Friday, April 27, 2007

sorry and visit

I've been extremely busy lately and haven't had the time to dedicate to blogging and answering comments. I'm sorry! I will get to the comments, and I'll post as often as I can in the next couple weeks.

Random thoughts:

My sister is coming to town tomorrow. The one that will talk to me about religion. We'll see how it goes!

Last night I went to a wine and cheese party. Guess who was there? A Muslim, a Mormon, and two other people who didn't drink either. I was the only one who had a glass of wine. How weird is that? I drank right in front of the Mormon guy--a person I used to attend church with--while we talked about missionaries in Europe. I love it.

Oh, remember the Mormon guy who found me at work? He is married (duh, of course he's married, he's Mormon and over 23), so he would be in the same ward as me if I went to church. So he does realize I don't go. Meh.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

more on depression

These past few weeks I've been perusing the academic literature on Mormonism, as you will have noticed if you're a regular reader. I'm eventually hoping to find the time to turn this into a paper, but for now, I'll share some basic results and take-home messages from three of the studies.

Spendlove, Risk Factors and the Prevalence of Depression in Mormon Women, 1984

This study telephone-interviewed 143 Mormon women and 36 non-Mormon women in the Salt Lake area. They found that 23.8% of the Mormon women were depressed (based on a screening done during the interview), and 22.2% of the non-Mormon women were. So there was no difference in prevalence of depression. They also compared highly-religious Mormon women to not-so-religious Mormon women, and found that there were differences in depression, the "inactives" having more depression. However, when they took into account income, education, caring from spouse, and health status, they found that those differences explained the difference in depression--not activity levels. (I wrote more about this study here.)

What's interesting here is that the depression rates for both groups were quite elevated. The depression rate among US women is more like 3%. Part of this difference is due to measurement--the depression rates in the Spendlove study were found through a screening by phone. The 3% rate is probably something like diagnosed-by-clinicians rate, which is certainly lower than the actual rate. Most depression is undiagnosed (get an online screening!). Still, the gap is too wide to be explained away by measurement error.

There was no difference between prevalence rates for these two groups, leading the authors to conclude that Mormon women do not have higher rates of depression that non-Mormons. However, one must also consider that both groups have elevated rates. Why? I could speculate that Mormons have elevated rates for certain reasons pertaining to being Mormon, while the non-Mormons have other reasons for being depressed, such as social pressures of being the religious minority. Hmm. Further studies are needed...Some have been done looking at Mormons outside of Utah. I'll get to those another day.

Fellingham, 2000, Statistics on Suicide and LDS Church Involvement in Males Age 15-34

Okay, this one is not depression specifically, it's suicide, but a lot of suicide results from depression. This Utah-based study looked at death records of boys and men, and checked church records for which office of the priesthood they had attained (Aaronic or Melchizedek). They decided that if a 15-19 year old had the Aaronic priesthood, or a 20-34 year old had the Melchizedek priesthood, he was active. Otherwise they were classified as "inactive" or "non-member." Not a perfect measure, but it was probably the best they could do in the circumstances. The results were rather disturbing: active Mormons had the lowest suicide rates. The general US male population in the age group were 2.5 times as likely to commit suicide as "active" Mormons. "Inactive" Mormons were 4 times as likely to commit suicide, and non-Mormons living in Utah were 6 times as likely to commit suicide. Yikes.

Perhaps the scariest part of this study is that some Mormons would think (read: this is what I would have thought when I was a believer) that this is just proof that being an active Mormon is better. And that the solution is just to re-activate all those "inactives." Simple, right?

There are a couple things I see that are wrong with that logic. First, this study in no way establishes causality. A reader cannot conclude that because they happened to be inactive when they committed suicide, it was the inactivity that caused the suicide. It could have been that mental illness (supposing it was mental illness that led to the suicide) caused the inactivity. Or there could have been an issue (say, he told the bishop he was gay) that caused the bishop to deny advancement in the priesthood, even though the young man was a faithful believer, and perhaps even led to the suicide. There are a lot of scenarios I could come up with; we just don't know.

Second, perhaps it's not something wrong with the "inactive" and non-Mormon boys and men, but with the system in which they live. Maybe it's not the "inactive" ones that are doing something wrong, but it's the church that's wrong
for them. Obviously, many Mormons live happy lives. I was happy as a Mormon. But there are some for whom it simply doesn't work; for some, it hurts. These people are the ones more likely to become "inactive." A problem is, though, that there is little room in the church--and especially in Utah--to recognize that it could be something wrong with the church, and not a personal failure or sin of the person for whom it doesn't work. Instead of trying to re-activate the "inactives," it would probably be more appropriate to target those at risk and find out what they need--counseling, therapy, anti-depressants, social networks outside the church, maybe even social networks inside the church. Of course, there is a huge range of reasons why they stop going to church, why they develop mental health problems, and why they commit suicide, and my late-night musings can hardly do any of that justice. So I'll move on.

Norton, Gender Differences in the Association Between Religious Involvement and Depression: The Cache County (Utah) Study, 2006

This study involved interviews with 4468 elderly people (65-100) in Cache County, Utah. More than 90% of them were Mormon. They found that people who attended church more frequently had lower rates of depression (remember, this is not causality, but rather correlation). They also found that the Mormons had twice as much depression that non-Mormons, even after considering other risk factors. This was the most interesting finding to me, but the authors gloss it over in one sentence in the discussion section. That's it.* What the authors considered most interesting was that there was a difference by gender. Women had less risk of depression if they attended frequently, but it was the opposite for men. The ones attended more frequently were more likely to be depressed.

