Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Come As You Are

Posted: November 11, 2015 in LDS, lgbtq, Mormon, religion
Tags: , , ,
The Rainbow Girl (Artist Wishes to Remain Anonymous)

The Rainbow Girl (Artist Wishes to Remain Anonymous)

A lesbian friend in high school was my first exposure to someone who openly identified as homosexual. Her example had a far reaching impact on my life.

She came from a troubled home. She had been sexually molested by a family member and had “anger management issues”. I did not understand her pain then, and I thought I knew how to help her. At that time, I was an active member of the Mormon church, and I believed (as I had been taught) that the message of the gospel would bring healing, happiness, and inner peace to all who studied and accepted it. I saw a friend suffering through a struggle beyond my comprehension, and I thought I had the cure.

I invited her to church…

At first, everything seemed to go well. She attended a Young Women’s activity and enjoyed it enough that she wanted to come back. She started socializing and connecting and making friends with the other girls, and the young men that would join us for a monthly combined activity. Little did I know that the Young Women’s President was not happy about this development. She viewed my friend as a threat to her “flock” and arranged for her to meet with the Bishop of our ward. In that meeting, the Bishop told my friend that she needed to change the way she dressed and conducted herself if she wanted to continue coming to the church activities. She came to me after, told me what had happened, and said that she was not interested in a church that could not accept her for who she was.

She never came back, and our friendship dwindled into memory.

I did not understand then. I thought she was missing an opportunity to learn about this wonderful gospel, because she did not understand it. I thought she’d been driven away before she’d had adequate time to get acquainted with the difference it could make in her life. I thought she had no desire to put forth the effort to change and improve herself, because she had not attended long enough to learn of the blessings she would be missing out on.

I was heartbroken, because I had thought that my church was loving, welcoming, and kind. I was heartbroken, because I still believed that the gospel could cure my ailing friend, and the actions of my Young Women’s leader had driven her away. If ever anyone had needed the gospel, surely it was this girl in emotional turmoil after enduring an unthinkable trauma. This girl in so much pain that she struggled to manage her anger. This girl who’d been so abused by a man that she now considered herself a lesbian… Oh how lost and confused I was then.

How could I possibly understand when I considered sexual-orientation a symptom of trauma? How could I possibly understand when I was so blind… I pinned the blame on that Young Women’s leader and Bishop. I told myself that “the gospel is perfect, but the people aren’t”. But the situation never sat right with me again, and it would come to the forefront of my mind often, resurfacing any time I was exposed to evidences of bigotry and discrimination within my beloved church.

When I heard about the church’s political involvement with Proposition 8, I repeated that mantra in my head over and over. “The gospel is perfect, but the people aren’t”.

When I heard about the electroshock therapy used at BYU in an attempt to cure homosexuality, I repeated that mantra in my head over and over. “The gospel is perfect, but the people aren’t”.

When my parents and siblings expressed homophobic views and distress over my choice to associate with homosexual individuals, I repeated that mantra in my head over and over. “The gospel is perfect, but the people aren’t”.

I continuously wrestled with this contradictory information, and I told myself that I needed to be an example of love and tolerance both to my fellow church members and to those who would see me as a reflection and example of church teachings. I considered myself as following the example of Christ in associating with sinners, and I found myself learning that those I had considered sinful were more moral, kind, welcoming, and tolerant than the members of my church.

And I repeated that mantra in my head over and over. “The gospel is perfect, but the people aren’t”…..

Eventually, my mantra was broken. I realized my entire worldview was mistaken. I realized just how ignorant I had been and how the message of a dear high school friend had gone completely over my head. The Mormon church is NOT accepting of homosexuals. The gospel is NOT perfect. The bigotry I blamed on imperfect people is rooted in scripture, and the teachings I had been relying on to frame my understanding of homosexuality were wrong.

