*Disclaimer: This is not meant as a serious theological debate, but more as a rumination. Also, I am pretty open in it about things in the past and present. Just a warning.
Alright. So I read this article the other day that someone posted in group on facebook (read it here) and it got me thinking about how happy religion really makes a person. Then yesterday I was chatting with my missionaries and one of them remarked about going inactive after his mission because the happiest people he’s met on the mission have been inactive. I couldn’t help but smile at that remark being that I was one of those included in the statement.
Now, whether he was serious or not (and I would totally support him either way), his remark was an interesting one. Does religion really make you happy? Obviously, it is up to each person to decide what makes them happy, but I think each one of us really needs to take a look at our lives and determine just how happy our current religion or belief system is making us. As you will likely discover the further you read, mine has had its moments.
First I should disclose my religious affiliation. I am Mormon, or better yet, LDS (the church’s full name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints of which Mormon is a nickname given because of The Book of Mormon). My family is all members, my relations are members, and my ancestry has been there since 1834. The LDS religion is deeply imbedded within my heritage. For instance, my ancestors were pioneers who crossed the plains. I grew up in Utah since I was 6, went to and graduated from seminary, served an honourable full-time mission, held various callings, was a faithful hometeacher, etc, etc, etc, all the things a good mormon boy should do.
As a kid, I’d wanted all the things a member should want and have (serve a full-time mission, marry in the temple, have an eternal companion, etc). But after the mission things changed. I still wanted those things, but I developed some new challenges. Well, old experiences made new challenges as an adult. You see I’d always been active, even when I had a boyfriend. But the things I’d experienced as a kid suddenly were much more obvious, i.e. the judging and alienation. All of our friends suddenly wouldn’t hang out with us anymore because we were living ‘in sin’ as the saying goes. Not that they were wrong, but that wasn’t the point. We were trying to be happy, but it was conflicted. We had to hide the relationship from our families and then the ‘friends’ abandoned us (well because of me since I was the evil one who obviously turned him gay or whatever shit they came up with). Top it off with guilt sessions from the bishop and no happiness was found anywhere. I ended up very angry. I was angry at my family, my ‘friends’ (who surely abandoned me nearly the moment I moved), and of course the church. Things were a bit bumpy after I moved to Miami, but after a while my anger abated and within time I was once again in good standing with the church, i.e. worthy.
So what does that mean regarding my happiness? Well I wouldn’t say I wasn’t happy. In a very real way I was. I was good with God. You are always taught that happiness comes through obedience to the commandments and God. So yeah, I was happy. But it came at a cost. I had to repress, to hide a part of myself. I even went so far as self-loathing. I prayed to God that he would make me 100% straight. I was willing to give up my musical and writing talents just to only like girls. While I was ‘happy’, I was still very much in a dark place. It wasn’t until I actually felt dark whilst praying about it that I finally stopped this destructive habit. I had to learn to completely love every part of myself, but I still wasn’t comfortable enough with being ‘out.’ In religion you are taught that being LGBT is bad (since most supposed religious people can’t distinguish the difference between ‘being’ and ‘acting on desires’). Because of this (and other experiences) I was afraid of letting others know of my ‘otherness.’
Despite this, Miami taught me a lot about myself, about trusting others, and trusting God. We don’t know what is planned for our lives. While I was ‘happy’ on a spiritual level, I was slowly learning how to be happy on a personal level. I quickly was able to learn to love myself completely. Every part of me. I love my bisexuality, regardless of what other people think. Without it, I would not be who I am today. It is a small part of my whole. Religion didn’t teach me that though. Religion doesn’t teach anyone that. I had to learn it on my own. I had to learn to love myself, on my own. Religion (especially Christianity) is all about loving other people (at least that is what it is supposed to do), but how many times have you ever heard it preached to love who you are? Very rarely, if at all. It teaches that we need to cast off the natural man and become like God, i.e. perfect. But perfection is unattainable. How happy does that really make you knowing that what you aim for can only actually be attained in the afterlife if you are worthy enough for it in this life? (yes ask yourself that). I believe that before you can even consider perfecting yourself, you need to first love yourself, including your weaknesses.
So I learned to love myself and be happy with the lot I’d been given in life. And for a time I was. At least I believe I was. I had amazing friends, a good job, and I felt totally blessed. But that was on the surface. Things inside me were not quite so placid. You see, this part of me that I had been trying to hide just didn’t want to stay hidden. I’m no good at wearing masks and being superficial. So for the past six years I have been trying to force into hiding my attraction to boys so I could be good with the church and thus good with God. I tried not thinking about how hot that boy was, remembering how it felt to kiss a boy, or how it felt to be in love and lost in the arms of that person. I prayed for strength everyday to combat this side of me that was not a part of God’s plan. Eventually I was worthy again and I thought I was happy, but life’s timing has a funny way of changing things.
Cue anger. This time, only against the self-righteous members in Utah. I decided to stop going to church in December 2012 because I was no longer happy. I was lonely, always felt on the outside, and was tired of having to hide. Repression only takes time until it destroys you from the inside. Well I didn’t stop at that point, but I did end up not going anymore as of about May 2013.
It was then that I began sensing real happiness come into my life. I quit hiding. I finally came out to my parents due to the prodding of my little bro (who was on his mission in Brazil) and the stress from that just melted. Then I finally made the leap to letting myself date a man again. It was a bit of a challenge in the beginning as I didn’t know how my housemates would react to it, but never have four active, mormon (straight) men been so overwhelmingly supportive and loving. My soul felt at ease and I felt happiness the likes I had never felt before. I didn’t feel wicked. I felt happiness and love surrounding me. Mike, Hong, John, and Omar, and on top of them Olivia, Sam, and Don blew me away with their love and support for me/us. Their Christlike love gave me hope.
And then I moved to England. I haven’t been to church the entire time I’ve been here. But I have developed a relationship with the missionaries who I love with my whole heart. There have been four so far and they have been amazing. I haven’t been living all the principles of the religion I grew up in, but I am happy. Really happy. Honestly happy. Not because I’m not going to church or following a specific religion, but because I have found a deeper relationship with God by not surrounding myself with other religious people. That may not make sense to anyone else but myself, but that is why I believe inactive members are more happy. It isn’t because they’ve suffered through religion. In my opinion it is because they have omitted the institution from their lives and instead took what they learned and are following their own paths to God and happiness.
I firmly believe that God wants every one of his children to be happy. The challenge comes in determining how. Only you can decide what truly makes you happy. Not just happy temporally or momentarily, but also happy on a more spiritual and eternal level. It’s time to be honest with yourself. If the religious path you are on truly does make you happy, then you keep doing what you’re doing. But if not, take a moment and figure out what is making you unhappy. I wish I had figured mine out a decade ago. I wish I hadn’t let my fear control me. It only brought pain and suffering to myself that I had to deal with alone. But I’m not alone anymore and feel so much more at peace with the world and my Heavenly Father who I know loves me unconditionally.
So, does religion make you happy?