Wednesday, January 31, 2007

coming to different conclusions

I recognize that there are some Mormons who confront many of the same issues I have, but still believe in the church, or, at the very least, stay in the church. Sometimes I fail to understand them, and sometimes they fail to understand me. Here are some of the common questions a stayer may ask a leaver, and my answers.

So the church isn't perfect. So what? Why expect perfection?

I'm not looking for a perfect church or one true church--everyone and everything has flaws. Fine. But at least acknowledge mistakes and problems, apologize for them, and learn from them--don't cover them up, deny them, and pretend like all the damage that comes from them is the fault of the victims. This is what the church has done. I don't expect to find another religion that is perfect and has the "true" conduit to God, just as I do not expect to find the "one true marital relationship" that I should emulate. But I do expect a religion, or any organization or relationship, to serve and help its members, not abuse them. An abusive situation should be fixed, and left, if necessary.

Why don't you feel an obligation to stay in the church and try to improve it?

When I was questioning, I saw a "brain drain" where all the people actually educated about the church were leaving. How could we ever improve it if everyone who sees the problems leaves? I desperately wanted to stay in order to help. People have tried that, and have given up for many valid reasons. For some people it's not worth the fight; there is just too much baggage and too much compromise of integrity and conscience to stay and support such an institution. The church just doesn't allow for a grassroots approach; it quashes "arc-steadiers"; it excommunicates; it correlates.

Why worry about the Truth of the church? Why not focus instead on the Good of the church?

There were two parts to my leaving: First I asked, Is it true? For me, the evidence pointed to NO! And then I asked, Is it good? Can I stay anyway? If no church is "true," why not just stay in the one I was raised in and avoid the pain and heartache of leaving and hurting my family? I asked myself, Does the church uplift, edify, strengthen, and make my life and the lives of my family better? My answer was, No, actually, it doesn't. In addition, it hurts intellectuals, women, homosexuals, youth, the drug-addicted, ethnic minorities, the down-and-out, the poor. Even though most of those labels don't apply to me personally or to my family, they apply to many human beings. I must support them over the institution that hurts or ignores them. It took my attending one other church's service one time for me to realize the Mormon church is not bringing the most joy. Not even close.

There are opportunities for service in the church. Why not stay and serve?

Serve who? The dead? Service in the church is bringing your non-member neighbor cookies and smiling at them (in hopes, of course, that they'll eventually convert); it's teaching in Sunday School stuff you don't believe; it's acting as ward clerk and knowing everyone's private financial matters for a church that demands 10% but doesn't give any of it back (or let us know where it's going); it's exacting confessions from people whose only "sin" was acting on their love and natural, biological drive. How about participating in soup kitchens instead, like so many other churches do, to help keep the hungry and homeless alive? Plenty of service opportunities are out there outside the church, and most of them actually involve helping others.

Surely you can engage with Mormonism on your own terms. Why not approach it cafeteria- style?

Is there really that much flexibility? I can be a recommend-holding woman who wears slacks to church? I can be a non-believing member--who has to discuss my personal spirituality to an acquaintance I would probably have no other reason to talk to (bishop)--and be kept from holding any significant role that has any possibility to actually change anything, even at the ward level? (Oh, but I forget, simply by being female, believer or not, I am already stuck in that position.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

coming out of the non-believer's closet

When I was still "in the non-believer's closet," that period when I wasn't going to church, but hadn't told my family so, I struggled terribly. I was pained about not only how and when I should tell them, but what to tell them, and, especially, how they would react. During that time, I wrote the following.

Oh, how I wish I had an immediate family member to "come out" to! I come from an uber-TBM family, all children married in the temple, several went on missions, dad's in a high position, etc. I am the first one to "lose the faith." That's not to say I'm the first to "struggle with my testimony," because several have had issues with, say, polygamy, women's position, leaders who are supposed to be inspired by God but who do really stupid things, etc. But they are all in a place where they say, "Well, it's God's church, it's really true, so I can reconcile and put up with the crap, as long as I know that God is somewhere behind it and is fixing things, even if it's slowly." I used to be in that place. Until about three months ago.

Since then, it's come crashing down remarkably quickly. And who do I tell? Luckily I have a husband who is in the same place as me. Some people are lucky in that parents or siblings paved the way before them. I'm in the extreme position of "first one out."

My mom is my biggest reason I have not come out yet. I have a somewhat manipulative, guilt-tripping mom. She struggles with depression. I grew up not bothering to ask if I could go play with Sally next door because I knew my mom would say, "No, honey, I don't feel like it." The whole family does a delicate ballet around Mom's feelings and reactions. Don't want to upset Mom. I can imagine the magnitude of the reaction when she finds out about me. Major crying episodes, definitely. Ask my father for priesthood blessings, absolutely. Spiral of depression that she'll then self-medicate with prayer, oh yeah.

But ultimately, I have to tell myself, it's her business how she reacts. It's not my fault.

Monday, January 29, 2007

the beginning of the end

One of the key moments for me in my exit process was letting myself think, “I can’t give it a fair chance to be true if I don’t give it a fair chance to be false. Mormonism could be wrong.I don’t want it to be, but it could be. Where does the evidence point?” I’d read several books and articles on Mormonism before I came to that realization. But everything I had read I adjusted to fit into “the church is true” paradigm.

The first book I read after that realization was Grant Palmer’s An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins. That was the beginning of the end for me. Once I freed my mind to stop mutilating the evidence, it began to be painfully obvious that the historical record did not make Joseph Smith’s claims look remotely plausible.

Sometime after I read Grant Palmer's book, I wrote down some thoughts about it:

The chapter on the Golden Pot was stretching it a bit. I didn't agree with Palmer's conclusion that Joseph took his story of getting the plates directly from the Golden Pot. But a good "take-home-question" is that Joseph could have easily plagiarized from various sources. It was instructive for me to see how Joseph's story really isn't that original. But the rest of the book is better; that book was key for me to say, "Now, wait a minute, what's up with THAT?"

Big issues for me were the priesthood restoration, the Kinderhoek plates, the Book of Abraham, the First Vision, and the witnesses' testimonies. I hadn't ever read about these issues before. I really wanted to find out more about all of those things, to see if there was more evidence or more explanations out there. I've since read more on the Book of Abraham (By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus), but haven't read much more on the other subjects.

Palmer (or was it other books I read?) argues that some of Smith’s borrowing is blatant, with changes, like quotes from Isaiah in 2 Nephi, and from Matthew in 3 Nephi (the Sermon on the Mount, one-upmanship style). These are obvious to anyone who has read the Bible. The plagiarisms that are less obvious, only because we haven't also read the other books and sources, are stuff that could have come from or been inspired by View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith (no relation), Spalding, Cowdery, and Rigdon, among others.

Palmer ultimately concludes that the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham were written (with borrowing and a big imagination) by Joseph Smith. From what I've read, I agree. He does not conclude, though, that we have to "throw away" Mormonism because of that. Some people find there are great lessons in the books that people can learn, just as there are in the Bible, without actually believing that the people lived, the stories really happened, etc. Some people instead take it as a mythology, moral fables, etc.

(I’d rather not take away the lesson that it’s okay to chop someone’s head off because a voice told you to it, though. Or that you can know the truth of something by feeling good about it. Or that atheists are evil. Secret handshakes and all that, though—that is wacked out, just like the Book of Mormon says.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

on questioning, or being a heretic

For a while, when I was still a believer, and reading through some Sunstone and Dialogue issues, I earnestly and innocently put my questions and doubts forth to other Mormon believers, thinking I would get earnest and honest answers. Mostly I got bearings of testimony, or got advised to "put my questions on the back burner" or "you'll understand later, in the after life." The stuff I was reading and thinking was so compelling to me; I couldn't understand why others didn't find it interesting or important like I did.

None of their answers or routes were satisfactory to me. I kept asking and searching, but learned to keep my questions to myself and to those I trust not to just bear me their testimonies. That's not what I needed. I felt like I must confront this issues and doubts, ask these questions, even at the risk of going through pain and confusion (which I certainly have).

Ultimately, I think everyone who goes through questioning their faith, the meaning of life, etc. (whatever their religions), are the better for it. No matter what their conclusions. Whether they decide to stick with that leap of faith, or whether they decide to stay confused, or whether they decide to abandon their religious heritage--each comes to a conclusion that works best for them.