The leaders of the Mormon church are not inspired by God. If they were, they would have known long before any scientific studies were done that homosexuality is an inborn trait that cannot be “cured”, nor need it be. If they were, they would have known their teachings regarding homosexuality would be harmful, as individuals faced an impossible task trying to rid themselves of feelings that could no more be conquered than hunger or thirst. If they were, they would have known that homosexuality will never be eradicated from their membership – not without eradicating the members themselves.

And now we face a very real problem, as homosexual individuals in the church find themselves targeted once again. I hope that those individuals will read this and understand:

You do not need to be in a church that does not accept you for who you are. The church is wrong. You do not need to change. You are not an abomination. I know it is frightening and terrifying even thinking of leaving an organization on which you are so heavily dependent, but there is help. You can escape it’s control. And there are countless people on the outside who will love you and accept you as you are. Let us be your support. Let us help you find joy. Come as you are. And do not change.

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It has been approximately one year since my “shelf” came tumbling down. For those unfamiliar with the shelf terminology, it is a common ex-Mormon descriptor for where one puts all the information that conflicts with their religious belief system. It is nearly impossible to interact with others in this world and not encounter information that conflicts with the supposed truth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or any other religion for that matter. Naturally, people are resistant to the idea that something so critical to their world-view might be wrong, so such conflicting information gets shoved into the dark recesses and corners of the mind on a metaphorical shelf… until that shelf can handle no more.

In a years time, I have become a drastically different person. A stronger person. A more emotional person. A better person. Most of all, my eyes have been opened. WIDE. It is as if I was literally blind. As I take in the world around me with my new perspective, I am made constantly aware of information that seems new to me but has clearly been the common knowledge of everyone around me. Or at least everyone that has already, similarly, had their eyes opened. I find myself wanting to speak up, to share my experiences and my new-found knowledge, and to advocate for those going through struggles I’d previously overlooked, only to realize that there are already countless books, quotes, videos, magazines, and individuals that have disseminated such knowledge for the public.

Countless historical figures and current leaders and public figures have reached conclusions similar to those I’ve only been discovering in the past year, and I feel like I’ve fallen behind. I feel as if much of my time has been wasted believing in nonsense and fairy tales. There are some bouts of anger mixed in there – anger toward the institutions that deceived me, profited off my trust and ignorance, encouraged me to turn a blind eye to the truth, and shaped my perceptions in an effort to prevent my “escape”. And, of course, there is more anger now that I have escaped, as this same institution paints a picture in the minds of those still ensnared, in which I and those like myself are the bad guys.

I was so blissfully unaware… and it wasn’t even because the information I needed to have my eyes opened was prevented me. It was because the “tint” with which I viewed this information prevented me from recognizing it for what it was or prevented me from accepting it. When introduced to the concept of “cognitive dissonance”, I realized that my own subconscious was working against my pursuit of the truth in order to maintain my personal happiness and peace of mind. I had a delusional narrative that blocked or reinterpreted any information that didn’t fit my worldview so that I could continue to believe I was not mistaken and thus avoid making any changes.

My belief gave me comfort in the face of fearful challenges both personal and worldwide. To reject this belief would mean facing the fear. It would mean accepting an entirely different worldview, and it would mean re-writing my narrative from scratch. Of course, it was easier to avoid such massive changes, so despite my desire to pursue truth, my own mind was working against me to keep me in the dark, to keep me trusting, to keep me in the cult.

Eventually though, the blinders finally came off. My shelf started to crumble, and I was “free”. Such a transformation did not come easy, and it is difficult to describe just what factors made it possible. More than anything, though, I know it would have been impossible without the following:

1. My willingness to examine my beliefs with scrutiny.

2. The assistance of those who’d been in my position.

3. Honesty.

4. Persistent study and research.

5. Critical thinking and experimentation.

6. Logical thought and the scientific method.

Now, I find myself in an interesting position. I am a changed person, because I was finally able to “see” what had been staring me in my face all along. I had to work hard to reach this point, and yet… now it all seems so obvious. Questions that were previously unanswerable now click into place and just make sense. And in one year, I have come to realize and understand more about myself and the world around me than I was able to learn in a lifetime while blinded by belief.

