Religion and Happiness

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_Kishkumen
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Religion and Happiness

Post by _Kishkumen »

Personal Narrative of Leaving Mormonism
So, it was a huge relief to me when I quit going to church. I bristled at listening to all of the pro-Republican testimonies, the biblical literalism, and the "pay, pray, and obey" messages. And, yes, that stuff was present on a pretty regular basis. That said, there were other things about it that I missed. This was, after all, the community I grew up in. It was familiar. I had plenty of good memories from my time as an active LDS person.

What happened? Over time I learned more. I learned about LDS history. Increasingly, things were not making sense. Moreover, I chafed against what I saw as an intrusive LDS priesthood and an increasingly sanitized, dull, and lifeless religious community.

So, when my wife handed me her temple recommend, I was frankly just relieved. I wasn't enjoying going, but I wasn't going to drag her out against her will. When she decided to read all of the books I had long recommended, and, as a result of reading them, discovered how untenable Mormon beliefs were, she, being much more decisive than I am, was fed up and called it quits.

Religion and Happiness for Ex-Mormons, Mormons, and Everyone Else
So, are ex-Mormons who have made their decision to leave the church honestly happier to be out? I believe they are. So, when we read or hear about members arguing that religion makes people happier, that people would be happier staying LDS, it sounds offensive. It does not mesh with our experience, and it sounds like more of the same old denigration of apostates.

But, I think, if we step away from the personal aspect of this and look at things more objectively, we have to admit that the argument that religion, generally speaking, could make people happier is not a ridiculous argument. So, when we hear Mormon scholars and apologists make such arguments, we can react more realistically to what is being argued.

There is a good deal of science backing up the position that religiosity and participation in religious communities is healthy for human beings. We may not resonate with that in our personal experience, because many of us spent so much time being miserable in these communities and we have a difficult time accepting that, on the whole, the majority of people might be better off as active church goers/practitioners/vel sim.

Mind you, I am not saying this stuff is proven. We are really in a kind of scientific infancy stage when it comes to understanding religion and its impact on individuals and communities. But, if we want to be honest about where the science is, and not simply react as though we are personally affronted when LDS apologists say, "See, you should stay Mormon, the science shows this is a beneficial lifestyle," we need to acknowledge that there is an argument to be made for what they are saying. Don't be irrational in the face of an argument that hurts your feelings.

In my household, we say to our kids that we are a "reality based family." That's because we have chosen to go with the evidence. On the whole, this works for us, because we can manage a variety of issues regarding science, the world, honesty, politics, all in one fell swoop. But this is something people have to work at, and it is not necessarily always the thing that will make people feel sunny.

I am not a cognitive scientist, but it is my understanding that reason is, for most people, an acquired skill. And, it is also my understanding that people who have a better grasp on reality are often not the people who are most hopeful and optimistic. Realism and depression go hand in hand. On the other hand, unrealistic optimism can help people forge ahead and take risks they might not otherwise, knowing the real odds, undertake.

On the level of society, it helps large groups stick together if members of those groups share a set of beliefs. Identity and group integrity are policed according to adherence to these somewhat arbitrary beliefs. Those who confidently assert their conviction in these things tend to be rewarded by the group for doing so. Success follows unrealistic adherence to bogus ideas. It simply does.

What does this mean for those of us who do not want to live by views we find false and counterproductive? What does this mean for those of us who want to lead "fact-based lives." Well, we are fighting an uphill battle, and it may very well be that we will lose. We could very well be facing our own mass extinction and the rendering of this planet uninhabitable. I don't know this for an absolute fact, but in my view things do not look good.

This makes it doubly infuriating to watch people spout nonsense and get rewarded handsomely for doing so. I feel this way all the time. But, here's the thing, if we are honest with ourselves about the human organism and the way of various species that pass a certain threshold of success in their environment, we need to at least contemplate the possibility that things are going exactly as we should expect them to. It may be that the majority of human beings, acting on their natures, will smile as they walk us collectively off a cliff. And there won't be a damned thing we can do about it.

A person of faith reading this will likely say, "Wow, what a dark view you have; I wouldn't want your perspective for anything." And, I can smile at them and say, "No doubt!" Maybe reality is not sunny. Or maybe being fact-based does not necessarily mean I will be optimistic, hopeful, and full of good cheer. If a learned religious person wants to argue that people are happier being religious, that may well be true. I don't know. I don't need to be angry that it may be true. I have no reason to be sour about the fact that being reality based is not conducive to my success and happiness as a member of my own species.

