sounds pretty serious all right. No wonder the Holy Ghost doesn't want to hang around with me.

Why doesn't such an important commandment warrant an explanation from the Lord beyond simply "God intended for this organ to be used during marriage, ergo any other use is a sin?" Why is it wrong of me to demand from the Lord to know why masturbation could be considered worse than lying, stealing, vandalism or violence? Why is it a big secret?

Well, my best friend has arrived home. It's time to set this putrid matter aside and enjoy some light entertainment and a meal. But will this matter keep me awake at night? Will I become depressed with worry for my soul, again, and suffer reduced performance at work as a result, or will I be lucky enough to forget the whole thing until the next Sunday comes along? I am hoping for the latter, but admittedly, not praying.