But my family… remains in the dark. And because of their tainted worldview they now see me as fallen. They pity me. They worry for me. They fear for me. Yet, I am happier, healthier, and more at peace with myself and the direction of my life than I ever was before. They have no reason to pity, worry, or fear and it hurts that I cannot easily remove the blinders from THEIR eyes so that they can also see as I do. Without a willingness, on their part, to examine their beliefs with scrutiny and apply the same principles of study, research, critical thinking, experimentation, logical thought, and the scientific method, they will forever remain in that darkness. They will forever maintain their faulty perception of the world.

And as I reflect on this “new” position I find myself in, I realize it is not so new. For every individual who’s similarly had their eyes opened has faced backlash from friends, family, loved ones… and the general populace at large holds tightly to their religious delusions and treats atheism like a disease in need of eradication. The new fear is now, will I someday meet a crazed fanatic convinced that they must remove my heathen voice from this earth to please their God? And whether or not that IS to be my fate, will I have made any difference in this world before I do go?

The problems we face on this earth are massive, and a large part of the struggle to remedy those problems is in convincing those stuck in their own cultish mindsets that these problems exist and that we are capable of fixing them. Together. With the greatest minds of history already being largely ignored, what difference will MY voice make? It’s daunting and overwhelming. And now, without my faith, where is my comfort?

To conquer what would otherwise lead to feelings of despair, I must find myself relying on hope. Not in a God. Not in an afterlife. Not in a fairy tale. — In life. In science. In prosperity. In humanity. In technology. In ingenuity and creativity. In intelligence and critical thinking. I am, and forever will be, a progressive and an idealist at heart. My hope in the abilities of humanity to see reason and evolve to embrace a brighter future is what gives me a sense of purpose. I may find myself repeating a mantra that’s been getting spoken for decades, but if I do not add my voice to that of these other enlightened individuals, if I do not do my part… then I may as well have remained in the cult.

A wonderful rebuttal to the “Why Doesn’t God Feed All the Starving Children in the World?” question.

Question With Boldness

Every once in a while a post or a tweet grabs my attention and I simply cannot contain my response to 140 characters. This was one of them: “3 Strange But True Reasons Why God Doesn’t Feed All the Starving Children in the World” from the apologetics website “Not Ashamed of the Gospel”. This should be good, I thought. “Strange”, so they probably won’t be reasons I’ve heard before, and “true” so there must be some pretty good evidence to back these reasons up! Sigh. Wrong on both counts. And thus we have my second response post.

So, what are the strange but true reasons God doesn’t feed all the starving children?

Reason #1 : It’s Not God’s Responsibility to Feed the Starving Children of the World

Of all the times that I have read the Bible from cover to cover, I can’t think of a single Bible verse in…

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The Sin of Complacency

Posted: August 12, 2015 in atheism, prayer, religion
Tags: , ,

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There are many noble causes in the world. Many reasons to get involved. Many problems, inequalities, and injustices. Unfortunately, much of that is unavoidable. While the world as a whole maintains a kind of balance through natural cycles, rarely is anything evenly distributed and rarely is anything “fair”. By simple luck of the draw, some people are born with much… and some with nothing. It is a myth that anyone and everyone can become a millionaire if they just work hard enough. The deck is stacked. Those who are already rich have more resources at their disposal. More options. More choices. And those born into poverty rarely get out of it.

It is, however, a natural desire for people to want to remedy such blatant inequalities. Some feel it more strongly than others, but we all feel it to some degree or another. We are driven to help one another and build a sense of community, because together we are stronger. We achieve far more and reach far greater heights working together than could ever be accomplished by one person alone. And seeing another person struggling and in pain elicits an emotional reaction. We feel empathy. We CARE. But we also have a tendency to get too comfortable…

One of the great things about religious organizations is their ability to mobilize people and invigorate them to get involved in a cause. Gathering around the message of an inspiring figure, people will often reach out to help the poor, the needy, the destitute, and the afflicted in an effort to follow that example. But if the struggles aren’t made starkly apparent, the ability to connect and feel the empathy that drives people to act is often lost. If people don’t SEE a problem staring them in the face, if people don’t have personal experience with an issue, if people have no way to relate to someone, if people get too comfortable, they become complacent. And nothing breeds complacency more than the religious teachings of an afterlife.