This isn't the first study to find different effects by gender. Many studies show that attending women are benefited more by religiosity than attending men (and that women attend more than men). The authors speculate that the reason men in this group had higher depression was because of loss of social role. That is, it's the younger (middle age) men who hold the important leadership positions, such as bishop, stake president, high council. By the time they are 65+, men generally don't hold these positions (unless they are in the general leadership, which is very small percentage of men). They authors also speculate that for men, church is more business-like, and for women, it's more social/emotional. Thus, older women would benefit from the social contacts at church, while men would more likely feel the loss of being in charge.

I owe this insight to my husband.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mormon funeral

For the first time in about 18 months, I stepped foot in a Mormon chapel. The occasion was a funeral of a wonderful old man, the father/grandfather of a family I grew up with. I had jokingly made a New Year's resolution in 2006 that I would not enter of Mormon church building. I fulfilled my resolution. But this was January 2007 now, and I figured this man and his family were worth breaking my boycott. I wore pants. I did sing the hymns, even the parts about Jesus. I wondered what impression that was giving my mom, who was right next to me.

It was touching to hear about the man's life; he really was an amazing man. But it was also awkward. Mormon funerals tend to be all about how the person is happier on the other side, reunited with Heavenly Father and all the family who preceded the deceased in death. The Mormon theology of life and death provides a great deal of comfort to the family members. They think that not only did the person die at the pre-appointed time, but also that the person is wonderfully happy. Perhaps bringing the greatest sense of comfort is the idea that they will all see the person again, after they die too.

From an outsider's perspective, the most frustrating thing is that the speakers talk more about the plan of salvation than the life of the person. Earthly life is just a second compared to eternity, they say, and so the pre- and post-mortal existences are more important to discuss. This, in my opinion, belittles the person. Here they are at the funeral, and the deceased is talked about in a short eulogy, and that's about it. Aren't funerals supposed to be celebration of the life of the person?

Aren't they also supposed to be a chance for people to grieve and mourn together? And yet at this funeral and ones I've been to before, there was very little crying. It was almost as if people didn't go through the grieving process, or they only skimmed the surface of it, never feeling any depth of emotion about the loss. I talked to a daughter and two grandkids immediately afterward, and they were happy, friendly, smiling, as if I were simply greeting them after regular church services. I don't mean to accuse them of not caring or loving. They certainly did love him a great deal, they feel the loss, and they miss him. But with holding to the idea that they'll see him again in a few years, how much can they miss him? It's one thing to say goodbye for a while; it's another thing entirely to have that person gone. Gone, except in memory.

Another thing about this particular funeral was that the man had only converted to Mormonism a couple years before his death. Some of his children converted decades ago, his wife converted maybe 10 years ago, and he converted practically on his death bed. One of his children never converted (good for her). I tend to think the man converted to please his Mormon children, worried as they were about his salvation. So even though he spend only two years of his life as a Mormon, Mormonism was definitely the focus of the funeral.

One of the speakers smugly said Mormons aren't scared of death; they know what happens when we die; all those other people are just lost and scared, they have no comfort. This was actually said at the funeral. No only is it grossly mistaken and ignorant, it is downright rude. I looked over at the one non-Mormon child after the service. I believe she is an atheist. I tried to imagine how this funeral had been for her, with her family and their clergy going on and on about the plan of salvation and seeing him again and how he was sanctified in Christ. I resented how smug the Mormon part of the family was about the funeral; of course they were going to have a Mormon funeral, because Mormonism is right and atheist is wrong, right? I hope for her sake that she was able to derive some comfort from the funeral of her father. I hope that she had her own version of saying goodbye that suited her and her version of how life and death work.

I have yet to have any immediate family members die, no friends or relatives very close to me, either before or after my leaving. I don't know how I'll handle it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

reading the Book of Mormon

Happy Anniversary to me! Today is two years since the last time I attended LDS church services. I realized that with a little thrill of excitement.

I started reading the Book of Mormon several times when I was young, after I was baptized. I never got through First Nephi. When I was 11, I started reading daily, a chapter a day. I was motivated by the Gospel in Action award. One of the goals for that was to read every day for a month. When I passed off that goal, I did it with an unclean conscience--I was pretty sure I had missed one or two days. I felt so guilty. To help make my conscience feel better, I started reading daily in earnest. My daily reading was helped along by my personality--once I set myself to do something like that, I can just do it. (My husband would call it obsessive-compulsive, but I disagree of course.)

I did the same thing for journal writing. I just picked up my journal one day when I was 14 and said, "I'm going to write every day now." And I did. For 10 years. And when I started blogging, I set myself a "post daily" goal, and kept that up for months until the pace was too much for my schedule. Yet I still post 4 to 5 times a week, as if pushed by a compulsion. I just tell myself I have readers counting on me. All five of you.

I kept up the daily Book of Mormon-reading for over 10 years, when I started to shorten it to less than a chapter. Eventually, it got to the point that I was reading only one verse just for the sake of saying I did it. When I was 24, I decided to read D&C, and I started to dislike Joseph Smith and have some serious cognitive dissonance moments. When I finished D&C and went back to the Book of Mormon, I found it screamed "Joseph Smith wrote this!" to me. It was just too painful to read.

I lost exact count after 12 full read-throughs, but I think I read the Book of Mormon 14 or 15 times total, almost all of that in my teenage years.

What a waste of time.

