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A call to action from John Dehlin: Are Sunday Assemblies enough?

Mormon Stories is a podcast and community created by John Dehlin who started  the podcast  when he began to wrestle with his faith in Mormonism almost ten years ago. Through the years, he has interviewed hundreds of Mormons, both faithful and apostate, and challenged the church to come to terms with gay Mormons and women who wanted equality in the church.

Recently, Dehlin was excommunicated and Mormon Stories has started to explore alternatives to religion. Or, is there an alternative to religion? This is the focus of his most recent podcast interview with Micah Nickolaison, former host of A Thoughtful Faith and also a former Mormon, now atheist. Together they discuss the recent trend in the New Atheism’s Sunday Assembly. They both like the initiative in the Sunday Assembly but feel something is missing. That missing thing is the glue that could bind a certain segment of Nones and former Mormons into a more cohesive unit and would provide them with an identification.

So, John’s latest podcast is a kind of call to action to anyone who is interested in taking it to the next level. He says, and I agree with him here, that the old bronze age religions are dying and this is reflected in the rise of the nones. But the psychologist in him recognizes that community is necessary for collective action and mental health. Also, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the other Four Horseman may be doing atheism a disservice by not recognizing this need in most people.

John says we are at an evolutionary point. How do we evolve away from these old religions while maintaining the ritual and ceremonial aspects that bind communities? It’s a fascinating podcast for those of us in-betweeners who pretty much find Abrahamic religions silly and anachronistic but can’t do the full Dawkins.

Whatever it is that comes out of this, let it be a potent antidote to fundamentalism, which is the real threat to all of us.

Here are Dehlin’s conversations with Micah Nickolaison of Strangers in Zion on his transition away from Mormonism and brainstorming the next evolutionary level. (If you want to skip all the background story, go directly to part 3. But if you want to hear a gifted interviewer do his thing, listen to John lead Micah through in parts 1 and 2)

4 Responses

  1. I don’t know what we are going to evolve into, but I am pretty certain that people still seem to require belief systems of some sort, even if they are not historic religions. The danger of theistic religions has always been that for those who dogmatically believe every aspect of one of them, there is no brooking dissent to the divine word; or to the person or entity who has convinced people that he or she is the person interpreting it for the masses.

    Right now, we have extreme Islamists doing all sorts of horrible things, ostensibly because they believe that Allah has charged them to do so. And nothing anyone says can convince any of them that this is not the case. Religous zealotry is always potentially terrifying, in its essence, and in its consequences.

    But even if there were no more of these religions; if people stopped going to conventional religious places or events, there would likely be a number of belief systems to fill in for conventional religions; to give many people who seem to need some bastion of certainty,something to hold onto.

    When the more radical feminists tell us to “listen and believe,” any person who claims to have been sexually assaulted in any literal or figurative way, they are saying that anyone who does not believe a particular story is essentially a heretic. What is going on in some rather elite college campuses, in terms of students demanding that no person who has an opinion counter to their own be allowed to speak or to question; how is this so different from religious orthodoxy?

    What one might call extreme political correctness also virtually rises to the level of an orthodoxy. Terms like “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobe,” are slapped down like trump cards; effectively shutting off all discussion, and potentially ostracizing the person who says something even slightly counter to the received dogma. I do not see much difference here; except that we have progressed past the rack and the auto da fe of the Middle Ages. Doesn’t everybody at this point steer very carefully in what you say or write, for fear of being misinterpreted or misquoted, and having professional “victims” eagerly jump to their feet to accuse or condemn you? And I am wondering, rhetorically, whether the intelligent people who might discourse here find themselves being a good deal more circumspect than they might have been, say, thirty years ago?

    A great number of people simply substitute one “religion” for another. Of course we all hold beliefs, and basic tenets of our moral and ethical philosophy. And it is important that people have an ethical system which underlies their opinions, and reactions to events. But right now, I see religious fundamentalists on the Right in America; and a growing rigid and sanctimonious political correctness taking up space on what has always been the Progressive Left. This is not encouraging with regard to an evolution some may be seeing or hoping for.

    For the record, I consider myself a somewhat classic liberal; a New Deal Democrat. And I think that Hillary Clinton will make a great President. And I think that she comes from a background of tolerance to ideas, and philosophical differences. But right now, it appears that much of political or social discourse in this country is stultifying; full of instant and reflexive labeling, and unwillingness to be open to differing opinions. And so I wonder exactly what new dogmatic orthodoxies we are going to be seeing in place of some of the old ones.

  2. I’m not a joiner, so community and ritual don’t have the same meaning to me; but, I know how vital they are to others.
    What a sweet relief it must be to be excommunicated by the Mormon church.
    Am I the only one old enough to remember Sonia Johnson?

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