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Spiritual Bedrock
 
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Spiritual Bedrock
bob mccue
February 21, 2007
http://mccue.cc/bob/spirituality.htm


 

I was raised in a loving religious community and a few years ago experienced what some people call a loss of faith and others call enlightenment. Perhaps this report from the trenches will be of help to those who have religious “issues”, or wonder what all the fuss is about.

Joseph Campbell, the great comparative mythologist, said that mythology is other people’s religious beliefs. For example, many people believe that "ancestor spirits" are all around us and influence most of what happens in our lives. After chuckling about that, imagine how someone who has never heard about Christianity would react to the Virgin Birth.

Campbell says that to work well mythology does not have to be true – it has to be "comfortable", meaning that it must provide plausible answers within its place and time to the "big" questions, like: where did we come from?; why do we suffer?; and what happens after death? Common beliefs in this regard (some comforting; others terrifying) create powerful social glue. "If you are part of our tribe, you go to a wonderful place after death. Betray our tribe, and you will suffer now and forever."

The more cohesive a culture, the more powerful it historicaly tended to be. Today, however, tribalism of this kind courts disaster.

So, mythologies are full of dogma – ideas that are difficult or impossible to disprove. Ironically, metaphoric truth often hides within dogmatic literalism.

This view of mythology is based on behavioral patterns related to many mythologies, including mainstream religions. But most of us don’t experience religion this way. We are raised to believe that the strong emotions we feel as a result of doing what our religion tells us to do mean that our religious beliefs are true. And having no reason to question this, we don’t. Hence, many people have similar emotional experiences relative to their religions, and attribute those to different (often contradictory) beliefs and behaviors. Think of opposing armies rushing into battle with God’s name on their lips and His blessing in their hearts. Is there a greater oxymormon than "Holy War"?

Recent studies indicate that spiritual experience is real in the sense that while a person perceives herself to be having a spiritual experience the brain does things that brain scientists would expect to produce profoundly moving emotional states.

For example, when we are faced with a situation like the death of a loved one that causes intense anxiety and are provided with relief in the form of a religious belief, the parts of our nervous system that are responsible for arousal and relaxation are sometimes simultaneously activated in a way similar to what occurs during sexual climax. The insight that triggers this wonder is more experienced than learned. This puts belief beyond rational analysis. The same kind of experience can be caused by rejecting one’s religious tradition, creating tension with family and friends as a result, and then giving in to those powerful social forces. The walls created by belief are self reinforcing.

So, religious beliefs are anchored by a combination of ordinary involvement with social groups, and extraordinary experiences related to life's great problems and mysteries. And the beliefs themselves are usually plausible at least relative to their time and place of origin. For example, the idea that a roughly 6,000 year old Earth suffered a Universal Flood as per the Bible at one time made sense.

Once a belief becomes an important part of the glue that holds a social group together, to question it threatens destruction of the group. This might explain the traditional sanction for blasphemy and our instinct to follow social authority.

But at one time, it was blasphemous to question the King’s right to rule. We owe to blasphemers the good fruits of democracy, science and countless other innovations. Dogmatic religious faith and related concepts of blasphemy and the sacred are today foundational to billions of human beings, while often being important tools used by usually well-intended tyrants and con men.

As more reliable forms of knowledge advance, religious dogma slowly moves aside. Remember Galileo. He was pilloried, arraigned before a Catholic Inquisition, and forced to recant under threat of death his heretical view that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

The more authoritarian a religious group, the more resistant are its dogmas to correction, and the more slowly advancing knowledge blesses its adherents.

But while science guides us in many ways, it does not satisfy us. It tells us the hows but cannot address the great whys. These are mythology's realm. We need belief systems whose whys accommodate scientific change, and hence the best hows. Why should we meekly accept what we have inherited? The dogma of every religious group changes. We should purposefully participate in that process.

As Mordecai Caplan put it, “Our responsibility to our forefathers is only to consult them, not to obey them. Our responsibility to our descendants is only to impart our most cherished experiences to them, but not to command them.” ("The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion", p. 98)

Principles like these can become our refiner's fire. They burn away dogmatic dross and sanctify us as we confront the inadequacy of spiritual, political and other ideas that hold us in tribal conflict, tear families apart, and prevent us from embracing life. We will find deeper joy as this understanding causes us to reach into our souls’ depths, toward the spiritual bedrock that underlies all human groping toward god. This joy comes, sometimes, at high price.

Several years ago I realized the inadequacy of my inherited beliefs, and worse, that the leaders of my faith community had systematically suppressed important information about our community's history and social reality. Ironically, I had been a lay leader within this community and had innocently perpetuated falsehood. The information necessary to reach this conclusion had accumulated in my subconscious for years until I reached a tipping point, and was overwhelmed by a vertigo inducing flood of perception. The word “revelation” at that moment took on new meaning for me.

