Our New Rituals
Our New Community
Our New Perspectives
Since leaving Mormonism I’ve had a lot of requests that I share what sort of belief system and practices our family now espouses. Some want to know how we’ve “filled the void,” and what we are now doing that we feel is better than our previous path. Some have asked simply because they insinuate that it is “negative” and wrong of me to have shared some of the concerns that led to our leaving, and have suggested I should only post what they consider “positive” posts. Some are simply curious to know what their friend or family member is now doing. Others are in the midst of their own faith transition, and want to hear how others have regained their footing after their worldview fell apart. In any case, I’m ready and excited to share where we are at this point—almost exactly one year since we knew that the church was simply no longer a healthy place for us to be, whether part of us still wanted to be there or not.
Although I’m ready to share this post, I do hope people will be sensitive to the fact that when someone goes through a faith transition, their whole world has fallen apart. They may need some time to get their bearings and rebuild before you start demanding all the answers from them. There are phases that must be passed through. Please also keep in mind and be respectful of the fact that many religions—including the LDS faith—have conditioned people to think of those who’ve lost belief as being morally inferior and essentially walking tragedies. As a result, the costs of demanding that people be open about what they now believe and where they now stand can be debilitating to them from social, family, and even employment perspectives. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been fearful about these kinds of consequences of “coming out of the closet,” but have felt that it is something I needed to do.
With that intro, we’ll dive into some of the practices our family has turned to since leaving Mormonism. Keep in mind that this is just what is working for us, and I understand that what works for others may be different. The basic idea is simple. It has been to take with us the positive habits we’ve gained from religion and Mormonism (sometimes newly re-invented or adapted), while adding helpful new perspectives, and letting go of the aspects that were either harmful or just no longer helpful.
OUR NEW FOUNDATIONAL “DOCTRINE” OR “CREED”
When the cherished faith that had formed my entire worldview and even my personal identity crumbled before my eyes I found myself looking at all the pieces on the ground and asking myself what parts of it were really “true.” I grasped for a new foundation to build on. What did I truly still “believe” in? What could I still in good conscience and with full confidence “testify” about to my kids?
The core foundation I fell back on was the set of four principles that ancient thinkers came to call the “Cardinal Virtues” (Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude), and to a certain extent the three “Theological Virtues” (Faith, Hope, Charity). I had been inspired many years earlier by CS Lewis’ writings about the Cardinal and Theological Virtues in his book “Mere Christianity” (HERE). The word “cardinal” is related to the Latin word for “hinge”—as in, everything else “hinges” on or can be traced back to these four “Cardinal Virtues” that basically everyone agrees on. When I say the theological virtues were important “to a certain extent” it is because as time went on I had to re-interpret “Faith” and “Hope” in significantly different ways than the context in which I had been taught them. For me, faith eventually had to become simply a faith in truth and goodness (sometimes I think “God” is just missing an “o”). Faith that sincerely making truth (not belief in current dogma) the priority was the way to greater happiness. Hope became more focused on having a vision of what I hope the world can become, and of what role I can play in bringing it about, and identifying my life mission and goals.
Before long, these beautiful plaques my wife designed and created were up on our wall—helping to ground us and give us something solid to focus on during our transition and beyond. However, to be honest, as time has gone by there is a part of me that prefers to display only the four “cardinal virtues” along with the virtue we might call “charity” or “love” or “altruism” (which I would argue is also a “cardinal virtue”). I suppose it is mostly just that I know that the words faith and hope have come to mean a very particular thing for most people, and I don’t want to give people the wrong impression. I’m considering just adding Hope and Altruism to the Cardinal Virtues and calling it good. I’ll keep mulling it over. In any case, these were my rock when all else failed, and they have served me and our family well. Here is a brief introduction to these virtues as we see them:
Includes things like self-control, moderation, patience, discipline, and restraint.
Includes things like foresight, wisdom, good judgement and decision making, knowledge, thoughtfulness, tact, and healthy skepticism.
Includes things like basic fairness, awareness of others, honesty, reliability, responsibility, trustworthiness, and integrity.
Includes things like courage (moral, mental, or physical), hard work, persistence, perseverance, strength, determination, endurance, confidence, and dedication.
Includes things like kindness, compassion, caring, service, generosity, selflessness, friendship, gratitude, tolerance, consideration, respect, forgiveness, mercy, gentleness, helpfulness, unity, courtesy, and humility, and alleviation of suffering.
For us this means faith in truth. Trusting that making “truth” the priority is more fulfilling and ultimately allows us to lead better lives than making “belief” in currently held dogma the priority. I would also say it is faith in goodness. Faith that making these virtues the core of our lives is what truly brings happiness.
For us this primarily means having a vision of what we hope the world can become; having a vision of what role we can play in helping it become that; and generally having a focus on identifying our life mission and our personal goals. For us it also encompasses positivity, joyfulness, mindfulness, presentness, and a quest for excellence.
Maybe we can think of some other values and virtues that don’t fit perfectly into those categories, but I think we’ll agree that those core virtues cover a lot of ground, and give a pretty solid foundation to start from.
As we’ve taught our kids these foundational virtues, and they’ve become familiar with this new terminology, it has become common to hear them referenced in our daily lives. For example, as we read a book, we can say “how did this character show prudence.” Or, when a child was struggling with tough homework we can reference fortitude. When a child sleights another, we can ask if they are being just, and so on. We hope to foster these virtues by consistently reading and discussing inspiring stories and examples of people (real or fictional) who demonstrate these virtues; by developing a habit of consistently using these virtues as a measure of our personal choices; and by doing things that help to build these virtues in us.
