Friday, March 30, 2007

Main Street Plaza

If you haven't already, do head over to the Main Street Plaza, a nearly-started hub for all things post-Mormon. It strives to be a place comfortable for post-Mormons, alternative Mormons, and faithful Mormons who want to engage with the likes of us. They also have an amazing blogroll, including bloggernacle (mostly faithful Mormons) and outer blogness (mostly ex/former/post Mormons) blogs alike.

I have contributed one post so far, staking a claim.

I'm reproducing the post below, but to see the comments others posted, follow the link above.

Since moving away from the LDS church, I’ve explored how I feel about my new identity. Am I still Mormon? Do I want to identify as Mormon? Even if I deny that I am Mormon, am just lying to myself? Will I always be Mormon, somehow? It is, after all, not just my upbringing, but my heritage. I grew up in Utah county, daughter and granddaughter to many generations of Mormons.

People who are from other faith backgrounds still think of me as Mormon, just non-practicing. Some faithful Mormons still think of me as Mormon, just not active. Still others would say, “She’s most definitely not Mormon” because I believe and act so differently from the “ideal Mormon.”

There are many ways to describe me and people like me. Ex-Mormon, cultural Mormon, secular Mormon, non-believing Mormon, ethnic Mormon, former Mormon, post-Mormon. Notice I can’t get away from saying “Mormon”?

As much as I’d like to erase that part of me some days, I realize, too, that I am Mormon. Part of the spirit of this blog is, I think, to stake a claim in Mormon-dom for those of us on the fringes. We are Mormon, too.

As my spouse said cheekily, “Hey, there are 8 million of us. Only 4 million of them.” We count for something.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

if the missionaries showed up...

Some local non-believing friends of ours recently had missionaries sent to their house. Our friends were quite polite to them, and they joked that they would send the missionaries to our house just for gags. It got me thinking about how I could handle a pair of elders showing up on our doorstep:

[dream sequence fuzzies and music]

[doorbell rings]
[fta sees out the window it's some missionaries, but they don't see her. She doesn't answer the door, pretending she's not home.]
Little-fta: Mom! The dooo-ooorrr! Aren't you going to get it? Mom, someone dinged the doorbell.
fta: Shh, shh. Come here. Let's play the quiet game!


[doorbell rings]
little-fta: Oh, I'll get it! [goes down the hall to the door] Sure, come in. Mom, Dad, some guys for you.
[fta, setting dinner on table, turns and sees who it is. Shocked]
Elder A: Hi, how are you? We are missionaries from the Chu--
fta: I know who you are. But who do you think you are, dropping by during dinner time without even calling first?
Elder B: Oh, um--
fta: Uh-uh, you just turn around and be on your way. Who sent you anyway? Who sent you? Get out of my house. Where were you parents to teach you some manners!?!
[fta shoves them out the door]


[doorbell rings]
little-fta: Oh, I'll get it! [goes down the hall to the door] Sure, come in. Mom, Dad, some guys for you.
[fta, setting dinner on table, turns and sees who it is. Shocked]
Elder A: Hi, how are you? We are missionaries from the Church of--
fta: Yeah, I know. We're just about to eat, I'm sure you guys are hungry. Little-fta, run and get two more plates. Sit down, I made lasagna.
[we all talk during dinner, specifically avoiding religion by bringing up the NCAA tournament and keeping that the topic.]


[doorbell rings]
[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta?
fta: [confused] No. Oh, you know what? The doorbells get crossed sometimes. Fta lives upstairs from us. She's not home now, though.
[fta closes door]


[doorbell rings]
[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta?
fta: Yes, come on in.
Elder A: Well, we're just checking in to see how things are going.
fta: Oh! We're doing great!
Elder B: We're noticed your names on the church roles, but we'd never met you...
fta: Probably because we don't ever come to church anymore.
Elder A: Is there something we could help you with that would bring you back? We'd love to see you there.
fta: Oh, well, you know, it's just not working for us. We're really not happy there.
Elder B: But the Gospel brings such great happiness.
fta: No, not really. Listen, I've got a book group tonight, so I've got to run...Thanks for stopping by.
[shows them out]


[doorbell rings]
[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta?
fta: Yes, come on in.
Elder A: Well, we're just checking in to see how things are going.
fta: Oh! We're doing great!
Elder B: We're noticed your names on the church roles, but we'd never met you...
fta: Probably because we don't ever come to church anymore.
Elder A: Is there something we could help you with that would bring you back? We'd love to see you there.
fta: You've never met us before, so how could you "love to see us there"? Listen, Joseph Smith was a fraud. The church is a corporate institution, worried more about power and money than the members. We're just not happy there.
Elder B: [shocked] Really, fta, you must have been reading some anti-Mormon literat--
fta: No, I haven't, actually. I've just read Mormon literature. And that was enough. I'm done. Thanks for stopping by, but don't do it again.
[shows them the door]


[doorbell rings]
[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta?
fta: Yes, come on in.
[brings them to living room]
fta: As you can see, we're just sitting down with some friends to watch the NCAA championship. Everybody, these are the Mormon missionaries. This is Rachel, Jack, Mr. fta, and Sam.
Everyone: Hi.
Mr. fta: Come on, sit down, the game is great.
[missionaries sit, uncomfortable]
fta: [to missionaries] Can I get you guys some beer?


[doorbell rings]
[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta?
fta: Yes, what can I do for you?
Elder B: Well, we were wondering if we could step in for a minute for a chat?
Oh, well, Mr. fta is at the bar down the street, watching the game. And I was just going to hop in the hot tub. Could we could talk there?
[one gets gleam in his eye but tries to repress it, the other is paralyzed with fear]
[fta laughs devilishly, shuts door in their faces]


[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta?

fta: Yes, what can I do for you?
Elder B: Well, we were wondering if we could step in for a minute for a chat?

fta: Listen, I know you're just doing your jobs as missionaries, and you think you have my best interest at heart. But I'd really rather not like to talk to strangers about my spirituality. How about you come on in and have some lemonade. I'll make you sandwiches, looks like your parents back home would think you're too skinny. What do you say?
[they come in, fta brings lemonade]


[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta?

fta: Yes, what can I do for you?
Elder B: Well, we were wondering if we could step in for a minute for a chat?

fta: Listen, I know you're just doing your jobs as missionaries, and you think you have my best interest at heart. But I'd really rather not like to talk to strangers about my spirituality. How about you come on in and have some lemonade. I'll make you sandwiches, looks like your parents back home would think you're too skinny. What do you say?
[they come in, fta brings spiked lemonade]


[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta?

fta: Yes. Oh! I'm glad you came. Do you think you could deliver an envelope to the bishop for me?
Elder B: Um, sure.
fta: [goes inside, returns with tithing envelope--with resignation letter inside] Here you go. You guys are the best.
Elder A: [pleased to see the tithing envelope] Oh, yeah, sure, no problem.