That doesn't mean there's no pain in it. On the contrary, I went through a dark and difficult time for a while, but I am now happy and content with my decisions as they stand now. I continue to search, and I'm happy with that too.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

emotions and leaving

I wrote this to a faithful Mormon who asked how I have emotionally responded to leaving the church.

Regarding emotions and leaving the church: It was absolutely devastating. You have no idea how horrible it felt to question, destroy, lose everything I thought I knew. And given that Mormonism teaches that good feelings point to God and bad feelings point to Satan, well, you can imagine the second guessing of myself, etc. I ultimately decided, though, that feelings weren't a good way to measure truth. So all those negative emotions I felt weren't Satan leading me astray or the Holy Ghost telling me I was doing something wrong, but rather the mental and emotional anguish that comes with questioning your world, and losing it. I'm working on a little personal essay right now about all the negative emotions I felt at the time of my break with the church. Then I'll probably write one about all the positive emotions I felt. 'Cause there is a good side to it all.

But through it all, through all that destruction of my world, there was a new hope, a new growth, a new me. It was very scary for a while, wondering where my direction would come from, how to define my morals, wondering who I am, etc. But I realized within myself I have a perfectly functional moral compass, and I am capable of reasoning, deciding. And that there is a whole slew of philosophers, theologians, writers, scientists, etc, who have also asked the Big Questions in Life and come to various, helpful, enlightening conclusions. I know Mormonism calls his "relying on the arm of flesh," but that's way more comfortable for me right now than relying on God.

Friday, January 26, 2007

the first visit

We had predicted different reactions from our families. We thought, based on past experience with my husband's jack Mormon brother, that his family would be silent on the subject. No one in the family had ever asked jack-mo-bro why he stopped going. Ever. And since they already had gone through all the trauma of having a non-faithful son/sibling, we'd figure the trauma of having another wouldn't be quite as acute.

As for my family, we thought they'd want to talk about it. Maybe too much. We thought my parents would want to sit us down for a little heart-to-heart, something we were not looking forward to, and even debating whether or not we would participate in. We also thought the pain and shock would be worse, since I am the first out in my family. They've never had to deal with the thought of a child/sibling choosing to not go to the Celestial Kingdom with them.

That said, I was a little weirded out when we visited my family at Christmas time and no one said a word. Not a word. I even tried to bring it up a couple times, and no one took the bait. It was kind of disconcerting, staying with my Twilight Zone family.

Before we went, we talked about what we would do about Sunday. Should we schedule our trip so that we're not there on a Sunday? Should we be there on a Sunday and go to church with them, just to be nice, just for the sake of family relations? What would that mean to them? Would they think, "Oh, good, they're making baby steps back to The Truth"? Is that trade-off between family comfort and different interpretations and intentions worth it? Should we simply stay home from church? Eventually, we decided to be there on a Sunday, but find some alternative activity for the day.

I expected my parents to at least invite us to church, or ask us if we were going, but they didn't. We ended up meeting Christy and her hubbie for lunch--a thousand times better than suffering through Sacrament meeting. (Hi!) When I got back to my parents with a take-home box and put it in their fridge (evidence of the fact I ate out on Sundays, aka failed to keep the Sabbath day holy), my mom asked, "So how was your lunch?" I was astounded, though not in a bad way. I had expected something judgmental about the Sabbath and skipping church, but, no. It could have been Saturday for how nonchalant she was about it. (She also asked whom I was meeting, but since I met Christy and Jer on the Foyer--an exmo forum online--I told her I was meeting "friends we'd met in [the state we live in now], but who are in Utah now." Which was kind of true.)

It struck me as really weird. I almost wanted her to say something so we could get into a discussion. But I realize how lucky I am that she is acting so, well, normal about it. She's letting me do my thing, and even if she does disagree or disapprove, she's not going to step on my toes about it. On one level, I think, "What a cool mom. I hope I can give her back the same respect." On another level, I think, "It's better to talk about our differences and come to a better understanding." It's one thing to not clash simply because we just avoid talking about our differences; it's another (better) thing to not clash because we've talk about our differences with openness and honesty, and come to a mutually respectful let's-agree-to-disagree arrangement.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

telling his family

A couple months after we stopped going to church, we had a family reunion with my husband's family. His approach was to just let it come out, let them figure it out. He didn't want to say something formally.

So I just kept being my (new) self; I refused to be in the unbeliever's closet and hide my new thoughts, attitudes, and wardrobe. I took every excuse (sports activities, morning yoga) to wear non-garment safe clothes, something I wouldn't have done before. I boldly expressed political views that good Mormon girls shouldn't have. We skipped church and stayed at home with his jack Mormon brother. I said things I shouldn't have said about how cheap blow jobs are in our city. I admitted I feel embarrassed when I have to tell people my alma mater (BYU). I got drunk in front of all his siblings.

It was completely out of the blue. No one expected it. Everyone was shocked.

Looking back, I feel I went a little overboard and should have eased them in a littler gentler. I feel terrible that I acted like that in front of all his younger, impressionable cousins. But all of them got the message. Unfortunately, that message left us as "We don't believe in the Mormon church anymore" and probably arrived to them as "We are prideful sinners who let go of the iron rod and are wandering in the dark and dreary wilderness. We won't be seeing you in the Celestial Kingdom, but the beer and sleeping in on Sundays is totally worth it!" (Hmm, maybe I'll make that my new tag line.)

They all reacted differently, according to their experiences and personalities. My father-in-law won't talk about it to this day. My husband's church-going siblings will talk about it, but would rather not. My brother-in-law's first words were, "So you drink beer and everything?" As I've mentioned before, my mother-in-law couldn't speak about it for months, such was her shock and pain.

His non-church-going brother and his nevermo wife were quite shocked, speechless actually, because they would have never expected it from us. Once the shock wore off, they were quite happy to have another couple join them on the fringe. Where before, my attitude toward them was always quietly judgmental, and our relationship awkward and stilted because of the-religion-thing, now I could talk openly about religion or any other subject. The change was all me. They were always great people; I just couldn't see it because "they're not Mormon" was always somewhere in my mind. I guess it still is in my mind; but now, it's a good thing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

(not) coming out to our families

After it was clear to us that we no longer wanted to be a part of the Mormon church, we realized our families were going to have to know about it. But how, when? Do we ease them in to the idea? Let it fall in one blow? Wait until we could do it person? On the phone? In email or letters? Just let them notice we replaced garments with Hanes when we did laundry at their house? Order wine at the next family dinner?

As we talked, we realized we both had very different styles and attitudes about telling--he was more of the let-them-just-figure-it-out style, and I was a they-need-a-formal-letter style--so we decided that my husband's family would find out in his way, and mine would find out in my way.

But the prospect was extremely frightening. I knew how I, my parents, and my siblings had reacted to hearing others' "apostasy" announcements, and it wasn't pretty. Long story short: apostates were 1) stupid, and 2) wrong. The idea of the loss of a loved one for all eternity is too much to bear. Inactives were on the fringes of family affairs, not talked about, misunderstood, unhappy. Apostates were even worse. Inactives were just making mistakes. Apostates were willful sinners and revilers. I was soon to announce that I had joined their camp.

So, I put it off. For several months, I hid. Every time the phone rang, I hesitated. Was it my parents? I avoided phone calls on Sundays, because "How was church today?" would inevitably come up. Every time I did talk to my parents, I felt like I was lying to them, even though we didn't talk about church.

I knew the longer I waited, the harder it would be. But I still couldn't figure out how to bring it up, or write that letter. It was awful.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

hestitation with the term "brainwashing"

Would you use the word "brainwashed" to describe the time in your life that you believed?

Or just "duped" or "tricked" or "uncritical"? I'm having trouble figuring out what it was that kept me believing in a church that did things that even at the time I described as "not right," "weird" or "confusing." I recognized problems with the church (polygamy, denial of priesthood to blacks and women) but didn't let them touch my testimony. Does that require some degree of brainwashing?

I noticed a style of preemptive teaching in the church and seminary. I got lectures and presentations on how Joseph could not have written the Book of Mormon long before I ever had heard anything that suggested Joseph may have written it. I heard stuff about how other churches are wrong--but never heard any of those teachings. Is that brainwashing? Or something else?

China's communist Cultural Revolution, brainwashing was translated quite literally--washing or cleaning the brain. It had a positive connotation. People washed their brains of all that traditionalist, feudalist, capitalist filth and prepared it to be filled with communist ideas. For me as a born-in Mormon, I got information contrary to belief in Mormonism washed out of my brain even before it was put in there.

