Friday, September 28, 2007


Since I was raised to abhor tattoos and believe they were a slap in the face to god, who, after all, gave me my body as a temple to keep holy and pure, I never thought about tattoos for myself until I left Mormonism. Once I had the true chance to think for myself on the matter, I realized it just ain't none of anyone's damn business but my own whether or not I get a tattoo, or enough of them to cover my whole body. I realize, still, it can affect people's perceptions of me, and this could affect personal relationships as well as career situations. Which is dumb, but a fact of life.

I still didn't get tattoos, though, and wondered how people could choose a design they would like the rest of their lives. Or how they deal with tattoos they learned to dislike or will be embarrassed about later (like the one I saw on a young father's chest: Money over Bitches). Or why someone would even want to put permanent art on their bodies. I started watching Miami Ink now and then, as often as I could beat my husband out of the remote control because it was on the same time as the reality show about climbing Everest. I watched Miami Ink and listened to the people's stories. There was always a story behind the tattoo--a death of a beloved relative, an overcoming of a destructive drug habit, a birth of a new child, a success in career, the turning of a new leaf. These tattoos meant something personal, something beautiful. They marked an important part of their bearers' lives, and served as constant memento to that. For others, tattoos are a celebration of the body, of self, using the body as art, a canvas. Now I understood.

I've often thought about getting a tattoo of a phoenix, complete with fire still burning. It would show my rebirth from Mormonism, with the burning and destruction a necessary part of that rebirth. But I have yet decided upon a design I like, or decided to spend the money to hire a tattoo artist to design one. Maybe I'll get around to it, and maybe I'll decide I don't want one. Perhaps I'm a little reluctant to have people (read: Mormon relatives) see me with a tattoo. Perhaps I would regret it. I don't know. And since I don't know yet, I'll wait. I have had extensive henna tattoos and loved, loved, loved it. But perhaps my ability to love them was their impermanence. I'm not sure.

One funny thing about Mormonism and tattoos is that the proscription has extended to temporary tattoos. You know, the kind you get in grocery store quarter machines, the wet-and-stick, kid ones. I got one once when I was dating my now-husband, and put it on my belly, lower and to the left of my belly button. My mom caught a glimpse of it and flipped out. Never mind that it was temporary. Never mind that I was nineteen. She lectured about body-is-a-temple and tattoos-laced-with-LSD and avoiding-the-appearance-of-evil. And I rolled my eyes, as any nineteen-year-old would do.

I've continued to have fun with temporary tattoos since then, and enjoy buying them for my son, too. He loves them, too, but is scared of "needle tattoos" because "that would hurt" and "they stay on forever and ever until your body breaks up into tiny bits and returns to the earth." His opinion of tattoos he's formed entirely by himself, as far as I can tell, but because we certainly haven't said anything to knock them and admire them on people when we see them. And I'm proud of him for having his own mind on the matter. I imagine he'll change his mind when he's older and not as afraid of needles, but either way is fine with me.

So when my mother-in-law accidentally bought all her grandsons some temporary tattoos, which she thought were stickers, we stuck them on my son's arms, exactly where he wanted them. Around the same time, I found some tattoos I had bought a couple months ago, and my son wanted those on his arms too. Pretty soon, he had a full sleeve of temporary tattoos.

The adults all thought it was a great irony that Mormon Grandma had bought the tattoos, even on accident, and we weren't going to let her take them back. My mother-in-law, as soon as she discovered her mistake, freaked out, and tried to dispose of the other grandsons' packets of tattoos. I rescued them, knowing that the other grandsons would like their present as much as my son did. She keeps making comments wondering when those things will come off, and if she could bathe our son tonight so she could scrub his arms clean. We keep telling her not to worry about it, he loves them, but she keeps pushing. Why? She's afraid that this youthful episode will "get him used to having tattoos now, and what if that makes him want a real one later?"

