Apologies in advance for those I may offend.
I'm sharing this to talk about the issue of belief. When I look at Mormonism, I see the birth of every other religion, too. Because Mormonism originated in the U.S. - that also means it began in the not-too-distant past. Without the cover of a distant time, it's easier to ask about the origin of belief.
Revealed religious belief requires someone to accept the non-reality based stories of another person. When I hear the story of Joseph Smith and... Moroni (pardon, but I always think..what an appropriate name) I know that an entire religion came about because one guy claimed he saw a vision, an angel. Two other people claimed they were "witnesses." What this means is that they experienced the "same" vision or dream.
We know now that it's possible for charismatic people to influence the perceptions of others - to see things that aren't there - like the way Germans saw a superior "race" embodied in Hitler's political beliefs or the residents of Salem saw witchcraft among females.
I am honestly amazed that anyone would be incredulous enough to accept the beliefs of Mormonism - that anyone would take the stories that provide the foundation of the LDS belief literally. If someone is told these things are true as a child, however, I understand the belief would be as normal as being told that invisible germs make us sick. But upon reaching adulthood, surely we learn that things adults told us are not always true and we should examine those things to see if they do reflect reality.
Yet the belief is bound up in entire communities... in nearly an entire state, in a large population of people who reinforce that belief by enacting the rituals and approving of them - and by ostracizing those who don't participate. Buildings and monuments create a solid, engineered reality to shelter community belief.
Yet none of that matters, if your concern is with truth. If your concern is with belonging, however, it's dangerous to cut yourself off from your culture. Humans need one another to thrive and survive. Belief in some presence that compels us to reach out to others as we would have others reach out to us in times of need is a powerful motivator. Such belief creates community, and community reinforces belief.
When you are outside of that particular community and set of beliefs, however, religious understandings of the world seem bizarre and unsustainable for a mind that seeks to comprehend the world as it is, rather than as it we are told it is as children.
Of course, we all have beliefs that sustain us within our communities. We believe that all are created equal - even when we know all are not born into the same circumstances. All are created equal because we agree this idea treats others as we would hope to be treated ourselves.
We can accept this version of belief because it's mutual agreement and because its foundation is central to our reaction to community, and has been, even before we evolved our current consciousness of the world.
Isn't it enough to say that this golden rule, which exists across so many beliefs, is enough to sustain us? Do we need laws outside of those created by our institutions that were created to uphold this rule - isn't it enough to seek wisdom for how to live in this world without appealing to a power beyond reality?
This is what perplexes me about religion.
What Mormonism teaches me is how religion thrives.
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