Friday, November 30, 2007

his dark materials

Just before Thanksgiving, I finished reading the children's fantasy trilogy called His Dark Materials. The three books are called The Golden Compass (now a movie), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I simply adored these books, and highly recommend them, for adults as well as kids. I am a big Harry Potter fan, but I liked these books more than Harry Potter. For me, who waited in lines at midnight to get book 7 and to watch movie 5, this is saying something. (No, I did not dress up.) Maybe I'll share my ideas on Rowling, death, and agnosticism later, but right now, I want to gush about The Amber Spyglass.

I don't want to give too much away for anyone who wants to read these books for themselves, but I will say this. One of the main plots involved killing god. That idea hit me like lightning. I've heard Nietzsche's ideas on god being dead, and I've written before about how I felt like I killed Heavenly Father when I left Mormonism. At the time, I grieved about that symbolic death of a mythical figure. But when I came across the idea in these books, it thrilled me. I couldn't wait to see how it played out.

The books also deal with souls, death, evolution, friendship, love, the fall, sexuality and original sin, the institutional church, church-leaving, deceit, character. The Church is a bad element; childhood innocence as well as maturity and sexual awareness are celebrated; the heroes and heroines are multi-faceted and capable of both "good" and "bad."

These are some of my favorite bits at the end of The Amber Spyglass:

"'The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all.'" (Mary, p. 441)

"'Was it hard to leave the church?' said Will.

'In one way it was,[' answered Mary, ']because everyone was so disappointed. Everyone, from the Mother Superior to the priests to my parents--they were so upset and reproachful...I felt as if something they all passionately believed in depended on me carrying on with something I didn't.

'But in another way it was easy, because it made sense. For the first time ever I felt I was doing something with all of my nature and not only a part of it. So it was lonely for a while, but then I got used to it.'" (p. 446)

"'When you stopped believing in God,' he went on, 'did you stop believing in good and evil?'

'No, but I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names from what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or that's an evil one, because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have simple labels.'

'Yes,' said Lyra firmly.

'Did you miss God?' asked Will.

'Yes,' said Mary, 'terribly. And I still do. And what I miss most is the sense of being connected to the whole of the universe. I used to feel I was connected to God like that, and because he was there, I was connected to the whole of his creation. But if he's not there, then...'" (p. 447)

"That was the meaning of this night, and it was Mary's meaning, too.

Had she thought there was no meaning in life, no purpose, when God had gone? Yes, she had thought that.

'Well, there is now,' she said aloud, and again, louder, 'There is now!'" (p. 452)

"'She [an angel, Xaphania] said that all the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. She and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed....And for the most part, wisdom has had to work in secret, whispering her words, moving like a spy through the humble places of the world while the courts and palaces are occupied by her enemies.'" (p. 479)

(Thank you to hotmomama and her kids for recommending these books to me.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

an allergic reaction

Last week just as we drove over the border into Utah, I shuddered involuntarily.

"What?" my husband asked.

"Utah," I answered.

"Ah." He understood.

"It's like my desire for a tattoo shoots through the roof as soon as I get into the state."

Monday, November 26, 2007

crazy stuff (Mormon) kids say

"Do you know who saved Baby Sister's life?  Me.  'Cause I was the one who prayed when Mom was bleeding when Baby Sister was in her tummy.  I said a prayer, and she was fine.  I saved her life."

Never mind the doctors.  Never mind biology.  Never mind that there were only two possible outcomes, and had it been the other one, they wouldn't have blamed him for saying the prayer that didn't save the fetus.  Never mind that if god really did intervene, it would have been god who saved the life, not the prayer-giver.

"There was a hurricane, but we said a prayer and it turned the other way and missed us."

And would the hurricane have turned away anyway?  What about all the people who prayed for the hurricane to miss them, too, but it flattened their houses anyway?  Are they not good prayer-givers?  Did they lack the faith it required?

"Jesus said tattoos are bad.  You shouldn't get tattoos."

Really?  I don't remember reading that anywhere in the scriptures.  

And the craziest thing?  They're saying this shit in front of my son.  