Perhaps part of my hesitation in using the word "brainwashed" is reluctance to apply such a negative word to myself. If I call what the church does brainwashing, then I was brainwashed. I don't want to have been brainwashed. It calls to mind compounds and hours of "correct thinking" being pounded into me every day, and not letting me go outside or think any other thoughts. Waco, Hilter's Youth, perhaps Mormon fundamentalists--not mainstream Mormonism. It's different, not so extreme.

Perhaps I prefer indoctrination. This is a weaker term than brainwashing, but stronger than simple socialization and acculturation, which is what every parent and society does for their children.

Monday, January 22, 2007

ritual and moving on

I wrote this last May:

I read a book called Women-Church. It briefly described the development of Christianity as a give-and-take between spirituality and institution, and argued that women need to nudge, push, shove, and subvert their way into changing religion and ritual to fit their needs better. Sometimes this involves leaving and creating your own community; sometimes this involves staying within the patriarchal community and enacting change from within.

One of the main facets of the book was to give alternative (less patriarchal and more women-friendly and non-gender specific) liturgies and rituals. It was obviously to a Christian audience who are used to high church. Rituals included things like welcoming of a new baby; signing with the promise of baptism; coming of age; puberty rites; moving out of the house; marriage; divorce; casting off the patriarchal, suppressive parts of church-institution; death, etc. It was very adaptable and could be used for any point in life that is significant.

Rituals mark events, open up new phases in life. On the other hand, life manages to create its own rituals. Whether or not you have a bar/bat mitzvah or graduate from primary, you still have a coming-of-age time. Whether or not you are baptized, you still achieve a conversion or de-conversion.

Without any formal ritual, I mark the events of my de-conversion--the first time I felt more comfortable on the Foyer than on NOM; the day I took off my garments; the last day I went to church; first alcohol; first sleeveless shirt; the day I told my family; the day I moved my garments in a big bag to the basement; the day I tossed that bag in the dumpster (one year after I first took them off).

And yet I still feel the need for ritual sometimes. For example, I want to go on a camping trip and light a big bonfire. I want to throw in my temple recommend and call out, "I reject the institution that tells me I can't worship." Then throw in a pair of garments and call out, "I reject a god that micromanages me, down to the clothes I wear." (But since I threw them all in the dumpster, I can't. It felt so anti-climatic.) Then throw in a Book of Mormon and call out, "I reject a religion that demands stupidity and unquestioned obedience." Then throw in a sheet of paper where I wrote the ways the church has hurt me and call out, "I reject the Mormon fta and open up a new phase in my life where I am in control to live, love, think, and play how I see fit."

And then strip down and go skinny dipping or something. I've never done that. It seems like it would be very liberating. I imagine I'd have to be quite drunk by that point.

But when it comes down to it, I'd probably feel really stupid doing all that, rather than liberated.

Have you done anything ritualistic or formal to mark the passage of the old, Mormon you to the new, better you? I'm sure handing in your resignation is one of those ways
, something I have yet to get around to.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

a question of morals and ethics

Again, this is from something I wrote about a year ago.

Some of the problems I saw in the church (as found in a short-list in my post facts and faith) bothered me when I believed the church was true, some of them I only realized when I saw them in the light of a nonbeliever. But as a believer, I worked my way around them, justified them, or put them on the back burner, because I believed the church was true. They were not reasons I stopped believing. They are reasons I stopped attending, reasons why I won't go back as a "faithful nonbeliever."

I regret now that they were not reasons I challenged the truth of the church. I wish I had asked, "If the church does such destructive things, how can it truly be God's church?" I wish my own sense of rightness, my own moral compass, had helped me stop believing. I regret that I let my mind do gymnastics around racism, homophobia, polygyny and polyandry, and misogynistic attitudes. I am angry at myself for doing that.

But I will not apologize for the church any more; I will not make excuses and rationalize negative institutional, theological, and cultural ideas and behavior. I will not stand by the church and support it with my membership, tithing, or attendance. This isn't a lifestyle issue, this isn't an issue of not wanting to live by the restrictions (garments, church every Sunday, etc.); this is, for me, a question of morals and ethics.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

facts and faith

From a personal essay I wrote about a year ago. It follows from thoughts I penned in "did you give it a fair chance?":

In some ways, Mormonism is good at helping its members feel peace. For example, the sacrament. For me, it was about reflecting on your week, your life, and finding comfort in the idea that forgiveness could be achieved. That even though you were imperfect, you could do better. Mormons don't worry about the "facts" of the bread and water being Jesus' flesh and blood, but about the comfort of forgiveness and redemption. Whether or not Jesus actually died and was resurrected is of course at the core of Mormonism, but I don't think it needs to be so. For a whole lot of Christians in the world, the point is the ideas of redemption, sacrifice, a personal God, and forgiveness, and not whether it all actually happened. I could even find a place in a Christian church as long as the emphasis is on the ideas, and whether or not Jesus was resurrected is left to faith.

Because we don't have the facts; it must be left to faith. And I think that's fine. I am willing to make a leap of faith for God; I don't think the existence of God can be proven either way, for or against. If I believe in God, it is based on faith, not knowledge. As for Mormonism, there are plenty of facts against the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the prophethood (and decency) of Joseph Smith, the origin of the Book of Abraham, the restoration of the priesthood, etc. To make a leap of faith against those facts is ridiculous in my mind.

So why don't I take the church in the same way I see general Christianity or religion? (i.e., The ideas might be good enough to overrule any uncertainly about the facts.) Why not forget about the truthfulness of the church, and just find what is good about it ("it" now includes the culture, institution, theology, and gospel): emphasis on family, moral anchor, forgiveness, service, community, family heritage, etc.? As far as family goes, that would certainly be the easier route. For one, all that is good about the church can be found elsewhere--in another congregation or even in a secular, non-religious life. And two, besides what I find to be false about the church, there is so much I find to be negative about the church's ideas, attitudes, and way of doing things. Attitudes about race, women, intellectuals, homosexuals and homosexuality, (one example: 1993 speech by Boyd K. Packer said the Church's three main enemies to be intellectuals, feminists, and homosexuals); over-emphasis on one-size-fits-all and obedience; over-emphasis on truth and de-emphasis on other great aspects of religion; attitude of denial or willful ignorance of uncomfortable church history; the church's infiltration into too many aspects of member's lives; hypocrisy in teachings and actions; the lack of focus on Christ-like living, among other things.

Friday, January 19, 2007

my word of wisdom "problem" out

I reported before about my trip to Utah to see my family, and how I got away with my preschool-age son not saying anything about alcohol. Turns out he wasn't so silent on the word of wisdom matter after all.

Back at home, we joked about how he didn't say anything. But then he piped up with, "Your mom thinks your stuuuupid!" My smile faded, because I knew exactly what he meant. I'd spoken before about how my mom would think drinking is just stupid.

"What do you mean? What did Grandma say?"

My son realized he'd said something wrong. "Nothing."

"When did you talk to Grandma about alcohol?"

"In the work room."

"What did she say?"

"Nothing," he lied.

"Come on, it doesn't matter. I don't care that you told Grandma, I just want to know what you told her."

He wouldn't budge.

Over the next couple days, I kept trying to catch him by surprise to get it out of him. He's just an innocent little boy, so I couldn't blame him for saying something to my mom, but what did he say? I had to know.

Finally, my husband weaseled it out of him when I was out of the room. According to my young son's memory ("I don't remember; it was last week."), this is what happened.

My son saw my mom drinking something out of a mug, a steaming hot drink.

"Is that coffee?" he asked innocently.

"I don't drink coffee," she said.

"My mom drinks coffee," he answered.

He won't tell me what my mom said in response.

Why do I care?

Actually, coffee isn't so bad. It's the alcohol I would care about. My grandpa was an alcoholic; my mom has good reason to hate alcohol. Coffee is just...enough to send me to hell. Whatever.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

more debate with myself

Continuing from debate with myself...

I want them to know that I am not just struggling with my testimony, that I didn't wander off the path, that I am not in the dark and dreary wilderness or the great and spacious building. I want them to know that I have made a decision, that I feel good about it, and that I am truly happy. I don't want to die with people thinking of me as an inactive Mormon or a jack Mormon; that is not who I am. I want to stand for what I believe. However, I don't know that they can see me how I see me. They can only interpret my life how they know how--according to the Mormon world view. It is one decidedly different from my own.