As I tried to decide what to do I experienced nauseating fear that came in declining waves for months. I slept little during that period. I contemplated suicide at darkness' apex. Psychiatrists tell us that this is the landscape many who change longstanding religious beliefs must navigate. Communal roots go deep into our psyches, and hurt like hell as they are wrenched out – like a multiple, simultaneous divorce. Our tendency to catastrophize means that the real relationship trauma we experience is usually not as bad as we anticipate. But many families and long term relationships dissolve as tribal instincts collide with pluralistic reality. The more immature and hence tribal the community, the worse this is. Thankfully, enduring such chaos earns the chance for rare growth.

As I emerged from this terrifying birth canal, I alternated between terror, exhilaration and stability. The first two gradually declined as I habituated to my new eyes and a more expansive social and intellectual world.

Years later I look back on this process with profound gratitude. A miracle rocked my life. The fear of losing family and other important relationships almost prevented the changes on which a new, and far better, life is now founded. A combination of genetic disposition, circumstance and plain old luck caused me to persevere.

During a period of about one year, I learned at a pace I doubt I will never equal. I needed information about reality more than food or sleep. We don’t understand the importance of our most basic beliefs until they dissolve and the ground beneath suddenly opens into the Abyss. As my world began again to make sense and I realized the extent of my new freedom, and what I could share with those I love the most, I was overcome by joy. I would spontaneously tear up every week or two as gratitude welled within me for what I had stunningly come to see and feel.

To be free seems nothing; to become free, everything.

This wild euphoria eventually faded, but my life will never again resemble its former self. To say that I am happier does not capture this. The concept does not run deep enough.

How can I put this? While what follows is inadquate, it is the best I can do.

I am better able to predict how I will feel and otherwise what will happen when I do (or don’t do) things. My expectations are accordingly more realisitic. As a result, I am more compassionate. That is, I am better able to connect with humanity’s diversity and to see my place within it in a realistic fashion.

In this and many other ways, I am better off. But what feels far more important to me is that what I can offer as reasons to embrace life to those I love are so much more reliable than dogmatic (and demonstrably false) beliefs about how to find happiness, how humanity will evolve and what will happen after death.

If we are on a train taking us to a life in the Amazonian rain forest, it is perverse to be taught that we are headed for a resort on the French Riviera and to spend the entire trip preparing for that. Collective delusions, no matter how well-intended, seldom end happily. More importantly, the best fairy tales are no match for reality, whatever it may be.

The best wisdom about reality’s bedrock speaks in terms of probabilities, and invites all with insight to test these. As I have come to understand reality’s complexity on these terms, I feel the awe and respect for all that is that Einstein and many of our greatest scientists and mystics have expressed. Here we find a unifying vision of humankind that, as it comes into focus, helps us mature and overcome our tribal instincts.

Have I found bedrock? Yes, and her names are, ironically, Probability and Mystery. These beauties I passionately embrace.

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The truth will make you free; but first it will piss you off.  Gloria Steinem

 
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bob mcq:
As I emerged from this terrifying birth canal, I alternated between terror, exhilaration and stability. The first two gradually declined as I habituated to my new eyes and a more expansive social and intellectual world.

Years later I look back on this process with profound gratitude. A terrifying miracle exploded in my life. The fear of losing family and other important relationships almost paralyzed me, and prevented the changes on which a new, and far better, life is now founded. A combination of genetic disposition, circumstance and plain old luck caused me to persevere.

During a period of about one year, I learned at a pace I doubt I will never equal. I needed information about reality more than food or sleep. We don’t understand the importance of our most basic beliefs until they dissolve and the ground beneath suddenly opens into the Abyss. As my world stabilized and I realized the extent of my new freedom, and what I could share with those I love the most, I was overcome by joy. I would spontaneously tear up every week or two as gratitude welled within me for what I had miraculously come to see and feel. To be free seems nothing; to become free, everything.

I don't know how many times on this site I have expressed the same sentiment, and it was extremely validating to read this from someone else's experience.  I value my journey out of Plato's Cave more than any other aspect of my development as a human being, with the possible exception of what I have learned as a parent.  But those two great learning endeavors are vastly more important than my college education, and have taught me more about what it truly means to be human than anything I can possibly imagine.

 

You expressed that beautifully, Bob.

bob mcq:

Have I found bedrock? Yes, and her names are, ironically, Probability and Mystery, which I passionately embrace.

For me, I call her "Ambiguity" (Ambi for short...sort of gives her that Playboy/bimbo playfullness).  But fundamentally, I think she is the same.  Which is especially ironic that I would consider "bedrock" to be "ambiguous."  A person could be forgiven for thinking the two are mutually exclusive, but it makes perfect sense to me.