Like this little gem he reported to us:

"They said, 'We felt an earthquake, but we said a prayer, so the earthquake stopped.'"

We turned that into a skeptics' teaching moment.  "Well, let's think about that," I said.  "If they had not said a prayer, would that earthquake ended in a few seconds anyway?"


"Earthquakes are about geology, about the shape of the earth, the earth moving.  How is a prayer going to change that?"

"It's not.  And besides, if god is way up in space," he wondered, "how is he supposed to stop the earth from shaking?"  He's really been into this idea that heaven is up in space somewhere.

"Know what I think?  I think saying a prayer during an earthquake or a hurricane helps them feel not scared.  There are a lot of things in the world we can't control, and saying prayers and thinking that god is helping them out makes them feel safer and more in control."

Sigh.  I guess my son has to learn to negotiate through this kind of thing, and on his own, too, since I won't be there every time someone brings up something believing.  So far, he's been polite enough to not say, "But god is just pretend!" when god is mentioned in conversation.  Today, though, I saw his face when someone recited a poem about god making this and that.  Oh, his face was precious.  Disbelieving and sassy, as if he was thinking, "Oh, these people!  How silly of them!"   But he held his tongue.

That made me smile, but really, I don't want him to be condescending to believers.  I want him to be sympathetic, polite, and respectful.  Which is why I explained that praying makes people feel safer in scary situations, instead of just leaving it at "Yup, aren't they silly for thinking a few words to a pretend friend in the sky will change the nature of the earth?"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

as if that was all it takes

Sister: hangs up phone

FTA: Who was that?

Sister: [Our brother].

FTA: What'd he say?

Sister: The baby blessing is a week from Sunday at nine.

FTA: Ah. I'd probably even go to church for that.

Sister: Oh, yeah?

FTA: At least until after the blessing. laughs

Sister: laughs But you'll be out of town by then.

FTA: Yeah.

Sister: teasing Well, I'll call him back and tell him you'd come, and he'll call mom and tell her and then they'd change it to tomorrow so you could be there.

FTA: Right, so I could maybe feel the Spirit and come back!

Sister: laughs The sad thing is that it's probably true that they'd think that.

FTA: Yep, they totally would.

Monday, November 19, 2007

what women know

I commented before about the 1950's-era talk given in LDS general conference recently, and how people criticizing it got a slap on the wrist, as it were, in subsequent church meetings. The church can believe and teach what it wants, but in teaching the kinds of things about women (and men) that the church is teaching, they are ignoring what women (and men) really are. And therefore hurting them, even the very people who want to be Mormon.

Well, people are stepping up and have written a response. It's beautiful and powerful, and it shows that a lot of Mormon women--faithful, liberal, and ex--are thinking, and not just obeying blindly. It takes guts for faithful Mormon women and men to sign their names, at the risk of church discipline, and I applaud them. They are seeking signatures from people who can show their support in that manner (I know there are many reasons to be anonymous on the web, both the 'nacle and the DAMU).

I added my name. Check it out.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

garment memories

I sifted through some archives from the old foyer, finding some posts I wrote, oh, so long ago, as I was transitioning out of the church.

When I took off my garments (the date I now consider my anniversary of leaving: General Conference weekend of April 2005), I was terribly conflicted about it. This is what I wrote:

"I bought new underwear today--at Target, not at Beehive Clothing. But I'm feeling really conflicted, jumping from one world view (no one can tell me what kind of underwear to wear) and the mormon world view (I've made a convenant and will be damned now; I should just obey and hope I'll understand someday). I'm thinking maybe I wasn't ready. But will I ever be ready? Is this conflicted-ness just a part of it? Should I go back to Jesus jammies and wait until I've completely lost hope that there's any significance to garments besides Joe's magical world view, being a part of a select, secret group, etc, etc?

I should also note that my husband also changed out of his garments today too. He felt ready. He is not conflicted. He has reasons that work for him. He was waiting for me to be ready (not giving pressure), and I didn't want to hold him back. We made a day of it, even our toddler got new big boy pants (his first, starting potty training [Ack!]). I guess I don't want my reason to stop wearing garments is that my husband was ready. But if it's not going to be any easier later, why wait?"

