In this Aug 16, 2008 talk I was asked to participate in a THIS I BELIEVE session at the Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium. I was one of, I believe, six speakers who were tasked with illuminating . . . well, what we believe.
I was pretty pleased with how this turned out, even though my delivery includes a lot of pursing of lips. What was that all about? Nervousness?
“What if the wheel [of religion] itself is unnecessary? I believe in daily giving myself and others permission to abandon religion.”
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In 1992 I moved from the religion of my childhood, to the religion of my ancestors. But I would come to believe that jumping spokes was only a lateral move. All spokes are required to hold the wheel of religion intact with God at the center. But what if the wheel itself is unnecessary? What if the wheel has become destructive?
I believe in daily giving myself and others permission to abandon religion.
Giving up religion opens a space for me and I believe for society where enlightenment and meaning unencumbered by dogma and division can potentially emerge. For example, even though I have rejected the idea of a priesthood, I believe that my recurring, spontaneous blessings to my off-to-school grandson in which I use the word “Melchizedek,” have become a unique expression of meaning and intimacy for both Josiah and me.
I admit that giving up a religious system has robbed me of the instant sense of belonging to a community. But when I was religious, belonging seemed to rely more on elevating a system to a higher place than it did on facilitating spiritual growth. At church, I never really got to decide who or what I was going to commune with let alone serve.
Despite having abandoned religion, I believe that its icons are an important cultural vein from which I mine the history, the sensibilities, the imagination and the literature which I value. In short, religion’s effects often play a vital part in the language of my emerging soul.
The residuals of my religion are mysterious and they are powerful because
they are utterly contingent upon my experience and my interpretation. Although it is time for me to abandon the cathedrals, the synagogues, the mosques and the temples, I believe that once I do I can then re-enter them as I enter my past, with appreciation, yes, but also with enough of a distance to be empowered rather than imprisoned by them. Most importantly, I believe one doesn’t have to be religious to be a Mormon.
I try to leave the church’s dusty, poisonous imperatives behind like Father Lehi left behind Jerusalem, imperiled by stasis . I put the potu above my nose, the kippah on my head, the holy garment on my body as a reminder of what I am rejecting, of what has been re-interpreted. And I aspire to gift the same time and money as I did before, but with greater commitment. I commit to my community, to the good of the collective and to my God. Every time I am inspired to action I am reminded of, in the parlance of my past, that “faith without works is dead.” Faith is better, I believe, without religion.
Still, I find the old stories worthy of re-telling, the old hymns worthy of being sung because they hint at who I am and, again, give language to my emerging soul.
I believe in giving you and me permission to abandon religion even as we claim our Mormonism.
[This talk was delivered at the 2008 Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, UT. Copyright, David G. Pace, 2010 ]