Thursday, May 31, 2012

Faith and Miracles

In Response to "God is Hiding", by Jon Adams

Something that's always troubled me a bit, growing up, is the lack of modern-day miracles. I consider myself an adamant, if somewhat unorthodox Mormon. In fact, I base a large part of my unorthodoxy on personal inspiration and a faith in modern revelation.

One conclusion I might come to is that people in general are less faith-filled than previous generations. We have records from previous eras of mass-conversions as well as miracles, well-documented and concrete. Why don't we have those anymore, either? It may be that modern, rational thought patterns, 'ask first and question more' philosophies are not very compatible with 'belief first and miracles later' system that faith seems to work on.

I remember growing up, our ward prayed and fasted for my little brother, who was in the hospital for 3rd degree burns covering most of his body. We prayed that he would live; we prayed that he would be able to walk. Today he runs around forming Ultimate Frisbee teams; most of his scarring barely noticeable unless he's wearing shorts or goes barefoot. Is this a miracle? Or just the miracle of modern science? What about the coincidence of parent’s prayers occurring right when something bad happens, but their kids come out okay? Parents pray over their children all the time, right? Or people being healed of Cancer, or being guided where to live through feelings... maybe we get miracles that can be explained by other phenomena because they are the kind we can believe in. After all, ask an 18th Century Rationalist if men could ever fly, and he would laugh at your absurdity.

We should never discount anything simply because we do not have a rational explanation for it. There are so many unanswered questions in science and religion, more mysteries than anyone could possibly comprehend... why should we discount something simply because we do not understand it? I feel that is a type of hiding in itself, hiding in our little box of rationality. We shouldn't trim outliers to make our data sets nice and tidy; we should try to figure out what those outliers are trying to tell us about the big picture.

I got off-topic. Sorry. Anyways, why are there not more miracles, similar to the Bible? Well, if we are to use the Bible as an example, we need to evaluate the time spans implicit within the stories. Remember, the Bible purports to cover at least 5,000 years worth of history (scholars differ on exact chronology). If we look at the percentage of time with miracles verses the time without miracles, we see very long gaps without obvious divine intervention followed by short, intense sessions of Godly might. I don't know why, but it does seem to be a pattern that continues on today. In LDS doctrine we teach about the Apostasy cycle, about periods of belief and stagnation. Now, most members would say we are in the Last Dispensation and are therefore immune to apostasy on a church-wide scale. I'm not so sure about that, but to continue on...

Saying "yes, we still have miracles" when they are usually small in scale, or "it's our own fault, because miracles are based on belief and we don't believe as strongly as people used to"... I don't think either of those answers the real question.

Your last sentence caught my eye: "Shouldn't that be the test--not whether we believe in god, but whether we follow him?"

I think that's the rub of it. You know, most people don't experience miracles. Allot of people have faith-building experiences for their various religions, but the full-blown miracle stuff seems reserved for special occasions. Why?

What is the test? Is it even a test at all? Is it that we believe in God? Manifestly not, as you pointed out. If so, humankind would be more damned than all the sons of perdition. What about following God? That's a little more complicated.

In Mormon theology, as you know, we believe in a pre-earth life, where we all lived in God's presence. There was a huge battle, and Satan and those who followed him were cast out of heaven. The rest of us, those who followed God, got the opportunity to come to earth.

Wait a minute, why are we being sent to earth to show that we follow God, if we already fought a huge war about that Very issue? For that matter, why is it that we don't remember any of this? Why do we have a Veil placed over our memories and other senses? Why, if we were these cosmically powerful beings before coming to earth, are reduced to such a pitiful state, subject to disease and starvation and all manner of terrible things? For that matter, why would we have fought for the right to experience all of it?

The point is, I don't think the test is whether we believe in God, or even whether or not we will follow Him. I think we've demonstrated both of those facets already. Faith is powerful, it's an important part of the Gospel, but it's only one of several virtues. It's not even the most important. Thomas, who walked with Jesus, heard from his own mouth the gospel, watched countless miracles... even Thomas didn't believe until he saw for himself. And he was one of the Apostles chosen by Christ. One who reportedly stayed faithful up to his own martyrdom.

The point is not so much belief, or even faith, but creating an environment where both belief and faith are necessary. An environment where doubt thrives, where doubt is the norm. I think the real test is 'doing the right thing, regardless of consequences.' That means not being sure of what the consequences will be, in the end.  That means an atheist has just as much chance at getting into Heaven, based on his actions, as a believer.

That means that sometimes people will do everything right and still have bad things happen to them. That means bad people will prosper. That means that yes, God could show us his existence through fairly constant, major miracles (we don't need a ton... maybe a couple a decade would be nice, right?) and that might even help people to have allot more faith in him, both that he exists and that he is a benevolent being... but that would, in effect, take away our agency, because Of Course we're going to do what an Almighty God says when we've got tons of faith in him and we are sure of being rewarded for our efforts.

One thing that helps me to have faith is to contrast those fairly different viewpoints. Regular Christians, when asked, "Why does God let bad things happen?" they have to say, "I don't know, but I have faith that through Christ everything will be made better." Mormons, if they understand the doctrine, can give a slightly better answer. "I don't know, but I think it will make me a better person, I feel like I've learned allot and will continue to learn allot, and I have faith that through Christ everything will be made better." It makes a difference if you feel you chose to put your hands in the flames, verses being forced to put your hands in the flames. Maybe that's just slightly more sophisticated theology, or maybe having greater understanding, a greater basis for faith, helps you to feel better about things. Either way, though, the core of the answer is the same. "I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it will turn out alright."