Someone commented that there is no actual temple covenant to wear garments; it is just expected. So taking them off is not actually breaking a covenant. I replied:

"Actually, that nitpicking does help. I feel less like I'm breaking a covenant when now I realize I didn't even make it. (I never did any initatories for the dead--once was enough.) And I understand the concept that we didn't really make covenants when 1) we didn't even know what covenants we would be making until the moment of making them, 2)we really had no choice to make them (has anyone ever seen anyone actually stand up and leave at the point the officiator asks?), and 3) we didn't know what they really even meant."

I later added:

"I've been in and out of G's the past week (I had some regular underwear handy even before the Target trip). One day I wanted to wear a short-ish shirt and some low-rise pants, but my garment tops showed in the middle. So I found a [garment] top that was short and let my belly peep through a bit. It felt quite good and liberating. But I was also paranoid about seeing any Mormon buddies (quite a few live near by). DH thought I had just gone "spiritually topless" and asked me if I'd been hit by a train while I was out. It's incredible (and ludicrous) the thoughts that come to my head...that something bad will happen w/o the G's. Duh. I don't believe in amulets and protective hexes and things (expect for a placebo affect in some cases), and yet I believed in garments. And, yes, normal underwear is way sexier."

That first weekend when I changed out of garments, I wore them for church the next day. But then took them off again in the afternoon when it was hot outside. The next day was the day my mom found out I was questioning. I stood there on the phone with her, feeling awful and guilty and oh-so-naked wearing my evil underpants as she told me I was being deceived by the devil. I felt dirty and exposed. She didn't know I didn't have garments on, but I felt like my body was screaming it out loud enough for her to know through the phone. After the conversation, I put garments back on and felt comforted. Ah, the power of those ugly underclothes. I took them off again that night, and have never worn them since.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

in which Mormonism is conspicuously absent

I've been meaning for a while to comment on the section on my sidebar called "On the world, in which Mormonism is conspicuously absent." Most of the other lists of books in my sidebar include books on Mormon history, culture, theology, etc., all books I personally read during my exit process. The exception is "further reading," which includes books I've read since transitioning to my post-Mormon world that I found were relevant to my adjustment and understanding the mindrape that was Mormonism.

The "conspicuously absent" section, then, are books I read just before my world view collapsed, or only shortly thereafter, when I was still reeling from the collapse. Now, it's been two to three years since I read those books, so I don't remember all the details, but a few comments on a couple of them is in order.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
, by Jared Diamond
This book discusses major societies in each continent, their developments, and conjectures why they developed, or in some cases, why the didn't. Geography and environment are big factors in the fates of human societies, as are domesticatibility of animals and plants.


A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
This one is an easy read (Bryson is normally a comedic travel writer), and gives some funny and interesting histories from science, from the primordial gunk that was first life, to modern theories and debates.

Very interesting in themselves but why did they affect me and my transition out of the church?

There are no Lamanites in these books.

No Nephites, no Hebrews building ships to sail to the Americas. No indication whatsoever, no blip on the screen, no unanswered questions about how a certain group of people just suddenly showed up in South America. The traditional Mormon view of how the New World was populated is 100% beneath the attention of the authors and all the anthropology, geology, paleontology, archeology, geography, linguistics, and biology that they mold together to tell the history of the Americas and the world.

Years before, that would have not worried me. I would have brushed it off as persecution (they know we have the truth, but their scientists repress it; it's all a part of Satan's plan to confuse people and fight against Heavenly Father) or ignorance (they just haven't heard the true history yet; we need to get those missionaries out there to soften their hearts).

But since I read these books when I did, when my mind was more open and doubting, they struck me like a ton of bricks.

Mormonism is insignificant in the world.

