Thursday, November 30, 2006

"I don't want to talk about it"

Is it always better to talk about it? Or are some things better left unsaid? If a TBM tells me, “I don’t want to talk about religion,” fine, I won’t bring it up. But religion is so important to me and to TBMs, to make religion a non-subject shuts off huge chunks of our selves. Some refer to this as the elephant in the room, or the 800 pound gorilla.

But that evokes something outside ourselves, and I feel like I’m closing off something inside myself. A section that is kept in the dark and will shrivel up and die.

If I can’t present my true self to my family, especially, what does that make me? In the closet? Yeah, they know of my disaffection, but they don’t know my opinions on the church, or why I left. They don’t know what I disagree with, and, more importantly, they don’t know what values, morals, and beliefs I now hold. They don’t want to talk about it.

If I bring it up, will they just see it as me throwing it in their faces? Will they take it as an affront to their beliefs? I’m not talking about saying, “Did you know Joseph Smith has 11 wives who were already married to other men?” or “Did you know Parley Pratt was killed by a man whose wife he had stolen, without her divorcing the first husband?” I'm thinking, “I support gay marriage,” or “I think a couple choosing to have no children is legitimate,” or “I don’t think the principle of obedience to authority should trump personal conscience.” Shouldn’t I be able to present myself and my thoughts to them? Is it always better left unsaid? I can’t think so.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

exiting emotions: betrayal

When I realized the church isn’t The One True Church, I felt betrayed.

I felt betrayed because I’d been lied to. Who had lied to me? I don’t know.


I didn’t feel like my parents lied to me, because I felt like they’d been lied to too. And their parents, and their parents, on back to Joseph Smith, who was lying to himself.

The church promised that if I did and believed A, B, and C, I’d get to heaven. I’d get salvation and eternity and worlds without number, to be my very own goddess. They took my money, my time, my effort, my tears, my heart, my wedding, my childhood, my youth, my college years, my twenty-something years. They took all that and returned nothing. I was betrayed.

And not just me. How about any member who went on a mission? They’d convinced them to try to blindly betray others. And all the members of the church from 1830 on. All of those people, persecuted and driven from their homes. All those people crossed the plains on foot, many of them dying. All those families broken up because one was so sure of the Truth. All of those women manipulated into marrying men as plural wives. All those women manipulated into thinking the only thing they wanted in life was to pop out babies. The ones manipulated into thinking they aren’t as important as their husbands. People messed up, lives ruined, and most of them don’t even realize it. They’ve given it up for a fake eternity, for a lost salvation, a false hope. I felt betrayed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

cultural Mormons and identity

On another label, I disagree with CL Hanson’s definition of cultural Mormon. (See her post. ) She says that every type of Mormon, from active to Jack to convert to apostate to ex-Mormon, is cultural Mormon. I disagree, perhaps because of my definition of culture. I think of culture as shared and transmitted language, behaviors, beliefs, morals, and use of physical objects. (There’s a lot of different definitions of culture, but that’s the one that sits in my mind.)

I wouldn’t call myself a cultural Mormon, because I don’t act like a Mormon (I don’t go to church, the temple, have family home evening, or follow the word of wisdom), believe like a Mormon (I don’t believe in the Godhead, that Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon holds the complete Gospel), I don’t hold the same morals (I don’t think the only true family is mom, dad, and lots of kids; obedience is the first law of heaven; or that fidelity to the church is more important than to family), nor do I have the same physical objects (I don’t have pictures of BoM characters, Jesus, or temples; framed copies of the Proclamation on the Family, scripture totes, family home evening lesson manuals; I don’t eat funeral potatoes).

I’d more readily identify as ethnic Mormon, because of my Utah heritage. But what about ex/former/post Mormons, etc who don’t have Utah heritage? “Secular Mormon” is one option, in the vein of secular Jews; they acknowledge the heritage, celebrate the holidays, but don’t believe or practice.

While I’m ex-Mormon, I’m also of Mormon heritage. Leaving the church doesn’t erase all Mormon-ness from me, after all. I’ve still got BYU on my resume, my son’s still got Utah on his birth certificate, and almost all my grandparents for generations were Mormon (though I’m sure there were some Jacks in there). It’s still my history. It shaped a large part of who I am today. And while I’m a bit embarrassed about that, I don’t want to be embarrassed about it. If “Mormon” were more like “Jewish,” where it could encompass everyone from atheists to Hasidim, I might like to just say I’m Mormon. But it doesn’t, so I don’t.

So I’m of Mormon heritage, but non-practicing, non-believing. But that’s too unwieldy. Identity is never simple, though, is it? No one can identify with only one word. Everyone has multiple identities.

I am woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt.

I am ex-Mormon, atheist, agnostic, secularist.

I am American, white, Caucasian.

I am student, employee, activist, writer, researcher.

I am black sheep, apostate, blasphemer.

I am explorer, thinker, blogger, journal-writer.

I am deconstructer, renovator, builder of my world views.

I am destroyed.

I am renewed.

I am emerging from the ashes.

Monday, November 27, 2006

more on ex-mo and post-mo

I’m not done talking about the label ex-Mormon. I’m uncomfortable with ex-Mormon, and I’m trying to figure out why. I already said that it defines me by who I’m not rather than who I am. That’s a problem. CL Hanson took issue with my quote comparing labeling oneself as ex-Mormon to labeling oneself ex-girlfriend, and I think she has a good point. Being an ex-Mormon is so much more than an ex-girlfriend. Does ex-wife work better? I don’t know. Only in the sense of it being a transitional identity: If I were an ex-wife, I wouldn’t want to be telling people for the rest of my life that I’m Mr. X’s ex-wife, would I? (Especially if there were bad feelings there.) But even if I didn’t tell people that, would I still think of myself as an ex-wife? Forever?

Or would I want to identify as something that defines me by me, and not in relation to someone else? But then we are never individuals in vacuums, are we? We are people always in relation to others and to things or ideas. But we usually define ourselves by who we are, not by who we once were. I don’t say, “I’m a BYU alum,” or “I’m an ex-resident of Utah,” or “I’m an ex-girl scout.” No, I say what I am now (which I won’t list for privacy sake).

But as far as my relationship to Mormonism goes, I’m an ex-Mormon. I imagine everyone uses it differently, even among those of us who self-identify as such. I’d just as easily say former Mormon. I don’t use post-Mormon, but I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe part of it is that some people who use it use it in opposition to ex-Mormon, and put post-Mormons in a better place than ex-Mormons. Like they are on a continuum, and a post-Mormon is a better-adjusted person. They’ve moved on with their lives. But have I not? Sure, I talk to death my experience with leaving, but only here and with a few fellow former Mormons. The rest of me and my life continues on well, and most people have no idea about my past.

I also feel like some people who claim a post-Mormon state do so a bit self-righteously or judgmentally. “I didn’t go through an angry phase, I didn’t rant and rave, I don’t think the church is a horrible institution. What’s these ex-mos problem?” I wonder if people who adjust easily do so because of their different circumstances, like no mission, no spouse still in, no hard-core TBM childhood, no significant hours put into the church, no strong commitment, no great emotional investment. I could be way off, I don’t know. Certainly there are people who self-identify as postmo who had invested a great deal in the church—but did any of them not go through an angry, emotional place? Is it fair to say that the more you invested the harder it was to recover? This could be any type of investment—money, time, service, emotions, callings, life changes. People who got baptized, came a few weeks, then quit—probably not much recovery time required. People who were born in, went on missions, converted others, etc.—harder recovery time. I think that’s safe to say. If that second person claims to have an easier recovery than the first, he’s deluding himself.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

exiting emotions: grief/loss

When I realized the church isn't The One True Church, I felt loss and grief.

