Live and let live: Religion, atheism, and being caught in-between

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Religion has been a part of human life in some form or another for at least 4,000 years. It has provided support for communities, given people a common cause to group around, and been a source of charity and service.

Yet, for those who do not belong to a religion or believe in a God, it has often been a source of pain and suffering. And certainly there have been a number of atrocities committed in the name of God.

The discord between these two groups, I think, doesn’t just stem from a fundamental communication problem, but a fundamental difference in the way both are wired.

A brain hardwired for God

Even 4,000 years later, it’s true that religion continues to be beneficial to humanity. Charity, social support during times of crisis, and a sense of purpose are just a few of the ways religion enriches the lives of many today. There are even indications that humans are hardwired for religion.

So it’s understandable when religious people get angry when Atheists attack their convictions with statements like “Your church isn’t true” or “God is a lie” and retreat into their trenches, often destroying all hope for fruitful and progressive discussion.

But make no mistake, there are certainly things that need to be discussed. While people should be able to believe what they want I firmly believe they must square those beliefs with facts. And the fact of the matter is that religion has also contributed to some truly gut-wrenching things in our modern day: rape culture, suicides and homelessness (especially among gay youth), mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, and more.

The ways that religious denominations contribute to these and other pressing issues deserve criticism and discussion. And religious people need to understand that criticisms are not a personal attack, or even necessarily an attack on their church.

I’d be happy to see religion flourish more, but I want to see it happen while lessening the damage and hurt it unintentionally contributes to for both faithful and non-faithful people.

But while some of the problem is communication, the other problem is simply how differently we are wired — which never appears to be taken into account on either side.

While religious people may be hardwired for faith, non-believers are just as likely to be hardwired differently. Just as the idea that someone who attends church is an unintelligent sheep is grossly inaccurate, the idea that someone who doesn’t want to go to church is evil or amoral is flat-out wrong and can be incredibly damaging.

In religion, but not of religion

When I was young, church taught me about the golden rule, being thy brother’s keeper, turning the other cheek and judging not lest ye be judged. I feel that I learned some of my most cherished ideas about humanity and life from church.

But even when I was young, I felt oddly out of place in church settings. The older I got the more my anxiety in church settings grew. I felt constantly on guard — that I could not be myself. I was constantly wearing a mask and it was suffocating me. I began to drift away from the church. My family, many of my peers, and my church leaders were understandably upset by this development. After all, my very soul was at stake.

Church leaders handed me responsibility after responsibility, trying to give me a sense of purpose and place within the church. Unfortunately, these responsibilities only compounded the stress I already felt from church and, truthfully, pushed me farther away.

The more I stressed out, the more I found myself thinking, “Is this what God would really want from me? Isn’t church supposed to be a place of serenity and happiness rather than protocol, stress and anguish?”

My parents tried to prod me to attend services. When gentle pokes didn’t work, I was given ultimatums. When those just pushed me away further, they tried gifts and niceties.

The disapproval about my drifting from friends and family was palpable and created a vicious cycle. I could not be at peace in church — and it appeared I could not be at peace outside of church either. The stress of the paradox furthered the anxiety, depression, guilt and anger issues I had been experiencing in church for years. I had already been self-mutilating throughout the latter half of my high school years as a form of self-medication. Shortly after high school I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Up until this point I had tried to maintain some sort of church presence, even if it was a limited one, partly to placate my family and partly because I felt it was what I was supposed to do. However, I soon realized I could not live a double-life. I finally made it clear that I didn’t want or plan to continue attending church.

Immediately, there was an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t feel like I had to hide myself anymore. It was like finally breathing after spending 19+ years suffocating.

Technically, it was a great first step toward sobriety and a healthy life.

However, I still felt a lot of guilt over who I was because of my upbringing. It would be several more years before I’d begin to heal the remaining emotional scars with therapy and finally stop using alcohol and drugs, becoming truly okay with the person I am.

Live and let live

I know my family and friends always wanted what was best for me. The things they did came from a place of love, but ultimately also of ignorance about who I was. They were so worried about my soul that they didn’t understand the way they were damaging me.

I often wonder how differently my life would have been if I had been nurtured to be myself, simply be a good person, and make the most of whatever it is I do believe in. Would I have ever turned to drugs or alcohol? Would I be further along in my career?