fta: Thanks! Bye!
[fta closes door, and does a little jig in celebration]


[fta answers]
Elder A: Hi, I'm Elder Roberts.
Elder B: And I'm Elder Lightner. We're missionaries from the--

fta: Roberts and Lightner, huh? Are you related to BH Roberts?
Elder A: Yep, he's my great-great uncle or something.
fta: Did you know he called the Book of Mormon a wondertale of an immature mind?
Elder A: [stammers]
fta: And Lightner? Did you know that a certain Adam Lightner shared his wife with Joseph Smith and then Brigham Young? Yeah, his wife, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Smith Young, was married to two guys at once.
Elder B: Joseph Smith didn't practice polygamy. I tell you that for sure. I know it.
fta: You know it? How about checking the church's genealogy site. How about you do that, then we'll talk.
[closes door]


[doorbell rings]
[fta answers]
Elder A: Hello, we're missionaries from the Mormon church. Are you fta? Can we come in?

fta: Oh, you know what? Mr.fta isn't home. I know you have rules about that. Try back some other time.
[fta closes door promptly and returns to living room]

Mr.fta: [emerges from bedroom] Who was at the door?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mormon dreams

I had a Mormon dream a couple weeks ago. I was back in Utah, and decided to go to Sunday school in my old ward. They had kept attendance, so I looked at mine for the past several months, and I had come 1 or 2 times each month. That amused me, though I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I wish now that I had been a little less fanatic about church attendance during my believing days. I saw several old neighborhood kids, seeing that one was a doctor now, and chatted genially with old acquaintances. I was careful not to reveal my true thoughts and feelings about the church. I was in a good mood, and was thinking in the back of my dream-mind, "They have no idea that I'm an apostate."

Suddenly, to my confusion and mild horror, I realized I was a graduate student at BYU. And I had to finish not only this semester, but also another year before graduation. It occurred to me that I would have to pass ecclesiastical endorsements, and to do so, I would have to attend church regularly, lie about my beliefs, and stay in the non-believer's closet for that whole time.

How could I possibly do that? How could I have possibly enrolled at BYU? My husband advised me to transfer somewhere else, but for some reason I felt I couldn't. I was stuck, and trying to figure out how to handle it, when the dream ended.

Another dream, this one from the other night:

I've been afraid someone in my family would stumble across my blog, which is why I keep things so anonymous. Those of you who know me in person will know how much I don't talk about here. The other night, I had a dream that someone commented on my blog, and I followed the link to his blog, as I often do when I get commenters I don't recognize. In turned out the blog belonged to my non-believing brother-in-law, and I discovered through reading his blog that his wife, my sister, has also become a non-believer.

I was overjoyed, and immediately identified myself to them. We decided to get together, the two couples, to hang out on a weekend night and chat about our new lives. In the course of the conversation, it came up that we've all started drinking alcohol, so we chatted happily about micro-brews we like (yeah, I'm a beer snob).

It felt so wonderful in my dream to have my sister "out" with me. The greatest pain I feel in having stopped believing is strained relations with my family, and the non-understanding between us that has come as a result. So to have my sister with me on the outside was an amazing feeling.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Monday, March 26, 2007

another keyword analysis

I'm not sure why I find the keyword searches that link to my blog endlessly interesting, but I do. Perhaps it's because they give a little window into what people are interested in, insofar as they match what I write about, anyway.

I do give a little devilish smirk when people find my blog by searching for Mormon primary song lyrics or general authority quotes. Mwahahaha. But they never stay. No, they never stay. Because, you know, they chanced to meet a frown, so they did not let it stay. That is, by the way, the primary song that gets people to my blog the most often.

feeling weird about mormon relatives
if you chance to meet a frown, do not let it stay

mormon quote south park
mormons marriage

from the ashes
mormon stereotypes

only believe jesus said
what is a therapist visit like

sealing ceremony ex-mormon
mormons who drink wine

if you chance to meet a frown, do not
molly the mormon song

sunstone dialogue
doy waco

strange mormon habits
if you chance to see a frown do not let it stay

symbols of adulthood
mormon weddings exclusion

hyperbole on sadness
is UU actually considered a church

faith and health
1993 boyd k packer cafeteria mormons

guns germs and steel book of mormon
from the ashes

multi pierced ears graduated holes
tatoos, male earings, catholic church teaching

lds marriage quotes
long long trail awinding into the land of my dreams

ex-christian wrote book why i am now atheist
big rock candy mountain midi

what happens when mormons divorce
boyd packer cafeteria

broken ankle metaphysical meaning
mormon marriage nonmormon

intrinsic vs extrinsic percentages in religion

Thursday, March 22, 2007

family relations since then

Mostly, my siblings, parents, and I keep silent about my disaffection.

That first in-person visit, I tried to bring up some things with my dad. I saw he was reading Rough Stone Rolling, so I mentioned I had read Bushman's earlier book about Joseph Smith. I named a couple things about the book I liked, and a couple things I didn't. Bushman brings up, for example, Joseph Smith, Sr's dreams, without discussing the obvious fact that they closely resemble Lehi's dreams from the Book of Mormon. How could he just pretend like there's nothing there? He's got to say something about, like "This confirmed to some that both Senior's and Lehi's dreams came from God, solidifying their testimonies of the book" or "Critics say that Senior's dreams were borrowed, reworked, and put into 1st Nephi as Lehi's dreams." Apparently that was too much for my dad, because he just sat there, with a look of cognitive dissonance on his face. I guess I'd driven the Spirit from the room. I haven't tried to bring up anything with him again.

My mom tries to give me my space without judging me (at least out loud). If she calls on a Sunday, she'll ask, "So what're you doing today? Just hanging out?" And I'll tell her honestly, "Catching up on a little work, maybe take my son to the museum." Last time she called, I had planned on going to the UU service, but couldn't bring myself to tell her so. I don't know why. The conversation lasted too long and made me miss it anyway.

One of my siblings asked me to never bring up religion in her presence ever again. She has her reasons, and they are not that she's just a dogmatic bitch who wouldn't touch doubt with a ten-foot pole. But I still hate that she won't talk to me about it. I mean, jeez, we acknowledged the 800-pound gorilla ("Man, it's ugly, isn't it?"), and then she says, "I'll feel better if we just pretend it isn't there anymore"?

The other day, I was looking back at my timetable of emotional ups and downs, wondering, as the therapist asked me, "Why now? If it's been so long, why is it so upsetting now?" Why did I start my blog when I did? Why did this emotional upheaval start then, early last fall? And I realized: that's when my relationship with this sister went really, really foul because of the church. I'm not sure how much detail I want to get into right now. Short story: her husband became a non-believer after we became non-believers. Guess who everyone blamed?

I've already mentioned one sister who actually engages in real conversation with about my beliefs. This is great, but sometimes emotionally tough. Sometimes we go months without emailing about it. In her last email, she said she found it curious that I never ask her about her beliefs. To paraphrase: "What, you think I'm just a mindless robot who doesn't think about my faith? You think I'm just like every other Mormon? Sometimes I think you non-believers are so close-minded about us."