 

The bedrock of my spirituality is wide open.  I have 360 degrees of maneuvarability in the world of wisdom and meaning, something I never had in all my years of belonging to first a Christian and then a Mormon belief system.  Even when I studied Buddhism and Taoism, which were among the first spiritual traditions that introduced me to the wonders of "not knowing," I still felt too constrained by certain dogmas. 

 

I have, like you have, embraced the mystery, and at last have discovered a joy in life I never knew was possible while a believer.

 

How weird is that?

 

Beautiful post....I'm hoping one of the Mods can figure out how to format it so that it shows up with the paragraph breaks that you put in!  (I could see them when I hit the "quote and reply" button, but they weren't there when I read the post.]

 

 

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That was an enjoyable read Bob.  Thanks for your insight
 
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I too have experienced great joy and freedom in the mystery of life now that my mind is free from the Church. This was a great read and it was very well written, thanks !
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Very nicely written!  I really captures what a change it is to leave the church.  I tried to explain how hard it is to leave the church to a Catholic friend...she just didn't get it.  Perhaps I should show her this.
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Bob, thanks for a sobering read and some insights into your journey of freedom.

 

As I reflected on your thoughts, my own musings on my personal path to freedom included my epiphany the Church was being directed by the ultimate Pharisees. A disillusionment at the fundamental nature of the leaders of the Church brought about my own "independence day."

 

The ruling Church elite hide behind family connections and gratuitous restrictions assigned to the membership, but have failed to honor genuine empathy and compassion. Oh, they articulate the correct words in their meetings and conferences most of the time, but their actions and mandates contradict these empty spiritual verbalizations. 

 

Pharisee-leaders box believers in with their position and authority in order to protect a hold on membership and accompanying offerings. However, what is spiritual dedication when it is coerced and guilted---not freely given?

 

Like the Pharisee of old, the Church authorities may be personally wealthy, but their Church is bankrupt of a valiant pursuit of truth, authentic compassion, and selfless love. 

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“Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”
                      -Hypatia of Alexandria

 
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bob mcq:

Have I found bedrock? Yes, and her names are, ironically, Probability and Mystery. These beauties I passionately embrace.

 

Bob,

I love you.  Seriously, I am nursing a little crush on you.  Cerebral types are hawwwwwwwt.

Thank you for this poignant essay.

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~Bella~

 
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I don't love you in the way the Bella is leaning but I do have the utmost respect for your essays on leaving 'Mormonism'. Thanks Bob, if you ever want to start a new religion i.e. Mccue-ism I'm there for you. I have followed your texts from RfM and believe that you, Tal Bachman and Steve Benson could pass yourselves off as a new reformed Godhead. Also I think Dutch would make a good social director for your sect.
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The Church was founded after prophet Joseph Smith left a lucrative career divining for treasure to find the golden plates containing the Book of Mormon, which describes a visit by Jesus to America after He left Jerusalem. Evidently He was ascending to Heaven, got just above the clouds, and took a hard left. - Stephen Colbert

 
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I've just read Bob's essay for perhaps the third time, and truly, I want to respond but find that I just can't.  I see that as a good thing.

 

 

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Bob, some excellent insights for recovery...I guess I'm still in the beginning stages...the hell part...have had suicidal thoughts, acute psychic pain, loneliness, etc. I wondered after I read your post, how many people have broken through the surface like we are doing/have done? How many people muddle on in spite of their doubts? I love your analogy of the pain of being reborn...it hurts almost unbearably but we start to really live once we're free from the constraints of false beliefs. The truth really does set us free, doesn't it? But truth here is, ironically, the acceptance of the Unknown, the Mystery, Ambiguity, etc. And contrary to popular myths, I think the free thinkers are more apt to live conscientiously and deliberately vs. in wanton abandonment, like so many dogmatic groups preach.
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shiblom:
I don't love you in the way the Bella is leaning but I do have the utmost respect for your essays on leaving 'Mormonism'. Thanks Bob, if you ever want to start a new religion i.e. Mccue-ism I'm there for you. I have followed your texts from RfM and believe that you, Tal Bachman and Steve Benson could pass yourselves off as a new reformed Godhead. Also I think Dutch would make a good social director for your sect.

 

I'm not sure how we can leave Bella out of this arrangement considering her last comment to Bob; therefore, I nominate Dutch AND Bella as co-social directors. 

 

 

 

 

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hypatia:

 

 

Like the Pharisee of old, the Church authorities may be personally wealthy, but their Church is bankrupt of a valiant pursuit of truth, authentic compassion, and selfless love. 

 

Well stated, my friend.