She didn't express this fear to me, or else I wouldn't have given her an earful. One, the connection between temporary now and permanent then is silly. Two, so what if he wants one later? If he wants one, then he'll get one. Hell, if it bothers you that much, I'll go get one at the same time he does! Three, if you'd just bother to ask him yourself, he'd tell you he only likes temporary ones. Four, remember that your other daughter-in-law has tattoos? And would love it if her sons decide to get inked when they are older? Five, it just ain't none of your damn business.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I was with my devout Mormon relatives this last week, and some interesting conversation topics popped up. One topic was "any publicity is good publicity," a view apparently held by some of the apostles. You know all the Mormonism-in-the-news that's been going on? The polygamist Warren Jeffs trial (guilty!), the 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the movie September Dawn, and Mormon Mitt Romney running for president? Yep, it's all publicity for the mainstream LDS church, even if only tangentially through history and the FLDS church.

Apostle Perry, for his part, believes all this to be a good thing for the church. Why? Because when people hear about the funky doctrines of Mormonism that Romney equivocates about, and the FLDS church's prophet-accomplice to rape, and the ugly, ugly history of fanatical mass murder, people ask questions. And, Perry must believe, the curious place these questions to devout Mormons who know little enough about them that they can make them look okay.

You know, like, we're really about family values and we don't actually worry about man-becoming-god and the New Jerusalem and denial of the priesthood to blacks. And the FLDS church is in no way related to us; we're LDS, see? Those FLDSers are bad and not Mormon and a big fat embarrassment to us. They have nothing to do with us, and their version of polygamy is in no way anything like the LDS historical polygamy, no, no. And those MMM murders, well, okay, they were murders, but it was a bunch of fanatics. If they had just listened to their leaders, they wouldn't have been led astray. It was their own sick brand of Mormonism that they interpreted to allow for the murders; that wasn't true Mormonism. Besides, the Arkansans were claiming they killed Joseph and all that--of course the Mormons were angry!

But I would venture to guess that, for the most part, all this publicity mostly makes Mormonism look worse than it already did to the general US public. Most Americans think Mormonism is as strange as Scientology and Moonie-ism and JW-ism. To hear more about polygamy and massacre and funky doctrine is only going to solidify that opinion in most minds. And when the curious ask questions, they are going to ask Google as often as their faithful Mormon neighbor, and get very different answers. In my experience, when people do ask faithful Mormons questions about their religion, it is often out of simple curiosity, and the only thing keeping them from saying "That's sounds idiotic!" or "Oh, please, you actually believe that?" is politeness.

So when my family was talking about all this, I was polite. I put in my two cents about MMM and the polygamy trial, to be sure, but I chose my words and tone carefully so that they would actually listen, rather than automatically ignore my opinion because it's so exmo. The interesting thing about those topics, though, is that we, as devout Mormons and exmo, can somewhat agree. The MMM was disgusting. Polygamy is disgusting.

The difference between us lies in the beliefs about the origins. To them, MMM came from local, fanatical leaders--so it is not a part of the True Church of God. To me, it came from local and regional leaders and from a fanaticism that Mormonism itself engendered--so Mormonism is not the True Church of God. To them, polygamy came from God for some incomprehensible reason, but as long as we ignore it, it won't bother us, and a church that once demanded it for salvation can still be the True Church of God. To me, polygamy came from Joseph Smith for personal power and sexual pleasure--and no god would tell a man to do such a thing so Mormonism is not the True Church of God.

Publicity for Mormonism? Yeah, I guess it's a good thing. From my point of view, anyway.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Do all churches do this? Do all churches eulogize and remember a person as if he had been a perfect, faithful, believing member? Even when he hadn't been to church since he was old enough to tell his parents, "I ain't goin' "? Do they all pick songs to sing at the funeral that the deceased probably didn't recognize, let alone like?

"Rebellion" and swearing and alcoholism and bar fights and no-mission and no-temple are all rendered "free spirit" and "did things his own way," with a sideways smile. They are, I suppose, trying their best to be nice and polite and remember the best of him. Which is fine. Who doesn't want to be remembered well? For people to forget the foibles and faults. But foibles and faults according to whom? The deceased? Sure, I'd bet he'd admit he did some stupid things in his life, that there were some things that he'd not repeat if he had the chance.