I haven't written her back yet, because, well, she's right. I do lump TBMs into one big category of blind followers. Because I can see that that's what I was. But I would have really resented someone calling me such names, too. I thought, I contended, I pondered, I didn't just accept everything the leaders said. Or so I thought. But I still accepted the leaders' authority, the Book of Mormon, the priesthood keys, the Atonement as literal. And so does she. So even though she feels like she's different than a lot of TBMs because she has non-believing friends and debates certain aspects of the teachings, she is, ultimately, a TBM. But at least she'll talk to me, and I appreciate that.

The rest never bring it up, and I've never brought it up with them. I suppose they might be willing, but we just continue to tip toe around each other, and talk about other things. There's plenty to talk about; they are my siblings after all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

exiting emotions: guilt

While I moved from believer to non-believer, and in the aftermath of that transition, I felt guilt. Lots of it. I felt guilty that I wasn't giving the church a good chance. That I hadn't been praying as much, and reading the scriptures as much. I felt guilty that I thought of Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet, and then, not a prophet at all.

I felt guilty when I took off my garments and changed into colorful underwear. So guilty, in fact, that I lasted less than 24 hours before putting the garments back on. Then I felt guilty for being so brainwashed as to put them back on. So I took them off again, and felt guilty some more. I felt terribly guilty when, on the third day of wearing colorful underwear, I talked to my mom about my changing beliefs. That got me feeling so guilty I put my garments on again. And then I felt guilty again for letting my grown-up self be pressured into changing my underwear by a phone conversation with my mom, who was thousands of miles away.

I also felt guilty when I

tried coffee

tried alcohol

saw my Mormon friends from the ward

asked to quit my calling

skipped church to go on an AIDS walk

watched rated-R movies


renewed my temple recommend, and stopped believing entirely two weeks later

avoided phone calls from family

talked to family

But I've gotten over most of that. Most of the time I can barely remember the stuff Mormonism told me to feel guilty about. I don't think in terms of "sin" and "righteousness" and "repentance" anymore. Thank goodness. But sometimes, I remember things Mormonism tells me to feel guilty about, and I feel a bit like a double-person. Or sometimes I find myself judging myself according to how Mormonism (and my Mormon relatives) would judge me: a sinning, unworthy, lost apostate.

Then I have to remind myself what I did: I stood up for what I believed, against great odds. I figured out a mass deception, and was brave enough to admit the emperor has no clothes. I veered from the easy path set out for me, the one walked for generations, and am blazing my own trail. I am still a good person, one who makes decisions based on rationality, reason, and experience, rather than authority. I have chosen a better life for myself and my child.

And I am a better person for it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

exiting emotions: anger

When my Mormon world came crashing down around me, I felt angry. I still feel angry sometimes, even to the point of a rage that wants to burst out and break something, burn something, destroy something. I don't often feel that, but it comes from time to time. I've never actually acted on it. I've saved some Mormon-related books so that next time that anger comes about, I'll have something to burn. Sometimes I think it would be cathartic; sometimes I think it would be empty.

I was always really dismissive of "angry apostates," wondering how on earth they could be so angry at something so benign and wonderful. Now I understand. The church took something from me; it hurt me. I have a right to be angry. Dwelling on that anger forever would be unhealthy, but so would ignoring it.

I wrote the following when I was in the thick of aftermath emotions:

I feel angry at the idea that I've had, over the years, many problems with Mormonism--culture, church, doctrine, theology. I know I'm not unique in that; I even talked to my parents about many of these things (place of women, polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, etc), and tried to sort through them, work them out. They are things I see as immoral, not in line with a moral God--so how could they be part of the church? I did some major mental gymnastics to fit it all in--and a lot of putting it on the back burner as "not understandable."

But what if the church isn't true? Then all that mental gymnastics was for nothing--and even worse, all that pain resulting from polygamy, racism, sexism, etc, etc that people since 1830's have known--it was all for a man. Not for God. I can't even comprehend a God that would ask that of us. That is not God.

And I believed it all, from Joseph Smith was commanded by God to marry 33+ women, down to not grumbling about the young women's softball coach because I had sustained her as God's servant. And my family believes it all. And their parents and their grandparents, and ancestors back to 1830. And if it's not true, all of us have been betrayed, and duped. That makes me angry.

Monday, March 19, 2007


The other night, my child had a nightmare in the middle of the night, so I stayed by his bed and sang him songs until he fell asleep. But I quickly ran out of songs past Jingle Bells; Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer (his favorites since last Christmas); Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; and the ABCs. Maybe it was because it was the middle of the night, but I just couldn't think of any others besides Mormon hymns and primary songs. I couldn't pull a single lullaby out of my head. I remembered Brahm's lullaby existed, but I couldn't think of the tune to hum it.

Even though primary songs are the songs I sang to myself when I was kid and wanted comfort, I just couldn't bring myself to sing them to my son that night. But needing some songs, I ended up humming the tunes to I Am a Child of God, Teach Me to Walk in the Light, and Love is Spoken Here. They don't even make good lullabies.

Why is it I have no lullabies in my repertoire? Because my parents rarely (never?) sang to me? Because if they did--or more likely, my older siblings did--they sang primary songs? I am conditioned so that primary songs soothe me, but now they also frustrate me. The lyrics, the indoctrination about reverence, relying on God, obedience, repentance. I don't want to give that to my son.

Any recommendations on nice bedtime songs for little kids?

Friday, March 16, 2007

instrinsic/extrinsic religious motivation

The depression and Mormon women study I mentioned previously used a specific scale, a set of questions, each of which is scored, then added up to reach a final number indicating strength of intrinsic versus extrinsic religiosity. This is the Intrinsic Religious Motivation scale, based on an earlier study.*

Intrinsic religiosity refers to internal motivation for being religious, such as belief in God, inner peace and happiness, connection with the divine, etc.

Extrinsic religiosity refers to external motivation for being religious, such as meeting people, community conformity, family pressure, heritage, etc.

A person can, of course, be religious both intrinsically and extrinsically. Hence the scale, which allows someone to fall anywhere on a range.

The questions asked in the women and depression study were as follows.**

-My faith involves all my life.
strongly agree; agree; disagree; strongly disagree

-One should seek God's guidance when making every important decision.
strongly agree; agree; disagree; strongly disagree

-In my life I experience the presence of the Divine.
strongly agree; agree; disagree; strongly disagree

-My faith sometimes restricts my actions.
strongly agree; agree; disagree; strongly disagree

-Nothing is as important to me as serving God as best I know how.
strongly agree; agree; disagree; strongly disagree

-I try hard to carry my religion over into all my other dealings.
strongly agree; agree; disagree; strongly disagree

-My religious beliefs are what really lie behind my whole approach to life.
strongly agree; agree; disagree; strongly disagree

-It doesn't matter so much what I believe as long as I lead a moral life.
strongly disagree; disagree; agree; strongly agree

-Although I am a religious person, I refuse to let religious considerations influence my everyday affairs.
strongly disagree; disagree; agree; strongly agree

-Although I believe in my religion, I feel there are many more important things in life.
strongly disagree; disagree; agree; strongly agree

Add it up as follows:
For items 1-7: strongly agree (1); agree (2); disagree (3); strongly disagree (4).
For items 8-10, it reverses: strongly disagree (1); disagree (2); agree (3); strongly agree (4).