I lost my world. I lost my direction. I lost my culture. My plan of salvation. I lost my moral compass. My afterlife. I lost a connection to my family. I lost my heritage. I lost all those people who had already died, and I thought I'd see again.

Perhaps most painfully, I lost Heavenly Father. He was gone. It was like he, along with some version of me, had died. Recognizing the active part I played in breaking down my faith, I even felt like I killed him. (I’ve never read Nietzsche, but I’ll get to it at least to understand this part of my self.)

When I was a believer, I felt I had a personal relationship with Heavenly Father. The moments that boosted my testimony most were times I felt like Heavenly Father loved me—me personally—and that he knew me personally and knew me well. My patriarchal blessing was especially tender to me because of that connection. Father’s blessings were also very important to my testimony and my felt connection to Heavenly Father. It seemed that in nearly every father’s blessing I received from my dad (at least a couple a year), Heavenly Father told me, though my father, that He loved me and knew me. Those statements always made me cry, and renewed my dedication to the church. (Now I appreciate them as my own father telling me how much he loves me.)

So to lose that, to destroy that relationship, to have Heavenly Father gone or even dead was immeasurably painful. I felt that loss keenly. It left a gaping hole in my life and in my heart. I had to grieve.

With time, I don't feel that so keenly now, but it was certainly very painful in the few months after leaving.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

exiting emotions

I was raised to believe that all negative emotion was, at best, a loss of the Spirit, and at worst, straight from the devil. Conversely, positive emotion came from God and my living worthy enough to enjoy the presence of the Spirit. Any emotion or mood would be categorized into one or the other of the camps: from God or from the devil. If I didn't feel happy, it was because I was doing something unworthy of God's presence. If I was happy, it was because God approved of what I was doing.

Of the devil: wanting to be alone, sadness, nervousness, fear, the blues, Monday-itis, restlessness, confusion, dread, disappointment, anger, defensiveness, wanting revenge, laziness, agitation, angst.

Of God: happiness, joy, peace, calmness, friendliness, sociability, confidence, certainty.

Because of this simplified, messed up view of the range of human emotions, negative emotions have been especially hard for me to confront and understand. As another former Mormon friend of mine put it, "You've had to learn to be angry." I've had to pick them apart, and figure out that, for example, the fear I experienced was not Satan leading me away from The Truth and toward hell, but a natural reaction to realizing I did not, after all, have a clear and easy plan of salvation laid out before me. Avoiding talking to my family was not loss of the Spirit, but an understanding that I would hurt them if they knew.

During and after the process of realizing Mormonism isn't all it claims to be, I felt a fury of emotions. Some were positive, and many were negative. Thankfully, I was in contact with other exit-ers and ex-mos who reassured me that I was anything but alone in those feelings. Knowing that others felt what I felt was helpful to assuage the emotions somewhat, but I still felt them keenly. I'm still working through them, though they are not as painful as they used to be.

Some of these emotions were


I couldn't even begin to recreate in which order these emotions came, so I won't try. I feel like they came together in one big whirlwind, swirling around, making life hell for a while. I'll take a few posts to discuss them.

Friday, November 24, 2006

what does "ex-Mormon" mean, and what does that make me?

Following up from my post about the label "Mormon," I want to discuss the label "ex-Mormon."


Someone who once was, but is not now, Mormon, usually by self-identification.

Someone who has been excommunicated from a Mormon church.

Someone who has resigned from a Mormon church.

I only fit into that first category. I haven't resigned. (Why? I'll save that for another post. But the short answer: Beats me.)

The major problem with the label ex-Mormon is that the person is defined by who she isn't, rather than by who she is. As someone of the old Foyer once said, (and I'm paraphrasing) "I don't think of myself as ex-Mormon any more than I think of myself as so-and-so's ex-girlfriend."

Some consider it a transitional label, somewhere between Mormon and post-Mormon. Post-Mormon being someone who was once Mormon, but is not now, and is okay with having once been Mormon. A well-adjusted, no-longer-angry ex-Mormon. (Or ex-Mormons who aren't angry because they didn't get screwed by the church, or they didn't have a difficult time leaving because they were less invested, or had "less" of a testimony in the first place, and can't really get why anyone would be angry. I'm thinking specifically of the guy who claims the invention of the term post-Mormon.)

I now label myself an ex-Mormon, because a significant portion of my time is spent thinking about leaving the church and the aftermath thereof. I'd like a better label, but for now, it fits. Not that I go around telling people, "I'm an ex-Mormon." No, I say, "I was raised Mormon" or "I used to be Mormon" or "My family is Mormon." The label ex-Mormon doesn't fit my normal day-to-day life. But it does fit this blog.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

happy thanksgiving

In the spirit of this day of gluttony:

Domestic goddess that I'm not, I caught up on some housework on Saturday. By the time I finished, I was in the zone and decided to cook some cinnamon rolls for dessert. When I looked up a recipe for some sugar glaze to drizzle on top, I noticed I could substitute in some liqueur. Looking through my liquor cabinet, I decided on brandy.

Not really sure if this meant our son shouldn't eat some, we jokingly debated, and decided it was such a small amount (though uncooked) that it didn't matter. At first, he was repulsed by the thought of glaze on his rolls, so I saved one for him without any. But as soon as he tasted one with glaze, he started making the coolest "yummy sounds," as if he knew exactly what was in those rolls and he was going to get away with it.

Just as we were joking about candies and desserts with alcohol in them, our son jumped up to the table and spotted the very last cinnamon roll. "Oooooohhhh," he said in ecstasy, "the last one....mmmmmmm," in a very Homer Simpson kind of way. You would have thought they'd been spiked with something a lot stronger.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mountain Meadows Masscre, part 2

I finished the MMM book. While a have a few minor complaints with her work, Brooks did a pretty good job. Most importantly, she touched a part of history that others before her were either reluctant to investigate, or as she suggests, pressured to stay away from. I had already read her No Man Knows My History about Joseph Smith, and appreciated her refreshingly non-supernatural interpretation of his life.

This is my favorite paragraph from MMM:

"It seems that, once having taken a stand and put forth a story, the leaders of the Mormon church have felt that they should maintain it, regardless of all the evidence to the contrary. In their concern to let the matter die, they do not see that it can never be finally settled until it is accepted as any other historical incident, with a view only to finding the facts. To shrink from it, to discredit any who try to inquire into it, to refuse to discuss it, or to hesitate to accept all the evidence fearlessly is not only to keep it a matter of controversy, but to make the most loyal followers doubt the veracity of their leaders in presenting other matters of history."

Amen. That statement, written in 1950, is amazingly applicable to the church in 2006. Not just to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but also to any bit of history the church ignores, hushes up, covers up, equivocates about, or downright lies about: The first vision; the origins of the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price; the formation of the priesthood; the reasons why JS was jailed and murdered; the entire life and persona of Joseph Smith; changing doctrines including Adam-God and blood atonement; polygamy; racism; anti-homosexual activity; anti-equal rights activity; sexual and ecclesiastical abuse within the ranks. The full list is longer, and frustratingly so.

Mountain Meadows Masscre

So far, I've stayed away from historical subjects on the blog, but recently I decided I wanted to know more about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. This was where Mormon leaders in southern Utah basically encouraged the local Native Americans to attack a emigrant train, then offered to save the men, women, and children, but slaughtered the 120 unarmed, surrendered people instead.

So I checked a couple books out of the library. I started reading Juanita Brooks's Mountain Meadows Massacre. Here are some of my thoughts as I go through.