Religion can be an incredible force for good and, I believe, even necessary for some people. But just as it may be hardwired into some people, I think there are others who are simply not wired for religion. I hope someday people on both sides will understand to “live and let live” and embrace those who live differently and have found their own way to truth, happiness and health.

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The Religion Test: Homosexuality vs. environmentalism and charity

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There is a lot of talk these days about how homosexuality, transsexuality, gender roles, and the like are leading us on a road to ruin. Apocalyptic predictions are full of omens of increasing disasters — earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and famine.

And I can absolutely see all of that happening. But not for the reasons you may think.

Wailing and gnashing of teeth

It’s no secret that our society is in turmoil — fighting about who can marry who, women’s roles, etc. And it’s seriously holding us back. We’re putting so much energy, money, and time into these fronts when it could be used to help solve world hunger, cure cancer, clean up our own planet and propel us toward other planets. We are destroying ourselves with our preoccupation for the way others choose to live — suffocating our ability to question, learn and innovate.

It’s the 21st century and we’re still dabbling in medieval dogma. We’ve put men on the moon, but we can’t deal with two men in the bedroom. So yes, I can see how, if we don’t move past this, these things could absolutely cause the collapse of our society. But I think it will be because of the people who spent their time and energy oppressing others rather than working with them to tackle truly important issues. Issues like taking care of our people and planet.

Fracking and brimstone

Interestingly enough, there are several biblical passages that address the environment. Among them:

I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.

Jeremiah 2

The consequences of such defiling and careless regard are truly terrible:

The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.

Isaiah 24

It sounds dire, but it’s pretty much what scientists have been telling us will be the result if we don’t start getting serious about reducing pollution, cleaning up our environment, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and being wary of fracking and drilling.

Similarly, there are multiple passages about helping those in need.

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. … For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

Deuteronomy 15

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16

Sodom is often cited as being destroyed because of homosexuality. Yet, this verse seems to indicate that it was destroyed because its people were rich yet cold-hearted, neglecting those around them who needed the most help.

Even from a non-religious standpoint, it’s clear to see how neglecting parts of our society could lead to a decline. A healthy society requires a healthy and contributing populace — not a populace trying to just scrape by.

The religion test

“Question after question I’m stumped. The paradox: Is God racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic? Or is God testing to see if I am?”

I’ve often wondered, if God is out there and if this life is a test, is religion part of the instruction manual, or part of the test?

Perhaps once we have increased our love for each other, once we have returned Earth to a pristine condition, once we have mastered a deeper understanding of the universe through science … perhaps that is when God will return. Because that is when we will truly be ready.

Even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, we’ll be in a much better place than we were before.

Why I won’t be picketing Fred Phelps funeral

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Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, is dead.

Almost the first question out of people’s mouths has been “I wonder if people will picket his funeral.” And understandably so. The Westboro Baptist Church has become infamous for picketing the funerals of soldiers and victims of disasters, among others.

Adding fuel to an already raging fire is their proclamation that gay people are to blame: Disasters, war and death are the Godly consequences of America’s tolerance of gay people.

With such rhetoric and disrespect for the dead, who wouldn’t be first in line to give the Westboro Baptist Church a taste of their own medicine?

I feel sympathy for members of the Phelps family who have renounced the church and were forbidden by church leaders from seeing their father one last time before he passed away.

For those still within the church though, there’s something to keep in mind: Picketers are exactly what the Westboro Baptist Church expects. They live in a world where they are the good guys — the only good guys. The world is wicked and, being wicked, lashes out at God’s chosen people, especially in their most vulnerable moments.

For the Westboro Baptist Church, having protesters picket Fred Phelps funeral would be vindication: proof of their righteousness.

Imagine how chilling it would be if no one showed up and none of their expectations or beliefs were validated? No noise. No confrontation. Just silence and an empty cemetery.

If we can prove we are the better people and not relegate ourselves to the level that Phelps and his church did so many times, then in the end the church and Phelps die alone, ultimately forgotten and not worth a second breath.