Heart of Redness, by Zakes Mda
This is the fictional story of a modern Xhosa village and how their history of the Xhosa Cattle Killing (a real life event) affects them. The Cattle Killing occurred in the 19th century in South Africa. Two young girls, who would most likely be diagnosed with schizophrenia in today's world, were treated as prophetesses visited by spirits in the 19th Xhosa village. One of their prophecies was that the Xhosa, whose entire livelihoods were keeping cattle, must kill all their cattle in order to defeat the white people and make those damn colonists just go away. If all the Xhosa people would kill their cattle, ships of powerful warriors would come from the sea to help defeat the whites. Some people believed the girls, and killed their cattle and waited. And waited. And waited for those ships to come. They never came. The believers blamed the non-believers for not killing their cattle too. Whites took power and eventually formed the apartheid government. In the fictional part of the story, set in a coastal village, a group of people resurrect the cattle killing story, forming a cult of believers who again wait and wait and wait for the coming of the ships.

Having been raised with the story of Jesus and the Second Coming, I couldn't help but see parallels. Once upon a Mormon world view, I would have interpreted this story to be an echo of the One True Story, proof that all societies once knew about Jesus. Instead, I saw Jesus and the waiting and waiting and waiting for the Second Coming to be just as ridiculous as half of this village relying on the voices of a couple schizophrenic girls from 150 years previous. They differ in time frame and scale, and Jesus, if he existed, probably wasn't schizophrenic (at least I haven't heard any theories like that), but all the same, it was a serious blow to my belief in a Second Coming.

Monday, November 12, 2007

my boy, the skeptic

While driving in the car with my son in the back, I listened to him matter-of-factly tell me his thoughts on heaven.

"You see, people said God lives in the clouds. But then they built airplanes and flew up there and saw that there's no God there. So then they said God lives out in space. But then they built rocket ships and flew up in outer space. And guess what."


"No God there either."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

leaving is hard

My friend responded to my email about leaving with surprise that it would be hard to leave the church. It just had never occurred to her. So I speculated about why.

Oh, I also wanted to say that I had never considered that it would be hard to leave, either. Maybe this is partly because the three most common reasons listed within the church for people who leave are "they were offended; they wanted to sin or they sinned and were feeling unworthy; and they were lazy." Doesn't sound difficult.

In fact, these reasons are grossly inaccurate. Of all the people I have interacted with since leaving (and that's a lot of people), very, very few of them are captured in those reasons. For most people who actually leave the church or stop believing (as opposed to "jack Mormons" who still believe but just don't practice for a variety of reasons), the main reason is that they simply don't believe the church's claims. "Simply not believing" may sound simple, too, I guess. But it's not.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

transitions and non-religious upbringing

This is from a email I sent recently to a Mormon friend who asked how I was handling things with Little FTA, and how he transitioned out of the church.

As for Little FTA...He was almost 3 when we stopped attending church. So he'd been to nursery, but never primary. In nursery, he didn't get much religious-training, since the nursery in our ward was more about making sure the wilder kids weren't beating up the others. But other than that, we prayed with him before meals, showed him pictures of Jesus, I told him "remember Jesus" during the sacrament, we celebrated Christmas as the birth of Jesus, etc.

As we left, it never, ever occurred to me that we would stop being religious or stop being Christians. So as we stopped attending the LDS ward, we started shopping around to other churches, and we took Little FTA with us. We went to Catholic, Islamic, Episcopalian, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist, and Congregationalist churches. The UU was easily the most comfortable for me, so that's where we went most often the summer after leaving (the last time we went to the ward was April, '05). Little FTA being still quite young, he was more interested in how fun the playtime was at church. Most churches either don't have children's classes during the main meeting at all, or had a separate nursery during the main meeting. So he preferred the places he could play with toys, of course, which meant the UU and the Quaker. He loved it also when the UU meeting had a special Children's Sermon at the beginning; it made him feel special to go up front and have the pastor speak directly to the children. But for some reason, he hated the UU nursery teachers, and started to protest about going. By the end of the summer, it also became apparent to me that my husband was more fond of staying home on Sundays than going to meetings, so I started to go alone. Not every week, just every once in a while when I felt like it. Once grad school started, though, I found I was too busy most of the time, and preferred to spend my time on fun outings with my husband and son. A walk in the woods on a Sunday became just as satisfying to me as a church meeting. Since then, whenever I ask Little FTA if he wants to come to UU with me, he says no, and I don't push it. I did take him to a Christmas Eve service last year, at the congregationalist church where our exmo friends have attended. He enjoyed seeing his friends in the nativity play, and the dog and goat that were part of the production. But the rest was lost on him, and I'm okay with that.

