Religion serves a purpose, but not the purpose that many in the religion thinks it serves. I’d like for you to consider the following possibility. Just consider it, that’s all.
Let’s talk about the life of a person born to a religion. Mormonism is my religion of choice.
For this thought experiment, let’s pretend that life mirrors the stories that Christianity keeps teaching as though they literally happened. Let’s instead take them as allegory and see if they might be trying to teach us more than a history lesson.
For this experiment, we’ll say that life within the church is life in the Garden of Eden. And we’re going to say that partaking of the forbidden fruit, the knowledge of good and evil, doesn’t happen until you leave the church.
How do you gain a knowledge of good and evil unless you do something evil? And what is more evil than disobeying God and leaving his church?
But wait, there’s more. Isn’t it interesting that the Lord mentions “don’t take that fruit. You can choose, it’s up to you, we fought a war in heaven over agency, but don’t take it, do you hear me?” And that in order to gain a knowledge of good and evil, they had to partake of the fruit. In fact, life didn’t really start for Adam and Eve until they disobeyed God.
So you leave the church, you’re banished from “God” and in that day ye shall die. So this begins your baptism by water. It’s a sort of spiritual death. And that’s important. This is what begins the first resurrection – baptism. You know how baptism symbolizes rebirth? And you’re told it symbolizes the resurrection. And you’re told it also symbolizes you letting go of your old life and taking up a new life, a life in Christ? Ok, great.
Now, let’s get real, 8 year olds aren’t giving up anything. They don’t even know how to sin well. The worst thing most of them have done is touch themselves under the covers at night. Or was that just me? I was convinced it was just me. I’ve always been a heathen. But perhaps leaving the church is the first part of being thrown out of the garden. It’s your spiritual death. The figurative death of the you that you’ve always known. And you start over. You make new friends, you create new beliefs. You adopt a set of selfishness, and you start to learn what agency feels like. You start to discover your true opinions, and you start to appreciate the difference between your preference and what you were always taught you were supposed to do and like.
This could be the first rebirth. And it could be critical in order to understand agency. This is a principle in many religions – and no matter how true a religion might be, it’s generally considered that a child must choose for themselves as they become adults. The Amish try to do this with Rumspringa. Mormons…not so much, they all believe they have choice and agency, but they live in fear of the rejection they’d feel from their neighbors and the wrath of God they’d encounter should they ever start thinking for themselves. (Was that too harsh? A little, I take it back)
Now, the scriptures talk of a second baptism, baptism by fire. This is yet another rebirth, so to speak, but it’s a little less visible than the first.
Now, a lot of people that leave the church celebrate escaping it and they live their new life happily ever after. But there are some that keep searching. Instead of being satisfied living the opposite of what they did before, they reach a point where they create their own beliefs. They may find that they need to express their opinions less and less. That they are confident in who they are. It may be that they even find their own course, a path to meaning, a path to purpose, a path to fulfillment. And many of the principles they were taught as children, may be true to them now. They may find that by losing themselves in the service of others, they find themselves. But it’s different. The motivation is different. They do it not because they’re supposed to, not because it pleases God, or it makes them feel righteous, or it looks good to others; they do it because they want to. They feel the truth of choice inside them. They realize that they really can make any choice they want, and there’s not going to be an eternal Judge waiting for them in the heavens. And once that change happens, then they truly have become Gods. They have no fear of consequence; they act out of choice – willingly. As John Steinbeck puts it, now that they are bad they’re free to do good.
And the key to all of that was exercising their agency. It was disobeying “God” and partaking of the fruit.
Agency and autonomy are two critical, foundational ingredients to self-actualization. Without it, you don’t truly evolve. What good is a man that does the will of God out of fear? Such a man is useless because his choice has already been made for him. But a man that knows he is free to choose, that then chooses to uplift those around him, such a man is fit to be a God and a King. And when you realize that, you can start to see why so many mythologies start with a war in heaven over agency.
When it comes down to it, for many people, it may be the best way to live your religion is to leave it.