September 15, 2017

Ditching Dogma at the Door

Facebook just reminded me that I shared this Holland quote five years ago.

"You never check your religion at the door. Not ever." - Jeffrey Holland,

I think I still agree with the general sentiment of what's going on in this quote. I think Holland is trying to say that it's important to not be a hypocrite and live your belief system, despite peer pressure. I think in general I would agree with that. Consistently doing what's right, even when it's hard, seems admirable to me.

But I would never post this quote now because I think that there is a downside to what Holland is advocating, and it has to do with dogma.

I think there are times when checking your religion at the door could be beneficial because I think there are times when clinging stubbornly and dogmatically to you belief system does more harm than good.

No dogma or set of principles should be unquestionable, religions don't always get things right, no belief system is perfect. Most importantly, I think it's important for us to be able to change our beliefs. Especially when those beliefs are harmful to others.

I think I should be willing to be wrong. I should be willing to change. I'm not good at it, but I'm trying.

This one of my biggest frustrations with Mormonism. It doesn't even feel like it's trying. It never allows itself (or more specifically, its doctrines and prophets) to be wrong. In the church culture as it exists now, holding to the teachings dogmatically is the best way to be a good Mormon. In the church now, doctrines are always right, no matter how much pain they cause, prophets have never been wrong, no matter how much the church has to censor the things they said, and if you disagree with that as Mormon, you could be denied a temple recommend and be deemed less righteous in your religion. Obedience to the rules is everything.

This dogmatism is everywhere in Mormonism, and I think it builds a culture where dogma (the beliefs, principles, and rituals) is more important than people. What I mean by that is that devotion to the religion, to the doctrines and to the words of the prophets, can often cause real people to be dismissed instead of being treated with empathy. The idea of Mormonism being "the one true church" that members should cling to above all else creates a wall that makes it hard for Mormons to have empathetic conversations with people who are hurt by Mormonism.

I think this wall is there because it's threatening to people to hear things that conflict with their worldview, and Mormons are no exception.

Conversely, it's hard for someone who is hurt by Mormon doctrine to talk to a Mormon about the pain they feel without those words falling on deaf ears. I've felt many times that the dogma of Mormonism and the desire to be a worthy temple recommend holder were more important to the Mormons in my life than I am as a person and that my very existence was threatening to them because I didn't fit in their world view. Their devotion to Mormon dogma put up a wall that prevented them from seeing how their belief system could be a source of pain, and that prevented them from being able to validate my pain.

I can see why it happens to Mormons. Mormonism feels safe to the members. It feels comforting. And why wouldn't it? It's a religion based on telling members that they, and they alone, are the lucky ones who are in the only religion that has all the truth. They are the ones who have prophets that are never wrong and always right. They are the ones who never need to change their doctrines because their's are the most correct doctrines in the world.

And so the dogma becomes more important than people. The dogma is talked about because it's comforting. It reinforces the idea that they are safe and doing the right things no matter what other people say. It's talked about more than people who need help because talking about that instead would threaten the comfort. It would be scary.

Keeping the temple a secret because the doctrine says to is easier than talking to the individuals who want to talk about it. Apologies are never given for the horrible things done by prophets in the past because it's scary to admit that prophets could be fallible. Some kids are denied baptism because their parents are gay and it makes some members uncomfortable, but there's nothing they can do about it because it would be even more uncomfortable to admit that some church policies could be wrong.

Strict obedience to the dogma is more important than being aware and empathetic to the feelings and well being of other people because that is what is taught as the priority. That is where Mormons are told to put their time and energy They are told obedience is a virtue, and they feel safe when they are obedient to the dogma.

I'm not saying that all Mormons are completely ignorant of the fact that Mormonism is dogmatic. There are plenty of Mormons who will rant against "Utah Mormons" because they can see the problems that arise when dogma is valued over humans. I know there are plenty of Mormons who want to be empathetic and who want to see changes in the church that make it more inclusive and loving. I wanted those things as a Mormon.

But Mormons in good standing aren't allowed to be vocal about it if they think something is wrong. They promise in the temple to not "speak evil" of "the Lord's anointed". Their voices don't matter. Only the prophets' voices matter. Only the doctrine matters. If people get too out of line from what the dogma dictates, the church can force them out of the church with excommunication.

I think the biggest shift in my thinking since I posted that quote five years ago is that I don't think I'm right about everything anymore, the way I did when I was a Mormon. I think that I get things wrong all the time and that I will probably keep getting things wrong in the future. That's definitely not as comforting as believing that I already have all the truth I'll ever need, but it makes it easier to suspend my own worldview when I'm trying to understand other people. (Plus, it makes me more interested in other perspectives in the first place when I don't view all other people as either sinners or people who could potentially be a good Mormon some day)

I wish that shift could happen in the church. I wish the culture of the church could shift to a place where people are more important than dogma. Where it's ok to be wrong. Where positive change is encouraged. Where people aren't excommunicated for being gay or for disagreeing with things the leaders teach. Where policies can be changed when they are hurting people. Where secrets don't have to be kept just because the cultural dogma says they should be kept a secret. Where apologies can be made for the mistakes that hurt people, instead of just brushing that hurt and pain under the rug.

I still get the sentiment of the Holland quote. It's admirable to be someone who consistently tries to do the right thing.

But I wish he wouldn't have phrased it that way. I think a more healthy approach would be something along the lines of, "Don't give in to peer pressure, but DO check your dogma at the door when you interact with other people".

People should be more important than religions or belief systems. We should all be willing to recognize when we are wrong so that we can be more open to listening to the experiences of other people. Ditching our dogma at the door, no matter what we believe, can help all of us be more empathetic to the experiences of the people around us and make it easier to see when we are wrong. Leaving behind the idea that we have the one and only true worldview when we interact with other people can let us be more open to seeing the world through the perspective of other people. Letting go of our own dogma helps us not feel threatened by other worldviews.

If we could all ditch our own dogma, we could figure out the world together, instead of wondering why everyone else is so crazy for not seeing it the way we do.

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