Friday, August 31, 2007


Time-release seminary. Junior year. Was it second period? Or fourth? (Eat your heart out, all you who had to endure early-morning seminary.) I even remember the teacher's name. He had a reputation for saying different things. We would qualify things he said behind his back with "The Gospel according to Brother P----."

He had these object lessons that he gave year after year.

In one of them, he circled a power cord, one of those big orange ones, on the floor to make an area big enough for one person to stand or sit in. He then asked one of the students to stand in it. Some boy volunteered. He then instructed the boy to promise not to step over it, or break it. He promised. Then the teacher offered a donut if he could get out of that circle without stepping over it or breaking it. The boy couldn't think of a way. He then offered all the money in his wallet, several bills, if he could do it. The boy could not.

My scheming mind, though, set to work as if it were a logic problem. According to his words, I couldn't step over the cord or break it. But he never said anything about touching it, did he? I figured I could lift the cord, and get out of the circle by stepping under it. That was definitely not restricted by the promise.

I mentioned it to the class, the teacher waved me off. That was not the point. The point was the promise. One year, he said, a kid stepped right out of that circle and grabbed the money. The Spirit immediately left the room, the teacher warned us.

He then explained what the lesson was about. It was based on BYU founder Karl Maeser's chalk line quote, the one displayed all over BYU campus. But I didn't know that at the time.

"I have been asked what I mean by 'word of honor.' I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls — walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into ground — there is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never. I'd die first.”

So it was about keeping your word, and here I was taking it apart like a logic challenge. I wondered about my faith that day. I thought I'd done something wrong in approaching it as I did. Indicative of my future path, perhaps?

I'm glad now I did take the whole thing apart, and step under that cord, so to speak, with the help of logic.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

further reading

I finished reading Orwell's 1984, and was chilled to the bone. While the imagined world in the book is more powerful and controlling than anything ever experienced, I couldn't help but find some parallels to the psychology of being a believing Mormon. Hey, it's my experience, it's what I know. If I were Chinese, I'd find parallels with the Cultural Revolution's brainwashing; if I were Salvadorian, I'd find parallels with the disappearances.

I found the concept and power of doublethink most striking, and shocking. Doublethink has many explanations, but one basic definition given is this:

"Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them" (pp. 289-290).

Cognitive dissonance, anyone? How about how I was able to belief in the creation and Adam and Eve, the fall, Eden, all that, and also evolution and the age of the earth? How Joseph did a bunch of immoral things, but could still be a great prophet, second only to Jesus?

The idea of crimestop was also disturbingly fascinating, and familiar, to me.

"Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc [English Socialism, the philosophy of the Party], and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity" (p. 287).

I essentially thrived on crimestop during most of the time I was exploring church history, when I was a Sunstone Mormon. Stopping myself from using crimestop could be another way of saying what I have said before, of letting the barriers in my mind crumble, of letting all the pieces of the puzzle come together.

There is a particular character in the book, named Parsons, who is perfect at doublethink and crimestop, at blackwhite thinking. He has bought into the Party line completely, so much so that when his own seven-year-old daughter turns him in to the Thought Police for talking in his sleep ("Down with Big Brother!"), he is thankful. He is glad they caught him in time, so he can be fixed, and returned to society without a negative thought--even subconscious--about the Party. He is willing to serve 5 or even 10 years of hard labor to be re-educated, to come back to unthinking orthodoxy, goodthink.

It reminded me of "ex-gays" in Mormonism and other homophobic religions. Just like Parsons, an "ex-gay" sees his own self as faulty, wrong, and in need of help and repair. He is thankful that the church is there to show him how to change, how to deny to himself who he is, and feel love for the church that "changes" him.

Another striking parallel with the book and the church is the rewriting of history. The present Party decides what is history, who exists and who didn't, anything that is true now (who the enemy is, for example) has always been true. People who realize that the enemy was Eurasia only four years ago, but is Eastasia now, need to consciously forget that they were ever at war with Eurasia. Then they need to forget that they forgot.

While the church is slowly, slowly getting better at admitting even its ugly history (Joseph's polygamy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre have been mentioned in the Ensign, for example), there is definitely a tradition of recreating history to make mythology--and calling it History. We have "forgotten," for example, that the first four presidents of the church made it abundantly clear that polygamy would never be taken from the earth. We have forgotten that there used to be death oaths and naked washings and anointings in the temple. We have forgotten that women used to give blessings to the sick and wounded. We have forgotten that Joseph Smith was in Carthage Jail for a crime he actually committed. We have forgotten that the date of the Melchizedek priesthood "restoration" is unknown (and yet somehow manage to celebrate it on Mother's Day, of all days).

