How I learned to stop hating General Conference

You guys, I just had an epiphany and I wanted to share it with people I haven’t met on the Internet.

Until about five minutes ago, the first Sunday of April and October were weekends to be dreaded. I hate General Conference with the white hot fury of 1,000 suns. And that’s weird, because you’d think a heathen like me would love skipping out on sacrament meeting guilt-free.

It’s no secret amongst church members and family members that I’m a non-believer. I’m not a militant attacker of the Mormon faith or anything, but because I haven’t officiated in any of my kids’ key Mormon faith milestones it’s abundantly clear to everyone that I’m an awful heathen. Everyone’s been civil to me, but family gatherings and church encounters are always kind of terse.

It gets especially awkward during conference, because I get together with my in-laws to watch the Sunday sessions. All the while I know it’s just a matter of time before a general authority makes some snide remark about atheists, secular humanists, or people who don’t make the habit of regularly and publicly stating their belief in magic.

This past weekend was especially bad. Mormon Apostle Quentin L. Cook dedicated his entire talk to disparaging secularists, M. Russell Ballard attributed all of society’s ills to the rise of secularism, and Russell M. Nelson made a really weird crack about evolution and science.

And of course, I felt targeted. I didn’t understand why they felt they needed to make those kinds of comments about people like me. After all, I’m not a horrible guy. I’m a family man at heart. I do everything I can to spend time with my kids and beautiful wife. I volunteer in my community. I donate time and money to worthwhile causes. When I mess up, I try to do better next time. I really don’t think my disbelief in God or religion is leading me to break down society. I think society is great!

So it really hurts my feelings when I hear these remarks, and even more when I see my family nodding in assent when these types of remarks are made.

But about five minutes ago I realized that these comments aren’t being made to hurt my feelings – they’re made to reassure millions of believers around the world who are terrified of the change happening the world over. Civil wars, terror attacks, economic disparity – the world is horrifying. And they need the church to reassure them that everything will be OK in the end.

I always seem to forget that – some people need religion to tell them that things will be alright. Sometimes the possibility that everything won’t be OK is too much to bear.

I’m different from your standard believer in that I am comfortable with random chance. I’m not saying that I’m in any way emotionally or intellectually superior to church-goers, I’m just “built differently.”

And that’s the core of the issue – church, general conference, the whole ball of wax, isn’t meant to attack people built like me – it’s meant to reassure believers.

Just watch the video of Quentin Cook’s address. Look how he beams down at the audience while describing the virtues of the believer. He’s not trying to make me feel bad about myself – he wants believers to feel GREAT about themselves. And good for him. He’s doing a tremendous service for the people who need him most.

And this conference was a great reminder that I don’t need the church anymore, and more importantly, they don’t need me.

And that’s just fine. In fact, it made me feel wonderful to remember that. I’m happy to be a global Mormon boogeyman for a few minutes so long as it will delay the breakdown of society.

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About unorthodox

i live in LA, work in advertising and am the father of three kids. i'm don't belong to a political party, but i have left-leaning political views. i love the beach, loud music and video games. i grew up mormon, but haven't been a believer for the past 6 or so years. i love what the church has done for my life, and am concerned about what the church is becoming.
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6 Responses to How I learned to stop hating General Conference

  1. Andrew S. says:

    Not to try to ruin your epiphany, since I think it’s a good one (and I also noticed that many of the conference talks were about reassuring various members that they are doing OK)…but my only thought would be: why does it have to be “us” vs. “them.” In other words, why is it that the only way the general authorities can speak well of the members is by criticizing secular folks. As you say, the general conference comments are made:

    …to reassure millions of believers around the world who are terrified of the change happening the world over. Civil wars, terror attacks, economic disparity – the world is horrifying. And they need the church to reassure them that everything will be OK in the end.

    But here’s the thing: “civil wars, terror attacks, [and] economic disparity” doesn’t happen because of the growing numbers of secular folks.

    Even more importantly, turning nonbelievers into boogeymen does NOT delay the breakdown of society. And for that matter, they have a very different idea of what the “breakdown of society” would entail than you or I do, I would venture.

  2. unorthodox says:

    I totally get that. My take is that their numbers really are shrinking, and their way of life is becoming more and more irrelevant. In short, secularists are winning. And if getting together twice a year to bash us makes them feel better about themselves, I’m OK with that.

    And I really do think that some people do need religion to keep them from committing atrocities. I’ve seen believers tell me with a straight face that without their faith in God, they would loot, pillage and possibly rape. I do think that their negative perception of atheists really doesn’t stem from actual atheist acts, but more from what THEY would do if they rejected their faith.

    It’s my belief that some people are just built different, and some people really do need religion in their lives.

    I also definitely think it’s up for discussion whether or not it’s necessary to vilify atheists, but I’ve kind of accepted those kind of things since they’re entirely out of my control.

  3. Andrew S. says:

    But it’s a little more complicated than that.

    So yeah, Mormonism is a tiny speck religion out of the entire world. And yes, in many countries (e.g., many of the European nations) most people don’t believe.

    But in America, there is this ridiculous persecution complex that people of faith have and aim at secularists, feminists, intellectuals, whatever…when they are not even being persecuted! They already have the power to derail an entire political party, yet out of their perception that they are being overrun, they only turn more radical.

  4. unorthodox says:

    I agree it’s definitely more complicated than that. And living in the insular liberal bastion of Los Angeles definitely informs my thinking as well. I’m the majority where I live, and I’ve never had to experience public being dominated by religious zealots. Another reason (aside from the weather) I’m never EVER leaving this town.

  5. Erik Atienza says:

    As a faithful and active member of the church, I can agree that it’s really just a 2 sided argument, in which people will often bicker. I mean you have the Church’s general authorities saying whatever they have to say about secularists and you have secularists making similar statements. Though I consider myself to be more of a liberal mormon, I can personally understand and sort of recognize the justification of why the apostles would say those things (for the fact that I was once an atheist myself). Honestly speaking, I just think that there’s a fair level of ignorance coming from both sides. an example is that atheists are suppose to represent mindsets of free-thinking leading into an open mindedness and yet, there are individuals like Richard Dawkins telling people to get in the faces of Christians and mock them? doesn’t say very welcoming or open to me. Yet, I can just look back a couple sundays ago and remember a statement my bishop made which he said, “Remember my brothers and sisters, that when you go out into the world, you go out into a world with diverse thoughts and views. Always remember that this stems from Heavenly Father’s principle of free agency and always be reminded to be diligent and humble when confronted with these views and always remember that this is the beauty of our society that billions of us share.”….talk about an ignorant religious zealot huh?……oh wait…

  6. Sarah says:

    I just wanted to tell you that I really appreciate what you wrote. I don’t know if you will ever read this, but I have been feeling very alone in that I no longer believe in the church but still am surrounded by it. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are so many that need it in their life, they need to believe and have that conviction. I have very much peace in my heart of my own “secular” beliefs, but I also believe it’s a good thing to have some sort of church to lean on if you so choose. I still attend church, but am an outsider in my beliefs. I am usually able to be happy for those that have that conviction, and can usually enjoy some of the uplifting messages that are taught. But today was a difficult day and the things that were being “preached” left me feeling angry and hostile towards the church. I usually don’t go on to any “anti” websites, but I was very curious if there was anyone out there that felt like me. What you wrote helped me to re-categorize my feelings. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone.

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