Over the past few weeks I followed Kosovo’s Mormon community. They were active in building water pipes for local poor communities. During this process I understood that it is hard to condemn a religion for its self-upheld truths, especially when the actions of its members serve a good purpose for the country where it has settled. This doesn't soothe the unsettlement that I experience with religious organizations with state-like structures, executing functions that states are responsible for.
A short explanation about the Mormons: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a faith that started its history in 1827 in the United States. Its followers believe in the Book of Mormon. This testimony, taken as a literal truth by many Mormons, re-writes history. It describes a group of people called Nephites around 600 BC traveling from Jerusalem to the Americas, where a complete parallel biblical narration follows. The book, connecting the American Indians to the ancient Jews, gives the Americas a significant role in Christian history. For nonbelievers, it’s difficult to take the scripture seriously because it is full of facts that have no coherence whatsoever with any academically based historical or archaeological account. Further, Mormons practice their faith in ways that parallel devout Muslims. Mormons don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke or don’t take drugs, including caffeine. Sex is strictly forbidden before marriage. They carry a strict daily routine including regular prayer and daily exercise. This makes them incredibly disciplined, hard workers, and it seems that their culture is based on friendliness. As I observed a Mormon couple devoting all their time in Kosovo to helping poor villages access clean, running water, I could only conclude that these people have good hearts and therefore should not be considered weird or dangerous in any way. But then again, should we embrace all organizations whose followers have good hearts, even if they believe in stuff we don’t?
After accepting the fact that even hyper friendly Mormons in Kosovo couldn't convince me that the existence of their religion is something desirable in today’s world, I realized that even though I embrace spirituality of any kind in people, I have a problem with structures and organizations that govern spirituality. I also cannot shake off the fact that I am incredibly bothered that many religious groups tend to believe in absolute bogus; in a time when reality is becoming so incredibly complicated that believing in self-created fantasies seems to be a better option anyway. People, in my opinion are allowed to hold any kind of beliefs, as long as their religion does not interfere with our public liberties. But in a state like Kosovo, with a government that doesn't exactly execute its responsibility to engage in the general good of its people, these liberties are endangered by people being dependent on religious organizations for giving purpose to their lives.
In Kosovo, the ongoing search for a Kosovar identity is being interfered with by a constant mingling of foreign policies, foreign religions and what not. While the country is suffering incredibly high poverty, international funds and churches are trying endlessly to tweak the culture and habits of its citizens. While on the countryside new forms of Wahabist Muslimism are being promoted by building snow white mosques for the male inhabitants of mud drenched hamlets with financial help from countries like Saoudi Arabia, in the cities gender and LGBT rights are being promoted with many awareness projects and Western embassies. Souls and minds seem to be influenced wherever people are available. Now, throughout history we can see that wherever there is an opportunity for people to improve their wealth and status by adhering to certain belief systems, they are most likely to cave in. I have spoken to freshly converted Wahabist Muslims in Prishtina and found out that their brand new religion has given them access to new social groups, to education and to wealth. The same goes for the Mormons. If I were to become a Mormon tomorrow, I'd be part of a wealthy church with a lot of opportunities.
After acknowledging the power of religious organizations, I think it's problematic that their truths are non-negotiable. People worldwide have kicked each other's asses since the beginning of human history, thinking God was on their side. Even without denying God's existence, history has proven that people who imagine themselves on the “good” side are more prone to imagine non-believers as enemies. For me, real moral truth comes from studying humanity’s dark side intensely, acknowledging its existence and working on making ourselves better. If there is anything like human enlightenment, I think the only path to reach it, is an incredible amount of common sense. Even if this earth is governed by an all-knowing God, I don't think addressing Him will do the trick.
Strong religious organizations have the power to make people look away from this complex human reality that we live in. This reality, that in my opinion, asks for empirically based, individual truths that require action. People should be able to make decisions for themselves and their social surroundings, based on what they see around them. I don't believe that this is the time for grand theories anymore, and certainly not a time for grand fantasies.
To read more about Irmin’s observations of Kosovo’s Mormon community, pick up your copy of Kosovo 2.0 magazine’s Religion edition!
The article was originally written in English.
Illustration: Jaime Treadwell
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