The higher the score, the higher the extrinsic religiosity. Remember, in the Mormon/depression study, those with higher extrinsic religiosity had slightly more depression.

My question about this is how well this works for Mormons. The types of Mormons I see as having more extrinsic religiosity would be NOMs, liberal Mormons, fringe Mormons, cultural Mormons, social Mormons, etc. Would this scale tease out these types of people from the rest of Mormons? And would it differentiate them from each other? And how particular is it to Mormons?

For example, Mormons do not generally speak in terms of the "the Divine." Questions that use "Heavenly Father" our "the Lord" might be more appropriate. Also, this question, "My faith sometimes restricts my actions" might be misinterpreted by Mormons in the same way that "I can't...I'm Mormon" T-shirts were. That is, some Mormons may let religion restrict their actions, but don't see it as restriction. They might, therefore, misinterpret this question negatively. On the other hand, this question is ambiguous all around. I can see some with intrinsic religiosity saying, "strongly agree," and feel happy about it, but also someone with extrinsic religiosity saying, "strongly agree," but feelings very unhappy about it. For example, a faithful non-believer might want to drink alcohol, but doesn't in order to keep up appearances, and keep the faithful spouse happy.

Before I came across this study, I hashed together some questions of my own, which would attempt to find NOMs (those who attend/practice, usually but not always, for extrinsic reasons, but don't believe, ). The questions are rather crude, but it was interesting to try to figure out how to measure such things in a simple survey.

1. Of the following, which best reflects how often you attend LDS church services, including other church activities (Enrichment, Primary, YW/YM, meetings, etc.)?

1) a few times a year

2) once a month

3) two to three times a month

4) every week, or nearly every week

5) more than once a week

2. Of the following, which best reflects the reason you attend LDS church services?

1) I attend to keep my marriage together.

2) I attend to please my spouse or parents.

3) I attend for social reasons, or because it is community and/or heritage.

4) I attend because I believe it will bring the greatest happiness in this life and the next.

5) I attend because I know it will bring the greatest happiness in this life and the next.

3. Of the following, which best reflects your current testimony of the LDS church and teachings?

1) I believe the church is not true and not led by God.

2) I have serious questions or doubts, but ultimately I believe it’s true and led by God.

3) I believe the church is true and led by God, even though I may have some questions about certain issues.

4) I believe the church is true and led by God.

5) I know the church is true and led by God.

4. Of the following, which best reflects how well you think your beliefs would be approved of by the rest of your ward or the church at large?

1) Not at all. If I expressed my true thoughts about the church during church, most people would disapprove of what I say and I could be disciplined and/or ostracized.

2) Very little. If I expressed my true thoughts about the church during church, most people would disapprove of what I say and counter my statements with mainstream teachings or testimony-bearing.

3) Somewhat. If I expressed my true thoughts about the church during church, some people would verbally approve and some would verbally disapprove of what I say.

4) Quite a lot. If I expressed my true thoughts about the church during church, almost everybody would verbally approve of what I say.

I included the last question to get at people who may be NOM, but are more comfortable in that role, possibly because their ward is more liberal in general anyway. For example, someone who doesn't believe at all could still answer "quite a lot" on the last question.

It would be interesting to do a study on Mormons and depression, really teasing out differences of religiosity that simply asking "What is your religious affiliation?" would not allow.

*Hoge, D. A Validated Intrinsic Religious Motivation Scale. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 11, No. 4. (Dec., 1972), pp. 369-376.
**As far as I could tell. The Spendlove study simply referenced the Hoge study, but the latter study has 30 questions, and recommends use of 10 of them. It is unclear whether the Mormon/depression study used all 30 or just the 10.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

mormon women and depression

I had already written this post, but a couple of posts by a fellow exmo, Within the Bubble, prompted me to post this now (see his story and more general ideas about mental illness among Mormons).

For a while now, I've been interested in this idea thrown around among Mormons that Mormon women or Utah women have a higher rate of anti-depressant use than the rest of the country. It is bandied about by believers to criticize the super-mom syndrome that, they would say, Mormon culture encourages, but that the True Gospel discourages. It is mentioned by non-believers to support how Mormonism messes women up. I've heard this many times, but I have never heard it backed up by references. It seems to have taken on the status of mythology. Does anyone have any references?

I've been wanting to find out more if any actual research has been done on this. So recently, I poked around at some peer-reviewed literature on Mormons. I found one 1984 study* done on Mormon women and depression (not saying there aren't more, but this is the one I found in my non-thorough looking).

In it, 143 Mormon women and 36 non-Mormon women in Salt Lake were interviewed by phone, and were asked about religiosity and depression, along with some demographic questions (income, number and ages of children, etc). To assess depression, the interviewers used the Beck depression inventory, which is still used today and considered accurate. To assess religiosity, interviewers asked about frequency of church attendance, temple attendance, and prayer, and also "religious motivation."

This study found that there was no difference in the percent of each group of women with regards to current depression, as assessed by the Beck inventory, over the phone. Both groups had about 23% depressed women. Among the LDS women, those who were less educated, felt less caring from a spouse, rated their health poor or fair, and had lower incomes were statistically more likely to be depressed. No surprises there. I would think these hold true for any female, American population.

There were also some intriguing differences among LDS women on some other factors, but none of them were statistically significant (that is, the differences might be only random, not real, because of the sample--but they might be worth studying more). For example, among LDS women, these women were more likely to be depressed:

-infrequent church attenders
-frequent temple attenders
-infrequent pray-ers
-those with non-Mormon husbands
-those with extrinsic religious motivation

Now, it would be easy for a believer to look at this and say, "See, we need to go to church and pray more, just like the leaders say!" But I would posit that depression related to infrequent prayer and attendance are not causal, but only correlated. In fact, this study simply cannot tell us which came first--the depression or the infrequent attendance/prayer. It could be that people who are depressed go to church and pray less often because of depression (likely). Or it could be that people who go to church and pray less often get depression because of not praying and going to church (not likely). Most likely of all, there is a very complicated relationship, involving many other factors that aren't taken into account here. For example, a third factor could be causing them both, i.e., religious doubt and disaffection could lead someone to skip church and experience depression.

