The right to believe versus “right belief”

I wish spiritual authorities the world over embraced the principle that individuals have a right and obligation to discover for themselves spiritual “truth” rather than an obligation (with eternal consequences!) to accept the spiritual “truth” contained within their specific religious tradition and revealed holy books. In other words, I wish spiritual leaders gave people “a right to faith” rather than an alleged “right faith”. Unitarian Universalism holds up this ideal. The COJCOLDS, along with many other religious groups, does not. I hope that I, personally, can more fully embrace the idea that all people, whether devout or not, whether still in the LDS church or not, have a “right to faith” rather than the need to come to “right faith,” however I define that for myself.

Ironically, the “right faith” that I currently accept as universally applicable is belief in there being no universal, “right” faith for people here in mortality. I believe that it is “right” to believe that faith is ultimately an individual endeavor at spirituality (striving for truth), a personal search for God/godliness through contemplation, experience, and conscience. Accepting this principle as the one and only “right faith,” I feel motivated to broaden the perspective of my friends away from the narrow idea that a person must have right faith, right thought, right ordination, right obedience, or right rites in order to fulfill his/her earthly mission and pass the “test” of faith necessary to “earn” heaven/Nirvana/celestial glory/etc. Being raised in such a context is so limiting, in my opinion, much like the experience of those alluded to in Plato’s Republic, those “stuck” in a cave of shadows (Allegory of the Cave). The difference between being confined to a cave of defined religious dogma and coming out to explore truth/reality/faith without fear of God’s condemnation is shocking and blinding at first. I remember it well. But it is also exhilarating and beautiful–an experience I would love to give my friends, even if not “necessary” for God’s approbation of them nor to give their lives meaning and purpose. They already are worthwhile, and beloved of God, I believe–regardless of what they believe. I do not believe, however, that they are “free.”

Those of us who’ve left the LDS cave so want to share our new experiences with those still in! Most are not ready to listen, let alone leave the cave. How to prepare them? That is the question–and the purpose of this post.

It is my current theory that, rather than attacking the authors and/or historicity of the COJCOLDS’ scriptures, rather than casting doubt on the subjective spiritual experiences of its founder, Joseph smith, the better way to prepare friends for the idea that there is a world/reality outside the cave is to participate with them in open-ended discussions of The Plan of Salvation. Our TBM friends and family may not be able to walk out of the cave immediately following such discussions, but they will at least have “food for thought” to chew on for a while. If the discussion prepares them to consider other possibilities, to think rather than immediately accept, to grow in compassion toward those who feel the need to leave the cave, then ultimately it will have been worth the time, even if they choose to remain inside.

So here are some notes I’ve compiled today as potential discussion questions/dialogues:

The Plan of Salvation inspires many questions. Have you ever thought:
* Why would God send his children through a veil of forgetfulness and then proceed to expect them to “get everything right” in terms of faith and works before being able to return to him? Why would he set up such conditions for the “test of faith”? Is it a fair test?

* Why would god even choose to test our faith? Why not just test our compliance to His will after His personal appearance to each of us to explain what was true and what He wanted us to do? Wouldn’t that be the only fair test?

* Why would God expect us to look to self-proclaimed prophets as authorities on His will? Relying on such a process leaves us VERY vulnerable to charismatic, narcissistic sociopaths who would love nothing more than to have a following and run our lives for us. Are we really equipped to discern which religious “authorities” are inspired and which are just delusional, corrupt, or well-intended-but-wrong?  Are the writings of self-proclaimed prophets any more reliable than their statements/pronouncements?  How do we know which holy writ is indeed holy?

* If our coming to freely accept “right belief” were important to God, wouldn’t He intervene more in the personal lives of his billions of children on earth to help them leave false tradition and embrace His ultimate “truth” before they died? In the history of the world, hasn’t the spread of religion happened more by threat of damnation, high birth rates within (and subsequent loyalty to) an existing religious heritage, and/or “the sword” (convert or die), rather than by God personally revealing a new path to people? Even if God chose to work through a “chosen” faith’s proselytizing efforts, how effective has it been for bringing His billions of beloved children to “right belief” and consensual conversion?

*Is God going to judge us for “incorrect belief”? If not, what matters to Him? If “correct belief” during mortality is not necessary for salvation, why would there be any urgency at all for missionary work?

* What, if anything, is man’s universal duty to God while here on earth–regardless of the faith tradition he/she is born into? What does He whisper to individual hearts? Is it consistent? What has He whispered to you? Most people of faith talk of spiritual experiences with God/Spirit–but the “messages” they receive are not always universal? Why is that? Why doesn’t God reveal Himself consistently to people who pray sincerely to know Him?