Monday, April 23, 2007

one found me

As I busied myself with something in the lounge area at work, I noticed a co-workers whose name I didn't know stop a cell phone conversation and try to get my attention. I turned to him. I think, He looks Mormon.

"Hey, are you from the ashes?"

"Yeah," I asked, wondering how he learned my name and why. There are over 400 people where we work; why single me out?

"I noticed on the company bio pages that you went to Brigham Young."

"Yeah, I did." I glance at his clothes, half-expecting to see a BYU sweatshirt or baseball cap. I think to myself, Why did they have to include our bachelor degrees in the bios?

Trying to keep a nice smile, I ask, "Oh, did you go to BYU?"

"No," he answered, "I'm one of the ones that stayed..."

"That stayed local?"

He nodded.

"Where are you from?" He told me; it was not Utah.

"Oh, okay. And what's your name?" He told me his name and what division he's in.

I think, Should I say something? Should I not? Is it any of his business? No. But now he thinks I'm something I'm not. But I am. But I'm not. Why am I being so stupid? Why is it such a big deal? He's probably in the local singles ward, so he wouldn't know I don't attend. Or he's in the family ward, and thinks I'm in the singles ward. Why do I feel the need to tell him I don't attend?

I said aloud, "Well, nice to meet you. I'll let you get back to your phone call." I smiled and left.

How could such a simple thing be so nerve-wracking?

Honestly, the first thing I did when they put up the employees bios was check if anyone graduated from BYU or one of its associated schools, or listed a Utah town as hometown. He must have checked, too. I don't work directly with this guy, so maybe I'll never see him again. Maybe I will. Why do I care?

Friday, April 20, 2007

visiting churches

In the spring of my disaffection from the church, and the summer following, I started to visit other churches. It never occurred to me at that point that I would stop going to church altogether, so I was looking for a substitute. Something more comfortable, more inspiring, more fulfilling than Mormon church services. This is a little run-down of my impressions of the religious communities I attended in my summer of exploration.


We chose a local episcopal congregation really because a friend of ours played the organ there some weeks. I liked the services well enough, especially since I was still a believer in Jesus' divinity, and I don't mind some ritual now and then. The music was a whole lot better than in Mormon services, what with the skilled organist, the acoustics, and the paid choir. I was also pleased to see a woman and a gay man as priests.

The people in the congregation were thrilled to see new people, and were very friendly after the service during coffee hour. (Coffee hour! At a church! I loved it.) A couple of them did approach us about becoming members or attending regularly, but not in a pushy way. When I said, "We're shopping around," everyone understood and appreciated the desire to try out lots of churches before settling in to one.


When some neighbor-friends of ours heard that we had dropped the Mormon church and were checking out other ones, they invited us to church with them. There was never an option in our minds to become Catholics (the whole women-can't-be-priests thing sounds way too familiar), but we wanted to be polite, and we were curious to see how they worship anyway. This particular church caters to a more liberal, young crowd, and is sometimes jokingly called "Catholicism lite." The inside of the church was quite simple, nothing like some of the cathedrals I've seen.

The priest gave a fairly liberal sermon (they're not called sermons in Catholicism, are they?) about doubting and crises of faith--and how they are perfectly acceptable and even good. That warmed my heart to hear that, knowing how Mormonism vilifies doubt and wants not faith, but knowledge, of its members. Looking back at that, I see that encouraging doubt was probably also a way of getting people to turn off their rationality, since virgin birth, transubstantiation, and man-as-god are all pretty hard to swallow.

The couple took us out to lunch afterward (yes, on a Sunday) and we continued to hang out with them the rest of the summer, barbecuing and drinking beer on the warm nights. They never bothered us to come with them again, and they didn't shun us when we didn't want to come again.


Some other neighbor-friends invited us to the local mosque for Friday services. One of the couple converted to Islam from Lutheranism, the other was a Islamic scholar from central Asia. We were pretty familiar with Islam already, but, again, I was curious, so we went. I borrowed some clothes, a long-sleeved, loose tunic and a head scarf, from another Muslim neighbor, and Mr. FTA, I think, put on an embroidered cap. I have very little trouble about head scarves; it's the more extreme clothing restrictions that are frustratingly misogynist. When we got to the mosque, the guys went to the main room where the iman was, and the women went upstairs to the women's section. There was a speaker so the women could hear. I stayed in the back for the actual prayer, then sat on the floor for the iman's lesson (sermon?). I didn't like the sermon. It was all about how great God is, and how he has been worshiped for all eternity by the angels, and still, that is not enough. I don't understand such a god.

The separation of men and women bothered me, even though I knew that's what they did before I went. (I've seen other mosques where women aren't allowed at all.) It also bothered me that some of the women didn't pray because they were on their monthly cycles. It strikes me as so misogynist, calling women's natural system impure. Afterwards, they took us to lunch, along with two other couples, including the iman. Seemingly automatically, the men sat down at one table and got deep into conversation about theology, and the women and children sat at another.

Friends (Quaker)

I found out one of my colleagues attends the local Friends meeting, so we stopped in one day. There was no way our kids were going to sit there in silence for an hour, so my husband offered to take them outside to the playground. Normally, they have a class for kids, but not in the summer.

The meeting consisted of everyone sitting silently in chairs, which circled the small, plain room. There was no pulpit or central focus; this is meant to emphasis the egalitarian philosophy. I enjoyed the quiet, and let my mind wonder. I though mostly about my journey out of Mormonism. It felt something like fast and testimony meeting, those moments where everyone sits there, no one wanting to get up to speak. Except no one was uncomfortable about the fact that no one was getting up. Eventually, someone spoke. It was the Sunday before the 4th of July, and he talked about how that holiday created cognitive dissonance for him--the independence we celebrate came through war (Quakers are, of course, peace-loving). It was refreshing to hear someone express that; in my experience, Mormon services in July were so blindly patriotic it was scary.