Intuitively, one would think that frequency of church attendance, temple attendance, and prayer would all go together--but they don't in this study. This anomaly could be due to the methodological inadequacies of this study, though I am tempted to wonder if frequent temple attenders are depressed and desperately seeking some respite through temple visits. It could be the other way around--that temple attendance is causing depression--but, as much as I would like to believe that, I doubt it.

It does make sense that women with non-Mormon husbands would experience a greater degree of stress, and perhaps depression, given the emphasis placed on the importance of temple marriage, etc. (See my previous post about Mormon marriage and divorce.)

But it's the last one, the extrinsic religious motivation, that intrigues me the most. Simply put, those who attend church because of reasons outside themselves--social life, conformity, family pressure, etc.--had more depression (but not significantly so, remember) than those who attended for their own, internal beliefs --faith in God, it brings inner peace, etc. I wonder if "extrinsic religious motivation" parallels some of the Bloggernacle/DAMU terms we use--New Order Mormon, faithful non-believer, liberal Mormon, etc. If so, are NOMs more likely to be depressed? And why? Is it because of the stress and identity issues of being in the non-believer's closet, as they generally are? Is it related to cognitive dissonance? Is it related to spousal troubles, since many NOMs aren't just ex-mos because of a faithful spouse? Or is the faithful who are more depressed, driving themselves batty trying to live the gospel just right?

So I decided to check out the questions used by this study to measure this aspect of religiosity, wondering if the questions get at situations unique to Mormonism. (In another post.)

*Spendlove, et al. Risk Factors and the Prevalence of Depression in Mormon Women. Social Science & Medicine, Vol 18, No 6, pp.491-495, 1984. If you want a pdf, email me at

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


A post over at AgnosticMom's blog got me typing. I wanted to share my answers here.

1) Do you believe the soul continues to exist after death?

I believe consciousness ends with death.

2) Have you found peace with the probability that when it’s over it is really over? Does this fill you with fear and dread? Or are you somewhere in between (please explain).

The idea of no afterlife was very scary to me at first. Here are some ways I have coped with this idea and adjusted from "I've existed forever" to "this is all there is."

I like to think of the idea of leaving a legacy, a mark, a memory on the earth among those that live after me. In this way, I live on.

Beyond just memories and ideas, I am a part of a great system of life that goes back millions of years, and will continue. Not only do I leave my human DNA in my children, and they in their children, but I am also part of a greater tree of life that connects all life on earth to each other. That doesn't end with my death.

I am a part of the cosmos. I have been and always will be a part of the universe (for the whole time the universe exists, anyway). I love to tell my son he is not 4 years old, but 14 billion and 4 years old, because the basic building blocks of his body (hydrogen, etc) have been around since the Big Bang. And our bodies will return to the earth, and be a part of it until it dies. Then be a part of the solar system, and the galaxy, and the universe until it "dies." But by then, we'll be dead, so we won't care. For me, it replaces the comfort I used to have in Mormonism's pre-mortal existence and afterlife. For him, it's just pretty darn cool. He loves outer space, you see.

What do you think?

1) Do you believe the soul continues to exist after death?

2) Have you found peace with the probability that when it’s over it is really over? Does this fill you with fear and dread? Or are you somewhere in between (please explain). Or, as I asked it once, Which is worse to you: forever or nothing?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

in person

After I came out of the non-believer's closet to my family, a couple months passed before I saw any of them in person. I'm sure there was weeping and wailing, confusion and discussions, praying and fasting, but I didn't have to witness it. I didn't have to go to the house for Sunday dinner, feeling awkward and wondering if anyone would bring it up. No one called to ask why, everyone just gave me plenty of space, and I gave them theirs. My parents had been eagerly asking when they could come visit, but stopped asking.

Even though it wasn't the year to visit my family for Christmas, we thought this would be a good year to visit both families, so we decided to split our Christmas vacation between two states. I wanted to be there in person, showing them that I'm still happy and normal. I wanted to assert that, even though I "gave up eternal family-hood in the Celestial Kingdom," I still loved them and wanted to be with them.

I already wrote about that first visit. But I left out a detail.

I remember this:

It is my parents' tradition to park their car at the airport and meet whoever they are picking up near the baggage claim, rather than at the curb. They like to do this to make us feel special, and it does, really. It's exciting to come down that escalator and cross over the map of the world on the floor, and catch that first glimpse of my parents, tense in thrilled anticipation of seeing us and their grandkid again. I generally don't show much emotion on my face, but it always makes me smile to see them at the airport. They smile, I smile, we hug, exchange greetings, and head off to get the luggage.

But this time was different. This was the first time we saw them in person since our disaffection. As I crossed the floor and caught a glimpse of them, I could see my parents hadn't seen us yet. Then my mom turned and saw us.

She didn't smile.

Instead, she did this thing with her face, where she holds her lower jaw off to one side. It means she's trying to keep herself from crying. She's upset.

She wasn't happy to see me. She was torn up inside, happy but despairing at the same time.

I pretended like I hadn't seen it, and I smiled. I was happy to see them, but I, too, was feeling a turmoil of emotions.

Almost a year later, I was alone in the bedroom one night, and this memory came back to me. I cried myself to sleep.

Monday, March 12, 2007


In preparation for this post, I read through all the emails I got back from my family members after I sent them emails regarding my non-attendance of the Mormon church. It would be most informative to just post their emails, but since I don't have their permission to do so, nor would I ask for it, I'll have to be content with just summarizing my thoughts about their emails.

First, by the time I wrote my siblings, I was already in email communication with one sister, and had been for months, about my disaffection. Thankfully, I had been and have continued to be open with this particular sister, ever since my first Joseph Smith-scare when I read Mormon Enigma, a biography of Emma Smith. When I was getting ready to come out to my family, I emailed back and forth with her about how to approach things. She encouraged me to get something out in the open with each sibling individually, so it would be personal, and so they would have time to process things before I saw them again in person. It was great advise, even retrospectively; that's just what I did.

But it also meant I had to deal with individual emails back from everyone. And I have a big family. They all wrote back, but everyone reacted differently. I wrote them all back again; only my dad responded to a second email. Since then, only two siblings have ever discussed church matters with me. More on that in another post.

As far as the reaction emails go:

Mom, who must have been too emotional to write anything more, just wrote a simple "I love you" email a few days later. As if nothing ever happened. As if I hadn't just ripped her heart out and stomped on it. As if I hadn't just told her I rejected, not just her religion, but also the way she raised me, and the way she lives her life. That's more or less how she's handled things since then, too. Sometimes I appreciate it. Sometimes I can't stand it.

Dad wrote back, philosophizing about the challenge of finding God in your own way, and saying how that journey is important and he respects I'm on my journey. I wasn't an atheist at that time, so that was fine for him to say. But he also made it clear that he believed I would find "Him" again. As if to say, "The journey is fine, as long as you end up back here." It's patronizing. It's close-minded. It's as if they see me as an 8-year old, mad at my parents for some slight, and I've packed up my teddy bear and toothbrush and run away to the shed in the back yard. And they watch out the kitchen window, nodding knowingly, saying, "She'll be back before dark. Let her be. She'll realize later how silly this is." And so they remain to this day.

