Please see the disclaimer.
tl;dr: I am religious because it gives me joy.
It seems that people are rejecting religion almost wholesale these days. That doesn't make sense to me; I could never live another way.
As I have said before, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For a long time, I stayed a member because my parents wanted me to be; I didn't know the truth of it for myself. Eventually, however, I applied Moroni 10:4-5 and learned that yes, it was true.
But it was at the Air Force Academy that I learned that religion would bring joy to my life.
Wickedness Never Was Happiness
Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.
I discovered the scripture Alma 41:10 when I was in high school, and I knew that it was important; I just didn't know why.
When I went to the Academy, I wasn't happy. I had depression, and I suffered a lot, especially during Basic Training.
At one critical point, during one training exercise, I was lying in a puddle. My mouth was submerged, so I could not breathe. And I didn't care. I wanted to be done; I wanted to die.
But then, I remembered that it was a Friday.
In Basic, religious services were held on Sunday and Friday. People in my church held meetings both days, so I would get to go to the Friday meeting after I finished the exercise.
And that is the only reason I got out of that puddle.
That was only my first experience that helped me understand Alma 41:10, but suffice to say that I do understand it now.
What Is Wickedness?
That scripture begs the question: what is wickedness?
Most people define it, more or less, as sinful living. Well then, what is sin?
Again, most people define it as an action (or inaction) contrary to the commandments of God. And that is true.
What Is Happiness?
The other question is just as important: what is happiness? What makes people happy?
Well, that is the kicker; we don't know what makes people happy.
But my understanding of Alma 41:10, and of what happiness is, came when I started from a more fundamental truth: that Heavenly Father loves us.
God Loves Us
I was taught, from before I could walk, that God loves all of humankind. And it was that truth that came into my mind one day as I was pondering Alma 41:10.
I started connecting dots.
- God loves us.
- If God loves us, He wants us to be happy.
- If God wants us to be happy, He would have given us what we need to be happy.
- If God gave us what we need to be happy, what did He give us?
And it hit me more than anything else before: He gave us commandments.
God's commandments are not arbitrary; they are for marking the difference between happiness and misery.
That is why wickedness never was happiness: because when God calls something wicked, He is saying that, in the long run, it will make us unhappy.
(That phrase “in the long run” is important because, of course, wicked acts can make someone happy in the short term, just like eating candy makes me happy in the short term. It is the long-term consequences that I will suffer for in that case, as is the case with any sin.)
With that understanding, it became much easier to pursue and live a righteous life because I knew that, in the long run, it would make me happy.
And that is why I am religious.
Changing Thoughts and Language
Ever since I had that epiphany, I have been trying to change my thoughts and language about sin and wickedness. Words and phrases have new meaning.
- “Wickedness” becomes “eventual misery”
- “Sin” becomes “act that makes oneself more miserable”
- “Sinner” becomes “person that is not as happy as possible”
- “Committing a sin” becomes “making oneself less happy”
- “Evil” or “wicked” become “unhappy”
Now, it may seem like I am being a little disingenuous, but those changes are of immense importance. Not once in that list is wickedness, or those who are wicked, labeled as “bad.”
That tiny change makes it so I don't see people as “bad” anymore; I see them as unhappy. That, in turn, makes it easier for me to follow the commandment, “love thy neighbor” (Matthew 22:39), “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39), and “forgive all men” (D&C 64:10).
Most importantly, I have begun seeing myself differently; I am not “bad”; I am just not as happy as God wants me to be.
But the biggest change of all is how I see repentance. It is no longer something that I fear or dread. Instead, it now means that I am breaking habits that are making me unhappy.
The Church and Commandments
A lot of people criticize the Church for its strong stance on many topics, especially for labeling certain widely-accepted behaviors as sins, but when considered with the above context, it makes perfect sense.
The Church is not trying to label people as wicked or evil; it is trying to help people know what they can do to be happy.
The other side of the coin is that the Church insists that all men and women have the right and ability, given to them by God, to choose between righteousness and happiness or wickedness and unhappiness. The Church is not forcing anyone to live the commandments; it merely invites all to “come and see” (John 1:39).
Now my readers should have some idea of why I am still religious in a world that has, more or less, rejected religion.
I invite any who are interested to see for themselves.