Many more such discussions could develop along those lines.

I wish all to be freed from belief in the necessity of “right belief,” that they may be free to believe in their God-given “right to believe” whatever they deem most beautiful and meaningful–without fear-filled self-censoring or despotic demands for conformity/orthodoxy. Hopefully discussions of the Plan of Salvation can happen without either of those negative behaviors rearing their ugly heads.

(I also invite everyone to try out a UU service. They’re quite lovely–I love the openness of thought I’ve found there.)


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Work versus smarts . . which should be praised?

Holy cow, I just read a very powerful article which I think should be read by all parents, grandparents, leaders of youth, school administrators, and–especially–teachers!  It’s called  “On the Perils and Promises of Praise,” written by Stanford pscyhology professor, Carol S. Dweck.

She explains that, per careful, controlled studies, giving children the wrong kind of praise (such as “You’re so smart!  You’re going to make a difference in the world!”) makes them afraid of mistakes, unwilling to work through difficult challenges, and addicted to outside positive assessments such as grades (even being willing to cheat to get good scores).

On the other hand, praise that focuses on individual effort (such as “I see that you’ve made a lot of progress on that problem.  Great work!  Keep at it–your brain is getting a great workout!), coupled with explanations about how brains can be “grown” through mental effort and the acquisition of new knowledge, produces in students a marked increase in motivation to work hard in school.

Looking back at my obsession with straight A’s during my school years, and the paralysis I’ve experienced as an adult from believing “I can change the world because I’m so smart” yet drowning in caution and uncertainty because I fear failure, I see that my experiences are a testament to what she’s concluded.

The article is available on the Walden School website.

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On appreciating our children

Ever been disappointed in your son and expressed that curtly to him without thought for even one of his good points? Ever gone days barking out commands to your daughter without thanking her for being in your life? Every wished to be a hermit in the hills, because life without kids would be so much easier?!

Guilty as charged!

As a mother, I’ve often had unrelenting EXPECTATIONS of my children which have gotten in the way of my enjoyment of the beautiful, individual souls that they are and the blessing they are in my life. In fact, my disappointment in their decisions/behavior has lead to downright depression at different times over the years of my mothering! In such moments, I’ve focused exclusively on the external things I value (clean home, productive use of time, meaningful dinner table conversation, fingers out of one’s nose, etc.) rather than these precious people in my life. Self-serving expectations of what family members “should be doing” has caused me to judge them harshly, preventing me from seeing that the differences in our personalities and priorities allow us to learn much from each other. Our differences are meaningful.

Naomi Aldort, a licensed therapist, has written a “Declaration of Complete Confidence in Children.” It states:
1. Adult-like behavior matures by the time we are adults.
2. No expectations means no disappointments for us, and no damaging pressures for our children.
3. Children respond best to modeling and leadership, not control.
4. Trust… and wait.
5. Choose between your momentary convenience and your long-term goal for your child’s sense of self.
6. Enjoy your child for who he is, not for who you would like him to be – he will never be this age again.
7. Distinguish between your emotional needs and what your child feels and needs. Act toward your child in harmony with her needs; take care of your emotional needs elsewhere.
8. Celebrate your child’s uniqueness as well as your own.

I’m intrigued by what she believes—that we should be attempting to get to know our children rather than mold them, that they did not come into our lives to serve us other than to take our breath away as we witness them grow and blossom into the uniquely-beautiful individuals that they are. She reminds us that they are like seeds which we cannot yet identify. All the potential for greatness is there, but it will only come to full fruition if nourished by love, kindness, compassion, and acceptance of who they inherently are. It takes time to encourage and witness the unfolding–the blossoming–of their souls, but well worth the effort! If we have eyes to see, if we’re interested observers, we can enjoy the process rather than being constantly disappointed in them. Quite profound.

Obviously, having a household means there’s work to be done. However, I’m beginning to grasp—slow-learner that I can be at times–that if I focus more on loving and appreciating my family members than on making unending demands of them, they will ultimately be interested in my happiness as well and be willing to step in when they see I genuinely need their help. Not that they will ever love doing chores. Not that they won’t sometimes stall for a while in the hopes that my need will change. But, hopefully, my appreciation of them will help them trust me—trust that my reasons for requesting their help are good (i.e. not just laziness on my part). The key is loving communication. If the first thing we say to family members when they wake up or walk through the door is, “I need you to . . .,” they will withdraw emotionally from us, assuming that all we value about them is their labor. If, instead, we can ask them about their plans for the day, be interested in their ideas and aware of their needs, and only LATER solicit their cooperation in meeting some of our needs, we will have a “home”–not just a “household.”

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