The past few weeks have been rather busy for me. Work has been a big part of it, but also I have had certain musical opportunities come up. One group of which I have been a part for a few years now had a sort of reunion show recently where I got to see some people I haven't seen in quite a while. One of these people was quite shocked to find that I had left the Mormon Church, since we were in the same ward (congregation) while attending BYU.
In fact, this person was the reason I joined this particular group in the first place, and when I first started practicing with them he told me how great it was for him to have another active Mormon in the group. Since this was between the time I had stopped attending church services but had yet to acknowledge my atheism fully, I played along with his expectation. It really was no skin off my nose despite having to bite my lip on a few occasions. If he needed that kind of support system I was happy to oblige. This was my mind set at the time.
A lot has changed from that time to now. Most notably with regards to my relationship with this person my atheism has taken a more prominent role in my life and I have refined my positions on a great many subjects. So, when he and I discussed my leaving the Church we covered quite a bit of ground, most of which I would not post on a public blog due to privacy. But one topic came up which I think is relevant and I don't think he would mind if I addressed it here: Mormonism is a good way to raise kids.
His position, as I remember it, is that Mormonism is good for kids in that it helps teach them right from wrong, offers a good social frame work, etc, and yet as his kids grow older he will allow them to make the choice for themselves to stay or leave the church. Either possible outcome will not diminish his love for them. My immediate response to this position is that whether or not the church does good is irrelevant to its truthfulness, which is my primary concern. But upon further consideration, I don't think I can even give him that much ground that the church is good for kids. Any good done by the Mormon Church seems to come at a price.
The Mormon Church is especially divisive towards those who do not follow their rules--regardless of religious affiliation. The more Mormon rules an outsider does not follow (and why would they?) the less likely Mormons are to associate with them. This is a mentality which is taught at a very young age and is reinforced with great zeal during the teenage years. A good Mormon is taught to not spend time with those deemed as "bad influences", lest they be led down a path of sin and damnation.
This concept breeds divisiveness and ostracises many non-Mormons who live in strong Mormon communities. Do you really want to raise your kids in such a narrow-minded manner? Sure, this view of sin may allow them to avoid parties with drugs and alcohol and pre-marital sex, but this also makes it difficult to make the distinction between "smoking is bad" and "people who smoke are bad", since god apparently makes no such distinction.
Furthermore, the religious concept of right and wrong is not morality, but rather it is simple-minded obedience. According to his closest followers, god does not want automatonic robots, but issuing a list of "do's and don't's" is exactly how such robotic minds are molded. The only fundamental difference between a robot following orders and a religious person following a list of commandments is that the religious person volunteers to subject themselves to these commandments and forfeit their freewill (argued by some religious people as our greatest gift from god and therefore it is our greatest sacrifice).
Why would god give us freewill and then tell us that the only appropriate use of such a gift is to voluntarily give it up and never use it. And how does any of this actually teach children how to make a moral assessment of a situation? This way of thinking does not promote morality--it is the circumvention of moral thinking. This is what Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg meant when he said:
"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
Teaching unquestioning obedience to children--or that disobedience leads to damnation--is the opposite of moral.
Another topic related to this one, which I will save for another day, is whether all the apparent benefits of Mormonism (i.e. social network, morality, charity, sober living) can be attained without adherance to the religion. The answer, by the way, is "yes".
Here is a link to an excellent article by Richard Packham on raising children in the Mormon Church even if it is not true. Here are some of the topics covered by Mr Packham:
Perfection through Obedience
Moral (Sexual) Purity
Education and Knowledge
Belonging and Being "Special"
Choosing What To Do In Life
Developing a Moral System
Here is Christopher Hitchens on lying to children: