A number of years ago, I decided to try alcohol for the first time. Out of curiosity and a belief that a small amount wouldn’t cause any lasting harm, I bought a small fruit-flavored beer. The alcohol content was actually quite low, but as it was my first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My first impression of the beer was that someone had poured paint thinner or other toxic chemical into some fruit juice. I had difficulty swallowing as I am, I think understandably, quite averse to ingesting poison. After finishing the small drink, I rinsed the vile taste out of my mouth with water and felt none of the purported positive effects of drinking alcohol.
Still, despite that first experience, my curiosity was not sated. Maybe I just needed to try greater amounts or drinks with a higher concentration of alcohol. Over the next few months and on a weekly basis, I tried varying amounts of other types of beer, wine, champagne, vodka, and whiskey. As I tried more, I was able to experience some of the other effects that I’d heard about. I never felt like I lost any clarity of thought, but I did lose some motor control, vomit, and get a terrible headache. I really felt like I was just killing myself with poison. In the end, I decided that if I was going to experiment again, it would have to be small amounts and only socially. I get absolutely nothing good out of drinking on my own.
This experience really made me wonder about all the alcoholics out there and others that actually enjoy the taste of wine or champagne with a meal. I just don’t get it. To me, the taste of alcohol is absolutely vile without a single redeeming feature. However, it is clear to me that not everyone has the same experience. Some drink and enjoy the experience. Some get hooked. And some, like me, don’t. To me, drinking alcohol is a lot like belief in a religion. Some enjoy the experience and seem to get a lot out of it. Many are irreversibly hooked. And some, like me, though it wasn’t particularly enjoyable at the time, only participated because they thought it was true, beneficial, and had something positive to offer.
As with alcohol, I experience mostly negative effects of religion. When I was active in the church, I wasn’t so aware of these negative effects because I tried to focus only on the good, and there was the promise of future benefits. Now that I’m out, it’s hard to understand how I couldn’t see how bad it was for me. I think the analogy isn’t perfect because with alcohol, I really didn’t experience anything positive. With religion though, there was enough good that I could close a blind eye to what was wrong with it. I suppose the analogy would work better for someone that actually does like something about the occasional drink. Anyway, it seems that religious people don’t see the negatives as outweighing the positives and so continue to imbibe.
Despite knowing that alcohol was bad for me, I drank. I held out some hope that I could understand what such a large percentage of humanity seemed to understand – that drinking alcohol could be pleasurable, that it could lower a person’s inhibitions and make social interactions easier, that it could help a person deal with unhappy circumstances. I guess I was lucky that I didn’t experience any of this, but I was still sad about not being able to connect with the greater population. I’m left outside, wondering how so many seemingly intelligent people continue to drink. Do they not believe that alcohol is actually bad for them? Despite all the evidence seeming to prove that alcohol is an actual poison to our bodies, many of the brightest among us still drink.
From my perspective, Mormonism is the same. The evidence against the church is overwhelming. Although I used to believe with all my heart, I can never go back, and I wonder how any stay. Some of the most intelligent people continue to believe in what is so clearly false. Are the benefits to them so great that they can ignore all that’s wrong with it? They surround themselves with like-minded people and keep repeating the same tired mantras. Can they really enjoy it so much? How does it taste to them? It certainly didn’t taste that great to me. I can understand participating socially from time to time, but the way some immerse themselves in it and continue to extol its virtues is truly exasperating. Alcohol is a poison. The church isn’t actually true and may also be termed a poison.
And yet, despite how I feel, I never do more than write the occasional blog post. Alcohol is poison, but religious belief is more poisonous to those around the believer than to the believer themself. When face to face with a religious believer or alcoholic, I smile and nod and just try to be polite. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t enjoy argument or debate. I don’t go out of my way to try and drive home why they’re wrong. They just are. There is enough evidence available that they can find it easily if they look.
I wish I could convince the alcoholic to forgo alcohol. Likewise, I wish I could encourage the religious extremist to abstain from religion. Perhaps either in moderation would be okay, but I have no real hope that I can do anything to influence the true addict, especially when they won’t or can’t admit that they have a problem.
I don’t see much difference between religion and drugs like alcohol. I suppose I’ve made that clear by now. People partake of both, blind to the damage they are causing to both themselves and others. If they are aware of some of the harm either can cause, they must assume that the positives outweigh the negative. And as with alcohol, efforts to help people understand or escape are not appreciated. “It’s not that bad,” they say. Here are a few more phrases I can imagine coming from either group:
“You just don’t understand.”
“It makes me feel good.”
“Nothing that feels this good could be bad.”
“I’m not hurting anyone.”
“Just leave me alone.”
“That was the past.”
“Just try it. You’ll see.”
And then I’ll say, “No thanks. I have tried it. It hurt me at the time, and now those that are still participating continue to hurt me. You think I don’t understand, and you’re right to a degree. It doesn’t make me feel good, and all the evidence out there points to this being a bad thing. Why would I want to go back to that? I’m sorry if I occasionally speak out against it on my blog, but that’s only because I’ve seen firsthand the damage this can cause, to myself and others, and because I care about you. I hope we can still be friends.”