“The law cannot make moral what God has declared immoral”: Mormon revelation past, present, and future

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LDS Church apostle Dallin H. Oaks recently said that human laws “cannot make moral what God has declared immoral.” It’s a sentiment that has been increasingly clashing with the heartfelt longing for marriage equality among a growing number of Mormon faithful.

But there are a number of things to think about concerning Oaks’ message and the way the LDS Church functions. The church has an interesting concept of revelation. Not only do they believe that church leaders receive continual revelation from God, but they also believe members can receive their own revelation from God.

One of the most prominent early Mormon leaders, Brigham Young, once stated “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.”

So what happens when members earnestly pray about the words Oaks has said, and the current LDS teachings against gay marriage, and don’t receive such a witness?

Well, there are some things to keep in mind.

LDS apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated during the church’s October 2013 General Conference that church leaders have made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. Sometimes BIG ones.

As if to hit Uchtdorf’s point home, the Church also released an essay acknowledging that past church leaders were not divinely inspired on racial issues, but were simply influenced by the cultural norms of their time — noting that the church today disavows any racist remarks they made or actions they took.

Indeed, Brigham Young said of interracial relationships that “if the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”

Yet, look how far the Church has come on interracial relationships.

So, Mormon faithful, when Dallin H. Oaks says that “the law cannot make moral what God has declared immoral,” consider what church leaders have said about themselves, the Church’s past mistakes, and what church-revelation-yet-to-come may still reveal.

And if you’re feeling torn between your faith and your heart: Go with your heart — chances are it’s the still small voice telling you how to make the LDS Church more Christlike.

Secular arguments against gay marriage (and why they don’t hold up)

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Utah has been in the spotlight recently for its stance against gay marriage. There have been arguments back and forth about definitions of marriage, child-rearing, religious freedom, etc. One article in particular has caught my eye. It’s a secular look at why gay marriage isn’t a good idea. It lists off a bunch of pro-gay-marriage arguments and tries to refute them. Many of the arguments made are the same ones the state of Utah is attempting to make.

This is my dissection of those refutations.

ARGUMENT #1: Marriage has had “consistent elements” throughout history

“All these [historic] variations still embraced the fundamental, unchanging essence of marriage. They still saw it, in general, as a public, lifelong partnership between one man and one woman for the sake of generating and raising children… Yet, even supposing the essence of marriage could change, would that mean it should?… After all, such action may not be ethical or serve the common good.”

MY TAKE: The core ideas behind marriage have changed a LOT and vary from culture to culture.

First of all, the definition of marriage has NOT just been “one woman for one man” (click picture to see larger image):

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And it’s not always been about children. Some of the earliest marriages were all about wealth, power and politics:

“The Ancient Greeks also set the very clear pattern of marrying for position, wealth and power. The idea you married because you loved someone was irrelevant – sentimentality or feelings did not come into what was a commercial transaction between families looking to advance or protect their own positions.” (Where Did the Idea of Marriage Come From?)

As for ethics, it seems unethical to hold what seems like a basic right from people and to effectively oppress their expression of love. The Supreme Court has even ruled in 1967 that marriage is “one of the basic civil rights of man.” (Gay Marriage Pro and Con Arguments #14)

ARGUMENT #2: Marriage is about reproduction

“The largest difference is that same-sex couples cannot produce children, nor ensure a child’s basic right to be raised by his mother and father. These facts alone mean we’re talking about two very different types of relationships. It’s wrong, therefore, to assume the state should necessarily treat them as if they were the same.”

MY TAKE: Marriage is about love 

Socially, people get married as an expression of love and commitment. Though it is true that oftentimes children come later, that is not always the case and “kids” are not usually the overriding factor in getting married: it’s two people’s intimate feelings towards one another. Simply: Two people in love may have a mutual desire to start a family, but WHY do they marry who they do? They marry out of love. Therefore the defining trait in the relationship is LOVE, not kids.

Legally, no governmental benefits are conferred on married people’s kids through the act of marriage. Kids do not enhance any governmental marriage benefits. The lack thereof does not remove any. Therefore it’s pretty clear to see, in the eyes of government, that kids have nothing to do with marriage.

Either way, socially or legally, marriage has only to do with the two people, not kids or anyone else. Therefore the “differences between the two types of relationships” are non-existent. So why are kids being discussed like it’s some sort of requirement?