Unitarian Universalism

I've already mentioned the UU services before. I loved going there the first time I went, and I still love it when I go. If I ever join a religious community, that would be the one. But not yet. I just can't commit anywhere yet. The feeling of obligation is too much right now, and always brings flashbacks to Mormon callings and spiritual manipulation. I know I wouldn't get that at the UU, but still. It's not time yet.

In that summer of exploration, we also simply didn't go to church much of the time. We instead enjoyed the nice weather, and went to the park. Or slept in, and lounged around in pajamas. It was wonderful.

One Sunday morning in September, I asked my husband, "So where should we go today?" He gave me a look, and I understood. He didn't want to go anywhere. He was done with church. I, for some reason, wasn't ready to go alone, so I stopped shopping around. I was comfortable with taking a break, perhaps a very long break, from church. Besides, I had just started some new work that often demanded my time on Sundays. And so the shopping around period ended. I still pop into the UU services from time to time. But mostly, I like having Sunday mornings to ourselves.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mormonism and depression: literature

This is kind of a cop-out post because I don't have time to write much lately, but maybe this will help some people. What follows is a short-list of what resources I have pulled together on Mormonism and depression. Doubtless, there is more out there, and I have concentrated more on scholarly, peer-reviewed literature. If you have anything to add to the bibliography, please let me know. Also, if you would like a copy of anything, let me know at For the items that are available online, I have provided links. (A hearty thanks to those of you who helped me find some of these in the first place.)

I will thoroughly read each of these and write some notes on them when I have more time.

Gray literature (not peer-reviewed)

Ponder, Kent. Mormon Women, Prozac, and Therapy

LDS Use of Antidepressants. entry on FAIR's Wiki.

Express Scripts Prescription Drug Atlas. Executive Summary. (This report is, as far as I can tell, The Source for the idea that Utah has the highest anti-depressant rate. I'll write a post about it.)

Media reports

Julie Cart, "Study Finds Utah Leads Nation in Antidepressant Use," Los Angeles Times, 20 February 2002, A6. (I can't access a copy of this online without paying, but I have the abstract.)

Utah leads the nation in antidepressants and analgesics, study concludes. The Associated Press State & Local Wire. June 21, 2001.

Carey Hamilton. The Salt Lake Tribune. Critics question use of antidepressants; Health: Some call the medications dangerous; Utah, meanwhile, leads the nation in their consumption; Medication criticized by coalition. September 5, 2003.

"Expert: Mormon women less depressed," USA Today, 2 April 2004 (Associated Press article).

Degn, L. Yeates, E. Greenwell, B. Fiddler, L. 1985. Mormon women and depression [transcript of the KSL documentary of the same name]. Sunstone. 49: 19-27.

Peer-reviewed literature

Bauer, Leslie E. 1992. Depression and repression among Mormon women. Dissertation. California State University, Fresno.

Hilton, Sterling C, et al. 2002. Suicide Rates and Religious Commitment in Young Adult Males in Utah. American Journal of Epidemiology. Vol. 155, No. 5: 413-19.

Maxwell, Jeanmarie. 1992. Mormon women and depression. Thesis. University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Norton, Maria C, et al. 2006. Gender Difference in the Association Between Religion Involvement and Depression: The Cache County (Utah) Study. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. Vol 61B, No 3: 129-136.

Overton, Jared L. Latter-day Saints and Mental Health: A Review of the Literature, 1995-2005. Dissertation. Azusa Pacific University.

Spendlove, David C. 1982. Depression in Mormon Women. Dissertation. University of Utah.

Spendlove, David C., et al. 1984. Risk Factors and the Prevalence of Depression in Mormon Women. Social Science and Medicine. Vol 18, No 6: 491-495.

Williams, Marleen. 1993. Correlates of Beck Depression Inventory Scores in Mormon and Protestant women: Religious orientation, traditional family attitudes and perfectionism. Dissertation. Brigham Young University.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

take no thought for tomorrow

The day before Good Friday, I started into a conversation with some co-workers about the Easter holidays, which got us into a discussion about religion. One man, a Kenyan, argued how Christianity has lead some Kenyans to "take no thought for tomorrow" and not work as hard as they would otherwise. He said they did this because of Christian teachings about letting God watch out for you, so they should not worry much about the future.

I agreed that this could certainly be one interpretation and consequence of the teachings in Matthew 6:34 (oh, I so had to look it up). At this point in the conversation, a man with strong religious leanings came in, and the Kenyan repeated the idea to him. Mr. Religion took offense to the idea, and started to defend Christianity, saying that plenty of Christians are hard-working and contribute to society. Which is certainly true, and I acknowledged that.

"However," I argued, "you can see how that scripture could lead some to be less concerned about their own futures and the future of the earth, right?"

He couldn't see it, and insisted that the scripture shouldn't be interpreted that way, and that many don't interpret it that way.

"Right, many don't. But some do. Can you see how it is possible to interpret it that way?" I asked.

"No," he said, "give me an example."