If you live in a developed nation, you probably have many luxuries you don’t even think about. Health care. Food. A roof over your head. Financial security. An education. Water. The problems of war and starvation probably seem distant. You’ve likely seen pictures or videos of gaunt children or ravaged towns, but you cannot relate. You cannot connect. And so, you tell yourself there’s nothing you can do for people so far away. You have your own struggles. You are working hard enough as it is to keep food on your table. Any efforts you would make would be pointless anyway. These problems are impossible to rectify and will always be around. There will always be war and suffering and starving children. And… that’s okay, because this life is only temporary.

Instead of facing the problems, we walk away. We go on with our lives. We ignore it. We’ve gotten so good at ignoring problems that we don’t even recognize the ones in our own backyards. Even in developed nations we have hunger, homelessness, racism, poverty… Even in developed nations we have children born into homes that cannot provide for them. Even in developed nations we have sex trafficking, rape, child molestation, domestic violence, police brutality, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, hate crimes, murder, extremist groups, terrorism, suicide, and much more. Until one of these problems have a direct impact on our lives, we refuse to acknowledge it, because acknowledging it would upset our balance.

Instead… we pray. We turn everything over to a deity and expect Him to solve all the world’s problems. We comfort ourselves with small, random acts of kindness that don’t inconvenience our lives and prayers for intervention on the behalf of those struggling individuals we don’t want to trouble ourselves to recognize. We comfort ourselves with the thought that we’ve done all we can, and the rest is up to God. And we comfort ourselves with the thought that all these inequalities are part of some great plan and will all be worked out in the end. We create a mythical concept of “justice” and believe all discrepancies will be reconciled through some form of karma. And through all of this, we conveniently take the responsibility to act off our own shoulders.

Belief in the afterlife breeds complacency, because it causes people to care less about the here and now. It causes people to assuage their guilty conscience while they continue to enjoy the fruits of their privileged positions in society and ignore the needs of those less fortunate. With this complacency, often comes the justifications. When it is suggested that someone contribute to a cause or submit their profits for redistribution to charities or taxes for the common good, they become possessive and defensive, insisting that they’ve worked hard for their small comforts and they’ve “earned” their position in society. Ignoring the luck and chance that helped them climb up a rigged totem pole over the backs of others unable to “catch a break”, they insist that those living in poverty are just looking for handouts or a free ride.

The real problem though is that wealth and opportunities will never be evenly distributed. The resources of the world are finite, and no person can rightly claim that they’ve “earned” anything more than another. This blatant inequality will only continue to get worse the longer people ignore it and fail to act. Prayers aren’t accomplishing anything. God isn’t doing anything. The world doesn’t HAVE to be like this. If only we will open our eyes, let go of our complacency, and organize around a common goal, we could truly make a difference. We can make a better world.

Each and every one of us needs to get educated about the problems in the world and ways they can get involved. Each and every one of us needs to speak up about inequality and stand up in the face of discrimination. Each and every one of us needs to utilize the resources we have to expose wrongs, fight injustice, and lend a helping hand. Each and every one of us has at the very least a talent that can be re-purposed and re-directed for the good of all. We are all in this together, and complacency will only be our downfall.

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The following is an actual debate that took place between myself and an anonymous theist, given the challenge that the debate must take place in haiku.


ATHEIST:

A god divides us
Calls the heathens enemies
Why must this be so?

Political ruse
By men scheming for power
To control the world

Your god is not there
You follow blindly like sheep
Being led to die

Religious leaders
Don’t want you to figure out
They’re sucking you dry

The atheist knows
So they present a great threat
If you should listen


THEIST:

Love your enemy.
That is what God really says.
What you said is wrong.