I found myself torn on feeling sympathetic for the Mormons as they were driven from various places in the Midwest. When I was a faithful Mormon, I found myself not caring for persecution and pioneer stories. I felt like it was talked about too much or something, like we were supposed to feel the Spirit when really what we were feeling was sympathy. And it was so one-sided. This time reading them, I could feel sorry for them as human beings--no one should have to go through that--but also finally knowing what they did to make everyone so angry at them. Not that they deserved it, but at least I could see both sides. (And I felt a little guilty about that.)

Brooks painstakingly goes through motivations, personalities, histories, movements, etc of the Mormons involved (the perpetrators). But she not only ignores Native American motives for involvement, but downright infantalizes them.

Take this quote:

"The Indians, being 'the battle-ax of the Lord,' could logically do the work, for they had no qualms about shedding blood, even innocent blood. Since the Big Mormon Chief [BY] wanted them to help with this war [against the US troops being sent from the East], here was a good place to begin. So the natives had followed and annoyed the company, happy in the sense of Mormon approval; they sent out runners to other bands for reinforcement in this thrilling and exciting game" (pp. 56-57, italics mine).

Okay, I know this was written over 50 years ago, and history really was written differently then, but sheesh. She makes the Native Americans sound like happy little puppies, eager to please their masters. Please. Surely the ones who were involved had motivation for doing so. How about bothering to find out what it was? I know the historical record would be biased toward what the Mormons were thinking rather than the Native Americans, but still.

This supposed eagerness to do the Mormons' bidding doesn't make sense in the light of the very next paragraph in Brooks's book:

"It should be remembered also that at this time the whites in the area were outnumbered more than four to one by Indians, so that the business of maintaining friendly relations was important..[she gives examples of Mormons moving into forts for protection from Indians]..In all their dealings with the Indians, both before and after the massacre, the people of the area were careful to avoid frictions lest they lead to attacks upon the scattered ranches and smaller villages" (p. 57).

Why were the Native Americans so eager to please the Mormons if they had the upper hand, as the second paragraph seems to say? Wouldn't "the business of maintaining friendly relations" be more important for the Mormons than the Native Americans?

And as far as the massacred company goes, were they really so stupid as to insult and deride the Mormons they were so dependent on for supplies in their trip through the Utah dessert? That's how Brooks unquestioningly presents them (so far anyway, I've only finished 4 chapters). Surely there is more to the company's side of the story. While Brooks certainly doesn't say the Mormons were justified in the murders, she never asks why the company wasn't more eager to keep up friendly relations with the Mormons they were so dependent on, whether they disliked them or not.

Monday, November 20, 2006

what does "Mormon" mean?

I posted previously saying "I'm not a Mormon," and generally on this blog, I refer to myself as "ex-Mormon." But I'd like to pick apart those labels a little. While I'd say that labels are never adequate to describe that complicated psyche inside each person, labels are useful, like shorthand, so I still use them.

Let's start with "Mormon."

It really depends on who you ask.

When I was a faithful, believing member of the LDS church, I considered the word Mormon to apply only to members of the LDS church, be they "active," or "inactive." I couldn't imagine that "inactives" were anything but believers who just had a few problems (with themselves) that were keeping them from coming to church. I didn't consider members of RLDS, FLDS, and any other iterations of Joseph Smith's church to be Mormon. I would venture to guess that many other LDS hold this same definition of Mormon.

As I adjusted my view of the church, I expanded the label Mormon to include any member of any church that places its origins with Joseph Smith. RLDS (now Community of Christ), FLDS, TLC, other polygamous churches, independent polygamists. All Mormon, though not LDS.

Some call Mormons, especially those with roots in Utah, an ethnic group. I didn't like that idea at first. You can't just invent an ethnic group, I thought. Ethnic groups just are. But the more I thought about it, and about the European history of (sometimes arbitrary) formation of ethnic groups in Africa, I realized that ethnic groups are by and large human made. So why not a Mormon one? What makes Mormons an ethnic group? The many generations of endogamy (marrying within the group), the distinct culture, the distinct religion, a geographic center, even a stereotype about what Mormons look like (see below).

If you ask an average American, Mormon means something particular. I never realized it until it was pointed out to me, but there is also a stereotype about what physical characteristics Mormons have. Light-haired, fair-skinned, northwestern European-looking. "Like Ken Jennings," someone told me. And while the expanding church includes people of all races and skin colors, the stereotype of Mormons as white, blond, and innocently sanguine persists. Of course, there are the stereotypes of polygamy, conservatism, innocence to the point of naivety, zealousness, wholesomeness, niceness. Like the creators of South Park said, "If we want to portray a really good, wholesome person, we make him a Mormon." (Quote from BYU NewsNet, but don't link the site from me.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

note to self:

Always do a shot of tequila before any social function with more 2 couples.

Two shots are required before a function with more than 100 people.

I don't care if it is your son's preschool annual holiday potluck. You just can't handle it alone.

wedding day regrets

I’ve never regretted the marriage to my husband. Ever. But there was a time I was really mad about the Mormon wedding. I didn’t regret a bit of the wedding at the time it occurred. It was certainly ideal for who I was at the time. Except for the sealer’s talk before hand: booorrrrriiiiinnnngggg! And If I’d paid any attention to the words of the sealing, I would have been bothered by it. But for a faithful Molly Mormon, it was perfect.

Looking back, though, I’m angry about some things.

Not all of my family and none of my friends could be there, some because they were too young, and some because they didn’t have temple recommends for whatever reason. I regret that I thought that was okay. It was their fault, I thought, for not getting their acts together enough to get their recommends. Now I wish I would have thought of a wedding as a truly family and community event.

The words of the sealing ceremony are frustrating. There’s no mention of the word “love,” for one. And the ceremony is sexist. I “gave myself” to my husband and he “received me.” The exact words to the man are, “receive her unto yourself to be your lawful and wedded wife.” And to the woman, “give yourself to him to be his lawful and wedded wife, and for him to be your lawful and wedded husband." I wonder if the wording is there as a vestige of polygamy. I gave myself to him, so I can’t be anyone else’s wife. But he just received me, didn’t give himself, so he’s free to receive other wives? Maybe it’s not about polygamy; it which case it’s just plain sexism.

I regret that we didn’t write our own vows, or at least influence them.

I regret that I was wearing a ridiculous costume during the ceremony, and not even wearing my wedding dress.

I regret that I didn’t walk down the aisle.

I regret that we didn’t plan our own wedding according to how we wanted it.

At one brief moment, I felt like we weren’t even married, I was so mad at the church. I didn’t recognize their authority anymore, so how was my marriage valid? Then I realized that thinking that way was letting the church have authority over me still. They weren’t the ones that decided we were really married. We married each other; we recognize it, and the state recognizes it. Who cares about the church?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

if I'm out, why do I keep talking about it?

Yesterday, I wrote that, with the church, I'm either in or out. (Link to post.) I half expected for someone (a TBM troll) to comment, "If you're out, why did you still post about it every day? Aren't you still entrenched in it?" I've already posted about why I don't just leave it alone (link to post, scroll down) and why I'm blogging (link to post), but I think I have something different to say.

I'm out of the church, so why am I not out of blogging about it? To answer, let me define that "it." "It," that broad subject that encompasses everything I write about, is not the "Mormon church," or the "LDS church," or even "Mormonism." Rather, the "it" I write about is "ex-Mormonism," "recovering from Mormonism," "post-Mormonism," "what it's like to be a former Mormon, "and "my experience in and impressions of the LDS church and Mormonism, looking back at it from the point of view of an ex-Mormon."

Subtle difference? Not to me.

