One of the principles from the Bible I agree with is that religions and religious leaders ought to be judged by the fruits they produce. When judging a religion, I think it a useful exercise to ask the question: "What would life be like if this religion had control of society, if it could institute laws in accordance with its teachings?" Asking this question while I was at BYU law school was perhaps the beginning of my journey out of Mormonism. BYU is not governed according to the secular principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Rather, it is governed by ecclesiastical leaders in accordance with the principles of the religion as they interpret them. Life under the BYU "honor code" provides a glimpse into what life would be like if the LDS church ever became powerful enough to shape the laws of the land. To me, it's a frightful thought. The way the LDS church behaves when in total control, unencumbered by secular or ecumenical influences, is truly Orwellian.
Similarly, if we want to know the true fruits of Islam, it is instructive to look at places in the world where Islamic law governs, unfettered by the influence of non-Muslim viewpoints. Islam may appear harmless when Muslims live as religious minorities in a place like the United States, where religious pluralism is woven into the cultural and historical fabric of the nation and also expressly protected by the Constitution. But what about when Islam is subject to no social constraints, where the Qur'an and the Hadith are the basis of not jut religious but civil law? What fruits are produced when the religion governs all aspects of life? For a glimpse of what life is like under such circumstances, watch this video:
The LDS church teaches that people like me, i.e., former members of the church, are destined to be miserable, and that we are in the clutches of Satan. We are as Judas--traitors who would kill Christ if we could. This sounds harsh, and indeed it is. It sounds like one of those old 19th-century teachings (like blood atonement) that the church has swept under the rug. But, alas, this is one of the old teachings that is still alive and kicking in the modern church. In the current manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, published at the direction of the First Presidency (and the only extra-scriptural material permitted to be used by Priesthood and Relief Society teachers in the church) is found lesson number 27, titled "Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy." From that lesson comes this quote, which is representative of the tenor and thrust of the entire lesson:
[A]postates after turning from the faith of Christ, unless they have speedily repented, have sooner or later fallen into the snares of the wicked one, and have been left destitute of the Spirit of God, to manifest their wickedness in the eyes of multitudes. From apostates the faithful have received the severest persecutions. Judas was rebuked and immediately betrayed his Lord into the hands of His enemies, because Satan entered into him.
There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned. When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors. . . .
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When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.
I believe that one reason why active Mormons often choose not to associate at all with former members of the church is that they actually believe that former members are possessed by Satan, as the above quote from Joseph Smith unequivocally states.
Guy Harrison has authored a book called 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God. In it, Harrison lists the things that people typically say to support their belief in deity and then asks provocative questions about the reasons given, and discusses the answers rationally. I haven't read the book, but thought it would be fun to provide my own one-line commentary on each of the 50 reasons given. So here goes:
1. My god is obvious. Not to me.
2. Almost everybody on Earth is religious. So? At times in world history, almost everyone believed the earth to be flat.
3. Faith is a good thing. Faith is neutral. It is good or bad depending on the object on which it rests.
4. Archaeological discoveries prove that my god exists. I call BS. Show me one.
5. Only my god can make me feel significant. Says a lot about you, not so much about god.
6. Atheism is just another religion. Only if you define religion so broadly as to have it lose all meaning.
7. Evolution is bad. Non sequitur.
8. Our world is too beautiful to be an accident. Seen any pictures out of Sudan lately?
9. My god created the universe. Well, if you say so...
10. Believing in my god makes me happy. That's nice.
11. Better safe than sorry. How safe is it, really? Are you sure you picked the right one out of the millions of gods out there to choose from?
12. A sacred book proves my god is real. Which book? Which god? Apply this to others who claim the same.
13. Divine justice proves my god is real. The lack of any evidence for such justice in the world tends toward the opposite conclusion.
14. My god answers prayers. All of them? If not, why not?
15. I would rather worship my god than the devil. False dichotomy.
16. My god heals sick people. But only some of them, right? So the suffering in the world is evidence that your god is a sadist, no? Why doesn't your god heal amputees?
17. Anything is better than being an atheist. Are you sure? Try it, you might like it.
18. My god made the human body. So you worship the Earth?
19. My god sacrificed his only son for me. Sounds like your god is a sick sonofabitch. If I killed my son and said I did it for you, what would you think of me?
20. Atheists are jerks who think they know everything. Some of them. But what do you call someone who overgeneralizes about a whole class of people?
21. I don't lose anything by believing in my god. Just your freedom.
22. I didn't come from a monkey. Who said you did, you moron?
23. I don't want to go to hell. Don't worry, you won't.
24. I feel my god when I pray. Quit putting your hand down your pants when you kneel.
25. I need my god to protect me. From your fellow believers, no doubt.
26. I want eternal life. Be careful what you wish for. See, e.g., the Highlander series.
27. Without my god we would have no sense of right and wrong. You need a book and preacher to tell you that murder is wrong? Really?
28. My god makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. So does rooting for your favorite college football team.
29. My religion makes more sense than all the others. With all due respect, that's not a very high hurdle.
30. My god changes lives. For better or worse?
31. Intelligent design proves my god is real. I agree--your god is about as authentic as the science behind intelligent design.
32. Millions of people can't be wrong about my religion. Whatever your religion, millions more don't believe it than do.
33. Miracles prove my god is real. Is David Blaine god? Criss Angel?
34. Religion is beautiful. If you think Afghani schoolgirls with disfigured faces from having acid thrown at them because they were getting an education is beautiful, then sure, it's gorgeous.
35. Some very smart people believe in my god. Some very smart people drank the Kool-Aid in Jonestown.
36. Ancient prophecies prove my god exists. Name one.
37. No one has ever disproved the existence of my god. No one has ever disproved the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, either.
38. People have gone to heaven and returned. People claim to have been abducted by aliens? Do you believe them?
39. Religion brings people together. Yes, it's working out so well for India and Pakistan. Or the Palestinians and Israel.
40. My god inspires people. To do what? Strap bombs to their chests?
41. Science can't explain everything. Give it time.
42. Society would fall apart without religion. Because it's doing so well with religion, right?
43. My religion is so old, it must be true. So what was the basis for believing it when it was new and competing with older religions?
44. Someone I trust told me that my god is real. Someone I trust once told me to buy Enron stock.
45. Atheism is a negative and empty philosophy. Why so negative? Don't you have anything positive to offer?
46. Believing in a god doesn't hurt anyone. Ever heard of Brenda and Erica Lafferty?
47. The earth is perfectly tuned to support life. Duh. If it weren't, we wouldn't be here.
48. Believing is natural so my god must be real. If I believe in unicorns, are they real?
49. The end is near. Only if religious people get their way.
50. I am afraid of not believing. Finally, the real root of religious belief--fear.