Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Temple Square and Why I'm not a Mormon - Temple Square Area - Salt Lake City, Utah - September 7th, 2014

       It's been a while since I've explored my reasons for not believing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and why I don't think I could ever rejoin. The last post I did that explored my story was this one here:, and a lot of still stands though I didn't really go into the details behind the why and what I meant by behind certain things like the racism and sexism and the historicity issues. 

     With those post I don't mean to offend, but I'm not going to lie. This was my first time going and exploring Temple Square since I was a little kid and it was here that really captured a lot of the pros and cons of the Mormon Faith for me. Obviously the cons outweigh or else I'd be a member, so I'll tell about my experiences of revisiting the Mormon Mecca here. 

    My friend lives right next to Temple Square and after visiting the Greek Festival I decided coming here would be a good way to both see how the Church tells it's own story and through that illustrate my reasons for why I don't believe in it. Much like the articles posted around Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, Temple Square is the Thesis Statement of the Mormon Church that explores how it sees itself. 

     The first place we reached was the home of Brigham Young, this is a guy who had some similar problems to Joseph Smith as he took a bunch of wives (some of whom already had husbands in Joseph Smith's case or were young (14 or younger) like Aisha and Muhammad) and believed it was his right because he was a Prophet to do so. He was pretty racist towards African and Native Americans too.

     After Brigham Young's home we reached the area where the Church Office is and the Joseph Smith memorial building. The area was beautiful, but the the memorial building was closed on Sunday. 

       One very positive thing about this area is how green it is. There are lots of flowers and trees and it really is a beautiful area, there is another side to this too, which I'll get into further down. The area itself reminded me of a greener Vatican actually, in more than a few ways. Came here with my cousin when I first moved here and I do love how pristine and beautiful the location is. 

     The next place we visited was the North Temple Visitor Center. It was here it had the brief history of the 40 years it took to build the Temple and showed a small miniature house of it too. One of the reasons I couldn't be a Mormon is actually the existence of the Temple, much like how non-Muslims aren't allowed in Mecca, non-Mormons aren't allowed in the Temple and for me it is difficult a God would be that exclusive. More often than not exclusivity leads to isolation of perspective which makes it difficult to see where others may be coming from because if you have the exclusive truth than everyone else must be wrong...and when it comes to religion that claim is more often than not something based on faith which can't be proven with evidence by it's very nature.  

       After we found a video of some of the current President/Prophet's talks and one of the ones we listened was great until it got into theology. It basically covered everyday things that are important, like honesty and integrity. It was once the Bible and Book of Mormon were quoted that it felt like a non-sequitur argument. Also the Family Proclamation on the wall was a pretty big "Only Certain Families are Welcome" thing as it excludes Gay families and the sheer diversity of families from re-marriages and divorces, poly, and single parents raising children or existing as a couple. This is sad as there is so much beauty that can exist in these relationships and that it matters less the type of family it is and more the character of a family. A couple being a straight couple does not make them good, they could be abusive or have any other types of problems. Just because people can have kids, does not make them good parents. I hope someday this proclamation can be expanded to include all families and have more focus on character rather than family make-up as this proclamation is part of what fed the homophobia against LGBTQ folks in the U.S. and lead to the funding against Gay Marriage in California and elsewhere in the U.S.A. 

     The other issue I have is tied to not seeing any evidence on any person being able to have otherworldly powers or predict the future. Because of this I don't believe in the existence of prophets in any religion, though certainly open to the possibility. 

      Afterwords we visited The Assembly Hall which is a place for non-members to come and worship, I am glad this place exists as it is one of the more areas of simple beauty on Temple Square and it isn't big or large like most of the other buildings on the premise...and it is an area that welcomes all, which is good, even if it doesn't have the same significance of the Temple. The inside is simple with an organ, wooden seats with the most ornate thing being granite pillars inside the Hall. 

