Jan 28, 2009

The Faith Gene

Have you ever wondered why some people, who you think could be "perfect" Mormons in so many ways, reject the Gospel? What about how some people can sit through the most spiritual of meetings and feel absolutely nothing? Or witness events that we consider to be miraculous and still feel no reason to believe in a god?

There are certain reasons why we can assume that people do not believe in God. Among these are:

a) personal pride
b) disobedience
c) falling prey to Satan
d) denial

I admit that before I really gave atheism or agnosticism any serious thought, I would have put the blame squarely on the shoulders of anyone who claimed to not believe in God. And the reason why it was their fault and no one else's was because of one or more of the above. After all, God opens to all who knock. So why don't they just knock on the door?

But could there be more to it?

I think that I started to think about this more after getting to know certain people who were among the most wonderful, compassionate, loving individuals that I had ever met, and yet are either atheist or agnostic. The case of one friend in particular -- I'll call her Amber -- who happened to be born into the Church in Utah but later left it, made me think a lot. She is a real sweetheart, has the biggest heart for animals (a cause near and dear to my heart as well) and people who suffer. She has been through a lot of sadness and tragedy in her personal life. We had some interesting discussions via e-mail about God and why/how I can believe in Him. She wanted to find peace. She wanted to believe in God like I do. But she can't -- at least not up to this point in her life. I wouldn't call her an atheist, but I would say she is definitely agnostic. And I just can't quite attribute it to any of the reasons on my list.

We've been having an interesting discussion over at Three Feet High And Rising about whether a "faith gene" could exist. (Read the thread if you get a chance because it's very interesting.) I'm a believer. Yes, I have my doubts and sometimes they are major. I see many logical and sensible reasons to deny that God exists. Yet I can't. And then we have people like my friend who yearn for the kind of peace that believers are accustomed to, but find it to be elusive. Why is that? And who is to blame? Is it Amber's fault? Is it Satan's fault? Is it God's fault? Or is it simply the card that life dealt her?

PB, a non-believer who wished that she could believe, said on the Three Feet High And Rising thread that, "a core belief for Christians is that they are saved by Christ, which means that non-believers are damned."

I responded:

"That isn't really what we believe as Mormons and yet we seem to do a great job of making people think that that is what we believe. If we truly believe in our own doctrine -- that God is fair and just and that EVERYONE will get a fair shot to hear the Gospel in its purity and entirety (and not just the flawed, human, earthly interpretations of it), whether in this life or in the next -- then what do we have to fear if people like Jupee, PB, or my husband, decide to not join us in baptism and fellowship in the LDS Church? I don't know Jupee or PB personally, but I would venture to guess that they are good, decent people. We don't know why they seem to be lacking the "faith gene," but I believe that if God exists, he will give them their fair shot and won't hold it against them if they honestly never felt his presence in their earthly lives -- especially if they sincerely wished they could believe, like PB said."

Fifthgen, a fellow Mormon, then responded:

"So, I was thinking about the “faith gene” on the way to work. It has interesting implications for Mormonism. As FD points out, Mormons believe that, at some point, everyone will have a full opportunity to accept (or reject) God’s plan and follow Christ.

Let’s assume that there really is some genetic component to faith. If someone is genetically prevented from believing, or even significantly hindered in their ability to believe, Mormon doctrine would suggest that their full opportunity to make a knowing and voluntary decision would not come in this life. Presumably, it would come in the hereafter, when their genetic condition no longer interferes with their ability to have faith and accept God’s teachings. This raises some interesting ideas.

For example, maybe the “faith gene,” or rather its absence in some people, is a necessary part of the mortal experience. If everyone believed easily, no one’s faith would really be challenged. At least in some things. Maybe the genetic non-believers are here to allow an environment where faith is even possible.

Additionally, a genetic component to faith would make any sort of value judgment about non-believers very problematic. Until we can test for the DNA marker for the “faith gene,” who knows if you are talking to someone who made a voluntary decision not to have faith and follow God, or someone who simply cannot do that. The safest choice for believers would be to treat everyone charitably and without judgment, recognizing that they may not have really had their full opportunity to embrace God yet."

So what do you think? Are we genetically predisposed to either believe or not believe? And if we are, can we "change sides?"

Jan 21, 2009

Tough Questions... Tougher Answers

The later comments after my last post made me wonder about something.