Then again, perhaps, in the larger scheme of things, people who are not sunny and decide to jettison nonsense in their lives have a role to play in the species too. Perhaps we should expect not to be in the majority, and to be ridiculed by people who believe in fairies, magic, and unicorns, ironic as that is. Maybe those who believe in fairies, magic, and unicorns are, on the whole, happier people. But, does that mean that we should abandon who we are to seek their happiness? I don't think it does.

The Latest DCP Gaffe
As I wrap this up, I want to add a note about the recent uproar about DCP's comments. I think it is safe to say that I have habitually objected to the way DCP says things as much as the things he says. Let's face it, the guy is tone deaf as the day is long. And, he really doesn't get it. However many times people call him out on his insensitivity regarding this or that, he is not going to repent and clean up his act. So, it is probably not worth getting too worked up about his latest misstep. It is par for the course.

It may also be the case that we are so accustomed to policing DCP's tone and finding his rhetoric objectionable that we are overly sensitized to his perceived insensitivity. We may be looking to be offended by DCP. And, the depth of our emotional reaction may be influenced more by past offenses than by the severity of the actual misstep.

And I would like to add something else. Mormon truth sharing is primarily anecdotal. People get up in testimony meeting and say why this or that thing that happened to them or their neighbor strengthens their belief in the Gospel. "I lost my keys, prayed, and the spirit led me to them." "My neighbor could not give up smoking and unfortunately got cancer; I am thankful God gave us the Word of Wisdom, etc." My guess is that DCP is following this practice. I am not saying this was the wisest way to go, or that I agree with his way of making this point. But I do think it is at least understandable how an LDS fellow whom we agree is pretty tone deaf about the sensitivities of others could use such an anecdote as support for his position on the value of religion at an LDS gathering.

The TL;DR:

1) It may be true that, on the whole, religion makes people happier, but you may not be among that statistical majority who would be happier, and there is nothing wrong with that.

2) DCP, being tone deaf and LDS, used a personal anecdote to make his point. Many of us find his choice of anecdote to be in poor taste. Nevertheless, perhaps we can agree that this situation has a lot to do with the way LDS people communicate their cherished truths in an LDS gathering.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Fence Sitter
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Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _Fence Sitter »

Interesting post Reverend and much of what you say resonates with me. I do think you have something a bit backward here.

As a child growing up in a very conservative and large LDS family I questioned everything, especially the need for the large variety of mundane tasks one encounters in Mormonism, like numerous and long meetings, dressing in formal clothes for church, my families extra rules on Sunday (no TV, no playing with friends, no swimming in our pool) and so on. My parents tell the story of when we all me as a family with the bishop for tithing settlement, the bishop turned to me and asked if I "didn't feel blessed to have been selected in the pre-existence to come to this particular family?" I replied that I had probably argued and lost.

I never was comfortable at meetings and I hated temple attendance. Sunday school classes & seminary were never interesting to me because the lessons were designed as faith building exercises with no time to explore anything of interest.

So I left activity quite soon after my mission and have not looked back since. Most of my large extended family have remained active and are quite content with their religion but I think there is a crucial difference between them and myself. They are not concerned with what is behind the curtain. They enjoy the church the way it is, and have no reason to question the particular historical narrative they believe made it that way.

So back to what I think you have a bit backwards. I don't think it is religion making people happier per se so much as certain people are happier in religion. Based purely on my experiences I think people are happier in or out of religion based on their own personality types. Someone who looks for the motivations behind actions is probably not going to be happy in faith based belief, while those who are not concerned with the '"whys" behind the religion have a greater chance of being content with where they are.

Just my .02

by the way I also think you can look at believers who try and intellectualize their belief and see the struggles they go through. Time and time again I have seen that type eventually leave religion.
"Any over-ritualized religion since the dawn of time can make its priests say yes, we know, it is rotten, and hard luck, but just do as we say, keep at the ritual, stick it out, give us your money and you'll end up with the angels in heaven for evermore."
_Kishkumen
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Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _Kishkumen »

Fence Sitter wrote:So back to what I think you have a bit backwards. I don't think it is religion making people happier per se so much as certain people are happier in religion. Based purely on my experiences I think people are happier in or out of religion based on their own personality types. Someone who looks for the motivations behind actions is probably not going to be happy in faith based belief, while those who are not concerned with the '"whys" behind the religion have a greater chance of being content with where they are.