Luckily, the church doesn't have "memory tubes," as does the Party, where all records of the now false past are incinerated. So we can remember.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Utah. Invitation to a party--a BBQ. Maybe thirty people shuffle in and out over the course of several hours. The living room, kitchen, and deck (and sometimes garage and bedrooms) are filled with happy, chatting people, circulating in and out, greeting and laughing. I know hardly anyone here, but after a shot or two of tequila, I strike up some friendships and talk like we are high school buddies. A counter top is crammed with bottles of liquor and sodas to mix it with. The fridge is full of six-packs of local brews, Polygamy Porter, and Captain Bastard's Oatmeal Stout. The table groans under the weight of fruit soaked in port and other treats, both sweet and savory. I discover my love for brie and bagette. Loud music plays for a while, and some guests dance happily, if a little unsteadily, to the beat. The living room becomes a make-out zone, and I laugh, and stick to the kitchen. I enjoy the commotion and the conversation while my drinks wear off, and I drive home sometime after midnight.

California. Invitation to a party--a game night. Five or six couples, some board games, pink lemonade, three types of chocolate chip cookies, angel food cake, and brownies. I don't know anyone here, and the host forgets to introduce me. Chit chat about children and days gone past. In a game listing famous people, everyone knows who John McCain is, but no one knows Michael Moore. In a game of charades, when I pull thumb and forefinger to my mouth and puff deeply, no one guesses weed. Someone mentions the gathering to Missouri, only half-jokingly. "Don't we believe that?" I've had enough, so I pipe in, "Not if you're Mitt Romney. He denies it." People laugh. But I'm not entirely sure they know what the hell I'm referring to.

We drive home and compare notes on how painful we found the party. I think he wins, since, even though he knew at least half the people there, I'd had a shot of vodka before coming.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Though I was always a good student and have always read a lot just for fun, I've realized lately just how many great books I've never touched. This includes many books that, had I read as the close-minded Mormon that I was, I would not have gotten nearly as much out of them as I could have.

When I did read "important" books and classics, I read them with barriers in my mind. I could have seen them for what they were, or what the authors hoped them to be. I could have gleaned lessons about life from them, or gained a better understanding of the variety of human experience. Instead, I reworked them in my head, either devaluing them for not having The Right Conception of God or judging characters for not acting Right. Or when characters found themselves living a false, trapped life and escaped, as in the young adult book, The Giver, I saw the false, emotionless, colorless life as The World and the freedom from it, Mormonism. I never once in the reading of that book, years ago, think, "Is my life like the boy's? Am I living in a contrived world? Is there something more out there?" I failed to ask the same questions with movies such as The Truman Show and The Matrix.

I've often wondered, of all the books I read as a devout Mormon, if I reread them now, I'd have a totally different perspective on them. Like Camus's The Stranger or the ancient The Tale of Genji. (And if I read them 20, 30, 40 years from now, I'll have a different perspective again.)

With that in mind, I have sought out some classics to read. Lately, I've read Maya Angelou and Robert Louis Stevenson. Currently, I have George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 in front of me.

Animal Farm is shocking so far, and even though it's a satire of communist Russia, I can't help but see some of the characters' thoughts as eerily similar to some I've had regarding Mormonism. I've playfully reworked some of the details in a couple quotes.

After a terrible blood-bath purge, Boxer, the hard-working horse says, "I do not understand it. I would not have believed that such things could happen on our farm. It must be due to some fault in ourselves. The solution, as I see it, is to work harder. From now onwards I shall get up a full hour earlier in the mornings” (p.52 in the edition linked above).

Another horse, Clover, muses over the same incident as Boxer.

“There was no thought of rebellion or disobedience in her mind. She knew that, even as things were, they were far better off than they had been in the days of Jones, and that before all else it was needful to prevent the return of the human beings. Whatever happened, she would remain faithful, work hard, carry out the orders that were given her, and accept the leadership of Napoleon” (p. 53).

Regarding the introduction of polygamy, or a cover-up of a child molestation, or the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a Mormon might have very similar thoughts:

"I do not understand it. I would not have believed that such things could happen on our church. It must be due to some fault in ourselves. The solution, as I see it, is to have more faith. From now onwards I shall get up a full hour earlier in the mornings to do scripture study.”

Another horse, Clover, muses over the same incident as Boxer.

“There was no thought of rebellion or disobedience in her mind. She knew that, even as things were, they were far better off than they had been in the days before she converted, and that before all else it was needful to prevent backsliding. Whatever happened, she would remain faithful, work hard, carry out the orders that were given her, and accept the leadership of The Prophet.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

the best and worst "Big M" lessons ever

Mormonism frowns severely upon The Big M, masturbation. (Let's see how that and yesterday's posts affect my keyword hits.) Mormonism also seems to think that it is a "problem" for only boys. Like I mentioned before, my Big M talk was from my bishop-father, "You don't need to worry about that." The worst Big M lesson ever. I imagine my brothers got slightly more in depth talks, but they were probably along the lines of "Don't. It's evil." 'Cause God gave you a penis, but He sure doesn't expect you to use it! As for the female body, I didn't know what was what until I learned about female circumcision in college. Yes, I was that innocent.