      Our next stop was the Church History Museum. First I'll go into the good, it showed the struggle of a lot of the immigrants who came across the plains and oceans to get to Utah for religious freedom. What it doesn't say though is how there were people already there. The natives are only mentioned as Lamanites the 13th Tribe of Israel (historically inaccurate, Native American's don't have any Jewish genes) and how Jesus came and preached to them. This is shown later on the floor on the top level where Joseph Smith is shown preaching to the natives. It has an imperialistic feel to it as the warrior natives look frightened as Smith and another preach, this was disturbing on a lot of levels because it showed the racism and justification of both Manifest Destiny (Zion is ours on this Land) and Imperialism (educating the sinful natives and saving them from the wrongs committed by their ancestors). The issue of polygamy (saying it's right and God wants it and after saying it's wrong and God doesn't want it), racism (Black's exclusion from the Priesthood for a long time) or the Mountain Meadows Massacre (Mormon Settlers targeting other Settlers and attempting to frame the Native Americans in the process) are never addressed either, it's a very idealized picture that does a disservice to the First People's of Utah and the complex history of the Church (the darker sides are never dealt with). The Vatican was very similar in regards to not showing the darker side of the Catholic Church's history which I wish more religions did...confessing the problems of your past up front does solve some issues as it shows integrity and with that a possible willingness to learn from the lessons from those mistakes.  

    I think one interpretation we may see and might currently exist among some believers of the Book of Mormon is it all being mythology and symbolic. Similar to the Old Testament and more fantastical events of the New Testament. If this catches on it could be a step in the right direction in relation to the Native Americans here and the actual history of this place. 

      The next place we went to were the Church grounds, which are beautiful and right near is a covered patio with chairs, a great area for reading. Right next to it would be part of what I see as the problem both in the Vatican and other Churches too. The homeless are kept out. 

    If you look across from Temple Square you see City Creek, where the church invested a lot of it's money. Just outside the gates is a homeless man. I heard from my friend the Church does provide a service where homeless can work for lodging and food, but I haven't seen it (though I know individual members who do care for the poor and other groups in need). Everywhere in the city I've seen the poor being cared for by religious organization are the Catholics (the area near Cathedral of the Madeline, Catholic Community Service in Old Greek Town and The Virgin of Guadalupe Church in the poor area of Salt Lake City). I haven't seen any of that, looking out the door I saw tons of money that was poured into City Creek. The Orthodox Church had businesses endorsing an event, but the Church didn't own any of the businesses. The Mormon Church owns City Creek, which is good publicity, but all one has to do is see how the poor are being kept out for image and how much money was poured into a mall, also in regards to the Trinity Orthodox Church visit, I saw no charities or food banks in regards to the poor in Utah, it was more more focused on self and not self in relation to the outside, which for me is a problem if religion is supposed to make one better. 

     I'm sure the Church provides services, but I haven't seen them in the areas that need it the most and Temple Square feels less welcome to all when a homeless man has to beg outside the kind of promotes the exclusivity problem. 

     If you've been reading the blog you know where I stand on equality of leadership in any organization (a person's sex should not bar them from leadership positions in any hierarchy) and the matter of Gay Rights. These are the biggest reasons beyond my agnosticism of the Supernatural and the historicity of the Book of Mormon and Bible for why I could not become a Mormon. I do have hope that these things will be dealt with as time passes, as in the case of Gay Rights especially there are consequences, there are many homeless gay youth on the streets because of how they have been rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation. There are people and families excluded for who they are. How does that make any sense in reference to a loving higher power? This is hardly just a problem in Mormonism, my biggest issues are pretty universal in most conservative religious communities, but this was my visit to the Temple Square area and visit the locations and my chance to explore it in regards to Mormonism first hand.

Native American Genetic Ancestry:

Joseph Smith:

Brigham Young:

Mormon Church and Marriage Equality:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Salt Lake City Greek Festival - Trinity Orthodox Church - Salt Lake City, UT - September 7th, 2014

 Since moving to Utah I have not attended any festivals until today, and it was worth it. I'm doing this for the religious blog both because of what my friend I discussed while here and the fact that it has been the Trinity Orthodox Cathedral Community that has been hosting these events for over 30 years. Suffice to say much like religion, the experience was mixed. 