On a more personal level, let me tell you how coming out and accepting my gay self has helped me to gain faith. When I first decided to come out, the only examples for positive, long-term gay relationships were found in sitcoms, and even then they often had terrible endings. I had to have faith that, if I were to come out, it would even be possible to form a long-term commitment with someone of the same gender. I had to believe that same-gender relationships were more than lust, as I had been taught. As I have met gay people, I have met more and more same-gender couples that help me to affirm this belief, and I continue to have faith that one day I will find a special someone of my own.

On another, far more difficult level, I had to have faith that my family would still love me after coming out. In this I've failed pretty badly, and yet they still do love me. I still have to have faith, because I still Do believe in the LDS Church, in Jesus, in Apostles and in Revelation. I believe that eventually something will change, and gay people will be able to receive all of the blessings of the gospel, similar to their straight friends and families. Being gay has helped me to jump off the cliff of certainty. And I don't know, but I'm pretty sure things will turn out alright. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Cure for Rejection

Something that has been bothering me lately, is the NEED of men like me to feel loved, wanted... to feel beautiful. I've been trying to figure out why we are so obsessed with "hotness". It's seams shallow, and yet it's almost sad, this eager desire to be desired.

I think it's because, more than most people, we understand and fear rejection. First, our society has been rejecting us for several centuries at least. The religions of our families and friends often place us in the lowest regions of hell. Coming out, we often fear (and rightly so) that our friends will abandon us. We lose in a very real sense the possibility of a "normal" nuclear family with a mommy and a daddy. Complicate that with strain on family ties, sometimes to the breaking point. And those are just the obvious things.

What about the years of denying a core part of yourself? Of feeling at a very young age that their is something wrong with you, and nothing you can do can fix it? Of reviling and denigrating and even loathing yourself? Is it any wonder we are prone to depression, under such self-imposed hatred? Self-rejection can be just as harmful as societal rejection, I think.

Or how about the inescapable fact that most of the people you want to flirt with will never be able to find you attractive? But you can't. Think how wearing that is, to regularly get over people who weren't even capable of falling in love with you. If you're a straight person who fell in love with a gay person, you know what I'm talking about.

So, we know rejection, and that's why we're so adamant about acceptance. We feel awful and shallow for wanting beauty in ourselves and others, because we've never felt admired or handsome.

I've had so many friends express this to me. I've felt it myself. I wish I knew what to say to make that awful feeling of shallowness, of unworthiness and ugliness go away for you.

I feel bad when I say I'm not attracted to you, because I see you accepting it. You "know" you're ugly. Well, guess what, I know I'm ugly, too. On a 10 point scale, I give myself a solid 6, maybe a 7 on my good days. that might sound pretty good, until you realize most young adults are around a 7 anyways. That's not the point. I can still have confidence in my appearance, attractiveness, etc. I don't need to rely on other people to make me beautiful, because I know I am beautiful. Not because I measure up to some ideal of beauty, or because I'm constantly being hit on. You straight guys being hit on by gay guys, take it as a compliment. I wish I got hit on, even if it was by girls. It's flattering.

All growing up, their was one particular teaching of the Gospel that I hated. I didn't like it, and still have trouble with it sometimes. It's this idea that in order to love others, you have to love yourself. See, growing up, I didn't love myself, I hated myself. I still loved others, immensely. In fact, part of the reason I stayed in the closet for so long, long after coming to believe their was no way for me to change or be happy... a big part of the reason was because I didn't want to hurt my family. In fact, that's probably one of the things I most regret about this experience. They're not being fair to me, because, really, I have done nothing to them, but still it hurts that I might in some way cause them pain.

Anyways, loving yourself to love others. This is true, but not in the ways you think it is. It's not that people who hate themselves are incapable of love. But when you hate yourself, when you are so focused inward on what you do wrong, you have very little time to look outward, to help others with what they need. Without feeling whole yourself, how can you reach out to help others?

I'm not saying that people who are hurting should try to fix themselves first, so that they can love others. In fact, I'm trying to say the opposite. In fact, let me put it in big, bold letters.


Not shallow, I will love you because of what you give me, love. No, I'm suggesting that you go ahead and love everyone around you as fully and completely as you can. If that means you fall in love with straight people, go ahead. That doesn't mean you should shower them with gifts of romantic affection. It means you do everything you can to make them happy. Obviously they won't be happy with you, so find what else makes them happy. Don't get creepy on them, lol, but allow yourself to express those feelings, more than just longing furtive glances. Love your opposite-gender friends as no other straight people can, because they let romance color their feelings.

When you allow yourself to love others, when you realize that the kind of love that takes you outside yourself is good, and right, no matter who it's directed at...

When you allow yourself to love others, you will love yourself, and that will allow you to love others even More, and then you can love and forgive yourself even More, and then realize that God loves you, no matter what anyone else says, and then love others More.

It becomes a positive feedback cycle. A much better cycle than the other kind where you hate yourself because you love the wrong people so you don't let yourself love them which makes you hurt so you hate yourself more... see what I mean?

So, let yourself love others, please. God loves you, even if you don't love yourself, even if you don't think you are worthy of love.

I love you, too. Be safe.