“Same-sex marriage advocates may argue that it’s discriminatory to favor heterosexual spouses over homosexual couples. With all of the benefits flowing from marriage, this unfairly endorses one set of relationships over another. But if the state endorsed same-sex marriage, it would then be favoring gay “spouses” over unmarried heterosexual couples. The argument runs both ways and is ultimately self-defeating.”

Of course gay marriage would “favor” gay married couples over unmarried straight couples, just as it would “favor” gay married couples over unmarried gay couples. How is that any different than now — where marriage “favors” straight married couples over straight unmarried couples?

ARGUMENT #3: Straight people are better parents

“The real question here is not whether marriage should be limited, but how. To answer that, we must determine why the government even bothers with marriage. It’s not to validate two people who love each other, nice as that is. It’s because marriage between one man and one woman is likely to result in a family with children. Since the government is deeply interested in the propagation and stabilization of society, it promotes and regulates this specific type of relationship above all others.”

MY TAKE: There’s plenty of evidence that shows gay couples are just as good at raising children

Except that doesn’t appear to be the case (see #2). But even if it were, there is plenty of evidence that shows gay couples are just as family oriented and effective at parenting as straight couples. And there are plenty of gay couples who plan to have kids, whether through adoption or other means.

American Psychological Association on Children Raised by Gay and Lesbian Parents

Children raised by gay couples show good progress through school

Gay Parents Better Than Straight Parents? What Research Says

Study: Same-sex couples just as good, if not better, at parenting

(See #7 if you feel like there are studies that say otherwise)

ARGUMENT #4: Same sex marriage will destroy marriage and education and limit religious freedom

“[Gay marriage] would weaken marriage. After same-sex marriage was legislated in Spain in 2005, marriage rates plummeted. The same happened in the Netherlands. Redefining marriage obscures its meaning and purpose, thereby discouraging people from taking it seriously.”

MY TAKE: There are other factors for declining marriage rates. Fears about “indoctrination” of children or religious freedom being hampered are overblown or misplaced. 

A couple things:

1) Marriage rates in Europe are declining everywhere and have been for awhile.

2) Massachusetts, where gay marriage was legalized in 2004, has seen a 21% decline in divorce. Conversely, Lithuania, where gay-sex marriage is banned, has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe.

“Second, it would affect education and parenting.”

See #3 concerning the argument on parenting.

“After same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada, the Toronto School Board implemented a curriculum promoting homosexuality and denouncing ‘heterosexism.’ They also produced posters titled ‘Love Knows No Gender,’ which depicted both homosexual and polygamous relationships as equivalent to marriage. Despite parents’ objections, the board decreed that they had no right to remove their children from such instruction.”

I think parents should have the right to remove children from social instruction they don’t want taught. But that is a government failing, not a failing of gay marriage.

“Third, redefining marriage would threaten moral and religious liberty. This is already evident in our own country. In Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., for instance, Catholic Charities can no longer provide charitable adoption services based on new definitions of marriage. Elsewhere, Canadian Bishop Frederick Henry was investigated by the Alberta Human Rights Commission for simply explaining the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality in a newspaper column. Examples like this show how redefining marriage threatens religious freedom.”

First of all, at least some of these stories are half-truths. And again, they are great examples for limiting government, however they are not really arguments against same-sex marriage.

ARGUMENT #5: Gay marriage is a slippery slope

“When marriage revolves around procreation, it makes sense to restrict it to one man and one woman. That’s the only relationship capable of producing children. But if we redefine marriage as simply a loving, romantic union between committed adults, what principled reason would we have for rejecting polygamist or polyamorous — that is, multiple-person — relationships as marriages?”

MY TAKE: The slippery slope argument is inconsistent and can be easily dismissed with two simple words: “consenting adults.”

First of all, polygamy is perfectly capable of producing children, and far more efficiently than just one man and one woman. So what “principled reason” is there for not having polygamy if, indeed, marriage is about producing children?

For those that worry gay marriage is a slippery slope, all you need to do is keep the graphic below in mind, along with two words: “consenting adults.”