     I arrived at the event earlier than my friend and grabbed food, while here I had the chance to observe what was going on during the event. There tons of dance troupes that were on a stage in the large tent that hosted most of the folks there and many of them were named after Greek Gods (Dionysus Dance troupe for example). This is where I saw for a lot of the Church community history and legends are just as important as the faith from the Middle East (Christianity) that most of Greece is now. 

   I also saw how many different vendors had taken hold which after hearing a conversation between two old men has been at least somewhat of a controversy between some members of the group. Which is understandable, community is created and the event brings in lots of money for the local Greek Families and the Church but it also brings a corporate sell out feel when you have Bud Light stands and commercials right next to a Church and are selling jewelry in items when that was what pissed Jesus off in the New Testament with the money changers in the Church. So I get both sides on this debate. 

     Next I ran into the monument that was made in honor of sixteen Greek migrants who had died in their helping build the railroad through Utah, which was part of what brought many of the first immigrants here to Salt Lake City. I'd see more of this history in the Church's Hellenistic Museum after going through Trinity Cathedral.

     Trinity Orthodox Cathedral is a beautiful place, and there a lot of members there to answer questions, which I didn't really have since there were so many papers around that gave the perspective of the Church. For one I saw the "One True Church"^tm that pervades most religious communities as there was a flyer that showed how the One True Holy Apostolic Church has a straight line that doesn't branch through the Orthodox Church, but that things branched and kept on branching with the Roman Catholic Church into the reformation showing that they didn't have the right idea. I always find this a bit disturbing and intriguing since the events of the Bible are so sketchy historically that I don't see how the tradition can justify itself except through making and believing the claim, regardless of the questionable circumstances and events of the life Jesus and the early Church.  I talked about this with my friend when she arrived at the event and we grabbed coffee in the cafe that had been created next to the Church and Church Museum. 

     It was here we discussed religious fanaticism, our agnosticism on the supernatural and are questioning of organized religion. This quote by Carlin pretty accurately discussed our problems of people in groups which (looking at news and the communities we interact with) show how religion tends to make this problem worse. 

“The larger the group, the more toxic, the more of your beauty as an individual you have to surrender for the sake of group thought. And when you suspend your individual beauty you also give up a lot of your humanity. You will do things in the name of a group that you would never do on your own. Injuring, hurting, killing, drinking are all part of it, because you've lost your identity, because you now owe your allegiance to this thing that's bigger than you are and that controls you.”

― George CarlinLast Words

   After the festival we went to Temple Square and the locations there (and the Mormon Church History Museum) which will be a post for another day...since that one has much more to cover than this one and goes into more detail on why I left the Mormon Church and would find it pretty impossible to rejoin.  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Importance of Character - City Church - Sandy, UT - August 31st, 2014

    My experience at City Church was mixed. There were things that were great about it (a bit of the sermon and the music) and things that weren't (tithing, tithing, tithing and argument from Authority). I'll get into it more later in the post.

    City Church is pretty close to Saint Thomas More Catholic Church, which made the drive there pretty easy. Once there I found that the area was pretty spacious and that the main area where the sermons take place looked like a performance venue. 

   The service kicked off with an add, and the add wasn't too bad. They said they were a lot about Jesus, weren't perfect (all churches need this disclaimer) but that they're willing to grow (maybe true?). After this there were three Christian Rocks songs that were pretty good and after an announcement video by the pastor. Way too much talking about the Church and donating to it, that was the the entire middle portion before the Lead Pastor's sermon. At least some of that money is going to service work in Guatemala though and service work in the area, so that was a plus in a mostly bad introduction to it. The church is also moving locations so that was talked about too. 