At first, I was really concerned about finding a replacement church and a religious community in which to raise my son. I couldn't conceive of a moral upbringing without religion. I mentioned this to a Mormon friend of mine who is married to a man who was raised atheist (and still is). It made sense to her, but then she brought it up once when we were all together, her husband included. As she said it, it struck me that here this man was, a great person, a wonderful husband, a perfectly moral, ethical man, who had been raised without religion. And I knew it was possible, and that religion was not necessary to being good.

Little FTA hasn't missed church, though there have been a couple moments where I could see he was making the transition. Once, a few weeks after we stopped attending, when we were walking around a Divinity School lawn, I told him what people there do (learn about Jesus, etc). He said, "I don't know who Jesus is." It struck me profoundly, certainly more profoundly than he meant it, and I answered simply, "I don't either, Little FTA. I don't know either." I was having major doubts about the divinity of Jesus at the time.

I want Little FTA to be aware of religion and religious traditions, though, and he's freely asked questions about his Jewish/Christian/Muslim friends, and understands that some people do this or that because of their different religions. I tell him Greek myths, Bible stories, etc., all with the same attitude: they are old stories that try to teach us something. Holidays are the same; Christians do this, Jews do that, there's also Yule and Kwanzaa, etc., and isn't it fun?

He's still a little confused about some details, but he's young yet. For example, he thinks "grandma and grandpa don't drink coffee because they believe in God." I correct him on such things, but don't push it. I have no problem with his religious education coming later rather than sooner. We will not allow him to be baptized into any religion until he's an adult and can make his own decision if he likes. We will make him aware why we've chosen not to be Mormon, but that he also needs to be respectful to his relatives who are. For example, we tell him he need not participate in relatives' meal prayers, but he does need to be quiet during them.

He's really, really into science, and questions about where he came from and what happens when he dies come up--and he's perfectly at ease with the scientific answers, at least so far. He thinks it's great, for example, that the hydrogen molecules in his body were present 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang ("I'm 14 billion and 5 years old!") and that when things die, their bodies "return to the earth and fall apart into lit bits" and those molecules will be around in the universe until the end of the universe. When I read him children's stories that imply a heaven or afterlife, and he asks, "What does that mean?" I explain how we always remember people who die, in our heads and in our hearts, so in those moments, it's like they are with us again, and how some people call that heaven, and some people think that there is a heaven, too, where people really are when they die. Currently, he doesn't believe in God, and I'm okay with that for now, but when he's older, I'd like to him really explore the options. I could see myself taking him to UU services, for example, because I really like their youth program. For one year, when they are teenagers, they learn about a bunch of other religions and take the youth to those churches so they really know their options. I like that a lot. UU is also really good about helping people find their own spiritual path rather than defining the right one for them, and people in the congregation range from atheists to theists, Jewish, Christian, pagan.

Whoa, I've gone on for a while, haven't I? I guess I needed the chance to clarify these things in my own head, so thanks for asking the question! We've been making it up as we go along, really, as I think most parents handle a lot of things.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

my version, at least

I recently had an old Mormon friend ask my what humanism was, as I'd listed it as my "religious views" on a networking site. Humanists define their own meaning, and I am still in the process of defining my version. This is what I answered.

Humanism. Hmm. I'm probably not the best person to ask, I haven't studied it that much. But since leaving the church, I found my approach to life and beliefs are pretty much in line with humanism--that there is no god, that humans are responsible for improving the world with an emphasis on using reason, improving knowledge, fighting for social justice, and environmentalism; that bad stuff happens because of human foibles and natural workings of the earth. I don't know that that would be the definition you'd find on a humanism website, but that's sort of how I put it in a nutshell. It's humanist as opposed to theist. I realize that to some theists humanist thinking seems pompous or conceited, in a "relying on the arm of flesh" kind of way, but when approached from the idea that there is no god, it's what makes the most sense to me right now.