 

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mamapajama:
shiblom:
I don't love you in the way the Bella is leaning but I do have the utmost respect for your essays on leaving 'Mormonism'. Thanks Bob, if you ever want to start a new religion i.e. Mccue-ism I'm there for you. I have followed your texts from RfM and believe that you, Tal Bachman and Steve Benson could pass yourselves off as a new reformed Godhead. Also I think Dutch would make a good social director for your sect.

 

I'm not sure how we can leave Bella out of this arrangement considering her last comment to Bob; therefore, I nominate Dutch AND Bella as co-social directors. 

 

 

 

 

 

 I second that suggestion, see I'm locked into the penishood holder being a male.

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The Church was founded after prophet Joseph Smith left a lucrative career divining for treasure to find the golden plates containing the Book of Mormon, which describes a visit by Jesus to America after He left Jerusalem. Evidently He was ascending to Heaven, got just above the clouds, and took a hard left. - Stephen Colbert

 
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Bob

 

 

Your work is excellent. This one was no exception.

 

 

I have read more wise writing in the two years I have been post mormon, than in the thirty I was Mormon. I am grateful for folks like you and many others ( peter-mary one of my favs) who take the time to articulate things which many of us feel but cannot express so eloquently. 

 

 

I have heroes in my life. Many here.

 

Thanks All

 

ft

 

 

 

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It is one’s willingness to become uncomfortable and face the fear that what we might uncover could rock the foundations of our world that will allow us to escape the bonds of Mormonism.

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Bob. Thank you for your insightful post. I am speechless.

 

Your post inspired me to visit your website. What a treasure chest!

Discovering you were a bishop and stake mission president really gives additional understanding to your despair and gained insights.  

 

I will be spending some time reading your essays at your website as well as reading your previous post mo posts. 

 

I also embrace the mystery.

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your journey with us.

 

 
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Harlot:
bob mcq:

Have I found bedrock? Yes, and her names are, ironically, Probability and Mystery. These beauties I passionately embrace.

 

Bob,

I love you.  Seriously, I am nursing a little crush on you.  Cerebral types are hawwwwwwwt.

Thank you for this poignant essay.

 Yes, Bella I agree!

 

Thanks Bob, as always. 

 

 
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bob mcq:


As I tried to decide what to do I experienced nauseating fear that came in declining waves for months. I slept little during that period. I contemplated suicide at darkness' apex. Psychiatrists tell us that this is the landscape many who change longstanding religious beliefs must navigate. Communal roots go deep into our psyches, and hurt like hell as they are wrenched out – like a multiple, simultaneous divorce. Our tendency to catastrophize means that the real relationship trauma we experience is usually not as bad as we anticipate. But many families and long term relationships dissolve as tribal instincts collide with pluralistic reality. The more immature and hence tribal the community, the worse this is. Thankfully, enduring such chaos earns the chance for rare growth.

As I emerged from this terrifying birth canal, I alternated between terror, exhilaration and stability. The first two gradually declined as I habituated to my new eyes and a more expansive social and intellectual world.

Years later I look back on this process with profound gratitude. A miracle rocked my life. The fear of losing family and other important relationships almost prevented the changes on which a new, and far better, life is now founded. A combination of genetic disposition, circumstance and plain old luck caused me to persevere.

During a period of about one year, I learned at a pace I doubt I will never equal. I needed information about reality more than food or sleep. We don’t understand the importance of our most basic beliefs until they dissolve and the ground beneath suddenly opens into the Abyss. As my world began again to make sense and I realized the extent of my new freedom, and what I could share with those I love the most, I was overcome by joy. I would spontaneously tear up every week or two as gratitude welled within me for what I had stunningly come to see and feel.

To be free seems nothing; to become free, everything.

Bob, this is the first time I have read a description of what the whole "awakening" feels like.  "Stark terror" is a phrase that has come readily to mind as I have tried to describe my feelings--primarily to myself, as up until quite recently I knew of no on else who shared my particular circumstances--while contemplating leaving the church.  Being newly born to the whole concept of Life After Mormonism, I thought my experiences of riding the inner pendulum were unique.  

 

I conclude, after being profoundly moved by your story and others I have found here, that there is something innately human about feeling better upon the realization that one does not suffer alone.     

 

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“...How can we have freedom of religion if we are not free to compare honestly, to choose wisely, and to worship according to the dictates of our own conscience? 

While searching for the truth, we must be free to change our mind—even to change our religion—in response to new information and inspiration.” 
Russell M. Nelson,at the International Scientific and Practical Conference “Religious Freedom: Transition and Globolization” in Kiev, Ukraine, 2004

 
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I'm bumping this old thread up to the top because it's another good one.

 

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Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.
- Joseph Campbell

 
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Bumping another old thread up to the top of the list. Click the link below to go to the excellent post by Bob McCue  that started this thread.

 

http://www.postmormon.org/exp_e/index.php/discussions/viewthread/4267/

 

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Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.
- Joseph Campbell

 
       
 


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