Mon, 30 April 2018
Welcome everyone to episode 201 of the Everyone’s Agnostic podcast. I’m Cass Midgley. Today, Bob Pondillo and I interview David Burns. David is now 50, but was a lifelong Mormon. He unpacks his passion for Mormonism, how it was his life, his tribe, his identity. He served his two year door to door mission and it was there that his faith in Mormonism experienced its first crack. I fell in love with David during this talk. He's a really sharp and gentle man and it comes through here. He's on the Asburger/Autism spectrum and his tendency to interpret everything literally contributed to his devotion to the whacky foundations of Mormonism AND eventually his departure.
We taped this conversation on April 14th, 2018. We interview people you don’t know, about a subject no one wants to talk about. We hope to encourage people in the process of deconstructing their faith and help curb the loneliness that accompanies it. We think the world is a better place when more people live by sight, not by faith. Please subscribe to our podcast, and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, we offer these podcasts freely. And your support truly makes a difference. You can support us monetarily in two easy ways: you can pledge a monthly donation through Patreon. that’s www.patreon.com/eapodcast, or leave a lump-sum donation through PayPal at our website, www.everyonesagnostic.com.
I wonder if the need for human beings to find a tribe isn't a primary motivator behind the formation of and devotion to religions. We need to belong. Loneliness is so scary. And communities are one of the most beautiful things that humans form. There's hardly anything more fulfilling and life-enriching than finding yourself at a party, or in a circle of friends to which you truly belong, are genuinely celebrated, loved, and supported, in your truest form. When you're celebrating a promotion at work, or a new house, or a new baby, or marriage, or a birthday and you have a community of people around you that organize a celebration and/or send you cards in the mail, or bring you gifts, what better feeling is there?
As a human being, we are aware of so much that the animal kingdom is not. We know that the universe is big, dark, and impersonal. We know that the world is a difficult place, with it's unpredictable weather and tragic happenstances. Animals don't get overwhelmed. We alone feel alone on this dirt clod hurling through space. We can feel adrift with nothing solid to hold onto. We can even be surrounded by people and feel totally alone. We can live in a city and feel no roots or connection to it. We look to our spouses and our children for some grounding and belonging, but can end up putting too much burden on them to validate and rescue our drowning, bankrupt self-esteem. We ache for friendships. Without them, we can feel lost, that the world is closing in on us, that nobody understands us, we can become disgusted with humanity, and quickly lose any desire to remain on this selfish, exclusionary planet.
But when suicide is not an option, we re-enter the world, but in an angry, scared survival mode. We become racked with suspicion and distrust of others, further isolating ourselves. Our default is to blame others for our problems, and then we turn that blame inward spiraling us deeper downward into self-loathing (unconscious of course, nothing about this type of person is conscious). Pretty quick we see ourselves as victims and thus martyrs for our tail-chasing cause. So what do we do? Our tribal instincts kick in and we find other disenfranchised people, lost and lonely. Misery loves company, right? Safety in numbers. We rally with pitchforks to avenge our insulted egos against our enemies and the mere fact that we've formed a common enemy endears us to each other and the next thing you know, we've formed a tribe. But it's not a healthy tribe. It brings out the worst in us. It fosters resentment, contempt, and bitterness. It appeals to and compounds the lower angels of our nature--fearful, insecure, hateful, and our hatred for ourselves gets projected onto our unknowing enemies. On April 24th, Alek Minassian, the 25 year old Canadian man who killed ten and injured 15 as he drove a van down a one-mile stretch of sidewalk in Toronto, was allegedly a part of a tribe called the Incel Rebellion. Incel is short for involuntarily celibate. In other words, men who can't form relationships, or more crudely, can't get laid. And because of the internet, the group is said to be 5,000 members strong. Their common denominator is that they're furious at constantly being rejected by women.
