Why do we as humans seek first external verification of our self-worth before we can learn to love ourselves? Is is because we come into the world as helpless infants, completely dependent upon our parents? Why is it that this external love must come first before we are able to love and accept ourselves unconditionally? This is my general impression of humanity, one which, I’m sure, does not include all individuals. There may be those who escape or are immune to outside forces on their own self esteem, but I believe they are rare indeed.

Religion is such a big part of the external verification by which so many govern their own self worth. As created by man, God’s will can be twisted into a standard by which we measure our own worthiness for love and acceptance. In my experience, religion does far more damage than good in this regard. At an early age, many of us humans are taught strict guidelines for earning not only our parents approval but also the thing that matters most, God’s love. Unfortunately, sometimes these criteria reach far beyond simple behavior into what makes up the fiber of our souls. When this happens, we learn to push down our true selves. The longer we do this, the more distant we become from not only knowing ourselves but also being true to ourselves and living in peace. Guilt, rebellion, and self-harm are all by-products of the self-loathing religion can instill.

Now that I’m out of a legalistic church, I can clearly see that man-made religion is at the root of much of what is wrong in the world today. Much violence and hatred is perpetrated with the belief that one is doing God’s will. Likewise, there is much less visible suffering that is woven into the daily life of many who are striving for perfection in God’s eyes. In Mormonism it may look like a housewife juggling 6 kids, 2 church callings, being the perfect wife, and shouldering guilt for falling short with her temple attendance and visiting teaching. It may be a young gay teenager living with self-loathing and fear that he’ll be rejected by his family if they know the truth, or a middle-aged, single woman or man living with the feeling of ostracization from his church community simply for enjoying being single.

What would the world be without religion? I think it would be a better place. I find it ironic that Jesus went about his work, taking every opportunity to criticize organized religion. He left behind a simple concept: all we need is love. He taught that God loves us unconditionally and that salvation is a free gift for all. Again and again, he shot down the Judaic concept that salvation comes only after strict obedience to multiple laws. Although Mormons claim to follow Christ, the LDS religion is even more legalistic than Old Testament Judaism. Not only do you have the multiple laws to obey, but you have ritual upon ritual to complete as well. So many rituals and works, in fact, that the work does not end at death. I wonder what Christ would have to say about the frantic efforts of church members today.

Is religion really a good thing? Is it of God’s idea or man’s? I believe that God and religion are independent concepts, and that many will be surprised that Heaven may actually be a place devoid of religion.

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