My one unhappiness in my decision is this rift with the family--and that is substantial. They will never understand me, they will not know me. We keep up relations; we love each other; we talk and enjoy each others' company. But a huge part of us--their religion and my disbelief in that religion and belief in other things--is never touched. Granted, it's only been months since my "coming out of the closet" and I live thousands of miles away from them; there's not much opportunity to talk. Eventually, we will likely talk. Over the years, there will probably be points of greater pain and points of greater understanding.

Is it better that I pull off the band-aid and disabuse them of the notion that I am coming back? This would force them to confront the issue head-on and begin the healing process, rather than patch over it with their false comfort of my return. Will it help? Will it change anything? Or do I let them continue on interpreting my life according to the only way they know how?

When I visited at Christmas, and I was happy, friendly, didn't bash the church, and was so very normal. Did they therefore interpret that as "Oh, fta is happy after all. She must not be in such a bad place"? Or did they interpret it as "Fta is so happy. She must have returned to church and is faithful again, and it's just her husband who is struggling"? Will every action be taken wrong? So should I even bother? Will writing them just cause them to think, "Oh, wow, she is really angry. She is prideful. She really is deceived," or, "She has her reasons for her actions; we may not agree, but I can understand that she is where she needs to be and it is good for her"? That's all I want. I think that's all I can hope for.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

debate with myself

Eventually, I told my family I wasn't attending church anymore, that my spiritual path has "moved away from the Mormon church." They didn't really ask why or want to know details. I assumed they think I am too intellectual and have lost sight of faith in favor of evidence. Got too big for my britches. They operate on the assumption that I will return eventually, and I've realized over time that this gives them comfort. But for a long time, I struggled with whether or not I should tell them more. To put it all down on paper and explain the extent to which I was a total non-believer, that I was never coming back. That I wasn't "struggling with my testimony" or a Jack Mormon or an inactive. That I was done.

I wondered if telling them--ripping the bandage off--would be better than letting them have their false view of me. I wrote down what I was thinking at that time:

Writing to mom and dad about my unbelief is fundamentally difficult, since I would be basically telling them (implicitly) that I reject how they raised me. Obviously, they did their best, did what they believed is best, and I think they did a pretty darn good job. They are many, many things about how they raised us that I appreciate and love. But by telling them I reject Mormonism--and have no plans to raise my son Mormon--I reject part of them. And I hate that. (Side note: I will not shield my son from Mormonism, or any other religion. I want him exposed to a plurality of religions and ideas so that he can choose when he is older. I will be up front with him about how his extended family is Mormon, why they are Mormon, and why I am not Mormon.)

I go back and forth about writing everyone. On the one hand, Mom and Dad are convinced that I will return someday, as witnessed by the peace they have felt about me. They have their comfort in that; it is their coping mechanism. Part of me wants to let them have that comfort, even though I think it is false. While they felt peace [when I told them I wasn't going to church anymore] and interpreted that as "fta will return"--that is the only way they _can_ interpret it within their Mormon world view, that's the only thing that makes sense--I think that emotion of peace can be interpreted differently.

Such as how I interpret it: "No matter what, we love fta. We can sense that she is okay and happy and the spiritual path she chooses for herself is fine." A problem I have with them "knowing I will return" is that this denies me freedom of choice. If God knows I will return, that means I will definitely return--it is not my choice to return; it's "already" been decided. Is God so omniscient that we don't have truly free will? During my process of leaving, I asked this question. I adopted a somewhat modified version of an omniscient God, one that can see possible future paths that open and close before us as we make decisions, and can guide us in choosing better paths.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"did you give it a fair chance?"

Read your scriptures; go to church every Sunday; say your prayers every day; have faith.

We've learned in Sunday School that if someone does those things, all will be well. That's the simple version of the formula for a strong testimony. While any Mormon would tell you it is more complicated than that, it still somehow ends up being the pat answers given in church for just about any problem. On the flip side, if someone is "struggling," it must be because she failed in The Sunday School Answers, and should do better. If she does, her testimony will improve.

Someone once asked me if I gave the church's system, as listed above, a fair chance when I was in the process of leaving. That is, did I read scriptures, pray, and go to church? This is the answer I gave (with some minor changes):

You know I was an extremely faithful scripture-reader. Daily since before I was twelve [I was actually kind of a fanatic about it]. This changed only when my son was two and our housing arrangements forced us into the same room; i
t became much harder to do during that time, simply on a logistic level (lights out early). But I still read, just not daily. After coming back, my not-so-daily habit stuck. I kept up with that until things really started to break (after the "drowning in shallow water" and about the time of the "crumbling building"). Somewhere in there, I finished the Book of Mormon for about the 14th time, and decided to read D&C, because I hadn't read it since I was in 9th grade seminary. My trust and faith in Joseph Smith really wavered as I read D&C. Pretty much by the end, I felt that most of it was a document of man. When I went back to the Book of Mormon, I found it was actually painful to read, as I was considering the possibility that Joseph Smith wrote it himself. To paraphrase BH Roberts, was this a work of inspiration, or was this a wonder tale of an immature mind?

I think I gave the church's formula (of read the scriptures, prayer, attend church) a fair chance, as I did nothing but that for many years, and kept it up for a couple years while I read other stuff [scholarly publications on Mormonism]. What is more, there came a point near the end where I decided that that church's formula was not a perfect way of knowing. In fact, it was an extremely faulty way of knowing. I think it's a way for faith, but an emotional feeling cannot get at facts. I think that believing in God and other religious things is always a matter of faith. Religion is about devotion, faith, comfort, and explaining things we don't or can't understand. It is not about facts or truth. It doesn't need to be. I still find spirituality, comfort, and peace in religion. Even atheists can find this, in the right religion and outside of religion. But I don't find it in Mormonism. Mormonism's emphasis on its truthfulness, its emphasis on the (mythologized) "facts" of its past, get in the way of comfort, peace, devotion, and spirituality.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Mormon marriage, Mormon divorce

I've been thinking lately about the fact that many Mormon marriages end when one spouse reveals (s)he doesn't believe anymore. Why is this so? The quick answer is , I think, the emphasis on eternal marriage and the necessity of marriage to attain the Celestial Kingdom (CK), the highest degree of heaven for Mormons. Too many people--probably more women--think, "If he doesn't believe, if he isn't righteous, he can't take me to the Celestial Kingdom. Therefore, I might as well get divorced and find a man who is worthy."

There are gender biases in this that probably cause more women to bail on "unfaithful" men than men to bail on women. Basically, while the doctrine says "neither is the man without the woman or the woman without the man," really, people feel that a man can make it to the CK without his wife (and then marry some more of them). A woman has a much harder time getting there without her husband, particularly because she won't have a conduit to the priesthood in her "unworthy" husband (not matter how wonderful a person, husband, and father he may be).

Need I express how disgusting and tragic I find this? One of the smartest things I ever did in my life was to accept what my husband was telling me--"I'm not sure I'll always believe"--and give him credit that he was, in fact, a smart, caring person, and think, "There must be something to what he's saying."

Is that to say it didn't freak me out? No. Of course it freaked me out. I had my cultural conditioning; my initial reaction was one of absolute fear and panic. The thought ran through my mind: What about the Celestial Kingdom? I pushed it out of my mind, and thought of us instead. Over the next couple months, as both of us made our final break from the church, we reworked our relationship at the same time. My husband expressed to me that our relationship--not the Lord, as I had been raised to feel--was the most important thing to him. More important, in fact, than it had been when we believed in eternal marriage.

In the light of these ideas, I drummed up some conference talks to try to find any gems the Brethren might have given the church to support the idea that in/out couples should get divorced (or not). Most talks on marriage gave some practical advice on improving marriage (communicate, go on a date, make the other one your first priority, etc.), including living righteously, praying daily, having faith, making Christ the center of your marriage, etc.

I didn't find what I was looking for--a talk explicitly on divorcing an apostate spouse--but there were references to sin, unfaithfulness, etc. being destroyers of marriage. The man that talked the most about marriage and divorce, as I could tell through my less-than-comprehensive search, was Spencer W. Kimball (president of the church from 1973-1985). He was unequivocal about in/out marriages: don't do it.

Here are some quotes from two of his talks (emphases mine):

"To be really happy in marriage, one must have a continued faithful observance of the commandments of the Lord. No one, single or married, was ever sublimely happy unless he was righteous. There are temporary satisfactions and camouflaged situations for the moment, but permanent, total happiness can come only through cleanliness and worthiness. One who has a pattern of religious life with deep religious convictions can never be happy in an inactive life. The conscience will continue to afflict, unless it has been seared, in which case the marriage is already in jeopardy. A stinging conscience can make life most unbearable. Inactivity is destructive to marriage, especially where the parties are inactive in varying degrees.

