Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why I stay LDS - short-form

I've wandered a bit through many faith traditions...maybe I'm a bit of an interfaith tourist.  Not necessarily a good thing, and not necessarily as an adherent of the various faiths, for I never really fully left Mormonism.

After Proposition 8, I thought it was morally reprehensible to continue to claim to be "Mormon" or to sustain the brethren when they, in my assessment, were oppressing a very needy minority, which happens to include family members.

So, I took a job in India.  I preferred China, due to my experience in Taoism, but I also respected Hinduism, and my narrow specialty around identity was more applicable to India.  I spent two years there, immersing myself in Hinduism, Vedanta, Advaita, and other aspects of the culture and found myself on a very deep spiritual quest.  Part of my job, as well, was to provide identity to  the poor of India, so I had a chance to immerse myself very deeply in Indian culture and politics.

At the peak of all this, I went on a pilgrimage to Arunachala, the holy Shaivite temple revered by adherents to Advaita as the pilgrimage site of Ramana Maharshi.  I spent time at his ashram.  I participated in the most sacred rite of fire/lingam worship in a puja in the most holy place of the temple at Arunachala.

At the moment that my Indian sponsor and his family found most sacred, I had exactly the opposite impression.  Out of respect for Hinduism, I won't express what I thought or felt, but it was neither appropriate nor did it harmonize with the sacredness of the ceremony.  I found the whole thing completely and totally absurd.  Yet afterwards, my sponsor told me of how deeply spiritual and sacred that experience was to him, and how much he appreciated that I suggested this pilgrimage.

Later, having lunch with a Brahman priest and a very good friend, I was expressing some of my lessons learned by learning the Sanskrit texts in Hindu scripture.  I told him that my learning of Sanskrit had given me a lot more insight into the meaning behind the words.  He told me that I was on the wrong track.  The words didn't matter, only that they were pronounced correctly...which was, of course, impossible for me to do as a non-Indian old guy.

At the end of my India experience, I came to a conclusion.  Religion isn't a global absolute.  Instead, it is a cultural paradigm, arising from our evolutionary need to unite as a tribe and community for protection, guidance, sustenance, and life.  This is both good and bad.  Good, because it truly is life-sustaining, probably why our evolutionary ancestors, even back 100,000 years ago, had religion, and evolution favored those who did, because they survived as a group.  It's also bad, because we have allowed our religious exclusivity to go overboard and reject new communities arising from our global identities.  We are evolving, and in like manner, religion needs to evolve.

But the more important conclusion I made as a result of India was that the reason Hinduism failed to resonate with me was because it was not my tribal religion.  My tribe is Mormonism, my rituals are Mormon rituals, my faith language is Mormon-speak, and my family, friends, and tribe members use these symbols, rituals, and language to communicate and share eternal principles important to me and that go beyond words.  They are "true" for me, and in embracing them, and being an active part of my Mormon community, I can find life.

There is no such thing as "one true church" for all tribes.  There is definitely a "true church" for *my* tribe, and in that sense, I embrace Mormonism without regrets whatsoever.  Yet, the fact that it is my tribe doesn't mean that I need to accept it as normatively imperative for me, and especially not for anyone else in the world.  I need to own my Mormonism, to not only embrace it, but be the type of member of the type of church in which I want to have faith.

As for whether I'm right or wrong when I die?  I see little risk in that.  If I'm right, cool.  If I'm wrong and the're some other god out there, I am pretty sure that a more enlightened mind out there will appreciate a thoughtful faith more so than a blind one.  And if I'm wrong and there is nothing else, I pretty sure I'll never figure that out...

1 comment:

  1. I find your observations to be something that I found out myself. I feel I am in the same boat that you currently occupy.