   Finally the sermon. What I liked about it was the emphasis on character, that people notice if you are good at what you do since that was why Joseph got promoted by Potiphar, the Warden and the Pharaoh. He was good at working and noticed attention to detail. In the story the pastor said this was true until Joseph advocated for himself and pointed out the how unjust it was that he was in prison for a crime he didn't commit and that he was sold into slavery. The pastor said God punished him for depending on the Butler whose dream he interpreted to rescue him rather than counting on God. In the story this makes sense, since God is a horrible person in the Old Testament who only values loyalty, when in reality a person has to advocate for themselves to reach their goals. Life generally doesn't hand you rewards, opportunities pop up, but they can only really happen with action...which is what Joseph did with the Butler. 

      The idea about character being noticed, being positive, not lying, working hard...these things can be rewarded depending on circumstances so I'd say this was a pretty good universal lesson. The idea of God providing everything (a deity with personality taking action in the world) doesn't quite hold up. Which is why the story works well as a metaphor and lesson on patience and forgiveness (Joseph forgiving his brothers at the end) but when it comes to a God or Gods, the fact that it is unknown doesn't really give a basis for me to take action for it. Also the Old Testament God is not a being worthy of worship given the things that orders the Israelites to do for their enemies and it's lack of love for it's own creations.

      The sermon ended with the pastor calling to take Jesus into one's heart. I really don't like when pastors do this. It's like a way of pressuring someone to believe something that there isn't concrete evidence for either way and effectively allowing the pastor power over the individual. Besides the money, and God should be followed because God (argument from authority and circular reasoning problem), it was mixed. The theme of character was a good and important lesson though. 

Christ and the Ego - St. Thomas More Catholic Parish - Salt Lake City, UT - August 31st, 2014

     Today was a day that captured a lot of the good that can happen in religion, and Christianity specifically. Both came from expected and unexpected sources. I started out the day with a visit to Saint More Catholic Church, it is one of the easiest for me to visit, since they have a lot of service times and are really close to my house. This was good since I'd be spending time with family later. 

     The church is beautiful, it is surrounded by trees and has an interesting design, it's like a pyramid almost and has a school right next to it. The building was packed and I was lucky to find a seat in the back. When I arrived the Hallelujahs began, confession and the readings...which were the same as Saturday based around carrying the cross for Jesus and giving ones own desires up. What I noticed this time though in the Matthew reading were the similarities to Eastern thought. 

   Depending on the interpretation, and I'll be taking that Eastern philosophy interpretation in this post. Jesus wanted the apostles to put their own desires aside and to be as he was. It was similar to the Buddha and the giving up of possessions. He also calls Peter Satan when Peter says he wants him to stay around. Whether Jesus saw the Crucifixion coming or not this line is good at establishing that his teachings were bigger than him as well as his actions. Which makes sense why his followers would see him as God later. How Satan was used here too was as the ego, don't remind me of the things that make me want to live for me...let me live for others, which you should do too. Here God is like Enlightenment, complete understanding and perfect action. 

     Of course this was taken literal, and though I don't agree with that interpretation if it brings you to good action in the world than do it. If you take inspiration from an undefined outside source, than I am happy for you...if it leads you to do good. Which it clearly has done for quite a few people throughout time and up to current day. 

    Late I would head to City Church in Sandy which would have a different theme that is universal while also emphasizing the second interpretation of Jesus as a deity. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why I Don't Believe in Original Sin - Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church - Sandy, UT - August 30th, 2014

  Now that the blog is back, time to explore some of the issues that the visits bring up. Issues usually being the theme of the Mass or service and analyzing the thesis statement of the sermon. Before I get into that though. Blessed Sacrament really is a beautiful church, I arrived early today for the church visit so explored the grounds again and found more Mary statues, one of which was in a garden. The day was beautiful as well and not too hot. 