"The Kenyans he referred to are an example. And I am another. I personally am an example of someone who cared less about the future. When I was a religious person, I thought much less about my future, I cared much less about social justice issues, and I didn't care at all about the environment. And that was a direct result of being religious, in my case. Not all Mormons think that way, no. It's not a necessary conclusion to the teachings, but it is one possible iteration. And it does come from the religious teachings. I thought that way because I truly thought that Jesus would come again and fix everything. I really thought the second coming of Jesus would be a grand deux ex machina to all the world's problems. So why worry about fixing everything ourselves, when everything is so hard to fix? Just let God take care of it in due time."

I was complacent as a believing Mormon; I don't like that version of me. I used to think that the only way to solve the earth's problems would be through God's intervention. If a person said such a thing to me now, I'd look at her like she's crazy. Now I take a humanist approach, that we as humans must solve our own problems. There's no god to help us, nor do we need one. Which means we as humans must step up to the task of making our lives better, creating knowledge, and understanding the nature of the universe and everything in it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


My vocabulary has changed quite a lot since I stopped going to church. Here's a short list of words and phrases I don't use anymore. (I posted the list on FLAK many moons ago, and others added many more phrases.)

the Lord
the Brethren
Nephite, Lamanite
prophesy, prophet, seer
mission field
spirit prison
spirit heaven
pre-mortal existence
temple work
mutual night

Last night at dinner, as I contemplated the fact that I'd just had a glass of wine and was then drinking some after-dinner tea, I started singing out loud,

"How many sins have I committed today? How many sins have I committed today? Let us count them!" I got the tune from my son's preschool song, "How many friends are here today? Let us count them!"

My son, listening to my strange little song, asked what "sin" means. After a hearty smile over the fact that he doesn't know what a sin is, I started to explain.

"Well, some people, like Grandma and Grandpa, call things that they think are wrong, sin. Like they think drinking wine is bad, so they call that a sin. And drinking tea, too. They would call that a sin. But I don't think that stuff is bad. And I don't call it sin, anyway."

"What do you call it?" he asked.

"For example, if I hurt somebody, then I say, 'I hurt somebody'. I don't call it sin."

The little wheels in his head started to turn, trying to figure out exactly what sin meant.

"So," he said, "if I eat peanuts, that's a sin!"

I laughed and said, "No, not like that. You're allergic to peanuts. If you eat them, you'll get a allergic reaction, but that's not a sin."


Then I finished drinking my sinful, sinful tea.

Monday, April 16, 2007

the old friend answers

A couple days after I wrote my friend about my non-belief, I got an email back. She was not entirely surprised, she said, having received hints both from me and her mom, who is friends with my mom. The fact that she picked up on some things from my conversations and behavior was not surprising to me. I had, after all, declined to attend the temple with her last time I visited, and suggested we see Confessions of a Mormon Boy instead. (It's a one-man show about a gay man's journey away from Mormonism and toward his own sense of self. She declined to see it, saying she had heard it was "raunchy.") I also told her I didn't have a calling, wasn't visiting teaching, and that I thought ol' Joe Smith started polygamy for sex and power. Not exactly a faithful conversation. And now that she knows I'm a non-believer, she can comfortably discount anything I said before that caused her cognitive dissonance, uh, I mean, caused the Spirit to leave the room.

What did surprise me was that she had heard something about me from her mom. The only way her mom would have heard about me is from my mom. I had honestly thought that my mom kept my disaffection quiet, you know, the black sheep, the dirty, family secret. I guess not. I can only suppose that she framed it in terms of "my daughter is struggling with her testimony," which I would completely disagree with. I'm not struggling with my testimony; I don't have a testimony. I don't want a testimony. I don't even think in terms of testimony anymore. It's more than a difference of semantics, but it's not worth arguing with her about it.

My friend was, understandably, upset. Even though she'd had some hints, she didn't "realize the extend to which my faith had diminished." Again, not the terminology I would use. But it's more than terminology, it's the thinking that comes with it. Do "diminished" and "struggling" describe me well? I'd say, no. I would approach it more in terms of "liberated" or "opened up." But I'm not going to argue that with believers, because it implies they are "not liberated" and "closed off." I try to use more neutral terms, such as "I don't believe anymore" or "I believe differently now."

Bless her heart, she assured me that she loved me very much and wouldn't let this destroy our friendship. I do believe she is sincere in that, but I also recognize the strain that too often occurs in Mormon/non-Mormon relationships. For my part, I will work to keep the friendship up.

She said she had plenty of questions about my disaffection, so I sent her a revised, shortened version of my exit story that I have posted on this blog. I also sent a version of my thoughts on how our families blame my husband for my "struggles," since I figured she'd have questions about how he played into this. I have yet to receive her thoughts on it, but I think it was probably a heavy blow. She's actually the first believing Mormon I've sent my exit story to. I haven't even sent it, as such, to the one sister who would willingly read it.

I'll see what happens next.

Friday, April 13, 2007

announcement: blog carnival for atheism

CLHanson of Letters from A broad alerted me to a new carnival opening up, one specifically for "promoting atheism as a positive, joyous world view." See the announcement below. The blog can be found here: Daylight Atheism. I've submitted a post. Do consider submitting if you have entries that would fit. I can't wait to read all the submissions. Our society tends to think of atheism as lacking something; I love the idea of making it something positive. (I realize I have theist readers, too. Please don't let this push you away. We are many people with many world views, and that's a good thing.)

Welcome, friends, well-wishers and regular readers! I have something to tell you all about which I'm very excited. There's an issue that I've been mulling over for some time, and tonight I intend to announce its resolution.

