A recent article from Ben Shapiro on Daily Wire discussed youth suicide. The alarming statistic is that from 2006 to 2016 in the U.S., teen suicide increased 70%. Additionally, suicide across all ages in the most recent statistical year, 2016, was at a 30 year high.
In our community, we have discussed the alarming nature of Utah’s teen suicide rate. Especially in regards to the Mormon Church position on LGBT+ issues, and the pain and confusion that gay LDS youth are experiencing, attempting to reconcile their nature with their faith.
But, as this article suggests, the problem in America (and likely even in Utah), seems to be much larger than just this one issue. What’s going on? The article theorizes. At first we thought it was the economy, but then when the economy improved starting 2009, suicides continued to increase. Then we thought it was drugs, but the article cites a study that states drug use is at the lowest level in decades.
The conclusion of this article, is that the suicide problem could be related to secularization and decrease of religious engagement. A study in 2014 correlated “sense of purpose” with religion.
Shapiro suggests the left and the right are focused on their differences and fighting, believing they have the answer. But the real issue is that we have a problem of the soul. Ben Shapiro:
So, what’s to be done? First, we need to get off the weak sauce of “spirituality without religion.” Spirituality is an aimless search within for some sort of transcendental values that simply can’t be found within. Religion is about practice — it is about acting in moral and ethical ways because your Creator demands it. This doesn’t mean you have to join an organized religion. It does mean that human beings need individual meaning — a belief in their holiness and specialness as beings made in the image of God, rather than a cluster of meaningless cells wandering through a cold, empty universe. And it means that human beings need collective meaning as well: brotherhood in this journey. If we can’t supply those things to our children, it’s no wonder they’re in increasing levels of despair, no matter how many tennis lessons we buy them.
I don’t know how valid these studies are, or whether there are counter studies to offset them. I do make this general observation from what I see within Mormonism. I see people in “as little as 30 minutes, read the CES Letter, and dump the Mormon Church” (per John Dehlin in recent podcast). I interact with Exmormons online, and I don’t think that leaving the Mormon Church is always wrong. I believe deeply in the positive benefits of the Church, but I’m not going to get in your face to try to prove it. My logic from a proselyting standpoint is: if the lived experience is good but you’re stuck on intellectual issues, let me show you a paradigm that works. But if the lived experience doesn’t work for you, or you’ve spent some time trying to reconciling a more nuanced paradigm, and it’s just not working, it might be best to leave. But I think there are some very, very important benefits to religion, especially Mormonism.
- community to serve and be served
- provides meaning and purpose in life
- place to facilitate spiritual connection
- support to overcome vices, bad behavior, and become your best self
- provide structure for those in first half of life (see Richard Rohr), especially youth
Those are some pretty important benefits. Forgive the bluntness, but I don’t give a crap where Joseph Smith got the Book of Mormon or how many women he married (OK, I do, but I’m making a point here). We have something good here, that’s working for a lot of people. Humans have been using religion for thousands of years to provide these five bullet point benefits. I’m not saying you can’t satisfy these outside the Mormon Church, or even outside religion. But it’s easier said than done. And before you leave, please take some time to think how you and your children will satisfy these needs. There can be serious ramifications, and a society where suicide has increased, might be one of those.
That second bullet point is a weakness in the Metaphorical Paradigm, at least what I had worked on up to about a year ago. The others are covered pretty well.
Meaning is something I’ve thought about a lot over the past 10+ years of my faith crisis and reconstruction. After breaking it all down, I began reconstructing it. And I ended up in a place I feel very satisfied with. I love the Mormon Church for what it is to me. It’s no longer an answer book for understanding everything about God and the heavens. But it’s a place where I can learn and grow and worship and serve.
But I have to admit, I still felt a hole in this area of “meaning”. As a missionary, I loved to answer the golden questions.
Why am I here?
Where am I going after this life?
The simple LDS answers to those questions gave me great meaning and purpose in life. The deconstruction of my LDS beliefs, came with a pain in not knowing any longer.
Finding Jordan Peterson about a year ago has greatly helped in reconstructing that area. It took me going outside the faith tradition and finding Marcus Borg, Peter Enns, etc, to understand the paradigm some of the Neo-Apologists were hinting at, and gave me new insight into scripture, prophets, and especially Joseph Smith. And, similarly, it took me going outside the LDS tradition to hear Jordan Peterson talk about meaning and Christian redemption and God’s plan, in order to understand what some Neo-Apologists were talking about, in regards to the purpose of life. Which upon more reflection brings me full circle back to understanding better what Joseph Smith was trying to do with building the Kingdom of God and creating Zion.
Jordan Peterson has been thrust onto the scene recently with some of the viewpoints he has that relate to the social justice wars: men vs women, white vs black, straight vs gay. He’s become an alt-right hero and an enemy to the left. That pains me so much, because I love some of what he teaches so much, but really don’t like that other part. Please ignore that and give attention to what he was originally know for, which is his Maps of Meaning, and commentary on Old Testament Bible stories and Christian doctrine.
Dr. Peterson’s insights have become very important to me, especially using them to reinterpret Mormon teachings. I want to do a deeper dive on this later, but here’s a teaser on this idea of “meaning” from this presentation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtiRzQMgBDM.
We are in a state of constant unredeemed suffering and it’s a big problem… There is another inference in the New Testament and its hypothesis of a metastate and the inference is that: a life that is predicated on a constant death and renewal at every level of being, a life that’s predicated on the search for the truth and an attempt to act out the truth, and a life associated with the sacrifice of self to God produces a state of being that is so deeply meaningful that it justifies suffering. It doesn’t eliminate suffering. There is no elimination of suffering.
Nietzsche said, “He who has a why can bear any how.” And what he meant by that was “if what you are aiming at is of sufficient profundity, it’s worth an awful lot of misery to participate in the process of bringing it about.” Life has an unbearable amount of misery and as a consequence it needs an absurd positive aim. And the absurd positive aim is posited in the New Testament is participation in a process that transforms earth into heaven – the generation of the Kingdom of God on earth.
I believe that what is outlined in narrative form in the New Testament is psychologically correct. I believe that the idea that endless microdeath and renewal produces a state of proper adaptation to being. And that the prerequisites for that, that are laid out in the narrative structure that underlies the New Testament, are fundamentally correct. So to be redeemed is to aim at the highest value, to sacrifice what’s no longer useful and valid in yourself, and to tell the truth. The consequence of that is existence in a deep state of meaning that justifies the tragedy of being and the possibility of transforming your own life in the most beneficial positive direction while simultaneously doing that for the people around you. And that’s redemption.
I am trying to follow Jordan Peterson’s suggestion. Which is also the pattern required by Jesus Christ. And of the LDS prophets.
I’m going to think of the highest possible good I can think of, that I can realistically in my life on a daily, weekly, and lifetime basis accomplish.
I’m going to covenant with God to do that.
I’m going to make whatever sacrifices I need to in my life to do that.
The ultimate outcome if I succeed, and then rest of the LDS Body of Christ also succeeds, and then ultimately the entire human family joins together in that goal and succeeds. Then what we have as an outcome is Heaven on Earth. And that’s pretty damn meaningful.