But to judge him according to the tenants of Mormonism when he didn't even care for them in his lifetime? To give more time in the funeral to the plan of salvation and Mormon hymns than to a sketch of his life, a portrait of his charcater? It just feels unfair and conceited.

I found myself at the funeral, looking at the program, with Jesus on the front, and five Mormon hymns listed inside, obviously picked for their content and not for the deceased's preference, wondering how I would handle this. Should I sing along about knowing my redeemer lives and how I am a child of God, when I don't believe in either? Should I mouth that I stand all amazed, when I don't? Does it really matter? I was standing next to my sister, the one who knows I'm a secularist, deciding whether to sing or silently protest the singing.

It struck me, as I watched others, particularly my parents, sing, that these songs bring them comfort right now. They really do. And that I couldn't do anything then, at my uncle's goodbye, when my mother was grieving so much, to hurt her further. I couldn't have them look over and see me in my silent religious protest, my religious politics kniving them once again. And I thought, if I think of it as mythology, a story, the savior and the afterlife and all that, it could be kind of comforting in death, even as a myth--a world view, a paradigm. Humans in all of history have found some way of comforting themselves about death, about the reality of their own mortality. And my family sings these particular songs to do that. Okay. I can sing. And I sang.

Except during I Know My Redeemer Lives, I thought of my last post, about crying for the loss of Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father who will never open their arms to me. And I thought about the readers who connected with me on that, who felt as I did. I thought about the people surrounding me, who didn't get me. I said that line in my head over and over and I cried behind my sunglasses (for we were singing at the graveside), and everyone thought I was crying for my uncle, who I never know and will never know. And I wondered, what would I want at my funeral?

Monday, September 17, 2007


I arrived home from picking my son up from school to see the red light blinking on my cell phone. I checked missed calls: someone at my parents' house had called. There was a message, so I dialed the message system. I heard my mom's voice start, then hesitate. Oh no, something is wrong. Did you get the email that Your Uncle passed away? she said. That's all she said.

My face showed the shock, and my husband asked what the matter was. My heart sank, and I felt myself begin to cry. Seeing I couldn't tell him quite yet, not through the tears, he turned away to give me a minute. This is one of those times family should be together, I thought. I want to go to the funeral. When is it? I logged on to the computer to check the email for more information, and said aloud, "My Uncle died. My mom's brother. He'd been sick." The email gave a little more information, that he died Sunday, peacefully.

I called my mom, and she filled in a few more details. I wanted to cry, but held back because my mom's voice seemed perfectly controlled, normal. Plus, I hate crying on the phone. After I got off the phone, I cried a little more.

The thing is, I hardly know my uncle. He knows me as just one of his many nieces--someone always had to tell him which one I was. He lived far away. I don't think I met him until I was nine, and didn't even know who he was when he walked into my grandma's house and greeted us kids familiarly. That summer, he took us to the fishing hole and showed us where the blackberry bushes were. He talk us how to walk around a horse without startling it. He had a few wild stories about getting in fights (which explained his missing teeth) and growing up on a ranch. He's the one that taught me how to shoot a pellet gun, aiming at his empty beer cans, and told me to shoot the rats in the yard. (I shot one, felt too guilty, I never did again.)

Since then, I've hardly seen him. Just at big events, a funeral, a wedding. His death had been expected for years. His health had been frail, partly from his hard drinking and smoking. Last time I saw him, this summer, he was in a wheelchair and his voice was slurred from a stroke. I talked to him, and waited with what I hope was a patient smile as his forced his words out. He was complimenting my smile.

Why, if I knew him so little, is his death affecting me this much, then?

He's the first death in the family since I stopped believing I'd see all my family again in heaven.

When I heard the phone message, I remembered a dream I had last night, with his deceased father, my grandfather, in it. I saw him there, and I hugged him and cried and cried for the chance to hug him again. The dream was emotional enough to jar me awake. When I connected the dream to the real-life death of my uncle, I started thinking:

It's odd, isn't it, that I had two dreams about my grandpa in the past week, and then his son dies? Could it mean something, some connection, from beyond?

No, I reprimanded myself, it's just a dream. A coincidence that I assigned significance to. Had I had the dream two months ago, I wouldn't have thought it odd. There is no afterlife, silly.