In the following conversation with our guest, your going to hear David talk about the strength of the Mormon community and the excruciating pain of detaching himself from his lifelong tribe that was precious to him, especially as one who'd felt excluded all his life. He, like many of us, threw himself headlong into the ministry he loved. It gave him purpose and identity and community. Life was good, and somewhat easy. What on earth would pry us out of those deep loving relationships with our Heavenly Father, our dear friend Jesus, our constant companion the Holy Spirit, and, most of all, our fellow human sojourners? The undeniable eye-opening discovery that its a delusional way of living? The corruption, the under-belly, the greed, the exclusivity?
I watched the movie "Come Sunday" about the withering of Carlton Pearson's ministry as he came out as a universalist and began preaching what he called the Gospel of Inclusion. It's on Netflix; it was produced by Ira Glass and the This American Life staff. I recommend it but with a warning. You'll see the excruciating pain of Carlton praying and praying and crying out to God as his life was falling apart, but the heavens were silent. You'll see the tug of war on his heart as his giant ministry dwindled to a handful of people, all because he wouldn't recant or back-peddle from his convictions that no one was in Hell. At times, he can't believe the indignation he witnesses just because he believed Jesus saved everyone. How is this bad news? Brennan Manning, an author I loved when I was a Christian, gave this definition of Phariseeism: when you see love and grow indignant. But, like some of us, he lost everything--his income and career, his friends, even family. And this is why this podcast exists.
I believe the power and pull and magnetism of community is at the core of why people unfriend us as soon as they perceive that we're saying something outside the beliefs that the community holds to. In their minds they have to make a choice...between you and the giant construct in which their entire lives are held together (they call it God). I'm sure it breaks their heart, but deciding to ditch us is probably much less difficult a decision than the one we're making. People have no idea...and they SO don't want to have that idea that they scoot us out of their lives as quickly as they can lest they begin to entertain it. The music stops and all the children scramble to plant their ass in a chair so they're not the ones left standing without one.
People who gather under the banner of mutual hate get their identity from without. Their actions are reactive. They are hollow. They are defined by what they hate, not by what they love. They don't even know what they love because they lack the self-awareness and agency to ask themselves, to go within. They are all-around no-sayers. They pout in self-pitiful tantrums that nothing is they way it should be. No to the persons, bodies and psyches in which they find themselves. No to people who are different. No to the harsh realities of existence. No to the abyss of random chaos in which they find themselves. They are ill-equipped to be overcomers, to find true meaning in this meaningless life. They fall under the trance of some fairy tale that keeps them childish. And they're lazy. Making lemonade is hard work.
0ur proneness to tribalism can be used to elevate ourselves at others expense. We can take so much pride in our community that we move into feeling superior to other communities. We can live our lives fueled by comparing ourselves to others and competing with other tribes for power. Even healthy communities can fall prey to this.
Perhaps you've been a part of a book club or a small group house church small group where the members bond and look forward to seeing each other every week or month. Then someone invites a friend and you can feel the elementary school resentment wrinkle it's nose at the invader. Now this isn't entirely evil or immature. I personally reserve the right to pick my friends and close the door on new seekers because the current chemistry is good and might be disrupted by introducing new blood. I think everybody' free to do that without shame. And the point is that relationships and communities are complicated and nuanced and even a bit fragile and have always been that way. The magic is so intense and the dynamics so delicate that friendships and communities that last a lifetime are extremely rare and thus you're very lucky if you pull that off. Even marriages have a much higher chance of losing their luster than remaining vibrant for the long haul. So here we find ourselves...looking for love, for connectivity, for our tribe, our people. These magical relationships don't just happen. They form because we foster it intentionality. We set out to find friends, schedule get togethers, keep in contact, constantly navigating the feelings. Are they mutual? Do they like me as much as I like them? Am I smothering? Can I be myself and they still like me? Is there a breaking point on the horizon? A deal breaker? And if years go by, with dozens of dinners, engagements, parties under your belt and the intimacy is only deepening, you've won the lottery. You've hit the jackpot. Because 2 or 3 or 7 hominids getting together, enjoying each other for a long period of time is a rare and precious thing.