For a while after leaving, I still held onto Christian thinking, as many people do, without believing in the actual divinity of Jesus. But I'm not too keen on the basic paradigm that Christianity espouses: that humans are "fallen" and in need of redemption, and that people have a savior to solve their problems. I prefer the more humanist approach, that people have it in our power to improve our world. I know Christians are perfectly capable of taking it in their own hands to improve the world--many, many have--I just mean that for me, it's been healthier to approach life from a different paradigm. I care more about the world and doing something about it, doing my part, than I did before. Make sense?

And in a old post, I wrote this in response to a comment. Since hardly anyone will go back and read it, and since it fits this post, too, I'm bringing it up here.

I agree that humans _can be_ stupid, greedy, and immoral. Hence many of the world's problems (eg, not Satan). Humans _can_ also be unselfish, hard-working, and good. I don't believe humans are either inherently good or bad; they are inherently very intelligent animals with the capibility to ask themselves "Am I good? Is this action moral? Why do I exist? What is my purpose in life?"

I have no doubt, nor did my post assert that, Christians are bad people. Christianity creates one way of many of approaching the world and the questions above. It's simply not for me. I became a better person outside of Christianity; I did not say that would be true of everyone or that everyone should abandon it. And I do not fault my friends who decide to accept that paradigm.

[The commenter asked me if I was prepared to give up my possessions]: As for possessions and the rest of the world: I am not ignorant of the world. I have lived abroad in one of the poorest countries in the world, lived very simply (and live more simply than the average American), and saw poverty, malnutrition, and other deprivations at every turn. I just don't think that's because the Fall or Satan's temptations, etc. It's more about environment, politics, economics, social problems (including parts of religion), human foibles, etc. In this way, I am a humanist and not a Christian. I will not attribute social ills to the supernatural, nor will I hope that a supernatural being will fix them all. Humans are responsible both for the problems and the solutions.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

losing friends

An old Mormon friend of mine asked me why some old friends who left the church won't return emails and phone calls. There's the desire the keep up the friendship, but the faithful/exmo divide seemed insurmountable. This is what I replied.

I'm really sorry to hear about your lost friendships. That really bites. I've been trying to get my thoughts together on what to say, but, of course, I don't know your friends and why they haven't kept in touch. I do know, though, that it is a very difficult transition.

Especially in the case of your gay friend, I would guess, there's a lot of negative baggage associated with all things Mormon. For me, leaving was like my house fell down around me, and adjusting to "post-Mormon" life is like a major renovation. I've had to sift through the rubble, throwing out stuff I find harmful, and trying to preserve the stuff I want to keep. I became very inward-focused for a while, neglecting my relationships with others, so I could concentrate on my own upheaval. Not on purpose, it's just what happened.

I think there's also a tendency among us leavers to cut off everything church-related, including faithful Mormon friends, in order to come to grips with our new selves, redefine our selves and goals, and move on. I think it's an effort of self-preservation, really, where everything is just so overwhelming. If your friends are anything like me, it's just more comfortable and easier to be friends with fellow ex-Mormons, people who understand us and have been through similar things. More than anyone right now, they are "my people." I am, and I bet your friends are, trying to repair relationships and negotiate how to be friends across those barriers. It's tough.

In addition, many of us fear that faithful Mormon friends are hoping to get us back in the church, or will simply misunderstand us, or will want lengthy explanations (or worse, debates or fights) when we may not be prepared to dredge all the emotions and reasons up again. (Don't worry, I don't feel that with this email exchange.) We also fear that our Mormon friends will judge us, like you said, or cut us off. While I haven't lost any good friends, I've certainly lost church acquaintances and people whom I thought were friends. Partly because we stopped attending church and activities, and partly because (it seems) they were afraid of us. Ouch.

I don't know if that helps you understand your friends a little better or not. Just my thoughts. I'd say, try again. Be explicit. If it were me, I'd prefer my friend to just come out and say, "Listen, I feel like our different religious choices have gotten in the way of our friendship, and I think that bites. I want to be friends with you. What can we do about it?" Everyone is more comfortable once the elephant in the room has been acknowledged; it may cause some awkwardness at first, but it's worth getting past it by just talking about it directly.