Just my .02


I agree with that. I like the way you have expressed things here. I prefer to see happiness or unhappiness in a religion a matter of personal disposition and cognitive style. Some people are naturally more content in a religious community. Others are wired differently and don't find religion congenial to their nature. My guess is that the second group is in the minority, and that this minority can expect that the majority will not look kindly on their failure to conform.

Maybe I am wrong.

In any case, I like what you are saying about basic personality and happiness in or out of a religious community.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Gadianton
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Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _Gadianton »

I agree with a lot of what you wrote, perhaps even all of it. Yes, I am happier out but yes, religion can be a decent opiate. And yes, whether atheist world is happier remains to be seen, it doesn't follow from being right.

When it comes to people on the verge of taking their life then we're beyond the usual set of circumstances. The average person can take a pretty good helping of stress. It's ludicrous to say that anyone in that situation is so because of their religion or because of losing it; exceptions for Heaven's Gate and stoicists etc.

When depression is involved, good luck with simple answers. I've known 4 who have taken this path and all members. The latest and most shocking to the end only spoke highly about the gospel and claimed a magnificent testimony. Only for one, depression wasn't involved but drugs were. Okay, so obeying the commandments would have saved him from that, but then so would have becoming a national socialist.

If losing community really is a significant factor then there are plenty of other strong or stronger communities out there. A person on the verge might find salvation as a white supremacist.

In fact, even on its own terms, returning to the fold doesn't necessarily solve the problem because even the elect can be deceived.
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.
_Fence Sitter
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Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _Fence Sitter »

Kishkumen wrote: Some people are naturally more content in a religious community. Others are wired differently and don't find religion congenial to their nature. My guess is that the second group is in the minority, and that this minority can expect that the majority will not look kindly on their failure to conform.

.



Well since we are just conjecturing here, I think that society is undergoing a rapid change in group dynamics driven by social networking, and while I agree with what you say here about the majority looking down on those that do not need religion, I think it applies mainly to those who are 40ish (just randomly picking an age here) and above. For the generations whose social networks revolves around technology, I do not think such boundaries apply. Until the LDS hierarchy starts to understand that this younger generation is more accepting of different views and lifestyles, they are going to continue to loose them as the younger generation is going to choose their wide socially diverse network group over the narrow conservative group offered by the church.
"Any over-ritualized religion since the dawn of time can make its priests say yes, we know, it is rotten, and hard luck, but just do as we say, keep at the ritual, stick it out, give us your money and you'll end up with the angels in heaven for evermore."
_consiglieri
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Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _consiglieri »

Insightful opening post, Reverend.

My own experience is that Mormonism made me very happy from the time I joined in 1978 for around a decade until the late 1980's or early 1990's.

After that, it became increasingly stultifying to me personally. I found through a series of experiences that my own insights were not welcome in church, and I was more than once reprimanded (in a nice way) for not following the manual in teaching.

Once I allowed myself permission to admit I found church stultifying, I began to see it had been stultifying to me for some time, only I had not permitted myself to see it.

So I would conclude that Mormonism (or perhaps religion in general) may be good for certain types of people, as you say, but also that at least for me, Mormonism was good for me at a particular time in my life.

I would not be who I am without Mormonism. But that does not mean that I think I should remain perpetually.

Mormonism can be a nice place to visit. But I wouldn't want to live there.
You prove yourself of the devil and anti-mormon every word you utter, because only the devil perverts facts to make their case.--ldsfaqs (6-24-13)
_Kishkumen
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Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _Kishkumen »

Fence Sitter wrote:Well since we are just conjecturing here, I think that society is undergoing a rapid change in group dynamics driven by social networking, and while I agree with what you say here about the majority looking down on those that do not need religion, I think it applies mainly to those who are 40ish (just randomly picking an age here) and above. For the generations whose social networks revolves around technology, I do not think such boundaries apply. Until the LDS hierarchy starts to understand that this younger generation is more accepting of different views and lifestyles, they are going to continue to loose them as the younger generation is going to choose their wide socially diverse network group over the narrow conservative group offered by the church.


