I’m often torn when I think about religion. As aerin noted last week, sometimes religion does seem to be authentically helpful for some people. But then there are people like the Copelands, of Texas, who preach the “prosperity gospel,” which is basically fraud (promising something you don’t deliver to get someone’s money). Here’s where my inner-conflict over religion comes into play: Religion is a powerful medium that can be used for both good and ill. I used to be okay thinking about things in black and white (basically how I was raised as a Mormon – my religion was god’s religion, all others were Satan’s – nice and simple; black and white), but it’s now apparent that religion is not a black and white phenomenon. Much of religion falls into the gray area between the extremes. To me, there is no question about a**holes like the Copelands who are money grubbing slugs. There is also no question about the authenticity of belief of the Quakers I recently visited in St. Petersburg, FL, who are dedicated to their beliefs of peace and social justice (they spend a lot of time volunteer for activities that push for these goals).
But then there are situations, similar to aerin’s, like my in-laws: They have 3 grandchildren now, only 1 of whom lives close enough for them to visit regularly (about 2 miles away). The others live in different states, thousands of miles away. My mother-in-law would like to visit with her grandchildren even more than she does (she actually has really gone out of her way to visit and is great about visiting, so this isn’t a complaint in any sense), but one of the things that keeps her from visiting even more often is her calling as a temple worker. She doesn’t view her calling as “volunteering”; it’s more like a job. She can’t travel without finding someone to fill her shift, which means she really can’t take much “time off.” The fact that she calls it “time off” when it is a volunteer position is completely bizarre to me. It’s like me volunteering to pick up trash on my street, but feeling obligated to do it 6 days a week and canceling family vacations because of my “obligation.”
aerin also raised the issue of temple work being a waste of time. I’m sure my in-laws feel like their time in the temple is well-spent, because of their beliefs. So, I won’t fault them for their choice of volunteer activity (though, it isn’t really a choice since they were “called” to do this). But it does seem like “callings” in the LDS Church are viewed as something other than a volunteer position. Why is that?
Finally, what should be done about the brazenly corrupt religious groups, like the Copelands? Do we simply follow the aphorism “There’s a sucker born every minute” and pity the fools who give their money to these cretins? Or should they lose their tax exempt status and be regulated?