"Religious differences are the most trying and among the most unsolvable of all differences.

"Marriage is ordained of God. It is not merely a social custom. Without proper and successful marriage, one will never be exalted. Read the words of your Lord, that it is right and proper to be married.

"That being true, the thoughtful and intelligent Latter-day Saint will plan his life carefully to be sure there are no impediments placed in the way. By making one serious mistake, one may place in the way obstacles which may never be removed and which may block the way to eternal life and godhood—our ultimate destiny. If two people love the Lord more than their own lives and then love each other more than their own lives, working together in total harmony with the gospel program as their basic structure, they are sure to have this great happiness.”

Spencer W. Kimball, “Oneness in Marriage,” Ensign, Mar. 1977, 3

I have warned the youth against the many hazards of interfaith marriage, and with all the power I possessed, I warned young people to avoid the sorrows and disillusionments which come from marrying out of the Church and the unhappy situations which almost invariably result when a believer marries an unbelieving spouse. I pointed out the demands of the Church upon its members in time, energy, and funds; the deepness of the spiritual ties which tighten after marriage and as the family comes; the antagonisms which naturally follow such mismating; the fact that these and many other reasons argue eloquently for marriage within the Church, where husband and wife have common backgrounds, common ideals and standards, common beliefs, hopes, and objectives, and, above all, where marriage may be eternalized through righteous entry into the holy temple.”

“We are grateful that this one survey reveals that about 90 percent of the temple marriages hold fast. Because of this, we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial [!?!?! Happy Birthday, MLK, Jr] background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.”

from Marriage and Divorce, Spencer W Kimball

For what it's worth, Hinckley made a statement that could be used to reverse Kimball's earlier statements. Hinckley tried to encourage women married to non-Mormon spouses. It was, though, in the hopes that those spouses will eventually convert.

"Support, sustain, uphold, and bless your husbands with your love and your encouragement, and the Lord will bless you. Even if they are not members of the Church, bless them with kindness and reach out to them every good way that you can. The chances are that they will become members of the Church before they reach the time they die. It may be a long time and you may have a lot to put up with, but if that happens, you will think it is all worth it."

— From Church News. member meeting, Philadelphia Pa., Oct. 25, 2002

I have one friend who, when her husband explained he didn't believe, found this scripture to support her staying with him:

1 Cor. 7: 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

size of the DAMU?

A comment by Hive Radical on one of my posts mentioned his google search for references to "recovery from" various religious traditions, including Mormonism (104,000) , but also Christianity in general (30), Catholicism (60), and Jehovah's Witness (20,000). His point was that ex-Mormons write about their leaving and recovery more often than other church-leavers do, and that it's odd. There's something particular about ex-Mormons or Mormonism that urges people like me to blog incessantly about my experience.

I decided to do a little googling myself, and came up with these results. Most are markedly different from HiveRadical's numbers, though I'm not sure why (did you use different terms, different use of quotes?):

Google Search

search term/ number of hits

recovery from Mormonism 759,000
"recovery from Mormonism" 13,400

recovery from Christianity 1,240,000
"recovery from Christianity" 36

recovery from Catholicism 1,350,000
"recovery from Catholicism" 55

recovery from Lutheranism 1,060,000
"recovery from Lutheranism" 0

recovery Jehovah Witness 220,000
recovery from "Jehovah Witness" 107,000

recovery from Islam 1,200,000
"recovery from Islam" 6
"recovering Muslim" 542

Google Blog Search

(note that this would include any blog that contains the search term, and should not be construed as an accurate number of "ex-Mormon blogs")

search term/ number of hits

exmormon 57
ex mormon 4815
ex-mormon 1058

ex Christian 122,783
ex-Christian 1098
ex-Catholic 95
ex-Jehovah Witness 6
ex-Baptist 84
ex-Lutheran 30
ex-Muslim 103

Using either set of numbers from these basic searches, ex- and recovering Mormons constitute a large percentage of the online talk about leaving religions. This percentage is out of proportion to how many Mormons there are compared to members of other religions.

What does this mean? Why is that?

One theory I have is that the internet is used as the primary space for ex-Mormons to talk. Many of us are in the closet, or even if out, still feel like we can't speak freely. In some places, especially Utah, exmos are in hiding, and can only find other exmos online. We talk about it so much here because we don't talk about it so much in real life.

Another theory is rooted in the nature of Mormon culture compared to other Christian religions, such as Catholicism. While the Catholic church has rather strict rules, many members feel like they can ignore many of them, but still feel Catholic. There's more space for them to be themselves. Catholics can attend mass only occasionally, not be so sure about trans-substantiation, and still have their children baptized, receive communion, and get married in the church. This is not so true in Mormonism, in my experience.

Besides that, there are elements of cult-ishness in Mormonism, such as missionary life, and a mainstream insistence on not talking about anything outside the scriptures, Conference talks, and Sunday School manuals.

Yet another theory is the Mormon church's claim to being the One and True Church. Yes, other churches claim they are the only right one, too. But Mormonism insists on its members taking its theology and origin claims as literal, so when people decide this is not plausible, they feel lied to. Someone leaving a liberal Protestant religion, for example, which discusses theology on a metaphysical level, wouldn't feel so betrayed. Betrayal is not one generally looks for in their spirituality, and it takes some "recovery" process to work through that.

This site explains one view on why "recovery from Mormonism is often such a difficult, protracted process. "

Any other ideas as to why the DAMU (disaffected Mormon underground) is disproportionately large?

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Of all the girls I knew growing up, all their parents had different rules for when the girls would be old enough to get their ears pierced. I knew some parents that automatically had their infant girls' ears done; others let the girl decide at 8 or 12. My best friends in elementary school got their ears pierced when we were in 3rd or 4th grade. I guess that would have made us 8 or 9. I felt the peer pressure to get mine done too. If they were doing it, it must be the thing to do.

That was how simply my train of thought was, at eight years old.

When I asked my mom if I could, she said the family rule was to wait until you are at least 16 years old. By then, she figured, we'd be old enough to be past that peer pressure and really know if we wanted holes in our ears or not. Didn't want us to do something so permanent that we'd regret later.

Some readers may be wondering at this point what this has to do with Mormonism. Some of you may have picked out the irony already.

How old was I when I was "ready" to do something as benign as pierce my ears? Sixteen.

How old was I when I was "ready" to do something as profound as choose my religion? Eight.


"I just wanted you to be old enough to decide for yourselves," she said recently regarding earrings. I wanted to ask her why she didn't leave church membership up to ourselves too, but I didn't. While my non-belief is a rejection of how she raised me, I prefer, at least, to not throw it in her face.

Many of the girls who got their ears done young got a second pair in junior high or high school. It was simply the style; girls thought it looked good, and boys that it was cute. Until, of course, when I was in college, Hinckley came down with his "no tattoos, no body piercings, and no second pair of earrings for girls" speech. Girls took out their second pair, leaving empty holes. It immediately became an integral part of the BYU Honor Code. The tattoos and body piercings I could understand (now I think it's over the top), but what was wrong with the double piercings? Even then I thought, "His proscriptions are based arbitrarily on mainstream American style; if the church was centered in Inida, he'd be saying everything but nose rings are bad."

By the time I was 16, my friends (different ones than the elementary school ones) who did have their ears pierced hardly even wore earrings anymore. By then, the inertia was toward the status quo of no piercings. I never did get my ears pierced.

Until the other day. So, I guess, in the end, I was ready to (un)choose my religion before I was ready to pierce my ears.

Go figure.

(What I really want is a nose piercing. To mark my status as non-Molly Mormon. But I thought it was weird to have a nose stud without earrings too. So the ears are the first step. If I can get the guts up to do the nose and incur that wrath of my TBM family.)

Friday, January 12, 2007


When I first starting thinking about the possibility of no afterlife, I felt scared and disappointed. I had so much planned, so long (forever!) to live and accomplish everything I wanted to--explore every corner of the earth, including under the sea; meet people; know my great-great-great grandchildren, etc.

But now I feel that the focus on the afterlife can make us fail to appreciate this life, and to not bother so much, in a way, with fixing things here and now.

For example, the idea of eternal marriage causes some people to not bother to fix their marital problems now, because it will all work out later. It causes others to not get out of bad relationships, because they are in it for eternity. I've heard of women who are married to non-members compromise their relationships with their "earthly husbands" because they will just be "given" to another, faithful man later.