Specifically, I've been thinking about carnivals. The Carnival of the Godless, founded in March 2005 by Brent Rasmussen of Unscrewing the Inscrutable, is a wonderful forum for atheist writing and is still going strong. However, since that time there's been a proliferation of new atheist weblogs, and I think the CotG has gotten just a little crowded. I believe there's more than sufficient interest to sustain multiple godless carnivals, and there are some wonderful, eloquent new voices in the atheist corner of the blogosphere that deserve to be better known and could only be helped by a new forum in which to promote their writing. Also, the CotG has plenty of posts debunking and criticizing religion, but I don't think it has enough of the kind of posts I really like to see: posts promoting atheism as a positive, joyous worldview.

With all this in mind, I'm here tonight to announce a brand-new carnival for atheists and freethinkers: the Humanist Symposium. Like the CotG, this carnival will showcase some of the best non-religious writing out there. However, this one will have a slightly different emphasis. Rather than general posts on atheism and religion, the purpose of the Humanist Symposium will be specifically to defend and uphold atheism as a positive worldview of morality, reason and purpose, a desirable and attractive alternative to belief systems based on religion.

The first edition of the Humanist Symposium will appear right here at Daylight Atheism on Sunday, April 29, and I'm now officially accepting submissions. So long as it furthers the purpose described above, any and all freethought writing is welcomed! (For more details and guidelines, see the carnival home page.) Assuming the first edition is a success, I'm also seeking volunteers to host future editions, which will appear every three weeks thereafter. All correspondence and entries can be e-mailed to me, or sent through the submission form on the carnival home page.

Finally, if you have a blog, even if you don't plan to submit something yourself, you can help get the word out! Feel free to copy and republish this announcement. The Humanist Symposium needs all the entries it can get, and the more we have, the more powerfully we can make the point that atheism is a worldview that any rational person should be glad to live by!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

it occurred to me

As I sat doing some work yesterday, trying to plan my week, it suddenly occurred to me that I am no longer a current temple recommend holder. My temple recommend expired on March 31, 2007.

That realization came with mixed, though mostly happy, emotions. It made me smile, I said a little hallelujah in my head, and I felt a sense of liberation. I also felt just a twinge of sadness, mostly because I knew how much my family will hurt over never seeing me in the temple with them again. And I knew how many future weddings I'll be excluded from because I won't lie about my beliefs, wear funny underwear, or give 10% of my income to a billion dollar corporation whose policies I strongly disagree with.

I got my last temple recommend just over two years ago, when I was in a state of turmoil about the church. I hadn't yet read most of the books on my sidebar, and I hadn't yet let myself think "Can it be not true?" I was still in a state of mind where I thought the church was something special, and I thought that renewing my recommend would provide an anchor for me. I thought it would help me ground my beliefs in those essentials: Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, priesthood restoration, latter-day prophets. I thought having the recommend would help me keep up my activity level, my "standards," for a couple more years while I decided what I really believed. Also, I thought there would probably be a family wedding soon, and I couldn't comprehend missing it because I hadn't renewed my recommend during a period of doubt.

So I renewed it, saying "yes" and "no" at all the right places, though I was putting caveats on most of the answers, inside my head. I didn't feel that I was lying about anything, I just had a liberal definition of "prophet, seer, and revelator," and when I agreed that the church was the true, restored church, I was answering entirely on a gigantic leap of faith. Which isn't what the church wants, but I think it's what a whole lot of people do.

I had purposely postponed reading Palmer's An Insider's View of Mormon Origins and several other books until after the recommend interviews. Within days of getting the renewal, I cracked open those books and read with an open mind.

And that's all it took.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"let's think about that some more"

My son is pretty skeptical about the Easter bunny's existence, but I don't want to outright tell him that there's no Easter bunny and Santa Claus, and have him just believe it on my authority. I'd rather he analyze it for himself. Not sure I'm doing a good job encouraging that. This is a re-creation of the conversation we had the night before Easter when I was putting him to bed.

fta: So, do you think the Easter bunny will come to hide eggs in the house?
son: But he's just pretend!
fta: What?! Why do you think that?
son: Because. He's just pretend.
fta: But don't you need a reason to think he's just pretend?
son: I don't know.
fta: Well, we can look at the evidence and decide if there's more evidence that the Easter bunny is real or is just pretend.
son: confused
fta: Do you know what evidence is?
son: No.
fta: It's things that tell us something is true or not true. For example, if I say, "You love the movie Cars," what evidence do we have to support that?
son: I don't know.
fta: How about this: We can see that you have a Cars blanket. And Cars shoes and Cars pillow and Cars sheet and a toy Lighting McQueen and a toy Dinoco The King. Right?
son: Yeah!
fta: So we can say, hmm, I think we have a lot of evidence that you like the movie Cars. All those things are evidence.
son: unsure
fta: Or, we can say it differently. If I say, "You hate the movie Cars," do we have any evidence that tells me I'm wrong?
son: Ummm...
fta: How about the blanket, the pillow, the toys, the shoes...All that is evidence that you don't hate Cars, you love it.
son: Yeah, I love Cars!
fta: So, how about the Easter bunny? What kind of evidence do we have that the Easter bunny is real or just pretend?
son: I dunno.
fta: Well, there's the Easter eggs in our house in the morning.
son: But you buy those!
fta: How do you know?
son: I saw you.
fta: No you didn't; I bought them on the way home from work.
son: Oh.
fta: But you can see that all the kinds of candy the Easter bunny brings are the same kinds of candy that we could buy at the store, right?
son: Yeah, like cranberry mini-eggs and chocolate peanut butter things.
fta: Cadbury mini-eggs.
son: Oh, right. Caaadbury.
fta: Okay, so what good night song do you want me to sing you?
son: Let's think about the Easter bunny some more.
fta: Oh, okay. What other evidence do we have?
son: Um.
fta: How would the Easter bunny get in the house? Does he come in the chimney like Santa?
son: Santa's just pretend!
fta: Really? And we don't have a chimney. Maybe the bunny comes in through the door.
son: He doesn't have a key.
fta: Maybe he knocks and we let him in?
son: Or he breaks down the door!
fta: How rude! But there's no evidence that the door gets broken. We would see it if it broke.
son: Oh. Let's think about the Easter bunny some more.
fta: Okay. Wait a second, have you ever seen a bunny as big as a person? That could talk?
son: No way!
fta: And how would he carry all that candy and those eggs for all the Christians all over the world? That'd be a big bag.
son: Yeah, as big as the Pacific Ocean!
fta: That's so big! Okay, good night. I'll see you in the morning and we'll see what the Easter bunny brought us.
son: But he's just pretend! There's no evidence.
fta: But what about the Easter eggs? Who will hide them?
son: You will!
fta: We'll see. Good night, bud. I love you.
son: I love you too! Good night!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