ATHEIST:

Why enemies though?
Does god call his own children,
His creation, wrong?

I see not a foe
Just a fellow human being
Struggling to find truth.


THEIST:

That’s what we call them.
God’s point is we should love them.
To draw them to him.


ATHEIST:

Conditional love
A manipulative tool
Is no love at all


THEIST:

Love is what one does
For others not a feeling
Don’t get it twisted.


ATHEIST:

Not twisted at all
You described love as a tool
An end goal in mind

Call non-believers
Enemies of the faithful
But you must “love” them

So your kindness can
Convince them, draw them closer
Get them to believe

Because we all know
It’s only the believers
Who get out of hell

That isn’t real love
It’s naught but a Ponzi scheme
Keeping truth hidden


THEIST:

Jesus showed us how
To love others in the way
That we love ourselves.

From the beginning
This is what God has wanted.
We just won’t obey.

God’s goal is for all
To obtain eternal life.
What is wrong with that?


ATHEIST:

He wants submission
From every human person
To blindly follow

Do not question him
Just give him adoration
And thank him always

For, if you do not
Hell’s fire and brimstone are hot
Ready to swallow

It’s not your good deeds
That earn you eternal life
In this religion

Only the faithful
Only the believers can
Get this great reward

To fake belief, wrong
Immoral and dishonest
I will not do it

And for that I’m damned
According to your scripture
And you call that love?


THEIST:

Love fulfills all law
And also all the prophets.
He wants repentance
.

Heaven will be great
Because everybody there
Will put others first.


ATHEIST:

Repentance for what?
Sin is only concocted
By those who lead you

We do have morals
We know right from wrong without
The help of a God

And it’s thanks to “god”
That men reject their conscience
Forgo empathy

Commit any deed
Commanded by your deity
And you’ll be absolved


THEIST:

(Repentance “from” what)
From not loving everyone
As you love yourself.

It is that simple
Despite what some people say
Religion hijacked the truth.


ATHEIST:

If that is the case
Then I’ll be more than just fine
Come this judgement day

I still don’t believe
But I guess that is okay
According to you


THEIST:

Read Romans thirteen
Specifically the tenth verse,
You can find it there.

If your not convinced
See Galatians five fourteen,
It says the same thing.


ATHEIST:

Loving your neighbor
Is most definitely good
Truest empathy

And if this were all
That your scriptures did teach us
I would have no qualms

But that is not so
The scriptures clearly divide
Teach love mixed with hate

I cannot accept
The double standard within
Your dear holy word

And I can’t accept
A fickle god playing games
Choosing his favorites

He answers the prayers
Of a select chosen few
For trivial things

Then he does ignore
The urgent pleas of the child
In dire need of help


THEIST:

I misunderstood
We do still need our savior
For sins that are past

We would be puppets
If God just controlled our will
and made us choose good

I do understand
when you speak of suffering
But that’s us not God.

Blessed are those that mourn
for they shall be comforted
during the next life.


ATHEIST:

To place blame on us
For all the bad in the world
Disingenuous

You raise up this God
Upon a high pedestal
How great is the fall

For what does go up
Most surely it must come down
Known thanks to Newton

You can’t cherry pick
All the good things from your book
And throw out the bad

Taken as a whole
We can all quite clearly see
That “god” is not good

The good in the world
Is here thanks to good people
Not a phony god

The only reason
For people to believe it
Is based on the fear

“Accept me or die”
Experience no heaven
Unless you submit

Why would God do this?
Create us with agency
Only to condemn

I live a good life
Live my morals found within
But that won’t matter

Without Christ, pointless
According to your scripture
But I don’t believe

You cannot force faith
But that’s all God cares about
Not the good life, lived

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On this day of reflection, I think of my father, his father, my mother’s father, my son’s father, the fathers of my nephews and nieces, and the many men and women who have taken on fatherly roles in my life, my son’s life, and the lives of my friends and loved ones. It is an especially poignant Father’s Day for me, as it is the first Father’s Day in which I do not include a “Heavenly” father in my list. It is also the first Father’s Day in which the belief in traditional gender roles has unraveled before my eyes.