As another example, thinking "everything will work out in the end" (either "getting your reward in heaven" or "the second coming will fix all problems") can cause people to ignore glaring social and environmental injustice, poverty, etc.

While there are Mormons who care about social justice, etc., I find that the church more often teaches people to place heavier emphasis on the here-after than on the here-and-now. They say this life is just a test, just a minute compared to the eternities, you should give up certain things in this life for the sake of the next, etc. This thinking causes Mormons to look at people like us and think we are too worldly and hedonistic. That we are placing too much emphasis on this life when the Real Life is yet to come, and can only be achieved by making certain sacrifices now.

I say that we can't know if there is an afterlife (I suspect there is not). And because we can't know, we should just live this life--the only one we know we've got--the best we can. Fight poverty and injustice, enjoy the company of friends and family, appreciate the earth and its beauty, find what makes you happy and pursue it, be nice, make a contribution to the world and your community, leave a legacy, and appreciate the time you have with others.

I figure that if there is no afterlife and no divine judgment, that way of living life will be good. Win. The suffer-now-for-later-reward model is a tragic situation, since there would be no reward. Lose.

And if there is an afterlife, God will judge me as having lived a good life. Win-win. That's better than the lose-win situation Mormonism (and some other religions) preach.

I don't have a problem with believing in the afterlife, but I do if it comes at the expense of this one.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"I understand you more than you think"

I recently visited members of my family as well as my husband's family in Utah. I haven't posted much about the visits partly because I'm still processing my interactions with them, and partly because I'm still negotiating with myself what to reveal and what to keep to myself, for the sake of both my anonymity and their privacy. But there is one conversation I know I want to write about, for multiple reasons. It frustrated me; I need to process it and I do that best in writing rather than in my head; and there are things I wish I had said but didn't. I didn't say those things partly because I didn't think of them at the time; I'm not a good spur-of-the-moment speaker, and I do my better thinking when I can go rethink, edit, mull it over and come back. Partly, I didn't say those things because I haven't yet figured out how much I want to say to my Mormon relatives. It's all a process of figuring out when to keep silent, when to speak up, and when to take a stand.

I can't recall the whole conversation or the order of it, but here are the highlights as I remember them. In this conversation with a brother-in-law, he told me I make a bigger deal out of "it" than is warranted. No one thinks about it anymore, or at least not very much, he said, so there's no need for me to make a big deal. I asked him in what way I make a big deal out of it. He claimed that through observation (though I'd spend only about 10 minutes total with him all week) he'd noticed that every time I have a conversation with his wife, the talk steers toward Mormonism, and I'm the one who brings it up. (Note that he brought up Mormonism in this conversation.) Through our talking, I figured out that he and his wife think I bring it up becuase I'm trying to convince them of something, that I think they need to understand me better. Oddly, this is the opposite of why I bring it up: I do because I can with them. They are more understanding already, which is why I feel free to bring it up. I am comfortable with them. Apparently, they are not comfortable with me.

I argued with him that maybe the siblings don't care much, but our mutual parents-in-law do. My mother-in-law couldn't even force herself to bring it up for several months. What is more, when I was TBM, she confided in me her desires and motives regarding her Jack-Mormon son's children--trying to get them blessed as babies, getting them to Cub Scouts at the ward, inviting them to church to get them exposed to the Truth. This was, of course, motivated by the goodness of her heart and genuine concern for the welfare of their souls, but at the same time manipulative, subversive, and religiously arrogant. I told him that, if not in so many words. I assume she has done or will do the same kind of talking and planning behind our backs.

I told him how our father-in-law has never said a word about it, which he explained away as father-in-law's way of dealing with conflict. Hole himself up in his room and ignore it. I hear that he figures he can't convince us to change our minds, so why try?

I told him it is a big deal that our one remaining bachelor brother-in-law will get married in the temple and we will be excluded. "I know 'they' see it differently; 'they' see it as us excluding ourselves," I said, "but we see it as being excluded. It would be a compromise of my integrity and conscience to toe the line and get a temple recommend to go. I can't do that, as bad as I want to be there for the wedding, I can't."

He countered, "So if he wants to get married in the temple, let him. So what? You can't stop him."

"Of course I wouldn't try to stop him. That's his choice. If that's what he wants, so be it. But he should also recognize that none of his brothers or sisters-in-law will be there. That's important. He should do his temple thing, but he should also have a ceremony outside, one that's more than a cursory nod towards his 'non-worthy' friends and family. Make it big, like a real wedding, walking down the aisle, the whole thing." He seemed to see I had a point. But then, I was talking to a guy that cleaned up his act just long enough to get married in the temple, excluding all his siblings from the ceremony, then promptly "lost" his recommend.

After complaining more about my family's reactions, he asked, "So what do you want them to do?" I didn't really know; I couldn't really explain. What is the best route? Who knows? I'm sick of them ignoring it, but at least that's better than them calling me to repentance or banishing me from their houses.

He continued, "Who cares what they think? People don't understand me. I don't care. I don't have to be understood. I'd rather be left alone."

"Then we're very different on that point," I said. "I've always had the desire to be understood, long before this whole thing. I hate that they don't understand me." It's one of the most tragic things of this, that my family doesn't understand me, and likely never will.

"Give them more credit," he said. "I bet they understand more than you give them credit for. I understand you more than you think. You didn't know me in my party days. I drank, I had sex with girls, I did drugs, I didn't have anything to do with the church. So I understand."

At that moment is was clear to me that he did not understand me. "But I never did any of those things!" I protested. "This isn't about practice, this is about belief. I stopped believing. I don't believe it. I can't go back to believing it. It's gone." Practice, as exemplified so easily and readily in beer-drinking and levels of church attendance, is so completely secondary to belief.

While I couldn't express it then, I see a profound difference between him and me. He is comfortable having a beer now and then, doesn't "want a 70-year-old to tell [him] what to do," and only attends church when he feels like it--all the while feeling guilty for it, and figuring that some day he'll repent. He's a soft-believer, a cafeteria Mormon, one who protests that the community judges him for skipping church but still accepts that the bishop holds the power to decide whether or not he'll see his brother-in-law's wedding. Yes, he will also miss the wedding, but it will be because he drinks sometimes and doesn't attend church enough weeks out of the month.

As for me, I won't attend because I cannot believe its origin claims, its claims to divine connection. I won't attend because I cannot give money to an institution that I find more harmful than good. Because I believe two men going down a checklist of do's and don't's have no right to determine my "worthiness" to see a family member's wedding. Because I am vilified by the church as being prideful, misguided, lost, dark, ignorant, sinful, unworthy, apostate. Because the church glosses over and explains away problems, injustices, and downright sickening actions and policies instead of either 1) not making them in the first place (isn't God supposed to be guiding them here?) or 2) acknowledging, apologizing, and correcting.

And while I want very much to be a part of that future wedding, all those future weddings of nieces and nephews, friends and cousins, I cannot. Why? Because I am making a stand for what I believe is right. He just can't give up his beer and get his ass out of bed on Sunday morning.

I'm sorry, man, you don't understand me. And you know what? I don't understand you, either.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

while I was away

To add a little levity to my blog, and since I can't post this on my family blog:

On a drive today, my husband started filling me in on all the hangovers (okay, maybe just two) he had while I was away visiting in Utah. We had this conversation somewhat unaware of how much our son, sitting in the back seat, actually comprehends. (We're very open with him about alcohol. He insists that it is just for grown-ups and he can't drink until he's 21, but won't even start then because he thinks beer's gross! We intend to get that statement in an audio recording, and play it back to him when he's 15 and comes home smashed after a party about which he swore "the parents are home" and "there won't be any drinking." Anyway, that's not the point of this post.)

When my husband described a particularly bad hangover he got after keeping up with a 230-pound friend with shot after shot of Zambuca, he used the phrase "hugging the toilet."

Our son suddenly burst into the conversation with "You were hugging the toilet!?!?" and began laughing uproariously. We all had a good laugh and had to explain in what way, exactly, his dad could hug a toilet.

And since I'm talking about alcohol (when will I shut up about that?) and my son...