The best Big M talk, though, I saw on DVD last night. It was quick, extremely informative, straightforward, and as funny as hell. My husband and I were laughing hysterically. So if any of you have any pre-teen sons, but you can't figure out how to talk to them, leave it to the no-good, free-riding, brother-in-law character, Andy, from Weeds. Or at least take some tips from him.

(Explicit content. Obviously.)

Now if we could just get a female version of the talk.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

lessons my son will NOT be spared...

...but I was.

-anatomy of the sexual/reproductive system

-Boys have penises, girls have vaginas (or, as he likes to say it, "boys have penii and girls have vaginii). My parents' version was "boys have penises, girls don't." Niiiice.

-STDs, HIV/AIDS, condoms, lubricant, spermicide, etc.

-Sometimes girls like boys, boys like girls, and sometimes girls like girls, and boys like boys, AND THAT'S OKAY

-The best way to understand truth about the nature of the world and the universe is through science.

-Literature (religions texts included), history, music, art, etc., are great ways of understanding humankind's search for the meaning of their existence and how to get along in life.

-Question authority, including mine.

-There is no way of life that is the best or the truest.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

lessons my son will be spared

I was ten, and I just received a little birthday money from Grandma. I looked at the ten dollars, gleefully thinking about spending it. Candy, candy, candy. My mind wandered to my top drawer, where I kept two cleaned out orange juice cans. Both had been saved especially for a primary activity, where we labeled them with cutesy little cut-outs of cartoon kids holding up letters to spell Tithing and Missionary Fund.

Am I supposed to pay tithing on birthday money? I wondered. I had always paid exactly 10% on allowance (when I got it, which wasn't much), but a birthday present? Hmm. I had also started saving 10% for my future mission, which I was sure I would go on ever since I was confirmed a member of the church at age eight. So that'd be a dollar to tithing, and a dollar to my missionary fund. Leaves me eight dollars. But it's birthday money. I decided to ask my dad for the definitive answer.

"Dad, are you supposed to pay tithing on birthday money?" I asked.

He smiled slightly. "Is it income? Is it increasing the amount of money you have?" I replied.

I didn't bother to answer his question. I knew the answer. Pay 10% tithing on all your income. So I paid, and continued to pay, until I was 25. Even on birthday money.


I was 15 and the youngest sophomore. My 16th birthday didn't come in my sophomore year like it did for all my friends. I wasn't to turn 16--and be of eligible dating age--until my junior year. So as I watched all my friends go out, I got to thinking about this no-dating-until-you-are-16 rule. I thought of a test.

"Dad, let's just say, hypothetically, that on the weekend before my 16th birthday I get asked out. And it wasn't just a normal date we could postpone a week. It was a special event, like a concert of my favorite band, and my potential date already got tickets and everything. Could I go?"

"You ever heard of Amazing Baseball Player With Awesome Batting Average?*"

"No," I replied. The sport in my family was basketball.

"Well, he had a great batting average. One day, a reporter asked him, 'You've got this great average. How do you manage?' Know what he said? He said, 'I never swing outside my strike zone.' So the reporter asked him, 'But if you would swing just outside, just widen your zone a little bit, you'll hit that much more.' But the baseball player said, 'No. If I start swinging a little wider, what's the keep me from swinging a little wider after that? And after that? Pretty soon, I'll be swinging at everything and my average will be shot.'"

"So the answer's no?"

*Sorry, I can't for the life of my remember who the player is. A quick google search didn't do me any good, either.


I was 11, and every few weeks, one of the stupid, immature, goofy, mean, whatever, guys my age (they were all a few months older than me) were getting called up to the pulpit in church. Getting the priesthood, passing the sacrament.

"Why do only boys pass the sacrament?" I asked.

"That's the way God wants it to be."

Monday, August 20, 2007


My sister (the one whose husband is disaffected) revealed to me over the weekend that she knows I resigned my membership from the church. Her husband, whom we had confided in, told her. No-secrets-among-spouses kind of thing, I guess. She said her only shock was that I hadn't done it sooner. Her email was quite nice, actually, saying she loves me and wants me to be happy, and if I'm happiest outside the church, then so be it.

She also thinks I should tell the rest of the family, and that their reactions would be similar to hers. Except Mom, who would totally freak out, but, hey, I'll be out of the country for a while, so she's have a chance to calm down.