Stop being so smug about my new beliefs, I countered myself. I used to be so sure there was an afterlife--and I criticize myself for being so sure. Now to be so sure there isn't one? Isn't that just as bad, as inflexible?

Okay, good point, I conceded. But there is no evidence for it. We just don't know. That's the best we can say. No one actually knows. But it is safe to assume, to live my life on the assumption that there is no afterlife. That the afterlife was just invented by humans once their brains got big enough to wonder what happened after death.

He's gone. Gone, and I won't see him again.

So how do I handle this? I mourn. I try to grasp my own mortality. Remember that I need to get know people now, while I can. He's younger than my own mom and dad. Younger, and gone.

Funerals are about family and friends mourning loved ones, together. So I should be there. And I should leave behind my politics of they're-Mormon-I'm-humanist-so-what-are-we-going-to-do-about-it? Just be there. Give my mom and her sisters, their mom hugs to express my sympathy and sadness that their brother and son is gone.

Cry that he's gone. Cry that I never got to know him. Cry that I never got to talk to him about why he hadn't gone to church since I-don't-even-know-when. Cry for the deaths of my grandpa, my friend, my cousin, the others whose funerals I attended, confident I would see again after they buried them in the ground. Cry for the the loss of the afterlife, and for the loss of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, who will never open their arms to me and say, Welcome home, you did well.

Goodbye, Uncle, you did well. I'll smile for you. I know you liked my smile.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

on a Sunday

On a Sunday, I sleep in while my child watched a little more TV than usual

On a Sunday, I savor a slow, leisurely brunch with my little family and endless coffee

On a Sunday, I read about vampires or Big Brother or betrayal or death and life

On a Sunday, I play with my child--catch or dominoes or ewoks-and-Princess-Leia or horned meat-eating dinos

On a Sunday, I go for a drive in the farmland, the windy mountains, and along the ocean, amazed that I ever came into being to see it

On a Sunday, I marvel at Matisse, fall into a jarring blue, and wonder at mirrors and light

On a Sunday, I wander through the displays of science and history and am content that though I missed it before, I am learning it now

On a Sunday I linger over lunch because the conversation is even better than the food

On a Sunday, I am smiles and hugs and (unwanted) goodbyes, because I know even three days wouldn't have been enough

On a Sunday, I am dizzy with joy at finally sharing my face, my name, my story, me, without the filter of anonymity

On a Sunday, I chat about what I want to, because I can, and I am better than ever before

Thursday, September 13, 2007

asserting myself (a little)

At a family dinner with my devout in-laws, my never-mo sister-in-law and her kids, and us, all the food was out on the bar ready for us to fill our plates and take them outside to the patio. I saw my in-laws were feeling the meal couldn't start without a prayer, but my mother-in-law got distracted by something. I wasn't going to stand around doing nothing until she was ready. So I started filling a plate for my son. My sister-in-law and husband followed, and we headed to the backyard. We all began to eat.

My father-in-law made it out with his plate to join us, but my mother-in-law was still inside filling hers. Oddly, perhaps to try to joke, my father-in-law looked at us and said, "Whoever eats first has to ask the blessing."

I wasn't sure how to react to that, but I decided in a split second it needed more of a response that a courtesy laugh.

"We don't say blessings on food," I said pointedly.

"I've noticed," he replied.

And then I felt awkward. I wished I had been able to turn it into my own joke, to ease the tension rather than increase it. I'm not good at that.

My mother-in-law then came out to the yard, set her plate down, and said to her husband, "All right, let's say the blessing." He acknowledged her, and she called out to all the kids who were on a picnic blanket nearby, "We're saying the prayer! Everybody--just--close your eyes."

I leaned over to watch the kids during the prayer. One nephew immediately closed his eyes. My son didn't (and I did an internal cheer). The nephew later opened his eyes and thought it was funny that lots of people weren't closing theirs either. I smiled at him to show my approval and to share in the funny situation.