Whenever we visit family, I have worried that our son, in his innocence, will blurt out something about Mom and Dad drinking alcohol. You know, something like "Dad likes beer, but Mom likes wine," which he has said at our house; or "That's the kind of beer my dad likes," which is how Zarathustra's daughter revealed his drinking habits to his sister-in-law. So far, he's been tactfully silent on the matter around my family. This New Year's Eve he came close to revealing my secrets when I offered to pour him some Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider (Non-Alcoholic), out of what appeared to him to be a wine bottle. "Is it alcohol?" he asked. Luckily, no one but me was around to hear him, so I didn't have to get red in the face and possibly bumble my way through an explanation as to why the preschool-age son of an apostate was thinking about alcohol. A high-school-age boy, even a Mormon one, will joke around about beer, but a preschooler? Something must be wrong with his parents.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

family relations

With my family, the bastion of TBM-ness, there has been relatively little conversation with me about religion since I announced my move away from the Mormon church. There has been absolutely no interest in the reasons of why I left (to cite two of countless examples: Book of Mormon as 19th century literature; "therapies" used on homosexual men). From what I can tell, they see it as an intellectual pridefulness and youthful ignorance that did me in. From my parents' perspective, I'm going through a phase, a I-need-to-experience-life-for-myself thing, tinged with rebelliousness. But, according to them, I am ultimately led by Heavenly Father in a way that I can't see but they can, and this time away from the church is but a teaching moment in God's wider plan for me. While I'm not comfortable with this interpretation, it is, I think, the best I can hope for right now.

The treatment I get from them as a result of their thinking on the matter urges me to just let them have their interpretation: they let me be, don't chastise me for what they see as my sins, and see me as a happy and good person, still ultimately on a path toward salvation, rather than destruction. Bit by bit, details of my experience of leaving (as opposed to the reasons for my leaving) have come out to a couple of them. The rest never bring it up, so I don't either.

I've adopted a similar policy with my parents-in-law. If they bring it up first, I'll bring it up. They don't. (The initial "announcement" of our unbelief to our two families was entirely different; I'll put that in another post.)

But I've developed a different approach with my husband's siblings and their spouses. All of them are either Jack Mormon or once were Jack and are now liberal. The way I'm using Jack Mormon is this: They believe The Church is True, but aren't too hedged in by restrictions like the Word of Wisdom, don't feel the compulsion to attend church weekly, and would clean up their act (pay tithing, attend regularly, stop drinking) long enough to get married in the temple. This is probably because they also feel some level of guilt about their non-orthopraxy; give the Brethren authority over themselves (they would confess sexual sins to the bishop, and give him power to decide whether or not the priesthood holder is worthy enough to bless their baby) and still see themselves as fundamentally LDS.

Because they are like this, they have accepted us in a different way than my family has. They are non-judgmental about us drinking alcohol, for example, and one has even consented to be our designated driver on a couple occasions. Because of their openness, I have talked to them more openly about my experience. For example, I may vent a little about how no one in my family will talk to me, or I may be freer to mention that the friends I just had dinner with were fellow ex-Mormons. In turn, they are more willing to vent to us, or to reveal their dirty little secrets from their wild days, past or current.

With them, I feel more comfortable and accepted as me. The current version of me. With my family, I feel like I've perhaps re-adopted something more of a past version of me, and I put that fta-as-TBM-mask on when I'm with them. It's hard to explain what I mean. It's like I go back in the unbeliever's closet around them. But they know I'm an unbeliever, so perhaps the door is glass. They see me, I'm not really hiding, but I am still restricted by the small confines of the closet.

I saw members of both of our families while I visited Utah for the holidays. I felt both comfortable and uncomfortable with both families. I'll explain more in other posts.

Monday, January 08, 2007

love bomb or true friendship?

I haven't been contacted by the church much since I stopped attending the ward. There was an initial flurry of phone calls from the bishop or his representatives, a visiting teacher, etc., but we politely declined any appointments or visits and DH felt no need to explain our reasons. I felt some obligation to explain, or send back our recently-renewed recommends, or something, but I didn't. And in time, the feeling faded. If a Mormon from the neighborhood asked me about it in the months after leaving, I would explain with more or less detail depending on the level of our friendship. After that, I haven't heard much.

Last year, I got a Christmas card from the RS president (whom I'm sure couldn't have placed my name on her "inactives" list with a face). Just a standard thing, letting me know she was supposed to care about me personally. I liked this woman when I knew her from afar. As a Caribbean, Catholic convert, she brought a flair into the meetings that made Molly Mormons cringe and me smile. So I rolled my eyes at the card, but I couldn't be mad at her personally.

This Christmas, I got a box of chocolates from two men I had never met before and I supposed were assigned us as home teachers (never mind that DH specifically stated we didn't want home teachers). I couldn't be mad at them, because they just wanted to do their job; they were just messengers in a wacked-out system of assigned friends. I was annoyed because it was the system that brought them to my house, and not any level of true friendship. They even forgot to introduce themselves, but they obviously knew who I was.

Then after Christmas I received a card in the mail, a personal note from someone I actually did know and talk to a few times while I still attended. I even liked her. She "was thinking about me and thought of writing me a note" (The Spirit TM?), hopes we're doing well, and wants to get together and catch up. And she prays that I feel the Lord in my life.

I found myself not minding too much the spiritual references--that writing me was a result of "thinking about me" (it was always encouraged in YW and RS to follow up on those feelings, because it is really the Spirit prompting you); the Lord. I can appreciate these references as just her way of interacting with the mystical world. I can reinterpret it as "I miss you" and "I hope you're happy during the holidays" just like I can reinterpret my Muslim friends saying Alhamdullilah as "That's life" or "Thank goodness" instead of "praise be to God."

So here are my dilemmas: Is it genuine friendship that prompted this? We weren't close friends, but could have been, I think, had we lived closer. Or is it a friend missing me, mixed with concern for my spiritual welfare? Or has she been assigned as my visiting teacher?

Should I call her and state up front that if this is church-assigned, I'd rather have none of it? That if she is planning on reporting back to the RS, I will not meet? Or should I get together with her? But not talk about church-stuff at all, even if she brings it up? Talk about it, because hearing the story might help her?

Am I just too paranoid? Am I too cynical to automatically think this had ulterior motives or origins? Why do I have to think that? Why can't it just be a matter of an old friend contacting me after several months of not seeing each other?

If I don't see her, I'll play into the stereotype of "the inactive becomes anti-social and cuts off friendships." If I do meet with her, I might defy that stereotype by showing her I'm actually quite happy and well-adjusted to life without church.

WWYD? (What would you do?)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

what kind of Mormon was I?

Someone on the Foyer once asked what kind of Mormon us Foyerites had been. Some people who ultimately leave were always incredulous or were non-orthodox, while others were hard-core believers and were even happy in the church. I've certainly seen "apostates" stereotyped as people who never really had testimonies anyway. I attempt to show what kind of Mormon I was in this post.

I was definitely a believer. Doctrine-based, mostly. All my friends were Mormon anyway; couldn't get away from it if I had wanted to. So the social aspect was kind of a moot point. I was hanging out with Mormons either way. I read the Book of Mormon daily starting when I was 11. Kept it up long enough to read it around 15 times. I paid tithing (started out on gross, switched to net). I attend
church every week, seminary every day. Almost every young women activity. I took every calling. I believed every calling was inspired.

I saw problems with the church starting as a teenager. The sexism and racism always bothered me, as did polygamy. I am ashamed to say that the anti-homosexual agenda did not bother me when I was younger, but as soon as I started to actually think about it instead of just believe whatever the brethren were saying, it bothered the hell out of me. Now I consider it one of the main reasons I choose ex-Mormonhood over NOMhood, along with the other reasons above.

Whatever problems I saw, I talked away, or put on the back burner. I believed every action and word from the church had a reason and a lesson to teach. For example, polygamy was instituted to teach us something--about women, about men, about families, about obedience, about what, I don't know. That's what life was about; figuring out the gospel. (Which at the same time was "plain and simple.") When I wanted to find out more about the issues, I went to church-published books and talks. Which didn't help at all. I honestly thought there were only two sources of info on the church: what the church published, and anti-Mormon lit. (Even the stuff you can buy in Deseret Book I considered beneath my need for true doctrine. It was just fluff and opinion.)

I thought that despite all the problems with in the church, ultimately, the Gospel was True and it could only be found through the church. I thought of the problems as problems with people, the institution, and the culture, but not the Gospel. It was that fundamental "Gospel" that I clung to in the end. I thought that even if that's the only bit that's right, I'll stick with the church.