birds and bees

My home growing up was not a safe space to talk. I couldn't talk about boyfriends or church issues or complain about anything, really, because my mom inevitably handled it poorly. Her way of handling things was to snap out about how I should do things the church's way. If I had a crush on a boy at 14, her response would be an angry and impatient "You're too young!" So did I stop having crushes on boys because I was too young? No, of course not. I just stopped telling her about it. If I had a church question, she'd just say, "Pray about it." Or "I've prayed about it, and I feel fine. What's your problem?" If I had a bad day at school, and I just needed to say so out loud in order to get it off my chest, she'd say, "Quit being so ornery! You'll drive the Spirit away."

It's a good thing I was never rebellious; that could've been very, very ugly.

We've been very open with our son about the sticky issues. We've had 4-year-old-level talks about HIV, God, death, gay marriage, the Easter bunny and Santa, and sex (he saw some farm animals and asked), etc. We've been so open, that sometimes he gets a little too open at school. His teachers have told us, "Your son was talking about the war in Iraq to the other 4-year-olds; I told him that if he wants to talk about that stuff, he should talk to one of the teachers. Sound okay?"

I much, much prefer that he feel comfortable to talk about anything with us than have him be afraid to talk to us and get his information elsewhere. I know he'll get information elsewhere, too, but I want to foster a safe space for him at home. I encourage it by trying to answer his questions, and not act repulsed or impatient like my mom did. Even when he says silly, naughty words like fart and poo-poo face, I remind him that it's okay to say those things when we're being silly at home; but try not to say them at school, okay? Home is the place for that kind of thing.

I know that when he gets older, he'll probably want to be a little less open with his mom and dad. But I sincerely hope that when the time comes, he'll be able to ask, "Mom, where can I get some condoms?" And I won't yell, "You're too young to have sex!"

(But at the rate he's asking questions now, he'll probably know about condoms and ask where to get them by the time he's 6. And then I will say, "You're too young to have sex." But at least I won't yell.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

telling an old friend

I have one friend from childhood with whom I keep in fairly good contact, but I have never had the heart or guts to tell her about my changed beliefs. Though we keep in contact over email, I recently connected with her on of those connect-with-old-friends sites online. After I saw that she was on that site, I noticed also there's a place to indicate religion.

I could've put something equivocal or vague, I could've left it blank; I could not comfortably put LDS, though the church still lists me as one of theirs. In a gutsy moment of not wanting to hide my beliefs anymore, I entered "secular humanist" for myself. I'm not stupid; she's not stupid. I'd figured she'd see it before too long and notice that I didn't put LDS. It wasn't in order to give her a hint; it was just me not wanting to hide it anymore. Then again, maybe I wanted her to find me out.

So on Good Friday, I went to work to get a few hours in while the office was quiet. The whole place was empty except for the one cubicle right next to mine. I sat down and quickly checked my email before starting work. This friend had emailed and asked, ever so casually, what a secular humanist is.

It was time for The Talk. Or, since I'm a wuss, The Email. I knew I wouldn't be able to get any work done, because I would take a long time writing and editing the email, then be upset that I just ruined her weekend.

In the email, I referred her to an online explanation of secular humanism,* and wrote

As you can tell, the tenets don't jive well with Mormonism. Which is to say Mormonism doesn't jive well with me. I didn't drop Mormonism for humanism, but over time I realized that what I hold to and understand as right and moral is summed up well with humanism.

I assured her I am willing to talk about it, but also understand if she finds it too upsetting to talk about. I apologized for not opening up until now, two years after my world crashed down on me. I explained that keeping this secret was not because I was afraid she'd end our friendship, but because it is just very, very hard to tell people whom you know it will hurt.

As I sat there, typing that in, I giant sob threatened to burst out of me. Knowing a near stranger was three feet away, I clapped my hand over my mouth and let an internal, silent scream rack my body, and some tears rolled down from my eyes. This was not a conversation I wanted to have at all, and not over email. But perhaps email is easier to deal with than face-to-face. I don't know. I've never actually told any faithful Mormons face-to-face.

I went on to tell her

But I want you to understand that I feel great about my decisions. I don't feel lost or confused, or that I am doing something wrong. I didn't leave because I was offended, or I wanted to break commandments. I left because I simply don't believe the church's truth claims anymore, and I don't feel the church is the best place for me and my family. I recognize that the church is a fine enough place for many people; just not for me.

