Everyone knows that there is a difference between what people believe and doctrine, right?
The Koran forbids suicide, but suicide-bombers find ways to justify their actions in religious fervor. The New Testament forbids violence toward others, but that doesn't stop some Christians from proposing ways to make killing abortion clinic employees a form of "justified homicide." (And you know what they say about apples and barrels. They smell nice in the fall.)
What a religion says and what people do with that are often two different things, and for the most part, I think that's just a fact of life everyone understands.
Except when it comes to littler things.
Move away from the irony that most religions preach non-violence, and yet religious people can lay the smackdown with the best of them, and take a look at some of the smaller quirks in various religious traditions.
Here's one from mine -- I was told as a kid by a Sunday School teacher that when I was a little pre-mortal spirit up in heaven, I looked down at earth and said, "Yup, those two. I want to be their kid."
This was done, no doubt, to cause me to feel serious guilt when I took my parents for granted or ever got around to rebelling. And that is what Sunday School teachers do -- they make kids feel guilty. It's basically the half the job description: "Sing songs. Guilt kids."
But everyone who does even a tiny bit of research into the Mormon religion knows that that's not true -- it's just an urban legend created by legions of well-meaning-but-somewhat-creepy Sunday School and seminary teachers after a few too many viewings of Saturday's Warrior.*
Alright, so now we have our dissonance identified: the Mormon church does not teach that we pick our earthly experiences up in heaven v. a decent chunk of Mormons probably believe that this is at least partly true.
Here's the part that boggles my mind.
Someone in the camp who knows it's not true will blow a gasket when confronted with the fact that yes, some Mormons believe this. "The church doesn't actually teach that! If you did any research, you would know!"
Look, I know the church doesn't teach it. That isn't the point. The point is, a lot of people believe it, and that influences the way those people interact with the world.
It's one thing to point out a misunderstanding or misapplication of facts, but another to deny the fact that there are plenty of people misunderstanding or misapplying all over the place, just because YOU don't misunderstand or misapply.
And really, it shouldn't matter that people have additional, extracurricular, or even contradictory beliefs when compared with their professed religion. You want to be a Jewish Christian? An existential Catholic? An atheist who believes in heaven? A vegan Episcopalian? A pro-choice Baptist?
Go forth and prosper, my homies, as long as what you choose doesn't scrape the skin off my nose or someone else's. That's why we're all here on this planet -- to find a way of living that is meaningful and makes sense to us.
Or that's what I believe, anyway.
* Totally random, but worth sharing. When I was a kid, I would mentally re-write things to make them less lame, and then forget I'd done it. When I was in college and someone mentioned the episode of Saved By The Bell where Jessie gets addicted to caffeine pills, I was SHOCKED, because I was sure she had been addicted to cocaine (which is a real addiction, and therefore not ludicrous). I held firm to this belief until we went back to the dorms and YouTubed the "I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I'm so scared" clip and I was forced to admit that, indeed, Jessie Spano's greatest moment of teenage darkness came in the form of pep pills.
Same thing happened with Saturday's Warrior, a horrifyingly bad Mormon morality play, complete with big hair and bad songs. (For the record, my parents never rented Saturday's Warrior for me, but I did watch it a friend's house in second grade. And this is what really happens when parents don't double-check what their kids are doing at their friends' houses--kids watch bad, non-church produced musicals with a lot of fog effects.)
For all my fellow 80s-born Mormon friends -- remember when the family's oldest son Jimmy joins a "gang"? And that gang is identifiable mostly by their even baggier neon clothes, their profligate daytime napping, their littering, and their dark eye makeup?
My childlike brain told me that this was a real gang, complete with violence and drug use and gun trafficking and thinly veiled misogyny and racism. Because otherwise, why would Jimmy's family be so very upset that he had fallen in with these reprobates?
But when I re-watched Saturday's Warrior as an adult, for nostalgia's sake, I realized that, no, actually, the "gang" was mostly just advocating for zero population growth.