How do we answer those tough questions from non-members about the Church? Should we even answer them? Or should we answer them politician-style (i.e. duck the subject and divert attention to another subject)?

Some of us were saying how we wish we could just hear "the truth," whatever it is. But, admittedly, we haven't always been so truthful ourselves. Maybe we've even tried to cover up certain things about the Church to those we care about who are perhaps interested in investigating.

Most of us have probably been there. Someone asks us about polygamy, the priesthood ban, Kolob, or the like. Or maybe we sort of feel obligated to tell people about such things before they get baptized so that they don't get a shock afterwards and leave the Church feeling disillusioned. I've told the story before about my cousin-in-law (who is black) who never heard about the priesthood ban until he was on his mission and someone told him about it before slamming the door in his face. Then it was time for some serious damage control. Are such awkward subjects something that should be dealt with early, in order to avoid such situations, or should we just worry about it when it happens?

Before when people asked me about polygamy, I used to just repeat what I had heard: there weren't enough men to take care of all the women, so it was a way to care for all the singles. (Incidentally, I remember sitting in on a discussion with the Elders and some investigators many years, who were concerned about polygamy. This was the reason that the Elders gave them and their response was that you don't have to marry someone and have sex with them in order to take care of them.) OK, so now I know that that isn't a good answer. It doesn't explain all the women that Joseph Smith married who were already married and taken care of. So now I can't really repeat it without knowingly lying. And I know people don't want to be lied to.

So how do we truthfully answer people's questions without giving them too much information that they might not be ready for? Should we try to cover up our past, perhaps because we feel a bit embarrassed by it (c'mon, you know you do sometimes!), or should we be an unapologetic "open book?"

Jan 16, 2009

Skeletons In The Closet

I stumbled across a site called StayLDS.com. In the blog section, there is an essay called "How To Stay," written by a board member of "Sunstone," which I encourage you all to read when you get a chance. It's geared towards Mormons like me: that is to say, Mormons who are feeling pretty disillusioned about some things within the Church and yet don't see leaving it as the solution. Whoever wrote this essay has a mindset that I appreciate. The tone is relaxed, even humouristic at times, but also seriously addresses the issues that some of us are grappling with. I also appreciate his approach to co-existing -- and even appreciating -- orthodox and dogmatic members.

There is, however, one section of the essay that I want to focus on. I wish to include it here, but hope that those of you reading this will take the time to read the rest of the essay in order to get a more accurate feel for it.

Understanding the brethren's dilemma


"Many disaffected folk expect LDS General Authorities to constantly apologize for all the past errors of the church, and to actively promote awareness of the most controversial aspects of LDS Church history. These are unfair and unrealistic expectations. Let's take a moment to consider the situation of LDS General Authorities:
  • Most of them were raised as devout, multi-generational members of the LDS Church. Doubting and skepticism in general, and with the church in particular, were simply not major components of their formative years.
  • As young men, many of them married soon after their mission, had many children, graduated from college, pursued successful professional careers, and actively served in high church leadership positions. Over time, their overall social status, reputation, and sense of being are directly tied to the church's exclusive truthfulness. They are viewed by all their LDS peers as pillars of the church's "one trueness."
  • This heavy load of responsibilities leaves little, if any time for deep study of controversial LDS Church history. In addition, their positions of responsibility would rarely encourage or allow them to study the types of publications that would candidly discuss such matters (Sunstone, Dialogue, Quinn, etc.). In the end, I am quite convinced that a majority of them are simply not aware of peep stones, polyandry, Adam/God theory, blood atonement, the Danites, etc. Of course they have heard these terms throughout their lives, but they would have no real impetus, and most importantly, no time to study them deeply. They are super-busy men, and in their minds, the church is true -- so why dig much deeper? They are also taught strict obedience to church authority (past and present), and consequently would tolerate little, if any, criticism of early church leaders, even from themselves.
  • In spite of all this, it's fair to say that the LDS First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve once made a sincere attempt at openness and full disclosure of LDS Church history. For those of you who aren't aware, there was a ten-year period of LDS Church history (1972 to 1982), under the leadership of Church Historian Leonard Arrington, where the brethren made an honest attempt at significant candor regarding church history and archives -- only to produce the likes of Michael Quinn as a result (of whom I am a big fan, by the way). In the end, I am convinced that the brethren tried the experiment of historical openness in good faith, and genuinely determined that a full, thorough, comprehensive awareness of factual LDS Church history by its members, more often than not, leads to decreased activity and commitment. As many members today continue to be exposed on the internet to this can of worms opened up in the 1970s, this conclusion seems to be validated. Doesn't that make perfect sense? If the factual, hard-hitting history was good for faith, the brethren would be promoting it like crazy. But because it actually proves to erode faith more often than not, it is not emphasized, and is obfuscated wherever possible. So, in my view, the brethren are acting rationally.
  • If you step back and think about it, this makes perfect sense. If Gordon B. Hinckley were to start saying publicly today, "Joseph and Brigham were wrong on a, b and c, but all of you need to believe and obey x, y and z," it is not difficult to predict the ultimate consequences of such statements. Members will simply say, "Well, if Joseph or Brigham were wrong back then about a, b and c, what makes you so sure that you are right about x, y and z?" For the average member, such overt statements would very quickly weaken the prophetic mantle, and reduce commitment to LDS Church leadership. It makes no sense to expect LDS Church leaders to erode their own basis of power and influence. Humans simply do not function this way.
  • Assuming that the brethren are sincere believers in both the truthfulness of the church, and in its goodness -- it is only reasonable, then, to expect them to govern the church in a way that maximizes commitment and happiness for the greatest number of its members. Consequently, the brethren clearly have had to ask themselves this question: recognizing that the vast majority of members know nothing of the tougher elements of church history, and only a relatively small group of LDS intellectuals do, which is preferable: 1) To lose some of the intellectuals on the margins by not directly confronting the historical issues (at the most 2% of total members -- and would they really be satisfied with apologies anyway?), or 2) To risk losing and weakening the core base of church membership (60%?) by making them all aware of, and then overtly apologizing for the tougher aspects of our history and doctrine?
If you were in their shoes, and the future of the church were riding on your shoulders, would you seriously rock the boat, and risk destroying an organization that you loved, believed in, and knew was an asset to literally millions of families worldwide? In my opinion, to do so would be grossly irresponsible.