When I told her husband we had resigned--he had asked--he encouraged me to tell my parents. They shouldn't find out from the tithing settlement print out where it will show that all my ordinances have disappeared. Which would be a cruel way to find out, really. So I figure, yeah, he's right, I should tell them myself.

And then I pushed it out of my mind. Until I got the email from my sister.

How do you tell someone that you've rejected everything they gave you to the point that you even cancel all rites and rituals? To me, they mean nothing, but to them, they are everything. They are salvation.

So why did I resign if that idea bothers me so much?

When I stopped believing, and when I decided the church did more harm than good for me and for others, I stopped attending. When I realized that all churches are man-made, the Mormon church became nothing but an institution to me. Not the giver of the Gospel, not the keeper of keys, not the Only Way to Heaven. It is just an institution, and a really crummy one at that. It discriminates against women, gays, ethnic minorities (even where those minorities are majorities); it's youth education program is nothing short of f--ked up; and it provides One Spiritual Path instead of helping people find their own spirituality--or decide they aren't the spiritual type. If any institution that did any one of those things asked me to give them money, time, or membership, I'd raise an eyebrow, then walk on. Not even worth my consideration. And the Mormon church does them all. Join that? Yeah, right. Not for me, thanks.

And here I am, having joined that institution under extreme familial and peer pressure at the tender age of eight, without knowing any of its problems. Without knowing anything about any other option. I could've said it was too insignificant to bother to resign, but I found I just couldn't have my name down as a member of that institution. I had to symbolically distance myself, break that last string attaching me.

But is that what I say to my family? Is it any of their business? I am torn between "this is personal" and "they would want to know." Is it my love for them that makes me feel that obligation to tell them? Or is it my Mormon mindset that makes personal spirituality public, that doesn't understand or respect boundaries, that is guilting me into telling?

And what is it that is making me not want to tell? Is it the idea that this is my own personal thing, and none of their business? Or is it fear? Guilt? Love? If I fall back on the "the relationship is the most important" mantra, where does that lead me? Keep it silent, don't hurt them? But will it hurt that much more if they find out from a tithing settlement?

Friday, August 17, 2007

the body

My attitudes toward life and, specifically, my body, have changed since leaving the church.

For one, I never cared all that much about my appearance, or tried to be particularly feminine. Though it's in the Utah Mormon culture to do so, I've never been high maintenance, never died or bleached my hair, never wore make-up in junior high or high school, never laid out to achieve a tan, didn't wear jewelry. I kind of figured God made me the way I was on purpose, and I didn't need to change that. Plus, those verses in Isaiah are pretty harsh against high-maintenance women.

Now, I'm still not high maintenance, but I have appreciated femininity more. I feel less frumpy without garments, and I have adjusted my wardrobe to include clothes that are flattering to my female form. I am more daring in what I buy, as far as getting out of my comfort zone on color and style. I have pierced my ears, I occasionally wear a little make-up (my husband prefers me without it, so I usually go for the easier route of not bothering), I'll put on some jewelry now and then, and I often even do something with my hair. I do this not in a response to becoming more "worldly" or "vain," but in a recognition that all this stuff is just cultural, social. I'm doing what I want with my style (in the framework of American culture), and not worrying about what God thinks about it all. Because even if there is a God, s/he doesn't give a damn about my clothing and hair.

When I was a Mormon, I had a "it's pointless to try too hard" attitude about my life. That is, I always believed that I would die when I was supposed to, and then get resurrected with a perfect body. So exercise, eating healthy? Not all that important, really. I mean, I did eat pretty well, and I did get some exercise, but I wasn't going to go all out. If I died when I was 62, so what? I'd still live forever, wouldn't I? That would be better than living to be 100, but senile and bedridden for the last 20 of them. Might as well get the next life and in the perfect body started, right?

Now that I've left, and believe there is no afterlife, no resurrection, that this is the only life and only body I'll ever get, I hold it more precious. While I'm not a perfect eater and exerciser, I try a lot harder. I care. My consciousness will only be around as long as my body is in good shape, and I intend to keep it that way as long as possible.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

prayer ritual

We don't pray before meals, as we were raised to do. But here in my in-laws house, they are sure to. Especially since we're here. They didn't do it very consistently when we were faithful Mormons, but now that we're Apostates, boy, do they ever. It's quite common to hear my mother-in-law say "Let's say the prayer now. Everyone fold your arms." or "We're saying the blessing on the food now. Everyone get ready." or "Shh, quiet, we're saying the prayer now."

I suppose they see it as setting a good example, though the effect on us isn't anything of the sort. It doesn't make me angry at all to be around their ritual, but it does make me angry when they try to push it on our son and his cousins (whose mother is Christian and father non-religious but Mormon by baptism).