According to the religion of my birth and the traditional expectations in place for fathers, it is the purpose of a man to be a provider and a protector for his children. This tradition is a strong one that falls back on the natural physical strength provided men by their biology. Testosterone drives the sexual dimorphism, building physique and inciting aggression. Men were designed by nature to fulfill the roles of protector and provider, but Father’s Day is about far more than honoring the results of sexual selection.

Father’s Day is a time to honor those who go above and beyond. It is a time to recognize those who’ve provided guidance and direction to their children and the rising generation. It is a day for reminiscing on quality time, bonding moments, and fond memories. There are many men in the world who neglect their familial obligations and fail to make the selfless sacrifices that build lasting relationships with their children and pupils. There are many men who abuse the natural power granted them by their physical advantages over the weaker sex. As a result, many do not have quality time, bonding moments, or fond memories with their biological fathers on which to reminisce. Many have painful memories and lost opportunities that retract from the joy meant to be shared on this day of honor.

According to the religion of my birth, the ideal conditions for a child are to be raised in a home with a father and mother fulfilling their traditional, gender-specific roles. But there are many homes that break such tradition. There are homes in which the roles are swapped, dual income homes, single parent homes. There are children raised by multiple families due to divorce and remarriage, children raised by grandparents, children raised by adoptive or foster parents, by aunts, uncles, or older siblings, and countless children in orphan homes or marked as “wards of the state” who have nobody fulfilling a parental role. There are children with two mothers or two fathers, and there are children who’ve lost parents through death, divorce, abuse, or indifference.

Countless children are raised in conditions far from the “ideal”, and despite what religious leaders would have their followers believe, this is hardly a new trend. Non-traditional families have been a part of society for quite some time, and children raised in these non-ideal homes are still turning out okay. While not every child will have a traditional father to honor on this day, most have at least one person who has stepped in to fulfill the roles of provider, protector, teacher, and guide. Most have at least one person they can look up to and express gratitude to for their involvement and influence on their upbringing.

And so, why insist on maintaining tradition? Why insist on an “ideal”? This incessant need to provide a mold for the perfect father causes more harm than it does good. It hurts the self-image of men and women who DO step above and beyond expectations to fulfill fatherly roles for the children who fall under their wing, by birth or circumstance. It creates division between those who’ve been “blessed” with an ideal family and those who have not. It causes those children without good memories of a traditional father to feel left out and often fall into depression on what should be a happy occasion.

It is on this day that we honor the ROLE of father, and not necessarily the men who fit the “ideal”. Because, in reality, there is no ideal. There is no mold. There are those of good, strong, moral character whom we choose to honor for playing an important role in our lives. What matters is who has personally helped shape, guide, and direct YOUR path, whatever the circumstances. And so, on this day, I would like to honor all those who have provided for me and my son. I would like to honor all those who have protected me and my son. I reflect on all the memories I now cherish of those who have guided me, taught me, and helped shape me into the person I am today. You are ALL my “Father”, and you make this world a brighter place.

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The idea that atheists are incapable of being moral is a very common misconception. Many, many articles, books, and even scientific papers have been written on this topic, and it all stems from the inability of the religious to comprehend from where an atheist can derive their views on morality.

You see, to the faithful, all that is good comes from God. People are inherently sinful, and God has to provide laws, commandments, and rules for us to follow to keep us on the “straight and narrow” and prevent us succumbing to the “natural man”. We even have numerous examples of famous Christians who’ve challenged atheist morality with their own misguided musings, such as this theoretical scenario proposed by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson:

I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if [there] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’

If it happened to them they probably would say, ‘something about this just ain’t right.