An ex-Mormon writing about Mormonism and an ex-Mormon writing about ex-Mormonism are very different things. You can find ex-Mormons writing about Mormonism in pro-Mormon forums, such as By Common Consent, Times and Seasons, Feminist Mormon Housewives, Sunstone, etc. From what I've seen (and I haven't seen much), some ex-Mormons will generally write in such a way that faithful Mormons wouldn't be able to identify them, or at least wouldn't be too alarmed by what they say. (I could only identify them because I know them from other venues.) They'll discuss things that aren't discussed in church, to be sure, but they talk about doctrine and issues from within the Mormon paradigm, even while they actually operate outside of it. It's an amazing talent, and it takes a certain level of "I've gotten over it" post-Mormon-ness, rather than "I'm still angry" ex-Mormon-ness.

Some would say it takes a lot of equivocating, and maybe some dishonesty. But I don't think so. It's possible to talk about fictional characters as if they existed, for example, while knowing all the while they are fictional. In fact, I would list that as a indication of well-developed characters and setting. Kudos to the author. So why not talk about Nephi, Adam, Moroni, along with Harry, Aragorn, or Mrs. Dalloway? (Not to say Nephi is a well-developed character, but you get my point, right?)

But I'm not there yet. I can't talk from within the Mormon paradigm. But I hope to be able to someday. And though I doubt I'll ever get into the Bloggernacle, I would like to be able to discuss things religious with my family and not have every word I say scream, "I'm not Mormon anymore!" Because while I'm not Mormon anymore (I could write a whole 'nother post about whether or not I am), it's conducive to productive discussion with Mormons to speak from within the paradigm.

But for this blog, I'm not trying to speak from within the Mormon paradigm. I'm trying to look back at the Mormon paradigm from the outside, from a new paradigm, and analyze who I was then and who I am now, and how I became that way.

(And why do I spend so much time defending myself?)

Friday, November 17, 2006

in or out

I know that a lot of people operate effectively in a liminal state with the church for various reasons, but for me, my personality, I’m either in or out. The transition from in to out was quite short for me. Once I stopped believing, I only attended a couple times.

So when I was in, I was in. I had a temple recommend, I read the Book of Mormon, I attended church weekly, I followed the word of wisdom. I didn’t let that stuff go until I was a non-believer. Sure, some things decreased in the months before. I didn’t read scriptures every day; I only went to the temple for weddings; I watched rated-R movies that I thought were worth my time.

The things that most obviously and significantly mark a believer from a non-believer happen to be the most superficial, too. Garment-non-safe clothes, alcohol, coffee. Those are the things I only tried as a non-believer. I’m not trying to be self-righteous about it. I’m just saying it to show how utterly indoctrinated I was, and how completely warped the church’s priorities are. The mental block against questioning the authenticity of the church’s origin claims was weaker than the mental block against questioning “alcohol is evil.”


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mormon neighbors

I have TBM neighbors. Some I used to go to church with. Some only know me as that inactive women, if they know my history at all. But I think they know. At the very least they’ve seen my name and address on the ward list and put two and two together. Either that, or someone has told them about me:

“You know the people in the blue house? Inactives. They used to come, give talks, hold callings, were so happy and golden, and now? They’re totally anti-social, and once, I saw her taking out the recycling—and you know what? Beer bottles.”

Yeah, the conversation probably doesn’t happen. I’m hardly a blip on their radar. But the new ones do act a little, well, scared when they see me. Like just talking to me will infect them with the lies of the devil.

Say hello, and she may make you doubt.

But I guess I should be happy that it’s not the other way—I haven’t got the bishop trying to make appointments, or the missionaries knocking on the door, or the primary president tempting my child to activities with brownies and cupcakes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

garments as symbol of adulthood

Garments mean many things to Mormons. One of the implicit symbols in garments is the rite of passage into adulthood. Mormons generally wear garments for the first time when they are about to go on a mission, or about to be married. Both mark significant moments in young Mormon's lives, and show with a physical object that they are now "one of us" and a full adult.

This rite of passage should be a marker of a personal and maturing relationship between the person and God, and some faithful Mormons would define it as such. This is comparable to many Muslim women's experience who, at some point in their youth or young adulthood, decide to don the veil to demonstrate their desire to follow God's will. Ideally, she is free to adopt the veil or not, and in many places, she is. But what if she doesn't veil? In some ways, she is, in effect, remaining in childhood. In some places, only little girls don't veil; women do. In a symbolic sense, she is refusing a rite of passage that would mark her as not only religious, but also as a mature adult. Hence, non-veiling Muslim women, Christians or Western tourists in a highly Muslim area may be implicitly considered non-adults, regardless of their age.

I suggest the same may be true with garments. Unlike the veil, the garments are meant to be hidden and private, and, like the veil, the spiritual act of wearing them is supposed to be intensely personal. However, there are plenty of opportunities when the fact of wearing garments becomes public, and therefore, a point on which to judge, among other things, Mormon's adulthood status.

While not as publicly visible as a veil, the garments are something of a public phenomenon among insiders, especially in Utah. Failing the garment-line test might simply mark someone as young. For example, young male BYU students who didn't demonstrate neckline “smiles” or knee-lines were dubbed pre-missionaries, or pre-mies for short. It was not lost on us that the nickname also referred to pre-mature infants. The pre-mies were either fair game for dating (for women who didn't want to find a marriage partner yet), or off-limits (for women who wanted to date only men who were of marriageable age and status). Pre-mies were not quite men.

Within the Mormon paradigm, failing the garment-line test, especially among adults out of the college years, also means something more than youthfulness. The only reason a Mormon 30-year old wouldn’t wear garments is lack of faithfulness to the church. Either she didn’t get her act together enough to go to the temple (a demonstration of immaturity), or, worse, she took her garments off (gasp!).

In Mormon-dom, children and youth don’t wear garments; adults do. Interpreted from a faithful Mormon viewpoint, taking off the garments can be considered a return to youth and immaturity. I am not arguing that it is the only interpretation. Indeed, the other connotations are undoubtedly stronger: unrighteousness, faithlessness, apostasy, covenant breaking, etc. I do suggest that because the act of donning the garments is a rite of passage into adulthood, the equally symbolic and significant act of removing the garments is rejecting that passage into adulthood.

This does not mean that people who remove their garments feel that they themselves are returning to youth, but that faithful Mormons may (subconsciously?) view them as doing so. For their part, ex-Mormons might feel they are rejecting the particular Mormon version of the rite of passage into adulthood. For them (for us), the act of removing garments marks our own version of a rite of passage into a new adulthood. One in which we can demand a more personal claim on our personal lives. We are, after all, talking about underwear.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

airing your dirty laundry, Mormon style

The following are some examples of where matters as private as underwear become public in Mormonism:

Among many Mormons, there may be a change of clothing style to make sure garments are hidden: longer shorts, longer sleeves, higher necklines (particularly in females). I had always avoided sleeveless shirts, though I had to get rid of some too-short shorts. Why I thought thighs were okay to show, while upper arms were not, I don't know. Also, it was, in my case at least, well known among extended family and friends when I went to the temple for the first time, and hence started wearing garments.

Additionally, there may be visible garment-lines at the neck, knees, and upper arms. Short shirts in females may reveal the garment-covered midriff. Talk may occur between insiders about styles, fabrics, annoyances, where to find long shorts, how to get away with a lower neckline, how getting away with a lower neckline is evil, etc.

Garment-checking culture was especially strong at BYU. Checking for "the smile," the dipping neckline in some men's style of garments, was a common way among my acquaintances to determine if a male BYU student was a return missionary (RM) or not (and hence potential future-husband material or not). I am embarrassed to admit that I checked for the smile on my now-husband to figure out if he was an RM or not. I was confused when I didn't see the smile. (It was because he wore crew neck garments, which I didn't know existed.)