I was irked. Their praying over their food is perfectly fine, but don't include my kid in it. There was no reason she couldn't have just had a little prayer on the side with her husband--the only other one there who participates in that particular ritual. There's a certain conceitedness in it, that everyone should do what they are doing. Sure, I'll be polite and quiet, as an outsider. But I won't participate any more than I would any other random religious ritual of any faith. Just don't presume that I'm doing something wrong by not getting involved.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

another take on Mormonism

I've been reading god is not great by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens doesn't even give god the respect of capitalizing the word god. And that is perfectly fine by me, since the monotheistic God is not any more convincing or real than all those other gods whom God-believing people don't give the dignity of a capital letter. But that's not the point of this post. The point of this post is to delight in Hitchens's take on Mormonism.

First of all, take note of the chapter in which Hitchens discusses Mormonism.

Chapter 11: "The Lowly Stamp of Their Origin": Religion's Corrupt Beginnings

This is the chapter in which he discusses the formation of modern religions, what he calls "openly manufactured sausage religions." This particular metaphor comes from the idea that if you want to continue to enjoy eating sausages, "take care not to be present when [they] are being manufactured" (p. 155). In other words, these are the easily-debunked, obviously-false religions. Mormonism is grouped here with Melanesian cargo cults and a Pentecostal preacher Marjoe, who was trained from a too-young age to awe and fool audiences. If I hadn't left Mormonism, I would have been appalled by the author's grouping. But now, I can only see too well why Hitchens would make the association.

He refers to Joseph as a "gifted opportunist" who "openly plagiarized Christian terms" and had a thing for Muhammed (p. 161). After that quick introduction, he moves on to Joseph's court appearance for peep-stoning, his residence in the Burned-Over District, and the local fascination with Native American burial grounds in the area. Joseph managed to combine interest in the treasure of the mounds with interest in their origins. It was a popular idea at the time that the Native Americans were really descendants of Hebrews, a lost tribe.

This sets the stage for "the imposture [that] is almost embarrassing to read" (p. 162).

And how was this same story rendered in Sunday School?

Joseph, age 14, wasn't sure which church to join, so he prayed and was told to join none of them, but to start his own.

It's flabbergasting to see that juxtaposition, isn't it?

Hitchens also calls Joseph's story "almost embarrassingly easy to uncover" (p. 162.) I had mixed feelings about that statement. He is so flippant when he points out the fact that Mormon origins are so obviously fraudulent, and that they are so easily uncovered to be embarrassing. And yet I, along with millions of others, were duped. And to uncover that truth? Embarrassingly easy? Hardly. Perhaps the process of finding the information was relatively easy--once I got past the cultural block that all that information is just a pack of lies I shouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. Really, the information to show that Mormonism isn't all it claims to be is legion and, since the advent of the Internet, easy to find. But actually disbelieving it? Actually letting my brain put the pieces of the puzzle together, against all socialization and family support? That, my dear Hitchens, was agonizingly hard. Nevertheless, I forgive Hitchens this slight, because, you know what? It is embarrassingly easy to uncover, when viewed from the outside.

One thing that struck me was his sentence about Fawn Brodie and her No Man Knows My History, a biography of Joseph Smith. From a faithful Mormon point of view, this book is positively anti-Mormon (but, then, what isn't, besides syncophancy?). Even I wouldn't touch Brodie's book while I was exploring church history, thinking it was just unfairly harsh. I hadn't read it, of course, which is the way I formed that opinion. When I did read it, I found it to be great, and nothing more anti- than refusing to tell the story as if Joseph actually saw god. Hitchens, interestingly, called it "a good-faith attempt by a professional historian to put the kindest possible interpretation on the relevant 'events' " (p. 162, emphasis added). Isn't it telling that an outsider thinks it good-faith and kind, when Mormons see it as despicably anti-Mormon?

The author goes on to tell the basic story of Smith, with the characteristic unsympathetic voice he employs through the rest of the book. He even makes a couple minor mistakes, saying baptisms for the dead are performed through prayers said in weekly meetings. It couldn't have been that hard to find an insider to confirm the itsy-bitsy details, could it? But then, who cares? Mormonism is, in the grand scheme of things, embarrassingly insignificant.