But then I realized what that Gospel was: be nice, love, be good, help people, etc. It's the same message that every religion (and non-religion) is trying to teach; Mormons certainly didn't have the monopoly on it. In fact, I felt they weren't even teaching it, really, since they were often so caught up in following the checklists of tithing, scripture reading, church attendance, etc., and the minutiae of what exactly is and is not allowed on the Sabbath or whether or not Amazing Grace can be a musical number in Sacrament meeting. (And then you hear criticisms of Pharisees for "looking beyond the mark.")

Friday, January 05, 2007

teaching kids

When I first left, I really wondered how to teach our child morals and all that. I thought we would find a nice liberal church like UU for that. I didn't know how to teach him that stuff at home. Actually, I still don't. But I know that a lot of people do just that.

Then I felt silly about the idea of having to sent my son to church to teach him morals when talking to a semi-NOM friend of mine and her neverMo, atheist husband. She said to him, "Fta says she wants to take her son to church in order to teach him morals." It sounded like she was defending her desire to take their future children to the Mormon church. Then her atheist husband said, "You don't need church for that. My parents never took us to church, and we learned morals."

I sat there looking at this brilliant, good, kind, upstanding, moral man who has hardly been to church in his life, and got extremely embarrassed that I had made the assumption church in necessary. Children can learn to be good people outside of a church setting.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

church and patriarchy

When I was Mormon, I asked this question many times: "Why don't women have the priesthood?"

I heard these types of answers in church:

-It's just the way it is.

-Men already have it, so women don't need it. Only one in the partnership needs the keys.

-God wants it that way. That's the way He set it up.

-Women are more spiritual than men, so they don't need it. Men need extra responsibility to learn to be as good as the women.

And these are some answers from more of an outsider's perspective. Ones I never heard in church:

-The church was founded at a time when everyone was sexist. Just the way it was. Didn't occur to any of the founding men (and probably most of the women) to do it any differently.

-The supreme being is seen as male. Women and men alike prayer to and are directed by a male. This ingrains in believers a sense that real answers only come from male sources; that power only lies in male hands. Women start to buy into the system; they actually believe they are inferior and do not want or need power and leadership. (There's a great Dialogue article about this issue from an organizational behavior viewpoint. Vol 34 No 1-2, Spring/Summer, 2001, p. 307). There is a barely acknowledged female deity, but talking about her or praying to her is heretical.

-The church leaders reinforce 19th century social values of men being in charge, and the women obeying. The Proclamation on the Family; talks telling women to stay home and not have careers, etc. Some of this can be downplayed as the culture of the church, but the fact is, it's embedded in the temple ceremony. "I promise to obey my husband" and "I promise to hearken unto my husband"; Eve doesn't speak a word after the fall; Jehovah and Peter speak directly to Adam, not to the couple. Women are explicitly and implicitly told they are inferior to men. And since it's in the temple ceremony, women take it as Truth.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

in-laws' reaction

This visit is my second holiday visit with family since my exit, and it has been fairly normal. I pulled up what I wrote last year when we visited my husband's family.

We're still only at my in-laws, haven't been to see my family yet. They will be worse. Things have managed to be pretty normal here, though there's definitely an elephant in the room.

My mother-in-law caught my husband and I alone and decided to drop the question. My stomach churned. My husband had a big headache, so it wasn't the greatest timing. She expressed that it's taken her six months to get around to be able to talk about it; it's been that hard. We explained very minimally we'd read some history and our views and lives had simply diverged from the church and it didn't make sense for us anymore. She asked what we do believe in. That was a question I didn't expect. We told her we're asking all the hard questions in life, not sure there is a God, not sure what we believe right now. And that we're comfortable with that.

She stated that there will be no church-bashing, etc. in the house, and they will continue to do their normal thing, prayer, etc., around us. It is pretty tense when I say anything about the church, Mormon culture,
Utah, etc. around her. Like she thinks anything I say is a criticism, and she's on the defensive.

The only part of the conversation that bothered me was when she said, "Well, this is going to be hard on all of us. But it will be hardest on you guys." Why, we asked. "Because you're searching for your truth, doing your thing, but I've already found my truth. I already have that peace, you have to find it." I wanted to say that I find plenty of peace in asking the questions, and not in answering them or having them answered for me; I have more peace now than I ever did in the church. But I didn't say it. The conversation was over, with her thinking she had the upper hand.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

an old friend

When I knew I'd be coming out to Utah, I contacted some old friends--BYU friends, actually. I called one on Sunday, and "came out" as an "inactive" to her. After chatting for a little:

fta: What are you doing tonight [New Year's Eve]?
friend: There's this house party. A band I used to play with is performing.
fta: Oh, yeah, I was looking for a party. Do you think I could come?
friend: You want to?
[friend's friend, in the background]: Is she LDS?
friend: [to her friend] I'm not really sure about her status.
fta: Yeah, that would be: I've spent too many New Year's Eves sober.
friend: You're looking to make up for lost time, huh?
fta: Yep.
friend: Wow. We really have a lot of catching up to do. How long has it been seen we've seen each other?
fta: Probably four years.

So I ended up in Salt Lake at a good party, and I had a couple Utah-made microbrews. I just couldn't bring myself to drink the Bud Light--sorry, I'm a beer snob--and I thought it a great gesture to drink beer from Utah. I did spend the moments of midnight sober, since I knew I had to drive home.

What was interesting in talking to this friend was our very different exit stories. Mine can be found in the October archives of this blog, so I won't go over it except to stay I grew up very faithful and believing, and left abruptly after deciding the church's origin claims are, um, suspicious. But she grew up with a "inactive" dad, who would "deprogram" her after church, openly disagreeing with things she'd been taught as he saw fit. So she's always been able to approach the church critically, and even when I knew her at BYU didn't attend church regularly. I had conversations with her back then that challenged my assumptions; I really liked that. She's spend years pulling herself away from the church, trying to attend for a while, then thinking it's not worth it, then going just for sacrament meeting, but not during July becuase they are just way too blindly patriotic, etc. Her last move to a new state ended her attendance, and dating a never-Mormon helps that.

But at the same time, she feels a very strong pull toward her Mormon heritage. Utah is home base, the place to always come back to. She debates whether she could have alcohol at her wedding. She debates whether she could marry an never-Mormon, but also knows she could never marry a Mormon, and even an ex-Mormon might be "too bitter" for her. She still believes in some of the Mormon stuff, believes in God, and wants (not Mormon) church-going to be a part of her (future) children's lives.

It amazed me how unique each person's story is. While I fall into talking about Mormons and former Mormons as if they were two easily definable categories, they are not. To say "Mormons are like this" or "ex-Mormons are like this" is just as faulty as the old stereotypes I had about "apostates" when I was Mormon. There are commonalities and trends, to be sure, but the diversity is astounding and important to recognize and understand.

Monday, January 01, 2007

on being in Utah again

I've been in Utah a few days now, and have been trying to work on a post in my head about how I'm reacting to it. My access to the internet has been spotty, and it seems that every time I fire up my computer to write a post, family members follow me into the room to chat. I'm not comfortable typing away on my secret blog, talking about my relations with my family, while some of them are sitting write there. It feels too much like I'm keeping a big secret, going behind their backs. Which I am. But at least I don't usually do it right in front of them.

After all my fears of coming back to Mormonville, of being back in the center of the pink bubble, I find my stay here remarkably normal. I suppose part of that is just because it is my hometown, the house I grew up in, the streets I drove for years. If it doesn't feel quite like home, it does at least feel familiar and comfortable for the most part. The people are awfully white, and clean-cut, and modest, which is different than where I live now, but whatever. I went to a New Year's party last night and there was only one non-white person there. One. Amazing. And I haven't found a coffee shop yet. That's quite different from where I live now, with a shop on every corner. (Here, there's a Mormon church on every corner.) But I weaned myself from daily coffee in the week before I came out, knowing I didn't want the headaches while here.

So family gatherings go on as usual, except when someone cracks a joke about Jack Mormons or heathens. Or when the family prays before dinner while my son munches away at his food, and his cousin tells him to stop eating, wait for the prayer. At least his mom told him to live and let live (in child-language), and didn't lecture my son about the importance of praying over the peanut butter and jelly.

I don't know what I expected exactly, but my family has been remarkably good about "live and let live," just letting us do our thing and not trying to make us feel guilty about it. There was not a word about going to church with them, not a sideways glance when I went to a party on the Sabbath. And while most of the time I'm glad they just let me be, I sometimes wish they would talk about it more. I'm willing to talk. I even joke about it, letting them know it's okay to bring it up. But there are rarely any bites. In time, I guess, that might change.

Happy New Year.