Another technique I learned at BYU was to sit down next to a guy and place a hand on his knee to feel for a garment line. He just thinks you're flirting, but really you're checking for a marker of his righteousness. Yep, I used that one too. Awful. Just once, on a guy I was just starting to date. And I actually had the audacity to say something when I didn't feel or see a knee line. (He explained he was wearing the long-john thermal version.) It seems so intrusive and overly-personal to me now, but then it seemed normal. I had to know if I was wasting time on a non-temple-marriageable guy, right?

I suppose the garment-checking dynamics operated differently for men looking for women at BYU, since fewer women were
RMs and/or garment-wearing. Especially since some men didn't want to marry a female RM.

While I was a faithful Mormon, it never occurred to me that having a church tell me to wear their garments was weird. I just grew up with it. When the bishops and stake presidents in temple recommend interviews asked me if I was "wearing the temple garment night and day," I just considered it as part of their job. And it was my duty to tell them yes or no (and it was always yes). It was only after I left that I realized how utterly inappropriate it is for a church to regulate my underwear.

Monday, November 13, 2006

conversation with a preschooler

We have various neighbors who are devoutly Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic. There are also Hindus, atheists, and every variety of Christian. And, of course, most of our extended family is Mormon. So our son is not unaccustomed to hearing "Because they're Muslim" or "Because they think that's what God wants them to do" when he asks, "Why do they do that?" I also try to explain a little about the different religions when he asks, and I hope he will understand diversity.

For example, on Halloween, when he wanted to knock on our Muslim friends' door, I asked him not to. I knew they considered Halloween a pagan holiday, to be avoided at all cost. When he asked why, I said, "They don't celebrate Halloween because they are Muslim. But they have other great holidays that we don't have, like Ramadan, when they eat a big meal with all their friends every night for a month. And Eid ul Fitr, when they get to go to a carnival, and get new clothes." I didn't want him to think his friends are weird or deprived just because they don't dress up like vampires and dinosaurs and fairies and ask strangers for candy. ('Cause that's not weird at all.)

Yesterday was a rainy one, so we couldn’t go outside to play. He was bummed that he couldn’t be outside with friends. Out the window, he saw his friend walking up the street with his dad.

“Do you think Levi will stay outside and play?” he asked hopefully.
“No, it’s still pretty wet.”
“Do you think Ali and Hakim will come out?”
“Probably not,” I answered.
“Can Muslims not have rain boots?” he asked, trying to figure out what might be preventing his friends from coming out.
“Oh, no, Muslims can wear rain boots. And Levi’s not Muslim, he’s Jewish.”
“What do Jewish people do?”
“They go to synagogue—that’s like church—on Saturday, and they sing certain songs, and lots of them speak Hebrew” I stalled, trying to find a way to explain ritual, heritage, and ethnicity to a preschooler. “But not all Jews do that. David is Jewish, and his family doesn’t do any of that.”

Then he looked at me seriously and said, “I want to be something. I want to have something like that.”

He wanted an identity. He wanted to know what he can be.

I panicked. I’m not sure what I believe. I’m not sure what my identity is. While the closest things I can claim are Mormon and atheist, I don’t want to identify as the former, and I don’t feel the latter as an community or an identity per se.

I blurted out, “We have science,” thinking of the character in Nacho Libre that “believes in science.” I felt stupid. I couldn’t even figure out what to say to my child. While I have no trouble saying, “Muslims believe this, Christians believe that, some people do this,” I couldn’t figure out how to explain what I believe. Or better yet, how to encourage him to figure out what he believes.

Later at dinner, I recounted the conversation to my husband. He turned to our son and said, “You want to be something, huh?”
“Yeah,” our son said, “but I know what I want to be. I’m a pirate.”
“Great,” I joked, “that means you have the Flying Spaghetti Monster as your god.”
“The Flying Spaghetti Monster? What’s that?”
“The god of the pirates. I’ll show you a picture.” And we pulled out the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a book I got my husband for fun. Our son really liked the pictures and the connection to pirates, and quickly adopted the symbol of the fossilized fish as “my symbol,” lover, as he is, of fossils. He kept saying, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster is my god. ‘Cause I’m a pirate. David too, because he’s a pirate too.”

“This is the perfect thing for you to blurt out while we’re visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Utah,” I said, more to my husband than to my son. Better that than “My dad likes beer, but my mom likes wine.”

He was really getting into it, and I started to worry. Okay, so now my little joke was going a little too far.

“Is the Flying Spaghetti Monster real or just pretend?” I asked him.
“Oh, he’s real. He’s real. He’s just hiding.”
“Um, where no one, no one can ever find him. Deep, deep down in dirt.”
“What about Jesus? Is Jesus real or pretend?”
“Pretend,” he answered with confidence. (I never told him that, just for the record.)

Great, I thinking. My kid believes in Santa Claus and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but thinks God is just pretend. If he thought all were pretend, I'd be fine, but why choose Santa Claus and a god made of pasta as plausible entities? Wondering what to do, I realize I don’t really have to do anything right now. Because he’s a preschooler: Within 30 seconds, he was more preoccupied with saying “Ahoy thar, ye matey” and his collection of hot wheels than gods or identity.

But I think it will be healthy for him to be able to identify with some identity, though I don’t think it has to be a religious one. And to help him learn that identity, I should figure out what my identity is.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

marriage covenant

I once read on a faithful Mormon board a thread about in-out marriages. That is, one spouse has left the church, the other is still a faithful believer. Most agreed that divorce was the best option. (This is a pro-family religion?) “After all,” one poster said, “if the apostate spouse has broken the temple covenants, how can the faithful spouse trust him/her to keep the marriage covenants?”

Given what I’ve said about the irrelevance and dissolving of church covenants, and given that marriage is one of the temple covenants, the poster’s comment was—albeit appalling—somewhat fair for the question to arise. It does, at the very least, cross people’s minds.

As I’ve posted before, I called everything into question when my Mormon world view shattered. Everything. Some things were easy to resolve and rebuild, and some questions are still processing (Is there a God?). So the fact that people call into question their marriages isn’t that surprising.

There was a moment—a very brief moment—when I even doubted my husband. We were both exiting at the same time, but we didn’t discuss our changing beliefs with each other much. When he brought up the idea of actually not believing, I freaked out. I had married a faithful believer, and now he’s dropping hints that maybe he might not be a believer? Who was this man? Had he been faking it all along? Can I trust him?

Those thoughts lasted about three seconds. It didn’t take much for me to remember that 1) he had, indeed, been a faithful believer; 2) he is extremely intelligent and if he’s coming to these conclusions, there must be something there; 3) he’s a really good person; and 4) he’s never given me any reason to distrust him. I also knew that I wanted to be married to this man, and I wanted it to stay that way.

When we married, the church influenced the match, yes. In fact, we wouldn’t have met had we not been Mormon: we're another BYU-dating success story. And the church influenced how quickly we got married (though we dated much longer than most BYU students).

But the church had not made our marriage. We decided to get married, and whatever the temple sealing ceremony said, we married each other in love and commitment. The interpersonal commitment to our marriage is far stronger than a covenant to some unseen God or church.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


At one point, when the church still had lots of power over me, I told my husband that I would keep the temple covenants I made, even if my beliefs about the church as the One True Church changed. Because I’d made a promise, and I have integrity enough to keep it!

Then one day I read to my son a children’s story set in Japan about a man who loved cherries. He looked forward to eating cherries for that week or so out of the year when his trees bore fruit. He generously shared his harvest with the local foxes. But one of the foxes was selfish, and schemed to trick the old man into covenanting all his trees to the fox. Eventually, the man found out he was tricked by the fox, and the fox asked for the man’s forgiveness. But the man still upheld his promise to the fox. Because a promise is a promise, after all.