Their mother, my sister-in-law (who knows about my blog and sometimes reads it--hi!), has never folded her arms to pray in her life; she's never seen it done that way in the variety of churches she's attended in her life. But since she lives so near our mother-in-law, and doesn't want to pick fights about everything, she's always just tolerated the "everybody fold your arms" thing with her kids. One day at a big family meal, her three-year-old interrupted his "reverent" arm-folding and head-bowing to tell me in a whisper to fold my arms, too. I said, "Nah." "Fold your arms!" he repeated. Again, I refused, with a smile. I related this story to his mom; she decided to start putting her foot down about it, too.

Now, I've decided my way to approach these prayers is to sit quietly, eyes open, arms unfolded. I do not say amen. I won't interfere with her ritual, but I won't participate either. It's the same way I've handled being at Islamic Friday prayers or Episcopal Eucharist; I watch, but I don't participate. I ask my son to be quiet, too, but I also won't have his grandparents telling him to fold his arms and participate. If they ever asked him directly, rather than the general "everybody fold your arms," I'd like to say, "That's your ritual, not ours. Don't ask my son to participate." When he's older and understands more what's going on, he can make a decision about it.

I think this weirded my in-laws out, especially at first, to not hear us say amen, to not see us unfold our arms and look up at the end of their prayer. I wondered if they'll even ask us why we don't participate. I would like to say something like, "I find it offensive to thank an unseen being for your food, when what went into getting this food on this table--the farmers, pickers, packers, truckers, grocers, you yourself as shopper and cook, as well as the earth, then sun, and the water--remain unacknowledged."

If I'd ever have the guts to say it.

Yesterday, though, it seemed like my mother-in-law is catching on. Instead of her usual universal call to prayer, she simply said, "I'm going to say a prayer now." I smiled. What a difference changing "we" to "I" and "the" to "a" made for me.

Monday, August 13, 2007

biting my tongue; speaking up

My time with my Mormon relatives has found me alternatively biting my tongue and speaking up when I come across differences in our beliefs, values, and attitudes.

For example, I had a long conversation with my dad about sex work--more commonly known as prostitution--as a choice; how some people consciously enter the profession as one work option among many; how some have histories of sexual abuse, but not all; how some are addicted to crack or heroin, but not all; how the price of drugs affects the price of sexual exchanges; how legalizing prostitution would probably do the most to help them be treated as human beings as they should be, etc. My family knows I study this kind of stuff, so when it comes up, I am sure to voice my opinions and knowledge on the matter--all decidedly more liberal than what they would expect a good Mormon girl to have.

This conversation led my dad to share some experiences from his leadership position at church. He reported that he had a couple guys he's working with (as in, conducting a series of ecclesiastical interviews with) who have "problems with sexual addiction." I can't even bring myself to type that without the quotes. As he was telling me about this, I thought to myself, "Should I argue with him? Should I ask about the nature of these 'sexual addictions'? What, are they masturbating? 'Cause that's hardly an addition, unless they're doing it 50 times a day and can't get work done because of it."

As I listened to my dad, I discovered it was simply masturbation. It made me angry that something as natural and normal as that was "keeping them from going to the temple." I thought, "Well, it's you keeping them from going, because you bothered to ask them in the interview, and you think it's big enough a deal that it makes them 'unworthy'." I debated with myself whether or not to call my dad on this issue, to have a discussion about it. But then I remembered his biting his tongue when I talked about prostitution, and I decided to give him the same respect. Surely, he disagreed with me on prostitution just as profoundly as I did with him on masturbation.

(Plus, it would have been awkward to talk to my dad about masturbation. It came up once when I was a teenager. He was my bishop back then, and I had my semi-annual interview. He asked me if there was anything in the For Strength of Youth pamphlet that I wasn't sure about. I asked innocently, "What's masturbation?" He looked a bit embarrassed, smiled, and said, "I don't think you need to worry about that." That was almost as bad as my mom's birds-and-the-bees talk when I was Twelve. Twelve. "It's a very special thing that happens between a husband and a wife." Thanks, Mom.)

On another day, my mom said something intolerant about gender. I don't remember what it was--something about how ridiculous it is to count more than two genders?--but I knew I couldn't just let it slide. I launched into a discussion about the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, and the experiences of gay Mormons. I wasn't combatant about it; I've found a way to discuss things I figure my family will disagree with in a way that is academic and detached. Rather than pin down what my opinion is, I say, "This is what research has shown..." or "Some would argue that..." or "One theory is that..." It may be a little cowardly, but I find it's more comfortable for them--and me. Then they don't have to worry about how influenced by the world I am, how liberal I am; they can just think I've knowledgeable about it, but more from the sidelines. I'm sure they think I'm an "intellectual apostate" and that my grad school education has made me put more value on evidence than faith. Which is true. But I don't have to rub it in their faces.