The way Hitchens tells the history, it is embarrassing that I didn't figure it out before. In my defense, though, I didn't have the information I needed--and I gobbled it up when I found it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

LDS library

Because of a water leakage problem, I had to pleasure (read: chore--I was the only one home and awake when it needed to be done) of removing all the books from a seven-shelf bookshelf so the carpet guys could get under the shelf. Some of the shelves were stacked two deep, too. But it wasn't all bad, since this particular shelf happens to be where my in-laws store all of their Mormon books. So as I performed the tedious task of transferring all these books to the pool table, I checked out some of the titles. What on earth is in a devout Mormon family's LDS library, besides Books of Mormon, triple combinations, and Sunday School manuals? I variously gagged, cringed, and laughed as I found out.

There were your presidents-of-the-church superficialities, like Way to Be! and the bio of various church, ahem, prophets.

Then the "deep doctrine" writings, such as McConkie's Messiah series, Doctrinal Commentaries on all the Mormon scriptures, The Miracle of Forgiveness (two copies!) and Isaiah for Today. Because, you know, Hebrew poetry figures into the daily lives of just about everyone I know.

Then you've got your let's-pretend-the-Nephites-really-existed books, such as Charting the Book of Mormon, In the Footsteps of Lehi, and Early America and the Polynesians. Also, a book about the Incas was mixed among these books, because, you know, the Incas were really the Lamanites (gag). And the one to make Nephites more accessible to kids: Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites.

Don't forget the homages to BYU football, either, with books about Lavell Edwards, Ty Detmer, and Steve Young.

There were even some potentially subversive we-used-to-teach-what?!? and Joseph-did-what!?!? books, such as History of Joseph Smith by his Mother Lucy Mack Smith, Lectures on Faith, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, and History of the Church volumes 1-7.

I was amused to find advice-for-better-living books, too, such as Marriage and Family: Gospel Insights, Fun for Family Night, and When a Child Wanders (there were a couple sticky-tabs marking pages in this one). My favorite by far, though, showed a man and woman in front of a rainbow, with the title Do it Yourself Destiny. Wow. I mean, wow.

The only thing more awesome would have been How Awesome Will it Be? A Teenagers Guide to Understanding and Preparing for the Second Coming. 'Cause apocalypse? Burning? Slaughter? All that? It could only be, like, totally awesome. Good thing I'll have plenty to read. Until I burn up like chaff, that is.

Friday, September 07, 2007

follow-up to turbans

Mai, a blogger who is Sikh, commented on my last post, and wrote her own post about Sikhs and turbans. I realized my post would be controversial, but I hadn't really been thinking about it being rude. Which it was. So I followed Mai's link to her blog, read her post, and left this comment.

I'm actually glad you stumbled across my blog and my unusual (for me) post about security and turbans. It was nice to have a Sikh comment on the issue. I'm sorry to have offended you. Believe it or not, I know a little more about Sikhi that your average American (that doesn't take much). I have also in my life been quite respectful to various religions traditions and practices. It is quite a commitment to wear a turban (or a head scarf, or garments, or whatever) all through one's life, and also difficult, especially when you are in the minority to do so.

As you could see from my post, many of my opinions of religion are changing and up in the air right now. I just blurted out my first thoughts on the matter after reading the article. After reading your comments and post, as well as the comments of a couple of my regular readers, I can step back a little and see a different side. Turbans, as such, are really a harmless side of religion, as opposed to some aspects of religion that can be harmful to some. As, for example, the misogyny and racism in my Mormon heritage.

Asking Sikhs to remove their turbans in security checks likely causes more offense than any good would come of it--I find it extremely hard to believe that a Sikh would hide a composite gun in his turban, for example.

For me, my post was essentially about the deference we give religion just because it's religion, and Sikhs happen to be a starting point because the article made me think of it. Since you came by, it became a personal issue, and I thank you for that. Hearing about your BIL and SIL who have to cross into Canada to fly out--that struck me in a way that the newspaper article did not. The US shouldn't be making it harder and harder for Sikhs (and Muslims) to live here; we should be making it easier.