I thought that was the most ridiculous reasoning on the part of the man. He had been tricked, and the repentant fox didn’t even want to hold him to the promise! Then I “likened the story unto me” and realized I was holding myself to a ridiculous covenant, too. I had made the covenants not even knowing beforehand what the covenants would be; there had been intense social pressure to go through with the covenants; and I was deceived into thinking that my entire salvation rested on the covenants.

Some TBMs are appalled to see ex-Mormons “breaking their covenants.”

But it’s not breaking covenants if the covenants simply dissolve, if they simply don’t mean anything anymore. Who had I even made the covenants with? The church? Heavenly Father? Neither held sway over me anymore. Therefore, I had made the covenants with no one but myself, and I could release myself from them.

(In the story, the fox does convince the old man to withdraw his promise, and everyone shares in the cherries once again. Cherries were shared. Smiles were smiled. Good times were had by all.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

after losing Jesus

Zarathustra put in his two cents about my post on losing Jesus. You can read his comments and my response at that link. To further clarify my response, I'm posting the second half of my short essay that began with "losing Jesus."

Religion, however, has not been completely ruined for me. I believe that all religions, including Mormonism, are people’s way of finding something bigger than themselves, however they define it: God, heaven, nirvana, peace, or harmony. I believe that ordinances, rituals, sacraments, song, sacrifices, and other forms of worship are powerfully symbolic ways for people to feel a connection with something. These acts of worship can create group solidarity, edify, heighten sense of spirituality, inspire people to be better, and serve as important rights of passage. All religions have them and all are good as long as they bring people to love and serve themselves and their fellow humans. I do not think God would care about these rituals and worship, or would demand or desire to be worshiped. Religion can be good as long as it inspires us to become better people and, especially, to treat others well, and religion is destructive when it creates manipulation, exclusion, hatred, and war. Superstition and repression of critical thinking, I suppose, are somewhere in between that simplistic spectrum of good versus destructive.

I'm searching now for a religion where I can be comfortable as a non-believer, but as someone who beliefs that myths and stories (when recognized as such) can guide and comfort us in life. Even if I don't believe in the divinity of Jesus, resurrection and the Atonement, I can still take from the stories some good ideas: forgiveness (rather than guilt), renewal, social justice. I can take from Judaism heritage, ritual, and recognition of wisdom of the elders (women included). I can take other great lessons from Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, pantheism, atheism. Just as easily, I can reject elements of those religions.

another new layout

Hmm, what do we think of this one? I had to tweak the html some. The links headlines were huge before, and right justified. And the text was bigger (sorry regina). I don't like the san-serif font for the posts, but I can't figure out how to switch it. I'd also switch the color on the title and the links headlines, but I don't know the secret codes. I tried inputting my "new name," but I guess html doesn't understand secret Mormon code.

Update: I tweaked some more things, and I like it more this way. I just can't figure out how to stop the links from being underlined. I hate them underlined.


There are stereotypes among Mormons about non-believers, uh, I mean, apostates. They are unfriendly, reclusive, unhappy, struggling, lost and confused. They wear immodest (and dirty) clothes, they get drunk all the time, they smoke, they drink coffee, they get multiple piercings and tattoos. They are angry, bitter, and not worth talking to. Don’t go near the apostate; she might bite. She has nothing positive to give, she’ll only suck you down into her whirlpool of spite and negativity. She doesn’t have the Spirit™.

Part of the stereotype is that as soon as someone becomes “apostate” they run out and become alcoholics, smokers, etc. As if leaving the church makes people go berserk, and they commit every sin in the 20th century book of Mormon sins.

Okay, to be fair, I do dress differently, I did start drinking alcohol, and I’m seriously considering a non-Hinckley approved piercing. But the other stuff? Just drivel.

But it wasn’t knee-jerk reaction to leaving. I didn’t just go crazy and buy a case of beer the week after I stopped going. I didn’t think, well, the restrictions are gone, so might as well.

Rather, I became free to make reasonable, rational, adult decisions for myself about these things. And after some time and de-programming, I realized coffee’s okay. Just don’t go wild. Tea is not only okay, but green tea is good for you.

Alcohol’s okay too. Just be a responsible adult about it, and carefully figure out your limits. In my Mormon mind, there was an alcohol dichotomy. It was either teetotaler or alcoholic, nothing in between. And that is just patently false. Sure, doctors say, keep the alcohol down. But “down” means no more than one drink a day for women, two for men. One candy bar a day is not healthy; one alcoholic drink a day can be. Hey, if you make it red wine, it is physically good for you.

As for clothing, that goes with people’s personal preference, the weather, the style. When I looked around, and saw that lots of people drink alcohol, tea, coffee, wear tank tops in the summer, have nose piercings, etc, I realized how totally normal all that stuff is to do. Not in an “everybody’s doing it” peer pressure kind of way, but in an “it’s just normal” kind of way.

So while “apostates” look scary, wild, and lost to Mormons, to everyone else, they just look normal.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

new layout?

What do you think of the new layout? Should I go back?

I'm not sure about the blue links. Doesn't jive with the red avatar. Any html experts can show me how to change the text color?

telling friends

Since I am so far from my old Mormon friends, my lack of P.D.B. haven’t clued in anyone about my current stance on the church. Instead, I have to confront the decision of to tell or not to tell anytime I’m going to see or talk to an old friend.

So far, I’ve only told two. Both were the types of what are called borderlanders (Sunstone term), other-believers (my term), liberal, intellectual, or internet Mormons. (I’d never explicitly labeled them or hear them label themselves, but once I was “out,” I developed a kind of other-mo-dar [in the vein of gay-dar]). They were both already exposed to exmos and had dealt with having loved ones leave. Because of that, they were pretty easy to tell. Still, telling one of them, over the phone, I cried. It was out of the blue for her, and it was the very first time I specifically verbalized to a Mormon, “I left the church.” (The other had asked, so I told.)

I was having this conversation with her about another acquaintance who left the church, and he and his wife went their respective ways because of it. I say how that's so horrible when divorce happens because of a changing belief system. And my heart is pounding out of my chest, and I'm nervous and sweating, and I'm thinking, "I can't have this kind of conversation with her without telling her about me." I stopped the conversation.

"Josie*, I have to tell you," I said significantly.
"Yes," she answered, as if she knew I had something to tell her. It was a statement, not a "Yes?"
“We’re not…in the church anymore. We’re not going.” Or something like that.

After a very short silence, she exclaimed, “From the ashes, that’s amazing!” And she was sincere. I was relieved. She understands. She’s supportive. She’s in, but out, but in herself. It was so good to tell someone who didn’t then call me to repentance or cry herself to sleep (you didn't, did you?).

I can’t imagine many of my other friends would be understanding. They won’t think it’s amazing. They won’t accept that I used my brain to come to the conclusions I did. (But that's the problem with me, isn't it? I used my brain instead of my feelings. I didn't pray about my decision and wait for a good or bad feeling. I thought about it, and decided that good or bad feelings aren't useful indicators of truthfulness.) Some of them, I imagine, will end the friendship.

And that’s sad. Really, really sad.

Have you, readers, lost friendships?

*Not her real name, but if she reads this, she'll know how I came up with it.

telling random people

I haven't gone to church in a year and a half, so I've told plenty of (never-Mormon) people I used to be Mormon. It comes up whenever someone asks me where I'm from (Utah) or where I went to college (BYU). There's just no escaping that subsequent knowing look, and the question, spoken or not, Are you Mormon? And it's pretty easy to answer, "I used to be" or "I was raised Mormon." Because to them, it doesn't really matter. It's just another talking point. Or not. Whatever. In fact, with them, it's easier for me to be not Mormon than Mormon. It's more comfortable for all of us. Mormons are, well, peculiar. And sometimes that makes people, well, uncomfortable.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

on losing Jesus

I've found that converts to Mormonism who later leave often return to their pre-Mormon religion or belief system. I've also found that a lot of born-in-the-church ex-Mormons end up agnostic or atheist. Some convert ex-mormons can't understand the born-in ex-mormons' disbelief of Jesus. "It's not like Joseph Smith made up Jesus, so why does disbelief in Joseph's church lead to a disbelief in Jesus?" they ask.