Thus, their dilemma."

Although I personally don't think that General Authorities need to "actively promote awareness of the most controversial aspects of LDS Church history," I have often said that I believe that an acknowledgement -- and in some cases an apology -- for certain errors in the Church's past would help members like me be able to "move on." Many of us have great trouble reconciling fact and faith. Some choose to leave the Church, while others continue to trudge along the Mormon path without the spark they once had.

The author estimates "intellectuals" to make up approximately 2% of the Church's population, whereas the core base of the Church makes up around 60%. He seems to be arguing that the Brethren actually wanted to be more open (citing a period of "openness from 1972-1982 -- which was before my time), but found it to be faith-eroding for the Church's core base.

I can appreciate what he's arguing. Let's assume the Church is true -- which the Brethren are obviously convinced of. (I don't doubt that they believe it's true because how many people would want to make some of the sacrifices they do -- often for the rest of their lives -- for something that doesn't compensate them financially?) Even if there are some big, fat skeletons in our Church closet, why should we let them ruin the party for all the millions of people who are perfectly content in Mormonism, some of whom are totally oblivious to the fact that there are any closets -- let alone skeletons in them? So, as long as these closets are kept shut with double-padded locks, most people will live good Mormon lives from birth to death without being disturbed by these skeletons. That's good, right?

But what about that 2% (and likely growing in this internet age)? That snoopy minority of Church population that not only knows that the closets exist, but want to hear what the skeletons have to say, AND want the Brethren to give a satisfactory answer as to why the skeletons exist and why they had been locked up all these years.

Are we expecting too much from the Brethren? Are they really in a dilemma? Is it really all about sheer numbers (sacrificing 2% in order to save the rest)? Is it possible that those skeletons really are irrelevant to the here and now and will only impede our progress? Or are they going to have to be reckoned with eventually?

Jan 12, 2009

I Have A Confession To Make

Some of you may have read my earlier post where I confessed to judging my brother unfairly. I guess I'm on a confession roll, because I have another one that I've been thinking about for days. However, instead of being the one in need of asking for forgiveness, as in the case of my brother, I am guilty this time of withholding forgiveness -- even though the person who offended me has never asked for it.

I have three sister-in-laws. One of them lives in Canada, another in the US. Both of them are very sweet and I love them.

The third one lives here in Norway. I will call her "Helga."

