Monday, February 22, 2010

Sentimental disbelief

Nonbelievers have a problem with public relations.

One popular stereotype portrays atheists as cold and overly analytical, all logic and no heart. They are thought to have a deaf ear when it comes to feelings. "What is this thing you call love?" asks the alien of science fiction in a robotic voice. From an LDS viewpoint, this type of nonbeliever lacks the gift of faith and can be pitied. This kind of nonbeliever prays but receives no answer.

Another kind of nonbeliever in the popular imagination is the arrogant professor, exemplified Richard Dawkins. Too smart for his own good, this kind of atheist talks down you, and nobody likes a smarty pants. In the LDS world, this kind of nonbeliever gets 2 Nephi 9:28 thrown at them: "when they are learned they think they are wise, [but] their wisdom is foolishness." (Unfortunately, this familiar ad hominem attack doesn't say how to refute the facts and arguments presented by the unpleasant person of learning.)

To sum up, nonbelievers either lack feeling or they lack humility. As bad as this is, it gets worse. In many cases, nonbelievers are evil.

Joseph Smith took on the theme of the public skeptic in the Book of Mormon with the character Korihor. Korihor is definitely a nonbeliever we can love to hate, since he follows the conventions of villains from melodrama. Korihor isn't just a nonbeliever; he's dastardly. He's the third kind of nonbeliever: the villainous deceiver. What distinguishes Korihor is the fact that he means to cause harm. The moral of his story is that nonbelievers are evil people who want to lead us astray. We learn that they must be dealt with by force, either human and supernatural. Interacting with them or trying to understand what they are saying would be as ill advised as inviting a vampire to cross your threshold.

Clearly, nonbelievers have a public image that could use some polishing. Let's see-- as a nonbeliever you can be lacking in feeling, lacking in humility or just plain evil. These are not attractive options.

When I wonder what kind of nonbeliever I am, I start with these three possibilities.

The first one (Mr. Spock) might fit in some ways. I certainly had tremendous cognitive dissonance when I was a believer. Getting an answer to prayer that I could believe in was next to impossible. However, I am intuitive and also very emotional. I *never* (even to this day) have had any problem feeling the rush of affirmation that that people describe as feeling the Spirit.

When I compare myself to Prof. Dawkins, the second kind of nonbeliever, I think we might be getting closer. I can't really say for sure. I will say that one of the most profoundly moving moments of my life was when I really understood the implications of the scientific method. I'm the kind of person who gets very excited by repeatable experiments. So, I guess I have to leave option two as a maybe. It's possible that I lack humility, since I do value knowledge deduced from empirical data, and I prize academic achievement.

I feel pretty good about ruling out the last kind of nonbeliever, the ill-intentioned deceiver. I know my own heart pretty well, and if anything it's my commitment to independently verifiable facts that keeps me in a state of disbelief. I certainly have no desire to cause harm.

Ultimately, though, I don't feel comfortable with any of these atheist personas. My attempt to find a path through this life is no different from anyone else's. I'm as bewildered by this life as the next person. I'm just as awed by the magnificence of creation as the believers I know. Maybe I'm a sentimental nonbeliever. Is that a new category?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The celibacy timeline

I have never met a man who made it from youth to age 45 as a celibate gay Mormon fully active in the Church.

There are lots and lots of 25-year-old men in this category, and you see the occasional person who perseveres to thirty-five. By 45 no one's left.

It's as if there's some kind of built-in term limit for men on the celibate gay Mormon role. Most leave the Church or at least quit participating; a few enter into mixed-orientation marriages at ages greater than the standard LDS marrying age.

Has anyone else noticed this?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On the nature of advice

I like giving advice. It's kind of a hobby. Recently however, I came across this explanation:
Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

This is true, breathtakingly, maddeningly true.

I hate the person who wrote this.

One of the blogs I read is by a young Mormon man who is trying to pray away the gay. As I read his blog I'm struck by how history repeats itself over and over and over again. His story was my story when I was younger. Is there anything I could tell this young gay Mormon man that he could actually hear? Isn't it the case that he would have to go through what I went through himself? Isn't free advice is worth what you pay for it? For the record, I don't comment on the young man's blog even though that's my impulse.

I go back and forth on this. I'm not convinced. Young gay Mormons already get a lot of advice, most of it over the pulpit, some of it quite damaging. Maybe there needs to be a counterpoint for balance. On the other hand, I can't deny that my inclination to give advice comes from my own ruminations about the past I've lived. These memories come with a sharpness that is sometimes painful. Passing them to others feels redemptive but is probably nothing more than the sentimentality of the aged.

I think I'll be offering less advice in the future.