This past weekend, atheists and ex-Mormons walked around Temple Square during General Conference. The point of this demonstration, from what I can gather, was to show members of the church that they aren't alone if they have doubts — even though their friends and family might shun them. While, clearly, not all of your LDS acquaintances will turn their backs on you if you leave the church, many questioning members do feel pressure, perceived or real, when they try to move on.
It's a lot easier to make a move out of a religion and/or belief system that is ingrained in your everyday cultural practices if you see that there are others in a similar position, and if you know you will have support if you choose to change your course. From what I can tell, the demonstrators were respectful, and there weren't altercations.
When I think of my atheist friends, these marchers are what generally come to mind. Most of my atheist friends (and I have several) are not combative like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. While I think these men often make valid points, their approach is often off-putting. But, like many of the strident among the religious, the reasoning behind their outrageous statements is not so much fostering debate as it is making money on books and other forms of entertainment, and raising their profiles.
My conversations with atheists have always been interesting and enlightening. I love my atheist friends. And I agree with what they say a lot of the time. Atheism doesn't bother me. Over time, I've realized that if I weren't Mormon, my “beliefs” would probably fall into one of two categories:
- Something that involves reincarnation as a vehicle for continued progress.
I used to think that some sort of paganism would fit my beliefs well, due to the emphasis on the god/goddess within and the focus on the natural world. But as I've thought more about this (I know, I know, faith isn't supposed to be rational), I figure that there has to be a point to everything — or there is no God.
To me, the “point” of endless paradise as a “reward” for ticking off points on some cosmic checklist doesn't quite cut it. Perhaps it's my upbringing in the LDS Church, but I truly believe that if God does exist, and if s/he is a loving parent, the “point” would be for us to learn and grow, and do it eternally. Mormonism fits this, since the point is eternal progression. You have the option of always moving forward.
Some sort of reincarnation also fits the bill. After all, the point of reincarnation is to continue learning through various experiences. And, as one atheist friend of mine pointed out, it could also make sense from the point of conservation of resources. Your soul or intelligence or mind or whatever could continue to progressing, and those atoms that make up that intelligence could continue their progression.
If there's no point, and no continued learning, I don't really see the point of God. Why would God — particularly a loving parent-figure God — go through the trouble of creating the universe just to reward some and punish others without the element of eternal learning and the opportunity for continued development?
Reading the news reports from Temple Square this weekend reminded me of all the fantastic and thought-provoking conversations I have with atheists, and reminded me that I really do have some fabulous friends.