Helga got together with my husband's older brother about two years after my husband and I started our relationship. We met her for the first time during one of my visits to Norway, before we were married. Even from that first meeting, although she seemed nice, I got a negative vibe from her. Later I found out why.

After I had gone back home to Canada, Helga continued to visit my husband's family and they spent more time together. Somehow, the word had gotten out that I was a Mormon. Helga is the type of person that can seem really sweet and polite, but suddenly make you feel put on the spot by asking very personal questions that can make for an uncomfortable situation. My husband found himself in the hot seat as she peppered him with questions about what kind of "cult" I was a member of, whether my family lived in a "Mormon quarter," and how my religion affected our relationship, etc. I remember talking to him on the phone later when he told me, "I have to say, I don't really like Helga."

About a year later we got married in Canada. When I heard that Helga was coming for the wedding, I felt nervous. I was worried that she would make for an awkward situation with my Mormon family, but I kept telling myself that things would be fine, that surely she would behave when she was the guest in a home of people she had never met who were having a wedding! Well, I was waaaaay too optimistic. Literally about two minutes after arriving, there was a quip in a mocking sort of tone about whether my husband was going to "convert" before the wedding. Later there was a not-so-veiled attempt to find out whether my husband and I would be sleeping together before the wedding, and plenty of other strange and rude comments, to do with religion or our way of life. My husband and I missed out on most of it, since we left for our honeymoon, but both my parents and my mother-in-law filled us in later on all of Helga's antics. Helga's behaviour on the Canada trip remains a classic story on both sides of our family to this day.

Worrying about Helga's behaviour (which turned out to not be without reason) added to my stress. Although I was happy on my wedding day, I was also very sad. I was leaving my family and moving to a different continent. It was a bittersweet time for me and because of that, Helga's behaviour really stung. Not only was I angry, but I was hurt very deeply. By acting rudely towards my family, who I know treated her like gold throughout her entire stay, and making strange comments in a mocking tone regarding my religion, she alienated me and my husband completely. Once I moved to Norway, I did everything I could to avoid her. Even seeing her face or hearing her voice made my skin crawl and literally gave me a sick feeling. This went on for almost 6 years, during which we said not much more than hello to each other. My mother-in-law (who understood completely why we were upset) later told us that Helga had asked her why we were avoiding her and she told her. Helga seemed to be surprised and perhaps slightly apologetic, but she never made an attempt to apologize to us, even though she could have easily sent us a letter or e-mail to avoid the discomfort of a face-to-face meeting. She never asked for forgiveness and I wasn't about to give it to her. Although I can't really say that I "hate" anyone, Helga was high up on my list of people that I intensely disliked.

Now, after what I've told you about Helga so far, you're bound to be surprised at what I'm going to tell you next. You may be amazed to hear that a woman with such contempt for religion, and utterly lacking in tact or manners, had spent years earlier working for the UN in....... of all places..... Afghanistan and Pakistan! Yes, that's right. In a place where women couldn't even go out without a burqa, let alone speak their minds, Helga managed to work for five years without getting herself kicked out or stoned to death, getting out just before the Taliban reached her area. And if that doesn't surprise you enough already, after returning to Norway, going back to school, and meeting my husband's brother, she got a job working for the charity "Save The Children," which has required her to travel to even more war-torn and dangerous countries in recent years. It always puzzled me as to how someone who did such noble work could be so rude and intolerant towards her own family members.

Another classic family story is one that we refer to as "The Christening." Helga and my brother-in-law had a baby and were planning a non-religious "Naming Day" instead of the traditional Lutheran church christening. This is not so uncommon in Norway, where fewer and fewer people have a relationship to the state church outside of weddings and funerals, but it was sort of a big deal for my mother-in-law and her elderly mother, both of whom thought it was important to have the baby blessed by a priest. Helga objected to the christening ceremony, saying she had attended them before and didn't like what the priest had said. As well, she was upset that a prominent bishop in the state church had spoken out against gay marriage. In the end, Helga caved in and decided to honour the wishes of the baby's great-grandmother and the christening ceremony went on without a hitch, even though it looked for a while like Helga was going to perhaps tell the priest what he could or couldn't say during the ceremony. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief after it was over.

Now I need to fast-forward a few years. Everything remained pretty much status quo. We had limited contact with Helga and although it wasn't something that I was dwelling on, I certainly hadn't forgiven her for anything. But, over time, something changed. Perhaps a little bit in her, but a whole lot in me. Call it my "Christmas Miracle."

