Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Self-Weeding Garden

I once read an article that talked about a concept that the author of the article called a "self-weeding garden." Now, I think that term has been used to mean different things in a lot of contexts so I'll just state that the author of the article used it to mean a social system that makes itself hospitable for the types of people it is looking to attract and inhospitable for the types of people it is not. The "weeds" will then remove themselves rather than cause problems in the garden.

I just got to thinking about that again after reading an essay talking about apostates in belief systems that had an interesting paragraph:
Yet another frequently employed tactic is used when a believer does come into contact with an apostate, despite the careful shielding that most traditions erect. This strategy seeks to reduce the believer’s dissonance by assuming that the apostate fell away due to some unacknowledged sin, or some other flaw on the part of the former adherent. It is extremely important, for the believer’s state of mind, that the blame for the apostasy must fall squarely on the shoulders of the apostate himself. It is quite literally unthinkable that the fault could lie with the system itself. This line of reasoning must be avoided at all costs.
I've had the pleasure of seeing this one from both sides. Five or six years ago I would have absolutely agreed that the only way a believer could leave my faith *was* because they were deficient in some way and brought it upon them self. I probably parroted these types of thoughts. Now I'm on the other side. Ain't Karma great...

What dawned on me when I read that paragraph is that this attitude by the faithful is a large part of what makes the system a self-weeding garden. It really hurts when your beliefs don't match the group and you repeatedly listen to leaders of the group insinuate that you are a bad person for not believing like they do, and it is orders of magnitude more awful when those you love and respect throw these jabs at you. It makes you want to just walk away and never look back. Only that is many times not possible due to family situations.

Recently, I just read another article that repeats this pattern at the Deseret News, Mormons with doubts shouldn't give up faith without 'intellectual and spiritual kicking and screaming'. It is pretty standard fare for denigrating those who leave the fold (and trying to convince people not to be those "bad people" by leaving). They just didn't try hard enough or don't have the virtues of people who stay. Honestly, I don't know what to say about it. I feels like a hit job on me and makes me feel terrible and unwanted. It is very hard to maintain even a limited relationship with a church that has such an uncharitable view of me. In my view I was simply honest with myself about what I believed and felt, and acted accordingly and with integrity. Yet I am deficient. I am deficient because I can't manage to muster faith in things that frankly make me sick (e.g. many of the circumstances of early LDS polygamy) or things that in my view just plain contradict reality (Facsimile 3, I'm looking at you).

But if you think about it, shouldn't the burden of explaining why such faith is a virtue be on the person asking me to have faith? I've not heard a single explanation on that subject that made any bit of sense to me.

Allow me to elaborate on the problem as I see it. *IF* having faith in something that is difficult to believe is a virtue (as I consider many of Joseph's actions to be difficult to believe, or any number of things in the LDS belief system), wouldn't faith that is *more* difficult to believe be *more* of a virtue? If it is virtuous to have faith that Joseph's questionable polygamous activities with teen girls and other men's wives was from God, wouldn't it be *more* virtuous to believe that Warren Jeffs' even more questionable activities are from God? If blind faith (faith where God refuses to explain himself) is good, the more the better, right? Apparently, in this type of system, God has little interest in us developing our own moral or logical faculties, he just wants us to use those of the church leaders. This is a very honest problem to me. Yet *I* am the one who is morally deficient for asking these questions and not believing despite what I consider to be very obvious huge red flags. This is all turned around, upside down, and inside out. The burden of making the case for faith lies with God or his leaders or whomever, not with me to refute, and no such case has been made in any sort of compelling way.

Back to the subject of the self-weeding garden, this type of article simply makes me want to get away, to leave this kind of toxic "love" behind. I see a lot of good in the LDS social system, but it is articles like these (and the lessons, and the comments, etc. etc.) that make me wonder if even my very limited level of participation is a net positive in my life. One thing is for sure, it doesn't make me want to participate more than I already do, and that may be a feature of the system (intentional or not), not a bug.