Examine What You Know – Dismiss What Insults Your Soul

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman (1819-92) is considered to be the most important American poet of the 19th century. He published the first edition of his major work, Leaves of Grass, in 1855 and updated it throughout his life with updated editions. Whitman’s work broke away from traditional poetic forms, embracing free verse and celebrating the individual, nature, and the diverse experiences of American life. His writings had a profound impact on American literature and are considered pivotal in the development of modern poetry. He has great advice that speaks to trusting one’s own self and following the inner voice and soul we all feel. He advises readers to re-examine all they have been told in church (or anywhere) and dismiss what insults their souls.

"Re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul" - Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855 | wasmormon.org
“Re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men — go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families — re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.

Walt Whitman, preface to Leaves of Grass, 1855

Man of His Time

Note that this was written during the same decade that Brigham Young was colonizing the West, and entrenching the church in his racist and sexist views. He married dozens of women, killed natives, and exerted absolute control of the theocratic state of Deseret which became Utah. The apologists and church leaders would excuse all church leaders for simply being a “man of his time”. They would have us ignore the atrocities and lies because that was normal or how things were in his day. Honestly? Walt Whitman was a man of the same time. Whitman’s words feel truly inspired and prophetic, especially when placed next to the Mormon prophets of the day.

Exmormons Dismissing the Church

This advice to dismiss what insults your soul is what many exmormons find themselves following (either knowingly or unknowingly). They find that the church is not what it claims to be. The church does not show that it is true. Personal integrity requires many to make a stand and separate themself from the church! They leave the church, dismissing it because it insults their soul. Rather than continue to load all the questions that cannot be answered faithfully onto a proverbial shelf, we dismiss these questions and the whole shelf, because it insults our soul. When the shelf simply breaks due to overloading and we experience what many (including the church) call a faith crisis, it is time to re-examine what we have been told and only keep the good, honorable, and uplifting things. We must rebuild our beliefs and even our identity in many cases. We should use facts and reason rather than any mistaken belief, no matter how much we may cherish it.

Returning from Outsourced Faith

This expands beyond religion, and is true wisdom for the ages. There is talk of “returning” to ourselves and unlearning everything we have picked up in our personal development. We need to learn to “unpack” the things we assumed were true, which are just the things we are taught to believe. We need to discover what it is we are at our core. Much like unpeeling an onion one layer at a time. As famed author Glennon Doyle, who champions authenticity, self-discovery and finding strength through vulnerability, mentions when referencing this same Whitman quote, “there is no outsourcing your faith.” What is outsourcing faith, if not the Mormon church?

Returning to ourselves is confusing at first. It’s not as simple as listening for the voices inside of us. Because sometimes the voices inside of us, which we’ve assumed speak Truth, are just the voices of human beings who told us what to believe. Often the internal voice telling us who God is and what God approves of is not God; it’s our indoctrination. It’s an echo of the voice of a teacher, a parent, a preacher—someone who has claimed to represent God to us. Many of those people have been well meaning, and others have only sought to control us. Either way, not a single one of them has been God’s appointed spokesperson. Not a single one of them has more God in her than you do. There is no church that owns God. There is no religion that owns God. There are no gatekeepers. None of this is that easy. There is no outsourcing your faith. There is just you and God. Some of the hardest and most important work of our lives is learning to separate the voices of teachers from wisdom, propaganda from truth, fear from love and in this case: the voices of God’s self-appointed representatives from the voice of God Herself. When choosing between something you Know and something other people taught you to believe, choose what you Know. As Whitman said, “Re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.” Having the courage to dismiss what insults your soul is a matter of life or death.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

This is the definition of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church places itself as the arbiter of faith, it would have us outsource our faith to the corporation which is the church. The representatives of the church will tell us what to believe, how to feel, how to interpret these feelings, and what our own value and worth is. They would judge us according to their rules. They would tell us we are broken, that we need the church to make us whole. They would make us feel unwhole and unlovable, and that the only redemption and recourse is through them. They would have us believe that they own happiness, that they have a monopoly on truth. They call us sinners and require our faith and devotion to be made whole. They require our confessions and tithes and service. In the temple, the church requires our very lives to be given to the church! Not to God, but to the church. They place themselves between us and any God. But we must follow Whitman’s advice and bravely dismiss what insults our soul to reclaim ourselves. Dismiss the damaging, unhealthy, and outright abusive church. Dismiss what insults your soul.

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