On another occasion, my dad and I were looking at the stars. I brought up Carl Sagan, and we discussed him for a minute. My dad has read his stuff, and used to watch Cosmos. (Sometimes I think my dad is an intellectual apostate at heart, if he would just quit that compartmentalization.) Then my dad said something about "Carl Sagan's world view" with a bit of disdain in his voice. I decided to let it pass that Sagan's world view and mine are quite similar. I decided to save the argument for another day. Instead, we continued to enjoy the "billions and billions" stars.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


If I drank coffee in front of my in-laws, does that count as rude or courageous?

Either way, it's frustratingly lame that it even matters to me. I can't believe my Mormon heritage exerts so much control over me that I have to think about whether or not to buy a cup of coffee on the road to help me stay awake.

The coffee was good, by the way.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

my reply, part 4

the final part of an email I wrote to my sister, continued from my reply, my reply part 2, and my reply part 3

What you see as my forgetting what I once thought about Mormonism and Christianity, as my dwelling on the negative aspects in favor of the positives, I see differently. I see a necessary, and at times painful, deconstruction of my old world view. I spent nearly 25 years seeing and being taught the positives, of thinking Mormonism was The Way, The Truth. What is it then, to spend a couple or even a few years, in dismantling and critically examining what I thought I once knew? I don’t see it as something bad I need to get over, but as a necessary stage in my personal development. I see it as dismantling the ruins of my destroyed house, chucking out what is broken, and sifting through to find that which is still workable, to build something new. Much as we shouldn’t see a teenager’s difficult times as immature angst and rebellion, but as an essential—though difficult—part of her growth toward personal identity and independence. That said, I don’t want to dwell in anger or sadness, nor do I want to cast them off immediately for happier emotions. I seek instead to understand them, feel them, work through them, and learn from them. I used to see anger as sin; I now see it as human.

Also from your email, and from one sent several months ago that I never replied to, I see that I have been self-centered about talking about my beliefs and changes, while ignoring yours. I hope you know that my egocentrism in this regard has stemmed from my multi-year, consuming examination of myself and my beliefs, rather than a disregard for yours. I recognize that I have simplified your complexity of belief into what I remember as my old beliefs. This is not accurate, to be sure, as we both have different experiences. I apologize for this. I also know how Mormonism characterizes people like me: prideful, lost in the dark and dreary wilderness, relying on the arm of flesh, worldly, they who are learned, apostate, hell-bound, etc. Can you imagine how hard it is to fight such ill-feelings, attitudes I myself developed, against myself? From this, I think, comes a too-eager desire to justify my new self and beliefs. I appreciated our conversation where you praised certain aspects of humanism. I hope I can find it easier to likewise praise the positives of your beliefs and attitudes, and to give you more room to express your thoughts about your beliefs, too.

I hope also that we can continue our conversations over the years (in better goodwill than I conducted our phone conversation). A good way, I think, to approach our continued religious differences is to look for commonalities on which to draw. I like, though, our ability and willingness to also talk about differences, too. Even if only by email.

I love you, and I'm glad we stopped in Utah for a while to spend time with you and everyone. I want to continue to feel comfortable coming to Utah, being with family, and enjoying each other's company.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

my reply, part 3

from an email I wrote to my sister, continued from my reply and my reply, part 2

I said on the phone that Little FTA’s simple message from the movie was a “pretty good representation of what the movie was trying to say.” You took issue with this, and I can see why this offended you. I’m sorry I said it in such as way that hurt you rather than in such a way where we could have discussed our differences and learned more about each other.

I think my statement was due to two things. One, a short memory with regards to the movie. I haven’t seen the movie in many years. The only thing I remembered was the basic plot of one man’s struggle between the “good side” and the “bad, worldly side,” and his receiving forgiveness through Jesus at the end—while many died in the destruction. I had completely forgotten about many of the plot elements, such as the non-believers conspiracy to kill the believers. I had also forgotten that its main idea was based on a Book of Mormon story; had I remembered that, I could have recalled that conspiracy. Nevertheless, Little FTA’s young mind missed those elements.

Two, my humanist, rather than Christian, point of view. When I saw the movie as a Christian, I was touched, and buoyed by the power of forgiveness through Christ. That message of forgiveness is, indeed, quite powerful, whether or not Jesus was actually divine, as you said. This is why I found myself with a continued affinity for Christianity, long after I ceased to believe in his divinity. As time went on, though, I started to consider what I see as the fundamentals of Christianity—the desire or need for forgiveness of sins, the state of humans as fallen and in need of saving, one person as the archetype for living—an undesirable way to approach life. Expanding on the first fundamental, for example, I still see the benefits of forgiveness, surely, but I see the source of forgiveness more appropriately placed in the people who were hurt by the wrongdoing, whether it be self or others. Additionally, I do not see wrongdoing as sin, but as hurting self or others. I think it is fundamentally very close to the same thing, but with different terminology—forgiveness for sin, getting second chances, improving oneself, always trying to do better. I just don’t think we need an ultimate, outside source, a God, to forgive us for being human, for making mistakes, for living life as (very fallible) human beings.

