Sunday, October 5, 2014

Moroni's Challenge and Kundun

The difficulty with leaving the Mormon church is that there will always be someone you love telling you to take Moroni's challenge again. The challenge is the idea that if you pray with the right frame of mind that the Holy Spirit will confirm that the church is true. But Moroni's challenge is something I will never do again. I took that challenge hundreds of times, but I could never be sure that the feeling I got from praying about it wasn't just my own mind telling me it was true because I wanted it to be true. 

I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies, Kundun. It's about the conflict between China and Tibet. There is a very memorable scene where the Dalai Lama and chairman Mao sit down together. The negotiations seem to be going well, and it seems like there is nothing but mutual respect between the two men, but then chairman Mao tells the Dalai Lama that there is something he must learn. That religion is poison. I don't agree with socialist or Marxist ideology, and I certainly don't endorse the violence and human right's violations that the Chinese committed in Tibet, but I do agree with the sentiment that religion is the opiate of the people. 

It is a shame that the beautiful culture and religion of Tibet had to be dragged kicking and screaming from the dark ages, but it was something that had to be done for the sake of the poor people living in that country who were stuck worshiping a false god and living in poverty and ignorance about the outside world.

I have a theory that the Dalai Lama himself, through his thorough understanding of Buddhist principles, has come to realize his own humanity. He has said there should be no 15th Dalai Lama. I think he continues to act as the Dalai Lama because of the positive teachings of compassion and non-violence that he has the power to share with the world. I doubt the leaders of the church would ever say there should be no next prophet.

I think I was moved as a teenager when I first saw Kundun because of the parallel experience I was having with leaving the church. The Dalai Lama was convinced as a child that he was special, he was part of a loving community that taught profound truths about the importance of having compassion for your fellow man. But they also taught him a lot of nonsense about being reborn and listening to hissing, thrashing oracles in funny costumes.

I think now that I am older, I relate more to the chairman Mao character in the movie. No matter how much you may love and respect someone, if they believe something that is fundamentally wrong, you should tell them.

The church has adapted to mainstream culture in the past, changing its stance on polygamy and blacks holding the priesthood, but the world is changing too quickly for it to keep up now. I left the church for purely intellectual reasons, but I understand now that was also the right thing to do morally. Telling children they are special because they believe in the only true religion is psychological child abuse, even without threats of going to hell. Trying to use the law to enforce outdated ideas about sexuality, as the Mormon church has done with the LGBT community, is wrong. 

So, since I've taken Moroni's challenge hundreds of times, could I perhaps persuade you to watch Kundun once if you haven't seen it already? I'd love to hear what you think about it. Are Tibetan Buddhism and Mormonism (or any religion) really so different? Are their superstitions any more or less rediculous than yours? Are their struggles for peace, compassion, freedom and understanding any more or less admirable? I believe that it's the principles that are important, not the religious trappings. Religion is no longer necessary to teach correct principles, religion only divides us.

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