    When I arrived at the Mass I found the parking lot pretty crowded. Inside the church it was as well. It was largely made up of older folks with one or two families present before the music began. The Mass also started ten minutes later because two of the ministers didn't show, which annoyed the priest who was doing the sermon understandably. 
     We all stood, there was a song about being the City of God, the "Peace be with you," "and with your spirit." Call and response...the readings which were based around Jesus asking his followers to deny themselves in order to be like him and to follow him. I'll get into this more in the analyzing of the sermon. 

        The sermon was  based around why Jesus is needed. That humanity's sin at the beginning was infinite so needed an infinite sacrifice to atone. The priest followed it up on why there was the Sacrament of Atonement and the Sacraments in order so that we can be saved through God. 
      How can any finite action go on infinite? This seems to be the basis of original sin, and part of why I don't believe it. Is it right to punish a child because one of his parents was a murder? This is basically the actions we see take place in the Bible and the psychology behind the atonement. 
     The idea of the atonement that I also have is how it allows a get out of jail free card. You could be a psychopath or serial killer, but if you accept Jesus in the end, you are okay. The saving through grace and belief really doesn't involve much work if it is taken just at it's word. 

     I am at the point now, where humans overall and throughout history have done a lot of terrible things to each other. They have also done good too. I don't see how paradise or Hell is really just either way and that the legitimate problems of murder and rape aren't really dealt with... 

    The final thing is on the denying oneself for God. What is being denied? For many Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other communities...this means if you are Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Queer or otherwise, denying your love for your partner. This isn't healthy and is in no way good. It has real effects on people and is being done for reasons that can only be justified by claiming the supernatural (of which there is always the possibility of - The Supernatural - but no concrete evidence). This can also happen in regards to women in leadership roles as if she is a good leader and would be able to lead, is kept from it by men quoting scripture and asking her to deny her pride. How is this just or good? These are a few of my big issues with the denying self issue and how it is tied to sin. 

    Sin I guess is the final thing...again, I don't think humans are good or bad. We're very much a mixture...but sin assumes we were once perfect or that a perfect human has existed. I haven't seen that. Even the character of Jesus as he's written isn't perfect. He gets angry, he's violent and not to the killers and rapists...but to merchants. He also only ever calls a women by their name once. He certainly did a lot of good, and was most likely a mad sage who may or may not have been divine, if in fact the divine exists. For me, where I am inspired the most from Christianity isn't in the mythos of Original Sin, Virgin Birth, the Resurrection or even Jesus's miracles...for me the inspiration is in the actions that we can see as good, in the words that were good. Giving to the poor, turning the other cheek and the times the stories actually inspire the followers to do good. The Desmond Tutu's of the world like my friends who are in the priesthood in the Episcopal and Catholic Church, etc. and my friends and family who I see living that action. 

     I can't believe because of the issues surrounding the unproven Supernatural as well as some of the things that I don't think are ethical (treatment of Gays and women in some sects), but I do still find inspiration in some of the stories, especially when they are taken as stories and not reasons to persecute or as fact...and for the times when it does inspire equality and fighting for the persecuted and the poor.     

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Baby Blessing for Step-Niece - Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - Butler West 33rd Ward - August 3rd, 2014

     First, it has been a while since I've done the blog. I plan to change this, as there are many places I want to see in Utah before I go, and there are still the big moments that happen in the religious context, even if I myself am agnostic on matters of religion. I definitely plan on doing some more reconnecting with folks and churches I've visited...especially as my work schedule opens up making it easier. So, what is it that brings back the blog? My amazing step-sister having a baby! 
  \ \
     There seems to be three things that bring people together in the large community context...a birth or a child, a marriage or a death. This time I'm happy to say it was a sweet baby who I feel lucky is a part of my life. 