Through Little FTA’s interpretation, I saw the movie as simplifying and vilifying the atheists, the secularists—me and Mr. FTA—as the “worldly, sinful, bad guys,” rather than people who appreciate the capacity and limitations of humankind, and seek to live life to the fullest (since this is the only life we are certain we have), while trying to make the world a better place and refraining from harming others. That is, I saw anti-secularism. From the more complete summary of the movie, I certainly agree that the people who wanted to kill others were in the wrong, the “bad guys,” in child’s terms. But then to have the resurrected Jesus’ kill them through fire and earthquake (for the Jesus of the Book of Mormon does claim these killings as his doing)? Why is his killing others justified? Why is God excused killing those who wanted to kill and those who simply didn’t believe, when he subsequently delivers his sermon of forgiveness and love in Third Nephi? This is like teaching your child to not hit her sibling by hitting her and yelling, “Don’t hit!” then talking about love and goodwill the next moment. While you got particular messages, such as the power of forgiveness, from the movie, I saw, as a humanist, different messages. Or rather, I reinterpreted based on my memory and your summary of the movie. I am curious if I watched the movie in full now, whether I would still make similar comments. I imagine I would, and I imagine I would have many more besides.

Monday, August 06, 2007

my reply, part 2

from an email I wrote to my sister; continued from my reply

After all the accommodating on both sides that went on, I didn’t expect “the movie incident” at all. So when Little FTA watched The Testaments, I was shocked and angry. Yes, I think you are correct in seeing our philosophy as wanting to expose Little FTA to many beliefs, traditions, and ways of life. Little FTA’s been to Mormon, Unitarian, Congregationalist, Catholic, Quaker, and Islamic services. I’ve talked to him about Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, paganism, secularism. I’m fine with Little FTA being around food prayers, discussing with Your son about coffee, having a nativity set at Christmas, hearing (and singing) the Islamic call to prayer, etc. I see those as age-appropriate exposures. I can see that you thought watching The Testaments would be just another exposure in that list.

I see it differently. For one, I was with Little FTA for all the other exposures. The exception is a few prayers, but I had already had a chance to talk to him about why people pray before meals, and how I expect him to behave quietly and with respect (I recognize that he failed to do so sometimes, and I’ve talked to him about that). When I’m with him, I know what he hears and sees, and I can talk to him about things I disagree or agree with.

Two, I see The Testaments as a Mormon missionary tool—Mormon propaganda. I expect we’ll have to agree to disagree on that characterization, but that is how I see it. This is different than, say, The PBS series The Mormons (way above his head at this point, but I didn’t mind that he saw a few minutes of it at Sister-in-law2’s house), which is more objective and shows both insider and outsider perspectives.

Three, both Sister-in-law and Mom saw it as different. They immediately showed that they were worried about what I would think about Little FTA watching the movie—both of them apologized about it when I brought it up. This from people I hadn’t had much (in Sister-in-law’s case any) religious talks with. With other exposures, though, they seemed not to be concerned.

Additionally, that movie, even minus its religious content, isn’t something I would let Little FTA see anyway; it’s just not meant for 4/5 year olds. As its target audience is not 4/5 year olds, Little FTA didn’t really retain that much from the movie. I’m not worried about him. (When I asked him about it the other day, after receiving your email, he just characterized it as “boring.”) Whatever its intended message, Little FTA got two things out of it—the bad guys died, and the bad guys said there was no God. Most of my anger came from this, what he got out of it: a simple message that vilified his own parents. Imagine if I showed Your son a movie from which he understood the bad guys were the Mormons, even if this movie had a broader message about, say, humanism!

Friday, August 03, 2007

my reply

I finally reached an even-enough state of emotions to reply to my sister's email. It turned out I had a whole lot to say, so I'll take more than one day to post it here. I will not post my sister's email that prompted my reply, out of respect for her privacy. I apologize in advance for any ambiguity or confusion this may cause as you read my reply. If you need clarifications, please say so in the comments, and I will try to explain.

Understanding Sister-

I thank you for your honesty in your email. I will admit the email threw me a bit and even hurt for a while. It’s taken me several days to muster up the strength and mindset to reply. But I’d rather have that honesty than to have us tiptoe around each other. Your email sounded like you felt attacked, and I’m sorry my tone to you on the phone was less than cordial. I did not mean to attack you or your beliefs, certainly. I apologize for my tone on the phone, as well as for the phone conversation itself. That sort of conversation is best had in person. It was a mistake to call you when I was angry, rather than wait three days to talk about it, like I did with Sister-in-law. And since I passed up the in-person opportunity to talk, I apologize for that, too.