Several of my siblings wrote expressing shock and sadness, but ultimately, love and support. They said nothing about testimonies. They wondered how this happened, and even said they'd be willing to talk through things. I have not taken them up on the offer, partly because I've never been alone with any of them since then, and partly because it's just too hard to bring up. It's hard to know if they really want to hear. I guess I'll never know if I don't try. Someday.

A couple of siblings' emails hurt. They certainly didn't mean to hurt me. They just expressed their genuine love for the Gospel, and wondered what happened to me--I had been so great, I had had such a strong testimony. One of them had "had an feeling the other day" that I "was struggling" and so put my name on the temple rolls. (See this post about my thoughts on such actions.) Another said he KNOWS the church is true and KNOWS I'll come back someday and we'll be one big happy eternal family in heaven. He kept using the full name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, instead of "the church," as if to emphasize it's unique Trueness. Buddy, if it were true, that'd be great. But it's not. Besides, didn't I just tell you I didn't believe all that? But that means nothing to the TBM, except "anyone who says they don't believe it is wrong."

The whole process of emailing sent me into a downward emotional spiral, but I let work consume me, and I didn't (couldn't? wouldn't?) think about it a ton until it was time to visit them at Christmas.

Friday, March 09, 2007

pretend like everything is perfectly normal

While my parents know to some extent my "struggles" with the church, and they know I don't attend church, I've never right out told them the degree of my non-belief. They cast me in the "struggling with my testimony" category, while I put myself in the "the church has no claims to the truth, is destructive in many ways, and certainly isn't right for me" kind of place. Oh, and I don't believe there's an actual supreme being. But since so many people believe there is and act like there is, and it influences who they marry, how they live, what wars they start, etc., there is God in an abstract sense. In a metaphorical sense. So I don't mind talking about God in an intellectual way without feeling the need to blurt out, "But God isn't real!"

Anyway, I've been thinking lately that maybe I could start to be more open with my parents, that maybe our relationship could benefit from my letting them know a little more about me. Like send them the letter I never sent when I first started seriously questioning. Or use my real name when I record my exit story on podcast for mormonstories. I'm getting more comfortable with my new self, so maybe I could handle them knowing me better.

Then a conversation with my mom made me think, "maybe not." I started talking to my mom about this book I'm reading about the connections between religiosity and health. I tried to be nice about it, and admit that there are a couple studies that actually hold up to pretty good academic rigor that show people who attend church often (2+ a week) live longer (as a group) than people who don't attend. I explained how some of the reasons this is so are measurable and biologically plausible: social support, less smoking, less alcohol, less risky sex, hope & optimism, de-stressing, etc.

Perhaps my next sentence was my mistake. I said, but even after taking these factors into account,the studies still show some benefit to being an church attender. Some believers would jump on this and say, Ah ha! God is blessing those people! I tried to explain that to my mom, but she butted in, sounding impatient and annoyed, with, "Well, isn't that why the Lord tells us what to do and how to do it to be healthy?"

The conversation took a nose dive. Why did I think I could have an academic discussion with my TBM mom about religion? How could I be so optimistic?

I wanted to say, "Only if you believe God did such a thing. Remember, Mom, that I don't believe it? Skeptics like me would say this study result could be because there are some factors left unmeasured, that, once measured, would account for the extra mortality for non-attenders. "

I actually said, "Well, these studies are science, not religion, so they can only measure so much. You can't measure God, you can't measure God interceding. They can only measure what they can observe, right? Anyway, the idea is interesting."

I really wanted to tell her about some other research in this area, about intercessory prayer (praying to ask God for actual intervention, rather than praying to worship or feel a connection) and post-heart surgery complications. These studies show quite clearly that having people pray for patients to have speedy recoveries does not help. In one study, it actually hurt. People who had others praying for them, and who knew the others were praying for them, had the highest numbers of complications. (See Benson, et al. "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients." American Heart Journal. Vol 151, No. 4.)

I would have loved to tell her about that study. But either I'm too much of a coward, or I'm too nice. Or both. But why tell her? It just would have made her mad. She wouldn't have agreed with it. She would have found some way around it. She would have given testimony that she has prayed and received answers, that she has prayed for certain outcomes and gotten them. And that God shouldn't be put to the test like that anyway.

And then I think, Maybe she's not ready to get to know the current me. And I'm not ready to introduce myself. Lately, I've been thinking maybe I'm not giving them enough credit for how they handle my disaffection. This conversation made me think maybe I'm giving them too much.

And that hurts. She's my mom; I'm her daughter. We should be able to talk. But we never have been able to, really. This isn't just about Mormonism, this is about dysfunctional communication lines. There's just that much more reason to try to fix the problem now that there's something important to talk about. And that much more reason to just leave it alone.

Note to self: Quit bringing up religion with Mom.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

the very jaws of hell

When I was younger, the idea of the devil and his minions scared me to death. As a kid, I was scared of certain parts of the house, let my imagination get away with me, etc. This was worsened by all the cultural representations of the devil, spirits, ghosts, demons, etc in popular literature and movies. In third grade, a friend of mine told me a ghost story about Bloody Mary appearing in the bathroom mirror to some elementary school girls who performed some sort of ritual chant. For years, I couldn't walk into a bathroom without first reaching my arm into the bathroom to turn on the light. I finally had to consciously break myself of the habit when I was nearly an adult. Even as an adult, The Sixth Sense disturbed me. I couldn't be in a room alone for a month.

It was further exacerbated by Mormon teachings. Mormons teach that the devil is real, but also has billions and billions of evil spirits on his side, constantly trying to lead us astray. If the devil is real, if spirits can really interact with mortals in certain circumstances, then who's to say ghost stories are just pretend, I thought.

Add to this stories I heard from my mom and other relatives about so-and-so seeing so-and-so, who is dead. Or hearing voices, whatever. All that had a spiritual-religious bend to it, but it still creeped me out.

While I was questioning, I found out that Jewish theology--the theology of the Old Testament--doesn't even have a devil. The serpent in Genesis doesn't represent Satan at all. There is no Satan in the old church. But JS claimed to have restored the old church. So now why is a devil essential to Smith's plan of salvation--the plan he claimed was laid down from the beginning? Something fishy going on there.

I didn't think much more about the devil until after I stopped believing in God. 'Cause if there's no God, there's certainly no Satan. So now I'm not afraid of spirits or ghosts; it was a great relief when I realized that.

But I haven't gotten around to watching any horror movies. Maybe someday.

(Bonus to anyone who can name where I got the title for this post.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

coming out by email

After I was pulled out of the non-believer's closet, I decided it was best to individually tell my siblings. I wanted to tell them before they heard it from someone else. So I sent out the following email to each of them, personalizing it with extra paragraphs at the beginning and end. I also sent a version to my parents.