     My time in the Church was actually pretty short, I left during communion since I'm not a Mormon and was pretty exhausted from waking up early and the party that was thrown to honor the baby that early afternoon, but I came for my step-sister and her amazing husband their baby. When I arrived a fairly political baby blessing was going on (you will spread the word of God and be an example to the world of the True Gospel), which reminded me of what I don't look forward to in my visits to the more conservative church communities and later was my Step-Brother-in-Law's blessing for his and my Step-Sister's baby.
    The blessing was beautiful. It was a tying to the past to the future in the best way possible. Their baby girl was named for both their grandmothers. For the first name it was my step-sister's grandmother, and for my step-brother-in-law it was his grandmothers...and the blessing was focused and I'd say focused on the core good. It was about being a good person and example to family and inspiration to community. This was great to hear as it encapsulated a father's hope as well as recognizing the freedom of the child's choice and the village it would be a part of. 

   Whether the baby is biological or adopted, the importance of raising a child cannot be ignored, which is one reason recognizing all loving couples is so important. When a couple is accepted and loved they have even greater support for themselves and any children they might have or adopt regardless of sexual orientation or the amount of people in the relationship. This is the beauty that can come out of a community...religious or otherwise, helping raise and care for a child and why I think it is so important to recognize and appreciate all caring families. For the couple and whatever child there maybe. For today was proof of that. Divorce, Sexual Orientation, Race...these are are things that have no bearing on how good a person is and the fact is, all children, regardless of parents are the future.   

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Evening Meditation - Salt Lake Buddhist Temple - Salt Lake City, Utah - May 14th, 2014

        It has been a while since I've visited a non-Christian denomination for the blog. This visit was well overdue. I'm glad I did it too, and plan on visiting again. The Salt Lake Buddhist Temple hosts meditation classes every Wednesday with different teachers. The style isn't from the sect of Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu) that hosts the meditation classes, but all the members of the class are members of the Temple or were new like me.

     First, I should mention I've always related to Buddhism as a philosophy. The whole attachment leads to suffering is spot on, as well as living right action being the best way to live. The philosophy is great at growing discipline which is something I hope to continue to develop.
     When I arrived we did introductions before beginning the silent meditation. Silent meditations are in my opinion one of the best and most difficult meditation types. Visualization can keep the mind active, but to clear the mind and have it remain clear more often than not, needs silence.

    It is difficult. I try to meditate a little everyday, but usually don't last more than 10 minutes, this meditation lasted for 20 and during it I felt my mind beginning to think and analyze before I quieted again by counting my breath like the man hosting the meditation had advised. I also felt occasional itches and anytime I moved my arms to get comfortable felt being taken out of the silence again. The whole process was letting go. If I felt a certain way (the itching, thinking mind and analyzing my own thoughts when mind should be clear), letting it go. It was a quite relaxing process and afterwords I felt energized and relaxed.

    After the meditation we discussed our experiences. From looking at self from the outside (visualizing is what one person said), falling asleep, or letting go. It was a great experience. Myself and a few others had opened our eyes once and from that we talked about how community or Songha in Buddhism helped set the intention to continue rather than leaving or doing something else (like what would be more likely to happen if doing it alone). The discussion also covered different ways people have tried to change or alter their state of mind. It was cool since a few of the folks their were psychiatrists. It was during this discussion to that I learned that this meditation has a different person host it every week and with it a different way meditation is tackled or practiced. We also discussed the similar mysticism bent that most faiths have a branch of before doing some whirling from Sufism.

   Mysticism at its best is ethics in practice. Since "Do no harm" and looking in at ourselves in relation to others seems to be the basis of most mystic traditions. Rarely do you find mystics condemning outsiders to Hell. Hell if it ever is brought up is the Hell we experience in this life not some metaphysical eternal place of punishment. 

     I haven't whirled since high school when I visited the Seattle Dervishes with the Interfaith Voices of Youth group I was a part of (and when they visited our Interfaith Festival at Eastshore Unitarian Church). The experience was great and also a wonderful way to clear the mind and simply be. After we all talked again and I made friends with the man who had hosted, after the whirling we discussed the experience of it and what had brought us to the event. It was wonderful and an experience I look forward to repeating again and bringing into my life more fully.