Warning signs

It disturbs me that in religions of personality*, adherents have no independent means by which to judge the actions or teachings of their leaders. Everything the leaders say or do (or write) has to be accepted. “What have our leaders taught about this?” is the only test they use in determining whether something is morally right or wrong.

Would that clear warning signs would go up each time their leaders’ teachings or actions crossed the line from supportive/compassionate/beneficial to abusive/controlling/harmful.

The flags could say:
“Emotional manipulation”

“Unsupported claim”

“Condescending”

“Shaming”

“Double standard”

“Us vs Them”

“Unreasonable demand”

“Overly simplistic”

“Peer pressure”

“None of their business!”

“Out of context”

“Exclusionary and divisive”

“One-sided”

“Provincial”

“Unknowable”

“Group think”

“Threatening”

“Self-serving”

“Opinion stated as fact”

“Blind obedience”

“Anecdotal”

“Insensitive”

I worry that, being without this kind of warning system, people in such groups end up doing or believing things that are harmful to themselves and others.

I wonder if one way people can train themselves to avoid blind obedience is to regularly ask themselves, “How would I feel about these ideas if it were Adolph Hitler delivering them? Are these ideas worthy of my devotion?”

What other mental warning flags do we need, do you think?

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*in which “infallible” leaders are revered and trusted as the final word on truth-knowledge-divine will.

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How I respond to the idea that this is the only life I’ll have

I consider myself agnostic now. Despite myriad past “spiritual witnesses,” I now find no compelling reason to believe there is a spiritual realm or next life. (I believe those past experiences of mine can be explained by the fact that the human brain has an exceptional ability to find patterns. Whenever I came across or experienced things that resembled what the church teaches, my brain most likely recognized the pattern and confirmation bias would set in: I was “receiving a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel.”)

Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel peace of conscience. (If there is a deity, wouldn’t he/she/they/it know my journey, my heart–my reasons for disbelief–and not condemn me? . . . )

Anyway, after leaving the religion of my youth (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–“Mormons”), I have loved being able to serve in whatever volunteer capacities I choose, rather than having them assigned. Love docenting (being a tour guide) at our local art museum; being a spiritual care volunteer under the chaplain at the regional hospital; teaching the children in Religious Exploration class at our UU fellowship (ethical behavior, critical thinking, knowledge of world religions, etc); and serving as a support meeting moderator for people transitioning out of the LDS church here in Utah County! And since I’m used to dedicating a portion of our earnings for donations, I now love being able to use those funds to make charitable contributions to whatever organization, family, or individual I wish to support.

I’m not sure I’m more productive, however. I’ve suffered so much depression in the past that now, enjoying life is a huge priority. (Thank you, Wellbutrin, for mostly eliminating my depression!) I now spend a lot of my time talking (and smooching) with my husband, Erik, sharing thoughts on Facebook, strength training at the gym, taking naps, cooking fancy meals, tucking in my kids, going out to lunch with friends, practicing flamenco, enjoying long conversations with people I meet, saving money (aka “shopping sales”!), and experimenting with my wardrobe and makeup. Oh yes, and reading an occasional romance. 😉

I’m also trying to train myself in communicating more respectfully and patiently with my kids. If some of that rubs off on them, I think it will be one of the profoundest ways I can “leave a legacy” and “serve mankind.” (Kindness begets kindness . . .)

I’m grateful that a man I know asked a question today online concerning how people without a religious faith or belief in an afterlife choose to use this one life of theirs. More productive? Less productive? More selfish? Less selfish? Greater ambition? Less ambition? It provided me the impetus to write out these thoughts of mine.

–For those interested in viewing it, here’s a talk touching on existential angst which I gave at our UU fellowship last April: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34SXKFZ5cxg

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On gun control and the higher road

It’s crazy that it is only gun dealers (businesses) who are required by federal law to perform background checks whereas private sellers are not. If criminals with a record know they wouldn’t pass a background check, of course they will buy their next weapon of choice from a classified ad . . .

“When private sellers don’t run background checks, people known to be dangerous can easily obtain guns, often with deadly consequences. For example, in 2012, a gunman killed three people, including his wife, and injured four others at a spa in Wisconsin, after buying a gun through a private seller he found online. The shooter was prohibited from purchasing guns due to a restraining order his wife had acquired against him, but was able to buy the gun anyway because the seller was not required to run a background check.

. . . .

“Researchers confirm that universal background check laws effectively improve public safety and save lives. Research has found that states with universal background check laws experience 48 percent less gun trafficking, 38 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults. States with universal background check requirements also have a 53 percent lower gun suicide rate, and 31 percent fewer suicides per capita than states without these laws. This correlation is unchanged even after controlling for the effects of poverty, population density, age, education, and race/ethnicity.”
–http://smartgunlaws.org/universal-gun-background-checks-policy-summary/

I’ve heard the argument made that stronger gun laws will not prevent criminals’ access to guns but rather will only keep guns away from law-abiding citizens who have a right to self-defense. I agree that laws banning or restricting specfic items are not 100% effective at preventing illegal access to all such items, but if they are effective at preventing even ONE preventable death by murder, isn’t the effort to create such laws worth it?

I will be the first to admit, however, that we cannot force citizens to grow morally and ethically simply by creating laws forbidding immoral and unethical behaviors. (The God of the Ten Commandments was apparently a little naive on that front . . . ) Rather, it is the heart that must be won over to the goodness and rightness of a behavior (or other standard) that will encourage individuals’ willing compliance. Case in point: I am guilty of breaking the speed limit frequently. There are times, however, when for some reason I start thinking about why a speed limit has been set, why it makes sense, why lives are at stake when that speed limit is broken . . . and such thoughts encourage me to slow down.

So maybe in addition to looking into the reasonableness of stronger gun control laws, we need to also (or especially) be talking about the desirability of managing one’s anger, managing one’s stress or anxiety levels, detecting and seeking help for mental ill health (in self or others), sharing success stories of formerly violent individuals coming to greater peace, compassion, and stability . . .

What if a national mantra became “Taking the higher road is a harder workout than hurting someone, but it makes you stronger.” (Something like that, anyway . . . The ideal being to get to your zen early–to deal well with disappointment or disruption– discourse as the best recourse–to become a “strong,” ethical, admirable person.)

What has helped you recently to take the higher road?

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