I imagine you've heard through the grapevine that we haven't been attending the Mormon church lately. One could describe what we're going through as a crisis of faith--but we see that as a good thing. We're happy with the decisions we're making. Friends, Mormons and non-Mormons alike, have pointed out to us that we seem happier than before; we feel that is true. Of course life isn't perfect, but it's good.

The only thing that gives us sorrow is knowing that our decisions hurt the family. Please know that I love you and all of you dearly, and don't wish to hurt or offend you. But I need to take my path--and right now, that's away from the church.

That does not mean, however, that I've become bad or contentious or immoral or amoral; indeed I think about and seek daily my spirituality and connection to God, and strive to follow my conscience and stay true to my integrity. Currently, I find that connection and guidance better elsewhere than in the Mormon church.

Again, I am sincerely sorry that this hurts you. Confronting that sorrow and that pain, let alone awkwardness, is what has kept me from opening up sooner. Do what you need to do to deal with this, but I would greatly appreciate open communication, love, and support. Not that I expected anything less from you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

the reaction

Since my memory doesn't serve me that well, I pulled up what I wrote after the conversation with my mom in which I was pulled out of the non-believer's closet (with some minor edits).

For certain reasons (distraction, emotional turmoil) I preferred to stay in the closet with regards to my parents and siblings for now. (Already out to in-laws.) I just can't take the turmoil right now. But, due to circumstances partly beyond my control, my family found I have occasionally read and enjoyed websites that don't hold the church and God, etc in the most sacred light (eg Sugar Beet). Thank goodness they don't know about the Foyer or RfM!

So, on a fine Sunday while my husband and our son go off for some forbidden recreational activity (aren't we supposed to be at church?), my mom calls. She and the whole rest of the family are extremely offended by certain cartoons/articles and wonder, "Why oh why did fta visit these sites? Was she trying to offend us? Was she trying to spit in our faces? Is she mocking all we hold sacred?"

So mom asks all these questions (I certainly never expected that reaction, and of course never sought to offend my family, though we did desire to clue them in). Long story short, she asks if I'm still going to church. I answered honestly, we've been going, but not to the Mormon one.

So she knows I am looking for guidance, struggling to find truth and goodness, and she's fine with that (which I greatly appreciated). But she is sure I'm looking in all the wrong places (anywhere but the church). She did bear her testimony but she did refrain from serious preaching, (which I appreciated). Her reaction was altogether better than I anticipated, at least while she was on the phone. She did hang up rather abruptly (before I could tell her I'm still a good, moral person), and I imagine she's bawling right now.

I cried some on the phone (because she was supportive, but she will it interpret as "the guilty taketh the truth to be hard"), but I was more proactive during this phone call than during the last one. I didn't say everything I could have said; I wasn't prepared. And she's not prepared to hear it all right now. But I'm a little out of the closet. And I suppose that will feel better than being in the closet did, but it doesn't today. Does it get better?

And do I make a plan and lay some things down to them (hard) so I am doing more than just reacting to everything they do and think (easy)? They all live in
Utah and have for most or all of their lives. They don't think outside of Utah. They don't know that there are normal, good, moral, nice people who aren't Mormon. They don't know that they can go to the park on a Saturday morning and meet other parents with their little children whom they love dearly, who go to church (or are comfortable not going), who try their best to make the world a better place, who love each other, and who ARE HAPPY. They honestly, truly DO NOT KNOW THAT.

I am one of those people, and they don't know me. And I despair.

Monday, March 05, 2007

they asked; I told

I stopped believing and attending in quick succession in spring a couple years ago. I couldn't bear to tell my family. I couldn't muster up the courage. I knew how bitterly hurt and disappointed they would be to have a "lost" daughter and sister. And as time went by, I wasn't sure I felt obligated to tell anyone about my personal beliefs, unless it became a matter of deception. I wasn't willing, or able, I think, to blatantly lie about it if they asked. But they didn't ask.

After that conversation with my mom, I couldn't talk to my parents straight for months. They stopped asking when they could come visit. I avoided phone calls, especially on Sundays. I just couldn't risk them asking, "How was church?" I pretended everything was hunky-dory, even though I was going through the greatest emotional and psychological upset of my life. I never called them. They called me.

Every time I talked to them, my secret wanted to burst out, but I kept it down, locked up. There just is no good time to tell your parents something that will hurt them. There's no good time to tell your parents you reject the way they raised you, you reject their way of life. Over the phone is especially bad. But I lived too far away to tell them in person.

I debated with myself and my husband: Should we just wait until we visit them at Christmastime, so we could do it person? But would that just ruin Christmas? There'd be nowhere to go; we'd all just be there, upset. Should I send them a letter a few months before Christmas, give them time to mourn before we show up?

Time passed, and I never made a decision. I spent a whole summer in the non-believer's closet. Then it came up one day that we liked The Sugar Beet, a Mormon satire website (at the time). My mom was appalled, and so was everybody else, according to her. "Why do you read a website that mocks God?" she asked in serious and wounded tone. I couldn't quite figure out what she meant.

I, apparently, had been desensitized by the devil by this time, because I thought it was funny, Mormons poking fun at their own quirks. I thought it was funny when I was still a believer. I still think it's funny. Come on! Poly-gay-mists? The Spirit now comes in a refreshing mint flavor? Sleeveless dresses banned for nursery-age girls? Funny stuff!

She, however, thought it was so blasphemous that obviously the only way I could like that stuff was if I was totally and completely out of tune with the Spirit. And the only way that could happen was if I wasn't going to church anymore. Or if I'd become a serial killer. She gave me the benefit of the doubt and assumed the former. Not that it was that much better, in her mind.

So she got it out of me the only way she could: she asked.

"Are you still going to church?"

I didn't want to lie. I didn't want to tell the truth. So I equivocated. "We've been exploring some other churches this summer." Which was true. But not a direct answer to her question, since by "going to church" she, of course, meant "going to the LDS church."

This was it. It had to come out.

"FTA, have you been going to the Mormon church?"

"No," I said. I felt horrible. But it was out there.

She reacted a little better than I had anticipated. Which was great. But I still got a lecture along the lines of "Searching for the truth is fine. If that's what you need to do, then do it. But don't ignore the once place where you will find Truth."

It's the "why" of her reaction that bothered me. Turns out her contained reaction was due to an experience she had right after the first conversation a few months previous. After I got off the phone with her that time, she now told me, the Spirit told her I would come back to the church eventually. Frankly, I was appalled that the Spirit told her my future without asking me first what I wanted. What happened to free will? If God knows I'll come back, does that mean I don't actually have a choice whether or not I return?

"What?" I asked.

She explained further. "After I got off the phone with you that last time, I felt peace. So I knew you'd come back."