I had a lousy Christmas. I worked all of the holidays and it was depressing. It was way too quiet, no friends and very little family. I thought I had hit rock bottom when the "highlight" of my Christmas was going to be the usual dinner at Helga's cottage, that type of family event that is held and attended mostly out of obligation, with the usual minimal chit-chat. But somehow, it was different this year.

I had a nice time!

I actually somewhat enjoyed the chattering of my mother-in-law and Helga's mother, as well as the funny comments by our 4 year-old nephew.

I didn't even really want to go home!

And then we invited them all to come to dinner at our house. And I looked forward to it!

Maybe I was just desperate for the company.

Amazingly, we had a nice dinner, decent conversation, no rudeness, no prying, no comments about my picture of Jesus on the wall behind where she was sitting.

Just nice.

I realized after those two gatherings that I wasn't angry anymore. It's strange, but it's all gone -- even though I know that something will happen again, she will say something to bother me someday. In a way I think that's just her personality, but I don't care anymore.

Why?

Like I said, she has never apologized. We've never discussed it and so, in a way, nothing has ever been resolved. But over the past few weeks it's like I've had a revelation of sorts as to perhaps why Helga is the way she is.

I am Helga. Well, sort of. I have in a way become her, at least where the subject of religion is concerned. I'm seeing religion through her eyes now. I don't want to stay there, but I'm finding that it's very hard to not stay there.

Although I've never actually talked to Helga about any of this, I've tried to imagine where her hostility for religion stems from. I have several theories:

In a way, I think it's a cultural thing. Norwegians are generally an irreligious people. I've sensed a lot of hostility towards religion here -- especially conservative Christianity. Many Norwegians have little regard for a faith which has caused so much pain for so many people throughout history: those in earlier centuries who were slaughtered in the name of Christianity, those whose unchristened infants were not allowed to be buried in the church cemetery, parents who lost children during World War II and were told by their priest it was their punishment for not attending church, and in more modern times, homosexuals being treated as deviant sinners by certain Christian sects. Christianity, to many, equals guilt, pain, and judgment. The "Good News" message can be very hard to uncover in a sea of hypocrisy.

I know that Helga, as a young woman lost her father in a tragic drowning accident. Although I'd like to think that I would never be bitter at God after such a tragedy, I really can't say for sure that I wouldn't.

I think I also need to take into account that Helga has seen and experienced life in places that I have only read about. It's hard enough to see the good in religion when I'm living in one of the best countries of the world where I'm free to do pretty much whatever I want and not have to worry about suicide bombers at the supermarket. How would anyone fighting for a stop to public stonings and amputations, the right of women to show their faces in public, or protecting little girls from genital mutilation not become cynical about religion when much of the misery stems from exactly that? Would I be immune to such negativity? Would you?

As human beings, we can sometimes believe the unbelievable and do the unthinkable in the name of religion. And I think that we're mistaken if we believe that such extremism is limited to the type of people that blow themselves up on a bus full of innocent civilians. Extremism is sometimes manifested in small, undramatic and seemingly acceptable ways -- yes, even in our church.

I used to hate hearing when people would blame religion for all the war and misery in the world. I wanted to say they were wrong, but the truth is that they're right in many instances. Although pure religion in itself is not responsible for the disruption of peace, in my opinion, people can be convinced that their religious convictions give them a license to do the unthinkable -- Mormons included.

Watching the news from Gaza, I wonder what God really wants. Heck, I can wonder this by reading the Bible and reading how God supposedly advocates the eradication of an entire population -- women and children included -- in Gaza-like fashion. So why wouldn't he approve now?

I'm sure that I can't even begin to appreciate the complexity of the history, politics, and religion that have made the Gaza situation into what it is today. So, for me to pass judgment on what either side does sounds pretty ludicrous, doesn't it? Well, I'm going to do it anyways.

I can greatly sympathize with those who feel oppressed and have their basic freedoms taken away, but anyone who believes that Allah, God, or whatever you want to call him, wants him to pack himself up in explosives, get on a bus filled with innocent people going about their daily business, and blow it up to shreds is, in my opinion, so utterly lacking in any empathy or compassion that it makes me question whether they are even human.