When I was first reading "stuff on Mormonism" and realized that maybe I wouldn't always believe, I made a statement to my husband that no matter what, I would always believe in Christ and the Atonement. Now I can't believe I even made such a statement--it seems ridiculous to me.

I specifically avoided anything scholarly on Jesus while I was tearing down my Mormon world, because I knew what reading scholarly stuff did to my view of Joseph Smith. I didn't want to destroy my view of Jesus in the same way. Turns out, I didn't even read a single thing on Jesus, and my belief in his divinity just flew out the window anyway. It was partly because of all the statements Joseph made about Jesus, and I now distrust anything Joe ever said. And it was partly because of my changing world view, a more rational world view that didn't allow for miracles and resurrection, as well as a more ethical world view that refused a God who wanted his son to die. It just didn't make sense anymore.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

one month

It's been one month since I started this blog. I've written one (or two) posts every day, had 660 hits, and 497 visitors. I've rambled, mused, posted, erased, edited, and hand-written posts when I wasn't near a computer. I've made new friends, gathered a small contingent of regular readers (Thanks, guys!), and enjoyed gaining my footing a new community.

And I finally understand the phrase "the muse that afflicts me," because sometimes, the thoughts are swirling around in my head so fast and so intrusively, that I just can't not write. It's an affliction. And I haven't gotten it out of my system yet. So here's to another month of emerging from the ashes.

And probably another.

And another.

And another.

Oh, and I'm participating in NaBloPoMo. I somehow think every day isn't going to be too hard for me.

I've coined a new term: PDB

I’ve struggled with whether to tell my old Mormon friends about my changed beliefs. I have no desire to send out a mass message to my address list saying I’ve left, as some people do. I haven’t kept in great contact with a lot of people (even good friends) from high school and college, and I don’t want them to get an email or call out of the blue that will ruin their day. Mostly, I don’t see the need to announce my personal beliefs and spirituality.

They’re personal.

But my non-faithful beliefs are personal in ways that my faithful beliefs never were. When I was Mormon, my beliefs were quite open. Too open.

The Mormon church encourages public displays of belief (P.D.B.):

There’s testimony meeting every month. Members are expected to bear their testimonies there, and at the end of lessons and talks they give.

Youth are expected to undergo interviews semiannually. Adults are expected to undergo two temple recommend interviews biannually.

Then there’s the “every member a missionary” push.

Not to mention all the faith-promoting stories about when Peter Priesthood was at work, and all his co-workers were swearing or telling dirty jokes, and he asks them to stop—“because I’m Mormon.” And his behavior is applauded in church; he stood up for what is right. (How about just walking away instead of trying to regulate every one else according to your standards?)

Or the person who was offered wine at a dinner party, and she says, “No, I don’t drink, because I’m Mormon,” and the party guests were respectful of that. And she’s sure she’ll have a convert or two from the interaction. (Guess what. A lot of people don’t drink. And they just decline the drink. They feel no need to reveal their personal reasons why they don’t drink. And people respect that.)

In all of these circumstances, Mormons are supposed to verbally proclaim their stance. If they don't engage in these behaviors, people start to wonder about their faithfulness.

Then there’s the visible P.D.B:

Garment lines (checking out people’s panty lines is not polite behavior outside of Utah)
Garment-safe clothes
Wearing white shirt and tie or dress to church
Being seen at church every Sunday
Taking the sacrament
Going to the temple
Attending temple weddings
Attending church activities

Add in the visible things you can’t do if you want to preserve your P.D.B:

Drink alcohol
Drink coffee or tea
Go into a Starbucks or liquor store
Wear a sleeveless shirt

Then you take the combination visible/verbal P.D.B, such as where someone comments on garment lines or announces in the clothing store, “It is so hard to find shorts that are long enough!”

Growing up Mormon, I was socialized to belief that P.D.B were normal, and expected. I've had to re-teach myself that I can know someone for years without knowing their religious affiliation, and that I don't need to be blurting mine to everyone I know.

Monday, November 06, 2006

going out

Last weekend, my husband and I, along with another exmo couple, got all gussied up and went out for a night of drinking and gambling. Well, it was only sort of gambling, because gambling is illegal in my state, so it was really a fund raising event and we weren't playing with real money. Which made it really fun to put down a $1000 chip and not really worry about that fact that I just lost $100 and $200 chips in the last five rounds, and perhaps I shouldn't be risking so much with my poor luck at black jack.

In the end, I had doubled my money, and discovered I wasn't so bad at black jack. But I was terrible at craps, and was too drunk to figure out anything more than "throw the dice and make sure they hit the back wall." But, hey, with drinks only $2.50, who can resist?

The event was semi-formal, Vegas style dress up, so I went out to a consignment store with my friend to look for dresses. There were some great "little black dresses," including some I should have considered because their long sleeves and long length, given the cold November temperatures. But I just couldn't bring myself to buy anything modest. It reminded me too much of my modest Molly Mormon high school days, looking for prom dresses. Partly in reaction to that, and partly because it's just the style, I wanted something slinky. I ended up with a nice spaghetti strap black dress with an interesting, layered hem-line. I forgot to get pictures, but just trust me when I say I was hot.

The night left me in a strange limbo between feeling naughty, but not feeling guilty about it. My true-blue Mormon family would be horrified at my dress, the alcohol, and the gambling. I'm so evil, aren't I?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

a dream

I had a dream. One of my cousins was getting married in Utah, in a temple. I wasn’t planning on going to the wedding. Everyone was piling into the car to go to the airport to fly to Utah, including Mom, Grandma, Brother, and Sister, as well as Husband and Son. I got in the car just to hang out with everyone.

The driver started going. After a short drive, I said, “Wait, I’m not flying. I don’t even have my ID or a ticket or anything.” My mom said, “They won’t let you on without that stuff.” I said, “I know, I wasn’t planning on going.” They kept driving, with no plan on turning around to let me off. I said, “Just let me off and I’ll walk back.” At this point the dream was in Utah. It was somewhat far to get home, but I didn’t mind the walk. Mom started crying and said, “But everyone one of us will be there. I was expecting the whole family to be there,” meaning her, Dad, and all my siblings. I felt bad, but repeated that I didn’t have a ticket or my ID. “They won’t even let me past the security point without an ID.”

I thought, I couldn’t even go in the temple for the wedding. Then I thought, I guess I do have a recommend, I could use it, even though I’m not “worthy.” But then I thought, no, I can't do that. But I was disappointing Mom so badly by not going.

When I woke, I saw it in terms of the church. Mom is disappointed that I won’t be in the Celestial Kingdom with all the rest of them. I don’t have the right stuff, I’m not worthy, and I’m not bothering to get to the point again. I don’t want it. It’s not a big deal to me to be there—because I don’t believe it’s true, that’s all. Of course it’s a huge deal to me to be with my family, if there is such as thing as an afterlife. But I sure don’t think the Mormon version is the right one—temple recommends and secret handshakes and all that. To me, that process is a bunch of malarkey. To my parents, though, it’s everything. I’m giving them pain because they see me as rejecting life with them in the afterlife. Well, if there is an afterlife, and I don’t imagine there is, God is not so cruel as to deny me a chance to be with my family just because I won’t pay 10% of my income to the Mormons.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

why don't I stay and try to change the church?