You have packed a few points in there. First off, I would say that for Mormons the internet has brought them information that was once suppressed or hard to get, so the sudden access to this information is having a big impact. And, I do think it is true that people's expression of their religiosity is changing to adapt to the new online environment. That said, if we are talking about happiness, it is not clear that the move to online communities is making people feel happier. In fact, a lot of people feel more depressed and isolated as their involvement in social media increases. Is that a temporary adjustment? Or a long term problem?

I don't know.

On the subject of the LDS Church losing members, I think this is inevitable. The Church may try this or that strategy, but I am of the opinion that the LDS Church is in a chronic decline. Change will come too slowly. When it does, people will have moved on to groups that better meet their needs.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 10:00 pm

Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _Kishkumen »

Gadianton wrote:When it comes to people on the verge of taking their life then we're beyond the usual set of circumstances. The average person can take a pretty good helping of stress. It's ludicrous to say that anyone in that situation is so because of their religion or because of losing it; exceptions for Heaven's Gate and stoicists etc.

When depression is involved, good luck with simple answers. I've known 4 who have taken this path and all members. The latest and most shocking to the end only spoke highly about the gospel and claimed a magnificent testimony. Only for one, depression wasn't involved but drugs were. Okay, so obeying the commandments would have saved him from that, but then so would have becoming a national socialist.


Hey, Dean Robbers. I could not agree more. It was ill advised for Dr. Peterson to latch on to a depression/suicide case to make his point. My understanding is that most people who are informed about these topics would not be so bold as to use this anecdote in the way he did. Today people with expertise and training speak of depression and suicide as medical phenomena, and it would be extremely difficult to tell what the precise relationship was between the exit from Mormonism and the depression/suicide. Certainly it is not the kind of thing an untrained person should presume to opine on, in my view.

And you are right to point out that we have no idea whether joining Mormonism or a UFO cult would be the ticket to prevention, even if we were to grant that religious activity could turn things around. (And I don't believe we can say that it is reliably demonstrated that it would turn things around.)

My point is that DCP's method for addressing the problem is practically tailor made for an LDS audience. Mormons are accustomed to hearing emotionally charged personal anecdotes when they discuss the truths of the faith. And, I think we both know from the experience of attending Fast & Testimony Meeting that these emotionally charged personal anecdotes are meaningful to the people sharing them, even if they are complete nonsense in other respects. (How many times did I hear the Holy Spirit's interpretation of the latest Hollywood Blockbuster? At least several.) And, very often, the listeners receive these testimonies as powerful confirmation of the community truth. In short, what DCP did there has nothing to do with the science and everything to do with the rules of truth-sharing in an LDS environment.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 10:00 pm

Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _Kishkumen »

consiglieri wrote:Mormonism can be a nice place to visit. But I wouldn't want to live there.


Hey, consiglieri. I empathize with your viewpoint here. I tend to attribute this problem to two things: 1) the quest to expand the membership quickly all over the world; 2) Correlation. In my opinion, the LDS Church was better as a small, quirky religion with a ramshackle organization. The attempt to control tightly a simplified message and turn everything into a sort of Spirit Speak occasion has destroyed a great deal of what made being LDS interesting and rewarding.

If you are an individualist with an inquisitive mind, your membership in the Church could very well be doomed, unless you have a lot of patience for Dilbert-level organizational stupidity in your religious community.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Gadianton
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Re: Religion and Happiness

Post by _Gadianton »

If someone were to make the argument that returning to the church would have prevented catastrophe then it likey is an F&T statement.

This does bring up an interesting complexity, especially when offered outside of a chapel. A testimony is less of a statement of truth and belief, and more of a statement of identity -- "hey, I'm one of you!"

My first F&T at BYU was instructive. Students colliding to get to the pulpit and bear the most over-the-top testimonies in terms of how unshakable they were in faith and deep in feeling, and it is a also a competition to out-do the next person in terms of simplicity.

"Do you know what I did right in the middle of this impossible crisis? I prayed to my father I heaven."

There are major cred points for a banal testimony. And if it's being offered as an in-crowd buy-in; really confusing for the out-crowd.
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.
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