I concluded by referring her to When a Loved One Has Let Go of the Iron Rod and repeating that I was sorry and that I loved her. And now I wait to see what she'll say, if anything.

*After reading the entry, I realized perhaps I'm leaning toward religious humanism, or just humanism. I'll have to explore that some more.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

happy easter

Two years ago, I went to an Episcopal church on Easter and enjoyed it thoroughly, given that I still believed in the divinity of Jesus.

Last year, I had this urge to attend a church service. It just felt like it wouldn't be Easter without a religious component. The day before, I decided to go with my family to a congregationalist church where our fellow former-Mormon friends go. The morning of Easter, my husband decided he didn't want to go after all. At that time, I still had this revulsion to attending church by myself, so I couldn't bring myself to go--even though I wanted to. It made me mad at my husband, and I decided a good way to assuage my Easter blues would be to shop for a spring dress. A sexy, sleeveless one. So I drove two towns over to the mall, only to find it closed, of course. Since it was Easter it all. I never did get that dress.

I have since reconciled myself to the idea that my husband just isn't interested in wasting any more hours of his life on church services. That's fine. Sometimes now I do go by myself. Most weeks, I find I need those hours (one hour of services plus commute) to do other things.

This Easter, I haven't felt the pull toward church. It feels just fine for this to be a secular holiday, just like any other lazy Sunday at home, except there's lots of candy.

Friday, April 06, 2007

good friday

Why is it that Mormons never paid attention to Good Friday, Palm Sunday, and all that? (I have to say "all that" because I don't even know what else there is, being raised Mormon.) Seriously, why did our family only pay attention to Easter Sunday and nothing else? And then lament the emphasis on the Easter bunny and the candy? If they really wanted it to be more Jesus-centered ("Christ-centered" as Mormons would say), couldn't they have focused more on the whole ministry of Jesus, the leading up to the death, and then the resurrection?

Was the de-emphasis on the cross and the crucifixion just a way to get away from Catholicism? Growing up, I got the feeling that Mormons were smugly proud of the fact that they emphasized the resurrection of Jesus, not his death. We don't have crosses as symbols, we know the important part is the resurrection. And Gethsemane. Other Christians teach about the whole process from coming into Jerusalem to being tried and tortured, the crucifixion, then the resurrection. But that's not the story I got growing up. The story I got skipped from sweating blood in Gethsemane to the resurrection. Oh, and some stuff in between.

My first Easter season as a mostly-non-believer found me still a believer in Jesus. I think we attended an Episcopal church that day. If you believe in it, chanting "Christ is born, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" is rather comforting, really. In fact, that church service was rather emotional for me. I wasn't sure I believed in Mormonism, so it was refreshing to have a service that didn't have all those strange Mormon teachings and hang-ups, but still had Jesus. Even if you don't believe in the literal resurrection and the Jesus-is-God thing, I can see how the story would still provide comfort in coping with death. (Though it doesn't for me.)

Easter, then, for us, has become about egg-dying and Easter egg hunts. I try to throw is some pagan-ish "See how wonderful the world is in spring! Everything is coming to life, and giving us life! Hooray for the sun!" But really, my son only cares about the Easter egg hunt. He has already decided the Easter bunny "is really just you, Mom!" (he was a skeptic from the tender age of 3) but he still likes the surprise and the hunt anyway. Which is way better than stories about sweating blood in agonizing pain because of some "sin" I committed.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

from homophobic to pro-gay marriage, or thinking for myself

When I was a believing Mormon, I accepted the church's stance on homosexuality. I am now ashamed to admit it, but that's who I was then. That is, I let the church do the thinking. I remember first hearing about the idea that a man could love a man and being utterly shocked. How old was I, third grade? As I grew into a teenager, I remained homophobic, and was confused when I heard of a school-mate coming out of the closet. My thoughts about it evolved over time to the point that I thought homosexuality was not a choice, that it just happened. But I was dead set on the idea of man-woman marriage, and that any sex outside of marriage was wrong. Therefore, any homosexual sex was wrong, too. Until about a year or so before I left the church, I still thought that it was okay to be homosexual, but not to act on it. That asking homosexuals to be celibate was a reasonable idea. I remember hearing one of my non-orthodox Mormon friends voice her support for gay marriage, and being shocked. But I also thought, I should look into this some more.

I have since changed my mind about homosexuality and gay marriage.

Last summer when the nation was embroiled in the debate about a marriage amendment, a Mormon once commented to me "Can you believe that people think homosexuality is natural?" I answered, yes, that homosexuality is natural is completely believable to me. It's just as believable as the naturalness of heterosexuality.

Read anything written by a gay Mormon, and you will see the utter pain and suffering they go through believing the way they are is condemned by God. There is no way choice was involved there. If they chose to be gay, why all the pain and guilt? Why have so many gay BYU students committed suicide? Wouldn't they have just chosen to be straight instead? I don't believe seeing it as a non-choice interferes with Mormonism, either.

Being gay comes just as naturally as being straight. Did straight people choose to be straight? I myself was attracted to boys since about kindergarten, and I imagine attraction comes about in most people sometime during childhood as well. I know gay people whose realization for attraction for the same sex came about in early childhood.

I work with two different homosexual couples who are engaged to be married [one of those couples has since married]. They are in love and as excited and as giddy as any heterosexual couples. I applaud them and support them. The amendment would force them to get married only in their hearts; shooting down the amendment would not force any church to perform the marriage for them.

The church can continue to make its stand as outlined in the proclamation. But please don't try to enforce those standards on others or on the nation.