I can also sympathize with the need for a group of people to defend itself from the type of people I mentioned above. If an intruder breaks into your home and threatens your family, you defend it. The intruder may even need to be destroyed in self-defense. But is it OK to kill your intruder's innocent wife, children, burn down his house, and shoot his neighbours because he was a danger to your family? Especially if the intruder has a legitimate claim on the lot that your home is standing on? At what point is it perhaps better to just leave your home, as unfair as it may be, if in order to stay you are required to slaughter the intruder's innocent family, including his children?

Everyone wants a piece of "The Holy Land." After all that has happened there over the centuries, how "holy" is it? All you have to do is watch CNN and the insanity will make you think that perhaps Christopher Hitchens has it right after all.

Stuff like this tears me apart and makes me long for a religion that's easy, that's just about love, compassion, service, and nothing more. No judgments, no guilt, no feeling torn between what feels right and what people want to tell me is right. But it has to be believable. And that's the problem. Someone like Christopher Hitchens is very appealing to one's ego, but one's ego isn't worth so much when a one needs a miracle. People like Hitchens are very smart, but they can't explain away mystical and miraculous religious experiences any more than they can make the earth spin backwards. To me, they're more impossible to believe in as the religions they think they've debunked. But in all honesty, I now understand better than ever why more and more people seem to be finding atheism or agnosticism to make the most sense. In fact, lately I've been thinking that the world would be a better place if everyone thought like Christopher Hitchens. After all, could it get any worse than the current situation in "The Holy Land?"

I wonder if we really understand why people often view religion -- Mormonism being no exception -- the way they do. Do we really get it? I always thought I did, but I think I needed to marry a non-member and move to a place like Norway to understand it better. Maybe I still don't completely get it, but I think I'm getting there. I've always been looking from the inside out. Now I think I've gotten a better perspective from the outside. When I first moved here, I really resented what I felt to be a very strong anti-religious atmosphere. My bad experience with Helga only intensified this feeling and even to this day, I'm a bit paranoid about people here finding out that I'm a Christian. A Mormon! Will they automatically view me as a fanatic? Well, the truth is that some probably would. And this has forced me to get off my religious high horse and really ask myself why people like Helga are the way they are. Is it really all just their fault and theirs alone? In a way yes, in a way no.

I recently came across someone on Facebook, who is LDS, asking why so many people in Arizona seem to hate Mormons these days. I noticed that a fellow Mormon responded by saying, "We have no reason to be dissed at all as our church only teaches good things. Nothing bad whatsoever."

Well, maybe it's all "good" to us!

It amazes me sometimes how we expect everyone to have the same high esteem for our religious teachings and values as we do. We sometimes feel taken aback when people get annoyed at the Elders when they knock on their door (even though you know you get annoyed when the Jehovah's Witnesses knock on yours), when people associate us with the FLDS (even though they stem from us), or when we have a large enough influence to get Prop 8 passed (even though you perhaps resent your neighbour for voting No on 8). I don't necessarily think that we need to apologize for our personal convictions, but I do think that we sometimes expect too much sympathy from people who have negative experience with religion. "We're not threatened by any of this, so why should anyone else have reason to be?" we think to ourselves. And yet how many of us would not feel the least bit discomfort if an atheist was elected as president or prime minister? I admit that even I would.

I have to say that I am, more than ever, grateful for the unique experience of marrying a non-member and moving to a place that I like to describe as a "spiritual desert." One could easily wonder whether that was really the Lord confirming to me that my husband was the one for me and that I should embark on this spiritual journey virtually alone. Some days I think that Satan must have claimed victory the day that he saw me go down this road. I hope, on the contrary, that the Lord was pleased that I would be given this experience and unique perspective from "the other side." And hopefully He was optimistic enough that I'd be able to handle it.

I'm not naive enough to believe that Helga and I will be best friends. Besides our rocky history, I think that our personalities clash. But I have learned to now see her in a slightly more flattering light. Although I don't think that her behaviour was justified by her negative encounters with religion, I think that it's perhaps understandable. And I forgive her, whether she cares or not.

It would be nice if everyone was as open-minded about my beliefs and actually wanted to try to understand them as much as I want to understand theirs. In the mean time, I'd settle for common courtesy, an end to hostility, and a stop to the hate and slaughter that we're seeing in the Middle East.

It seems strange that the Lord would want me to begin to have negative thoughts about religion for the sake of learning forgiveness for someone like Helga. So I'm not sure whether He really intended for me to go down this road, or whether being able to forgive Helga was just a lucky bi-product of a deep spiritual rut that I'm in.

One burden lost, another one gained.