The same friend who asked me why I don't leave church issues alone also asked me why I don't stay and try to positively change the church from within. My reply:

Any impact I could make would be very small, and only at the local level. Knowing we'll move around doesn't help us want to invest a lot into a ward only to leave it. I've never really been highly invested socially in any ward; I went because that was where I was supposed to go, not because I liked that particular community. And people don't listen. People don't go to the Mormon church to have doubts and questions thrown at them; they go for reassurance and easy answers.

To stay and work from within would require being a wolf in sheep's clothing. I'd have to make waves, but only small enough to hardly be felt so I don't get rooted out as a heretic. To have a bigger impact, I'd have to be in a leadership position (most of which are barred to me personally as a woman), but I'd really have to hide and pretend in order to achieve that position. I'd have to fake it really well, get a high position, then come out of my unbeliever's closet--causing me to loose the position, and compromise my integrity in the process. The hierarchy is set up so that changes are top-down. There are rare exceptions, i.e., when it was obvious lots of people were using birth control, the brethren cooled down about saying how evil it was; the policy change to let people have their names removed came after a lawsuit from a man who would not accept excommunication as his only way out. But mostly there is nothing I can do.

In the end of our “activity,” attendance actually made me physically ill. Nearly everything I heard make me think, “I can’t believe he/she just said that!…I don’t belong here….I don’t agree with that….That’s some serious compartmentalizing on his part.” I’d have to put up with a whole lot to stay.

Do you think people haven't tried changing the church, and have given up for many valid reasons? I desperately wanted to stay in order to help. I saw a "brain drain" where all the people actually educated about the church were leaving, so how could we ever improve it? For some people it's not worth the fight; there is just too much baggage and too much compromise of integrity and conscience to stay and support such an institution. The church just doesn't allow for a grassroots approach; it quashes "arc-steadiers," it excommunicates; it correlates.

Perhaps the very biggest reason was my child (and any future children). We just didn’t want him to be raised Mormon like we were. Getting out gives him a better chance at life. If we decide to take him to a Sunday school, it will be where he can learn love, friendship, justice, the marvels of the world, how to ask questions, how to make decisions for himself, how to define morality and make moral decisions, how to define and find his own spiritual (or non-spiritual) path, and how to help others.

We don’t want him learning obedience to authority is the first law of heaven; that people who ask questions and follow their own paths are bad; that Bible stories are literal despite major scientific and common sense knowledge to the contrary; that boys can be leaders and girls can’t; that his role in life is to bring in enough money to support his family, even if it means neglecting them; that there is a checklist for salvation; that some people (however good) are not “good enough” to see their children or siblings get married; that personal relationships are of secondary importance to church; that there is only one right way to worship; that everyone who doesn’t worship that way is wrong, misguided, or even bad; that helping others means bearing his testimony and bringing them cookies, etc. I could go on.

Being outside, I am more free to talk and say what’s on my mind, without fear of reprisal. I am free to be myself, and to find myself.

Friday, November 03, 2006


I rank 639, 287. Cool. I guess. Unless it's 639,287 out of 639, 288. Because that would suck.

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why don't I leave it alone?

A Mormon saying is that people like me "leave the church, but can't leave it alone." If I've left, why do I keep blogging about it? Why do I keep reading and studying about it? Several months ago, a friend asked me these kinds of questions. The following is adapted from my reply to him.

Why still study the church? Because it had a huge impact on my life, how I think, how I feel, and who I am down to my very being, the deepest recesses of my soul. There are some things that are easy to cast off--garments, weekly attendance, daily scripture study. But deeper, there are things that are so engrained and so seemingly natural, that I don't even realize they aren't mine. It's hard to realize what is Mormon and what is not, ways of thinking, mindsets, etc. I feel I need to pick that apart, question my assumptions, and figure out who I am and what I want.

Additionally, much of what impacted me was negative. It hurt. Sometimes I feel betrayed by and angry at the church, the institution and the theology. I wonder how the church's system of socialization could be so powerful as to render me incapable for 25 years of truly questioning it. I seek to understand that.

For example, the church makes this very conversation we're having subversive and heretical. Are you feeling guilty about this exchange? Or at least like you can't talk about it openly? Many people and even churches recognize youth and young adulthood as a great time to question assumptions and authority, and to have doubts and to explore themselves and their world; they see this as not only healthy but even necessary for personal growth. I've witnessed this preached over the pulpit in a Catholic church. Some teach that doubt is an integral part of faith.

The Mormon church does not allow for that. To question and explore is not healthy and necessary, but heretical, unfaithful, dangerous, wandering in the dark and dreary wilderness, letting go of the rod, stupid, difficult, struggling with testimony, rebellious, ark-steadying, etc. It requires repentance. It is a sin. I need to understand my past, my upbringing, my family. There's plenty about the church I still want to know. There's plenty of anger and confusion and sadness I need to work through. This is why I not only read, but discuss with other ex-Mormons. Jan Schipps (a non-Mormon academic who studies Mormonism) once explained it as "ex-mormon testimony meetings." Ex-mormons like to get together and talk about Mormonism; it reinforces decisions, reassures and encourages, creates community--exactly what Mormon testimony meetings do.

The church molded me. Now I've got to remold myself, and I can't do that by ignoring the church.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

church attendance

As I stopped going to the Mormon church, it never occurred to me that I would stop going to church altogether. I had in mind that I would substitute Mormon services with some other services. I went to UU meetings a few times, and liked them a lot. I also enjoyed Quaker meeting. I attended Episcopal meetings a couple times, Catholic, even Muslim, but never really had them as options in my mind. Friends stepped up, knowing I was shopping around, and offered to introduce me to the religions that so influenced their lives.

The best part about shopping around was the lack of guilt for not attending. If I felt like going one Sunday, I went. The next, maybe not. It was wonderful to have power over my own time, guilt free.

Eventually, I stopped going regularly at all. I've been twice in the past year. Partly, I’m busy. Partly, my husband and son aren’t into services right now, and I don’t want to spend my precious alone-time on church. Partly, I don’t believe in God.

I see the value of spirituality, of edification, of the peace one can feel in services. But church isn’t the only place I can find that. Usually, I’m just as happy to seek out that peace in a bike ride with my son through the shady streets of town. Or in a hike through the woods. Or a nice sleep-in.

But lately I've needed a little more. I think I might trying attending UU again, see if I can stand the thought of organized religion yet.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

new perspective

Now I had a whole new perspective on life, more freedom to move around, whole new ideas to consider. Everything made much more sense, and ideas fell into place like they never had before. Mormonism makes much, much more sense as a small religion started by a young, uneducated, though very imaginative and charismatic, man. It’s not how God and the world work; it’s just one (somewhat strange) way of thinking about things.

All the things I had been trying to perform painful mental gymnastics to understand—racism, sexism, polygamy—suddenly made sense if the church was just a 19th century religion.

Now that the Book of Mormon was just a 19th century creation, I could properly look at the DNA, archaeological, and logical evidence that Native Americans are descended from Asians.

Now that Genesis was just one society’s ancient origin myth, I could properly give evolution a chance. (And guess what. It makes sense.)

Now that the covenant to “hearken unto the council of my husband” was just some old guys’ revision of an even more sexist ritual, I could recover my self-esteem as a woman.

It was so refreshing to let down the compartments in my mind, to give up the mental blocks, to stop performing the mental gymnastics. At first, I had felt like my world was destroyed. Now, my life was opened up too all the splendor, the joy of discovery, the pleasure of learning. Best of all, I’ve been able to rediscover myself and figure out who I am, instead of trying to fit into a mold of what I’m supposed to be.