The problem with this presumptuous scenario is the assumption that a lack of belief in God also equates to a lack of belief in right and wrong, or rather, a lack of morality. When you believe that morality MUST come from God, of course removing God from the equation would dissolve into chaos. But it’s a rather scary thought that some believers even entertain such notions, presumably only holding back out of devotion to their faith and fear of divine punishment. As is made apparent in the oft repeated question, from multiple believers, when given an opportunity to question an atheist:

If there is no God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want?

Penn Jillette’s response to this question is wonderful and often quoted:

I do rape all I want, and the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.

Atheists are just as capable of being moral as are believers, because morality does NOT come from a God. It comes from within. Certainly, with atheism, there cannot be any “objective” morality, because morality cannot be derived from any singular outside source. But there’s nothing wrong with morality being subjective either, because the morality of the majority will be supported by social norms and expectations. Morality has evolved with us. It is advantageous for species living in social structures and communities to exhibit moral behavior, because being able to feel empathy and extend sympathy to others allows individuals to maintain the protections and benefits of social acceptance.

While I can study the benefits of morality, statistically, and it’s development through evolutionary history, exhibited even in other species, and while I can statistically measure the majority standing for what is considered morally right or wrong in any given scenario, it still ultimately boils down to how I personally feel inside. When I was a religious follower, I believed that those internal feelings came from the spirit. Now I recognize them as my own, but they are no different.

I still consider rape wrong. I still follow the golden rule. I still consider blackmailing wrong. Stealing wrong. Cheating wrong. etc. And more than anything else, both then and now, I’ve strongly adhered to honesty and integrity. I’ve held truth above all things, and because of that, I’ve been on an educational journey that has transformed my life and which I know will continue to enrich, enhance, and inspire.

When it comes to facing a moral dilemma though, things are rather different. As a believer, when I felt my conscience tugged, I would turn to scripture, to doctrine, to the religious teachings of my upbringing. When I first read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I knew upon reading these words of Polonius that I had found a new life motto:

This above all, to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou can’st not then be false to any man.

And as a Mormon, being true to myself meant being true to my upbringing, true to scripture, true to the standards as set by my prophets, etc. I was devout and strong in my belief, and I did my best to adhere to all Mormon teachings. But when it was the teachings of the church that seemed to conflict with my conscience, I found myself faced with intense moral dilemmas. I had to listen to my inner self and find a way to balance what I *felt* to be right and wrong with what I was being taught. And my efforts to maintain this balance led to an increased devotion to studying the “faith” in full.

I wanted to know and understand everything. I wanted to dig as deep as I could and rely on my personal spiritual revelations to guide my study. Because I wanted to uncover truth, my journey eventually led me away from the Mormon church. I was able to let go of moral views that had been trained into me based on nothing more than religious teachings and indoctrination, but my conscience remained. Most moral dilemmas became much easier to handle, because there was no longer any conflict between self and religion. I could finally, really, TRULY, be true to myself.

Moral decisions are far simpler, but it can still sometimes get complicated, because there are still competing factors. As per the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, my morality is driven very heavily by empathy. My ability to connect with and relate to others. To understand their personal pains and sufferings. To engage in sympathetic musings or putting myself “in their shoes” to try and understand another point of view. Empathy is what makes it very easy to state that rape is WRONG. Murder is WRONG. Cheating is WRONG. etc.

Then there is integrity, driven by the words of Polonius, and a desire to be true to myself. I have a strong, deeply rooted need to be honest in all things. To present myself as… myself. No lies. No deceptions. No masks. And though it doesn’t happen often, there are situations where empathy and integrity clash. And such is the root of an atheist’s moral dilemmas.

The empathy I feel for my mother, for example, clashes with my desire to maintain integrity about my atheism and my gender orientation. In this instance, empathy trumps integrity (for now), as I put on a mask in interactions with my family and hide the changes that have brought me so much peace. The conflict between empathy and integrity clashes when I’m around my family, and I feel morally ill. Eventually, I’ll need to resolve that conflict, and I hope I can do so in a way that does not leave me ill in the opposite direction, for letting integrity trump empathy. I hope to be able to strike a balance and find a sense of peace as it relates to my family.