We often see a tendency toward creating specific sets of rules (in some cases trivial or pharisaical in nature), and then following it up by driving home the principle of “obedience.” I’m not saying this type of thing doesn’t have a place, but it certainly isn’t the end goal. Ultimately, I don’t want children who simply obey a set of rules due to external motivations (fear of punishment, praise of others). Rather, I want children who are internally motivated and equipped to make their own decisions about the situations they face; children who don’t need a detailed set of rules to follow because they have developed and maintained focus on the virtues that lie behind the rules; children who can enjoy the greater personal growth and satisfaction that comes from having our actions be internally motivated and executed; children who not only “act” in virtuous ways, but have “become” virtuous people.
I believe that seeking those virtues is a foundational part of what truly allows us both as individuals and societies to live the most meaningful, healthy, and fulfilling lives. I believe that if there is a God, the sincere desire and effort to develop these virtues would be what this being would truly care about above all the other petty distractions. My sentiments are consistently demonstrated by the Dalai Lama—who has not allowed his religion to become his religion. No, that isn’t a typo.
What percentage of the Dalai Lama’s time and effort and ministry is dedicated to ensuring that others maintain belief in or loyalty to his religion? What percentage of his time is spent trying to convert other people to his religion? What percentage of his time is spent claiming that his religion is the one true religion? What percentage of his time is spent insisting on typical religious dogma or existential truth claims, or even the existence of a divine being? The answer to all of these questions is “little to none.” Mostly “none.” Instead, his effort is almost always focused on promoting virtues, compassion, and alleviating suffering. In my view, he’s getting it right. Perhaps its for this reason that he has a more broad influence for good than probably any other religious leader in the sense that he is able to inspire and draw crowds of people from Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, and even Atheist persuasions. As he recently noted in a Facebook post:
“The first of my personal commitments is to work to increase human happiness by encouraging the cultivation of inner values and a sense of concern for others’ well being. These are the key factors to make us happy whether we are religious or not.”
I also enjoyed these recent comments from the Dalai Lama:
“The time has come to take concrete steps to bring about a real transformation in the ways we educate our future generations. We need to combine both an education of the mind with an education of the heart so that our children grow up as responsible, caring citizens equipped to meet the challenges of today’s increasingly globalized world.”
I believe in actively instilling virtues in ourselves and our children together as a society. Although we may interpret or apply them in different ways, I think humanity would do well to adopt and teach a common set of virtues on which basically everyone can agree. In my view, temperance, prudence, justice, fortitude, and altruism would be a good place to start. It is these things I’d like to see people “converted” to.
OUR NEW SCRIPTURE
I’ve begun to discuss my changed views of LDS “scripture” in other posts on this site. Suffice it to say that I was in need of some new scripture. It has really been a beautiful thing. Anything that inspires us to be better or models virtues and values we hold dear can become our scripture. It could be fiction–like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or Harry Potter. Or it can be about the inspiring stories of real people. Anything we can draw lessons from. But whatever our scripture happens to be, we have held on to the habit of reading with the kids every night before bed, and trying to draw life lessons from the various texts. I’ll share a few of our favorites from the past year.
I’ve really enjoyed becoming re-acquainted with the old “Value Tales” series that I had as a kid. The series explores (in a kid friendly way) the lives of real people like Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, and Marie Curie, and uses their lives to introduce values such as “Determination,” “Helping,” and “Learning.” When we read from these we typically do about 15 pages a night before bed, and discuss that particular value throughout the week. It is powerful to hear the stories and struggles of real people, and for our kids to get new perspectives about the world through them.
Another series we recently went through is one by Joy Berry that addresses various behaviors such as “whining,” “being messy,” “being forgetful,” or “being a bad sport.” The kids enjoy choosing a character and reading their parts in the dialogue. We’ve also found some other books similar to these at the local library. Sometimes about various virtues. Sometimes about important life skills. As the kids get older we will shift our choices accordingly–probably turn to some classic novels or other inspiring works, but we plan to maintain the habit of learning and being inspired by books and narratives together as a family.
OUR NEW “FAMILY HOME EVENINGS”
For those who have no idea what I’m talking about here, the LDS church has long asked its members to set aside one night a week as a family night. Sometimes just a fun activity together. Often including family planning or a lesson. It’s another valuable habit, so we have continued it.
Maria paid the one time fee to have access to ValuesParenting.com which has been a nice resource. There is a “value” that is focused on each month, and lesson resources available to work from. This past month was “courage.”
I tend to use a lot of youtube videos. Probably partly because I’m lazy, and partly because I find them effective. In my last lesson on courage, since our oldest is into Harry Potter, we discussed how Gryffindors are distinguished by their courage, watched the scene where Harry jumps on the Troll’s back, and discussed these other examples of courage from Harry Potter outlined HERE. We then picked a few real life examples from this list HERE. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a particularly potent one.
Below are some other examples of family night lessons we’ve done that you could use if you have young kids. Again, I’ll often use a youtube video in there to get their attention, and I often pull out the guitar and we sing a song that relates (I may cry if they get old enough that they don’t think this is cool anymore). Our version of Hymns I suppose. In a few cases we found Karaoke/Lyric videos on youtube for the songs.
Video HERE. We sang “Another Man’s Shoes” by Drew Holcomb.
COURAGE/DOING THE RIGHT THING:
We circle back to this one often, so here are a bunch…
Video HERE. We sang “Nothing More” by the Alternate Routes.
Video HERE. We sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Video HERE. We sang “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers.
Video HERE. We sang “Brother” by Needtobreathe.
Video HERE. We sang “Washed By The Water” by Needtobreathe.
You get the idea. Family nights are alive and well. In fact, I’d say they’re better than ever.
More sections coming………