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“This isn’t just scaremongering or a hypothetical slippery slope. These aftereffects have already been observed in countries that have legalized same-sex marriage… Procreation is the main reason civil marriage is limited to two people. When sexual love replaces children as the primary purpose of marriage, restricting it to just two people no longer makes sense.”

That makes no sense. If procreation and children are the main reasons for marriage, then polygamy should be the standard.

“Sexual love” just denotes a love for sex. You can have that with one person or 20 people, whether they be straight, gay, bi, whatever. Gay people aren’t getting married for sex. They, just like plenty of straight people, can do that without a marriage ceremony.

Gay people are getting married because they love one another and want to commit to one another (and we’ve already established that marriage is about love).

ARGUMENT #6: Infertile people and the elderly can marry because they “were designed” for children, but gay people are not

“If marriage is about children, why does the state allow the first group to marry? The reason is that while we know every same-sex couple is infertile, we don’t generally know that about opposite-sex couples…”

MY TAKE: Gay people are “designed” for children — and we’ve already established they make good parents (and marriage is about love, not children, anyway)

For the record, gay people are fertile too. And while they may not reproduce naturally (usually), many gay couples have kids either through adoption or fertilization techniques. There’s plenty of unwanted children out there, and loving gay couples could actually help solve a lot of child-neglect issues we have.

Some suggest forcing every engaged couple to undergo mandatory fertility testing before marriage. Besides being prohibitively expensive, it would also be an egregious invasion of privacy… Another problem is that infertility is often misdiagnosed. Fertile couples may be wrongly denied marriage under such a scenario…”

An egregious invasion of privacy? Like the invasion of privacy over who gets to share a legally-binding commitment to another person?

It’s true that most elderly couples cannot reproduce, however, these marriages are so rare that it’s simply not worth the effort to restrict them. Also, elderly marriages still feature the right combination of man and woman needed to make children. Thus they provide a healthy model for the rest of society.”

It’s simply not worth the effort to restrict them? If you’re so eager to restrict one group of people over what you believe to be the principles of marriage, I would think you would want to apply that equally to all groups. Effort should take a backseat to keeping up with the principles of marriage — shouldn’t it?

But I see that it’s really about offering a healthy model to the rest of society. Fair enough, except see #3. Also, see #2. It’s clearly not about kids.

ARGUMENT #7: Studies on gay-parent families are skewed, but there is a study that shows gay couples make poor parents

“Several recent studies have put that claim to rest. In June, LSU scholar Loren Marks published a peer-reviewed paper in Social Science Research. It examined the 59 studies that the APA relied on for its briefing. Marks discovered that not one of the studies used a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children. Several used extremely small “convenience” samples, recruiting participants through advertisements or word of mouth, and many failed to even include a control group. Furthermore, the studies did not track the children over time and were largely based on interviews with parents about the upbringing of their own children — a virtual guarantee of biased results.”

MY TAKE: Both sides have skewed studies

Okay, fair enough. Bad case study. I will admit more comprehensive studies need to be done. If you want to discount everything I said in #3, fine. But before you do…

“Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus released a comprehensive study titled ‘How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?’ His research used a large, random and national sample and its scope was unprecedented among prior work in this field. Contrary to the APA, Regnerus found that for a majority of outcomes, children raised by parents with same-sex relationships drastically underperformed children raised in a household with married, biological parents.”

Wow… talk about a bad case study. There is a HUGE problem: Regnerus compared gay unmarried couples to straight married couples (though I realize that gay married couples could be hard to come by in the U.S.). You either needs to compare gay married couples to straight married couples, or gay unmarried couples to straight unmarried couples. Otherwise, of course the results are going to be skewed.

Even Loren Marks, who is mentioned above, and other social scientists who support Regenerus’ research agree: “it is possible to interpret Regnerus’s findings as evidence for the need for legalized gay marriage, in order to support the social stability of such relationships.”

Also, Regnerus himself says his ‘Family Structures’ study wasn’t about gay parenting.

So if you’re an anti-gay-marriage advocate, and you decide to discount everything I put forth in #3 that says gay parents are just as good as straight parents, make sure you realize there aren’t any studies backing up your side of the argument either. At best, things are a wash.