With regards to the history of the turban, I will defer to your knowledge. My comment about the British came from that book I linked. I went to grab my copy of the book so I could quote the part about Sikhs and the British army, but I don't have it with me. I could be remembering it totally wrong, of course. I'll remove that sentence from my post.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

security restrictions and religion

I read an article in the newspaper yesterday about the new TSA regulation that all airplane passengers must remove their head covering, be it baseball cap, head scarf, or turban, during the security screenings at airports. This article emphasized Sikh men, who show devotion and commitment to God by never cutting their hair. Sikh men are best recognized, then, not by long hair and beards, but by turbans which hide their hair.

The new security measure is, then, a problem for Sikhs and others, such as Muslim women, who cover their hair for religious reasons.

One the one hand, I can see the plight of the religious observers. I was, after all, a devout wearer of garments for several years, and can empathize with the indignation and embarrassment people might feel in being required to remove a religious article of clothing. Garments, though, are qualitatively different from head coverings, since garments are easily hidden, and are meant to be hidden, under a layer of clothing. Still, I could see how I would have been upset had I, say, gotten a job that denied me the garments, such as if the uniform didn't cover garments.

The head scarves of Muslim women and the turbans of Sikh men are different in that, when taking them off, they are exposing a part of the body that is rarely exposed. Therefore they feel a bit naked, and that's uncomfortable, to be sure. We all get used to our different levels of modesty. Sleeveless shirts used to feel "naked" to me, for example. I've lived in a Muslim area, and gotten used to always having my head covered to the point that I would panic a little if a man entered my house and my head wasn't covered. I can imagine how much more intense that is for women who have been taught since they were toddlers that uncovered hair around unrelated men is sinfully inappropriate.

Then there's the inconvenience. Those turbans take several minutes to wrap, and to have to redo the turban in the public airport is a pain and probably embarrassing as well. Head scarves are not so labor intensive, but, still, it's probably slightly more hassle than having to remove our shoes, like everyone does now at airports.

On the other hand (and here's where I see my secular side coming out, influenced by Dawkins and Hitchens), why should they be given an exception to the security rule? Because their style of clothing is determined by some religious myth? Because centuries ago, a man was worried about the fidelity of his many (more than four!) wives and asked that they be visited from behind a veil? This is, after all, the justification for veiling women: there's a half a sentence in Muslim scripture that could be interpreted in many ways. And Sikhs. The no-hair cutting thing is old, sure, but still just as arbitrary as any religious proscription.

Why should religious dress be granted an exception, simply because it is religious? Because it's based on beliefs so insupportable that we have to rely on faith, against reason, to believe them?

Feel free to debate with me and with each other, but please keep it civil.

Monday, September 03, 2007

read my lips

I dreamed last night that I was standing in the kitchen of the house we're staying in, my in-laws' house. My husband and his parents were there, and a couple different conversations were going on. My mother-in-law, having just gotten back from a shopping trip with me, encouraged me to try on a new red shirt I had bought. I put it on and showed the group.

Only mother-in-law was paying attention, and she, oddly enough (hey, it's a dream), asked me to lift up the bottom of the shirt a bit so she could see how it fit over my garments. In the dream, it wasn't an odd request, expect for the fact that I haven't worn garments in over two years.

"I don't wear garments," I said. But with the conversation between my husband and his dad going across us, she didn't hear me. I thought to myself how strange it was that she didn't know I don't wear garments. Hadn't she seen my sleeveless shirts? Does she think I could conceal cap sleeves under no sleeves or something? Perhaps I said it a little too quietly, not wanting to say it so blatantly.

"Let me see how it fits over your garments," my mother-in-law repeated, a little impatient that I hadn't complied with her request already.

I forcefully set down the cup of water I had been drinking from. Just say it. "I. Don't. Wear. Garments."

She was immediately flustered and said said, "Well, how do I know what you guys do? How am I supposed to know?" She then wanted to launch into a Q & A of what we do and don't do now. I was happy that it was going to be talked about. But the dream ended.

Of all the things Mormonism and leaving the church has put in my mind, the single thing that still bothers me the most is dealing with devout family. In a way that helps them be comfortable, but doesn't bowl over who I am at the same time. Be me, because I have got to be me, but also avoid shoving things in their faces.