I think part of my tone and how I handled the phone conversation (and, likely, this can be broadened to include other conversations) came from a couple things. One, I think of you as “my understanding sister,” the one I am most open to about matters of religion (and other things), but also the one who accepts me as different, pushes me, questions me, etc. This familiarity, this understanding, let me be more lax on how I approached you (e.g. as compared to Sister-in-law and Mom on this same matter). I can see that was a mistake. Now I see that our continued understanding and conversations rests partly on respect and good, old-fashioned niceness. I will be more careful—though I hope to continue to be just as honest—in the future.

Two, I didn’t believe it had been you that was supervising Little FTA when he watched the movie. I figured it had been Sister-in-law, and only wanted confirmation from you on the phone. Because of that, I felt I could be more open to you, while putting on my most diplomatic approach for her. Again, a mistake.

Three, as you are “my understanding sister,” I was shocked when you asked, “Is that [his seeing the movie] a problem?” I didn’t expect that, and I was confused and despairing that perhaps all that understanding between us wasn’t what I thought it was, not as deep as I thought. I, like you, had made assumptions based on our past conversations, and, like you, was upset to find my assumptions were off the mark. I continued the phone conversation in this height of emotion, rather than calm down and think about it first, as I should have done.

Four, I saw the “movie incident” as opening years and years of incidents, confrontations, negotiations, and misunderstandings that I foresee as we—the whole family—raise our children differently. I had worried before we came to Utah how I would handle things, whether I should have some talks with everyone even before we came, if that was necessary or just offensive. I even had an entire therapist session dedicated to my worries about being with the family in Utah again. I figured talking about some boundaries (such as your much-appreciated question as to how to handle prayer with Little FTA around) was a good idea, but the thought also made me extremely uncomfortable.

To talk to you all about it would mean we needed to talk about it. As if you were ignorant enough, uncaring enough, unaware enough, that we’d have to point things out to you. Which you’re not. I felt like having to sit down and tell everyone, “Listen, don’t bring up religion around my son; don’t tell him how Heavenly Father is God and Jesus is alive; don’t tell him that Joseph Smith is second only to Jesus” would be the equivalent of you telling me, “Listen, you can only baby sit our kids if you promise not to tell them there is no God and that Joseph Smith was a charismatic charlatan.” That would just be insulting and misguided, because I would never say that to your kids. I don’t even say that to my own kid. I wanted to give everyone the benefit of the doubt; I wanted to be hopeful that saying those things would be unnecessary. That we’d all be aware and nice enough to respect each other’s religious choices and how we want to raise our own kids. I figured all was going well. Everyone seemed quite respectful and basically avoided religion other than those parts that are in every day life, i.e. dinner prayer, Dad’s off to meetings again, etc. Not a problem.

I continued to worry (probably too much) about what I was doing and trying hard not to step on anyone’s toes. This is why, for example, I reported that conversation I had with Little FTA and your son about coffee. I figured, “If Understanding Sister had a conversation with Little FTA about religious restrictions, I would prefer to hear about its contents, so I’ll tell Understanding Sister what I told her son.” Also, I agonized about the times I found myself (I certainly didn’t plan it) wearing sleeveless shirts around the family (Am I making them uncomfortable? Do they feel like I’m rubbing it in their faces that I don’t wear garments anymore? Should I change my wardrobe around the family, or not? It’s just a shirt! But if it’s just a shirt, why not accommodate them?) I carefully watched my words about evolution, pretending about dragons, why we don’t go to church, etc., whenever it came up with Sister-in-law’s kids. I held my tongue in several conversations with adults.

(Writing all that, and seeing how trivial my worries seem now compared to how I really offended you—at the core of your beliefs about Mormonism and Christianity in general—I think that I should reevaluate my thinking with regards to relations with you and the family. It is those littler things that seem to come up more, though, to be the most visible, to be the simplest to confront. Perhaps that is why my focus has been more there.)

to be continued...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

missionary opportunity, missed

As I walked down the street, heading over to join my husband at a cafe, I saw some Mormon missionaries. In amusement, I watched their mild panic as they tried to decide whether or not they should try to talk to me.

"Potential convert...woman alone...potential convert...young woman alone...tight shirt...oh, man..." They walked on past, and I smiled to myself.

I told Mr. FTA that I walked past some elders, and Mr. FTA told me he'd seen them too.

He was sitting at the little outdoor cafe with his parents and sister, having cold drinks on a hot day. They saw the Mormon missionaries walk by on the other side of the street.

Mr. FTA: I guess they weren't listening to the Spirit. If they had been, they would have known to cross the street. They could have gotten free cold drinks.

SIL: Oh, shut-up.