She felt peace. Then she interpreted it to mean the only thing she could: I'd come back. There was no way that peace meant that she searched her soul and found that she did, indeed, still love her daughter? No way that it could mean that people can leave the church and still be just fine? No, of course not. The church teaches that The Only Happiness comes through obeying all the rules of the church, making and keeping all their covenants, going through their rituals, believing their theologies. No room to budge. So the only way my mom could possibly feel peace after finding out I was questioning all that was "It's only temporary. She'll be back."

I understand that it's her way of coping. But it's also insulting.

Friday, March 02, 2007

the letter I never sent

In response to a heartfelt and concerned, though condescending, letter from my parents after they found out I read scholarly books on Mormonism, I drafted this letter. And never sent it. Now I wished I had.

Thanks for your letter of concern and love. I am going through a period of great doubt, but I see that as ultimately a good thing. If I am not questioning, doubting, striving, I am stagnant. I think you can agree there. I want to "use my own brain" and “follow the Spirit,” finding and defining my own spiritual path along the way.

I am willing to have open dialogue about my ideas and maybe that dialogue will help me resolve some of the issues and pain I have with the church. Maybe it won’t. I am interested in knowing how you resolve your problems, doubts, and questions with the church and spirituality in general. An explanation of the process of understanding (and not just the resolution) would be helpful.

I want to give the church a true chance. I want to truly choose my religion and my spirituality. And I don’t feel like I can do that honestly if I take it as a given that the church is true. That would not be a true search if I already “know” what I’ll choose. It’s going to take some searching and some time.

Sometimes it’s heart wrenching and downright terrifying to think that the things I’ve been taught and always took for granted as true may not be. Sometimes the thought crosses my mind that I’m stupid or deceived. I also think of the phrase in my patriarchal blessing about “the cleverest of temptations and deceptions.” Believe me, these thoughts have occurred to me; I don’t need them pointed out to me.

But most of the time, when I truly look inside myself and at what I understand God to be, I feel free and happy. I feel free to really figure myself out and what I want and believe. It’s very liberating to think that I can choose according to the dictates of my own conscience. To find God as I know him, not as someone tells me to know him. To figure out life, and not have a manual where everything in life is already figured out for me.

I realize that I’m young and haven’t had much life experience, and I do look to others for experience and ideas and guidance, including you, and within the church, but outside it as well (thinking of the 13th article of faith). Yes, I have been reading books on Mormonism and Mormon topics. I want you to know that I have specifically looked for books that are scholarly and well documented, ones whose authors are truly searching for answers and resolutions. I have also specifically avoided ones that are less scholarly and seek to demean Joseph Smith and/or Mormonism.

This is all still very fresh and recent for me and my thoughts are always changing and it’s hard to collect them to explain myself well. I hardly need to write everything in this one email, but at least it’ll serve to get a dialogue going.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

wherein they find out I'm questioning

Right about the time I was pretty sure it wasn't true, but still very torn about it, still wishing I was wrong and just wanted go back to my normal life and pretend my whole world hadn't just come crashing down, my mom called. I had just taken my garments off two days before, not entirely sure if I was actually ready to make that move. But, you know, those new underwear just seemed so much better. And if Joseph Smith made them up anyway, who cares? But years of indoctrination will get to you.

Anyway, my mom called with remarkably bad timing. She found out (I won't get into details for privacy's sake) that we liked to read "anti-Mormon literature." You know, [mom voice] those books that are just a pack of lies and want nothing more than to ruin the church[/mom voice], like Compton's In Sacred Loneliness. I insisted that those books are not, in fact, "anti-Mormon," but rather are scholarship. I explained that I've seen some issues in the church my whole life, and wanted to resolve them; these books would help. (I skipped the part about how there were a whole new slew of issues that had come up in my reading of the previous 18 months.)

"What issues?"

"The ones I've seen for a long time? Polygamy, women's issues, priesthood ban against blacks..."

"I've had those issues, too, fta," she said. "But I didn't turn to some books to look for answers. What do those people know? I went to the Lord. He's the only one with the whole picture. You don't think I've struggled with these things? I struggled with polygamy for 15 years! But through prayer, I finally resolved it. And you can too. But not with those books!"

I explained that if I don't read these books, I'll never be satisfied. I must read them.

Shortly after the conversation, I wrote this:

So my mom called and confronted me about my/our testimonies, and I told her we're exploring, still going to church, but exploring. 'Do you think the church isn't true?' she asked. 'I'm allowing that to be a possibility,' I responded. Which is basically where I'm at right now.

All in all, the conversation was very negative and preachy 'You're deceived by the devil...Satan is trying to get to you...Satan deceived these authors of this anti-Mormon literature to try to hurt people and keep them from going to heaven...There are certain covenants you have to make in order to get to heaven and you have to go to the temple to make and keep those covenants...I KNOW the Church is true with every fiber of my being...Don't you want to go to heaven?...etc, etc.' She wants to me "to go to the Lord and pray about this and ask HIM for the answers, not some books of 'learned' people who are deceived and want to deceive you. Promise me you'll go to the Lord and truly ask for answers." ... Well, I have issues with talking to my mom about anything meaningful in the first place, and I had a pretty much passive role in the conversation, but I refused to give her what she wanted to hear. (Don't worry mom, I see the error of my ways and will burn all those books now and drive to the nearest temple asap.)

I wasn't ready for this. I wanted it to be on my terms. But now at least it's sort of out there. She does not know the extent of the 'damage to my testimony.' Imagine the torrent if I had told her I didn't wear my garments consistently the past week. The thing is, it affected me greatly. The first thing I did after getting off the phone was open the laptop to post a message to the foyer, but both my conscience (read: my mom's guilt-tripping) got to me and my son called me from the other room at the same time. I joined my son in my room and, of this I feel ashamed, put my garments back on. (I had put them back on for church yesterday too, only to take them off in the afternoon when the weather was warm.) Her guilt-tripping from 3000 miles away caused me to change my freaking clothes!

But I can't help thinking 'what if, what if, what if?' "

When she said, "I know," I blurted out, "How do you know?" It was an honest question. I was struggling and lost. I wanted to regain something I had lost, all the while knowing that, really, I couldn't.

Her answer, though, was unsatisfactory. "Because I know." It was empty to me. That meant nothing. That's it? That's all she had? I asked her not to tell anyone. I allowed her to tell my dad, but not my siblings.

The conversation shook me. Shook me bad. I needed some comfort, and found it by putting my garments back on. It felt safer. Maybe I was wrong, maybe she had a point, I thought. I had to talk to someone about it, so I went outside to where my husband was playing with our kid. Another friend was out there, one in whom I could confide. "I just had a conversation with my mom," I told them. She knew exactly what I meant. Disturbed and unsure, I switched between talking about it and sitting there, numb, staring at nothing. My kid and hers destroyed another neighbor's toy right in front of me, and I watched, not noticing, not seeing it. Fear and despair overtook me.

Shortly after that, my parents wrote me a letter to attempt to open dialogue. I wrote back, pretending I was still in my "serious questioning" phase, when really, I was a non-believer. I never sent the letter. I kept silent about all of it for five months.