ARGUMENT #8: There are reasonable anti-gay-marriage people — they are not all homophobic bigots, or even religious

To sum up: There are secular-minded people out there who have reasonable reasons for being opposed to gay marriage (specifically, these ones listed here). Gay marriage advocates love to throw out personal insults and demonize the opposition to distract from the factual case for gay marriage.

MY TAKE: It’s true, not every anti-gay-marriage advocate is a zealot or bigot. And there is a fair amount of name-calling, insults, and hate on both sides. BUT…

I can concede to this point, in as far as I believe not EVERY anti-gay-marriage person is a crazy hatemonger. But I do believe there is a lot of bigotry and homophobia, religious and otherwise in the equation — far more than is not. Not to mention a lot of people who have no problem with gay people but are opposed to gay marriage on the principle that “God says so.”

On top of that, while name-calling and insults certainly can devalue a conversation or debate, it does not devalue the valid points of an argument someone makes.

ARGUMENT #9: The Civil Rights movements and Gay Rights movement are completely different

“The suggestion here is that sex is similar to race, and therefore denying marriage for either reason is wrong. The problem, however, is that interracial marriage and same-sex marriage are significantly different.”

MY TAKE: There ARE similarities between the civil rights movement and gay-rights movement

They are the same in that both have genetic origins and can’t be changed.

“Nothing prevents interracial couples from fulfilling the basic essence of marriage — a public, lifelong relationship ordered toward procreation. Because of this, the anti-miscegenation laws of the 1960s were wrong to discriminate against interracial couples. Yet same-sex couples are not biologically ordered toward procreation and, therefore, cannot fulfill the basic requirements of marriage.”

It IS a civil right (see #1).

It’s not about children (see #2).

And even if it were, see #3.

ARGUMENT #10: Most people don’t approve of gay marriage, and even if they did, that doesn’t make it right

“If the tide is in fact turning, it’s still little more than a ripple. … Most polls show roughly two-thirds of the country wants to keep marriage as it is.”

MY TAKE: Gay marriage hasn’t been “popular” and has been a bitter battle to acceptance. Changing attitudes do not make it a fad.

Ever heard the saying about ripples becoming waves? Most polls now show the majority of Americans approve of same-sex marriage, even if by sometimes slim margins.

“Even if the tides have recently shifted, that does not make arguments in its favor any more persuasive. We don’t look to other moral issues and say, ‘Well, people are eventually going to accept it, so we might as well get in line.’ We shouldn’t do that for same-sex marriage, either.”

No, we shouldn’t. And gay-marriage supporters don’t. We support same-sex marriage because we look at the oppression and hurt being caused by an anti-gay-marriage policy and say “This is morally wrong.” We did not hop on a bandwagon because it was popular (indeed, it hasn’t been popular — and it’s been a bitter battle just to get people talking about it). We’ve dissected all the arguments anti-gay-marriage proponents have given us, from the religious to the secular, and we’ve found they do not hold water. It’s that simple.

What D&C 134 Says About Religion In Government

In Utah, the line between Church and State is blurry at best. But did you know that the Doctrine & Covenants actually advocates for and outlines a secular government? D&C 134 makes the case for freedom of (and freedom from) religion. Let’s look through what it says. Of great importance is the use of “conscience” as opposed to “religion” throughout the section.

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On the role of government

1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

On how peace can be maintained in America

2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of CONSCIENCE, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

On the importance of judges (see also verse 11 regarding “voice of the people”)

We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.

On religious followers being allowed the free exercise of religion “unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe on the rights and liberties of others”

4 We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the CONSCIENCES of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control CONSCIENCE; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

On laws and the executive branch of government

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of CONSCIENCE.

On honoring judges, and keeping religion and government separate

We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.

On governments being “bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief”

7 We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.

(8 is on punishment of typical crimes — not relevant here)

On keeping religion and government separate

We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

On the limited power religious authorities should have

10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

On the importance of the judicial system (note the use of “character infringed”)

11 We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in times of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.

(12 is on preaching to and baptizing servants — not relevant here)

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It was Christ who fought for people’s ability to choose how they will live – countering Lucifer’s plan to force everyone along a single path. D&C 134 is truly Christlike in its declarations: The need for a judicial system to redress grievances, the need to keep religion and government separate, and, most importantly, the need to let everyone live according to the dictates of their conscience so that you can be free to do the same.