Tuesday, April 15, 2008

so long

This April marks my three year anniversary of my mental break from the Mormon church. At the beginning of April, 2005, I had a near panic attack when I realized I was more of a non-believer than a believer. On the first weekend of that April I visited Target to buy normal underwear instead of watching General Conference, and within the next few days I took my garments off for the last time. It was then when my parents discovered I was questioning the church. It was the most confusing, up and down, back and forth, turmoil-filled month of my life up to that point. On the last Sunday of April, I left the Mormon church services early and have never been back.

Three years is long enough.

It's time to move on.

For over eighteen months I have kept up this blog, with frenetic energy at first, and tapering off over the most recent few months. Early on, my fingers couldn't type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts and stories. I used to jot down notes when I was away from the computer, and write posts by hand during class when I was supposed to be taking notes.

When I have written recently, it's usually been a stretch to find something to write, as if I have to try to find ways Mormonism still affects me. And it does still affect me; it is a part of who I have become. Growing up Mormon and extricating myself from the church partly shapes who I am. But at some point--at this point--I want to stop thinking about it so much and just concentrate on developing who I am now, on becoming something more than an ex-Mormon.

I want to be me now.

I am happy I kept this blog, as it became a type of therapy for me, and I cherish the community and the friendships I have formed. Also, I have been touched by people who have commented and shared their own thoughts and stories, and hearing I have touched at least a few people means a great deal to me.

This blog will remain available so people can read the archives.

Thank you and goodbye.

-from the ashes

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

yoda's potty mouth

Note to self: watch youtube videos before letting my son watch them.

You'd think a simple Star Wars spoof would be pretty innocent, right?

Okay, so I should've seen the possibility of inappropriate-content-for-5-year-olds coming.

But there's no way I could've predicted Yoda saying, "Oh, shit!"

And then my son repeating it about ten times, laughing the whole time. Because, yes, he does know that's "a word you shouldn't say around Grandma or at school, mmkay?"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

baptisms for the dead, part 2

Continued from baptisms for the dead, part 1...

The interview went well enough. I dressed up in my Sunday clothes, a dress I hated. But then, I hated all dresses. Just was not my thing. An interview with a member of the bishopric, though, required dressing up. It's how it was done, especially in my family.

Over at the church, I sat on the old orange couch in the foyer, my hands planted under my legs as I stared at the red-orange industrial carpet. Brother Hicks, the executive secretary, called my name and escorted me into the bishop's office. I was especially shy as a kid, so "don't speak until you are spoken to" was easy enough for me. Actually, adults had a hard time getting me to answer at all. But these were questions I had to answer, and answer correctly, without guilt on my face, if I wanted the temple recommend to go do baptisms.

I answered simple "yes"es and "no"s to all the right questions, the ones about faith and belief, the ones about behavior and abstinence and attendance. Easy stuff, for me. I'd read the Book of Mormon and believed it was "true." I thought Joseph Smith was a prophet and had restored the True Church and the Priesthood. I'd never even been offered alcohol or cigarettes, let alone try them. Sex was beyond my realm of imagination; I hadn't so much as held a boy's hand. Had he asked me about masturbation (had he thought girls did that), I wouldn't have known what the heck he was talking about.

The bishop signed the card, but kept it for my Beehive leader, so she would just have all of them in one place on the big day.

The next week, I zipped up my coat over my dress, and met the rest of the youth at the church parking lot for the carpool. Several of us piled into Sister Brown's car, excited and acting like any 12 year olds would: giggly and silly and downright untemple-like. Sister Brown quickly scolded us and began a serious lecture about how to act when about to visit the most sacred House of the Lord. Not only should we keep all conversation to a whisper, but we shouldn't talk about worldly things--which boy was the cutest and what outfit we'd be wearing to school tomorrow. Lots of jewelry was inappropriate, as was too much make-up, perfume, and bright nail polish. None of this bothered me, since I didn't wear any of that girly stuff anyway, but some of the other girls got a little uncomfortable recognizing how they were dressed and done up.

A reverent calm came over us after the lecture, and we sat a little more quietly for the ride to the Provo temple, 10 minutes away. Still, we were a group of girls, and the chit-chat started again. As we approached, I thought about how, well, ugly, the Provo temple was. I was pretty sure I shouldn't think of a temple as ugly, though, so I tried to think instead about how my parents got married there.

Once inside--the first time inside a temple!--I attempted a glance around, but we were hurriedly ushered to the left of the main foyer, and down a flight of stairs. I knew this is where the baptisms took place, in the basement. After Sister Brown showed an old man in white the list of our names and recommends, he waved us through a hall to a room.

This room had several wooden benches in it, all facing a large glass window. Through this window, I looked for the first time on the baptismal font, a hot tub-sized pool resting atop twelve golden oxen (representing the twelve tribes of Israel, I had been told). Men sat on either side of the font, above it, on a balcony, all of them in white jumpers. Two of these men worked at a computer console. It seemed oddly out of place. Two groups of youth in white clothes sat behind and to the side of them, girls on the left, boys on the right.

Off this main room were other rooms as well, but I couldn't tell their purpose. Sister Brown gathered us like a mother hen over to one of the rooms, full of white jumpers on hangers. An old lady helped us pick out jumpers in our sizes. Next, we were off to the girls' dressing room. Inside, we were pointed to yet another white-haired woman who stood in front of a large closet of white underclothes. While I was still processing what was happening, I heard another one of the girls list her pantie and bra size.

Oh, no! I was mortified. At twelve, I had already started wearing a bra, but only a training sports bra, and that only because my mom knew I'd be embarrassed in the PE locker room if I had no bra at all. And here was my fellow Beehive, a B since she was 10, and she never let me forget it, either. What size should I ask for? I didn't even know! What a nightmare. Too quickly, it was my turn, and when I couldn't get anything out of the mouth on my burning red face, the temple worker was kind enough to gently help me out with a negative triple A. Or whatever. I wasn't paying attention, just get me out of here already.

The next step was to change into our whites, and thankfully there were individual stalls with locking doors to give us privacy. I changed, put my clothes in a small locker within the stall, and locked it with the key. The key had a safety pin on it, and as I emerged from the stall, I saw the other girls were pinning the key just under the zipper on their jumpsuits. So the weight of the water doesn't pull the jumper open in the font--in front of the boys. I couldn't imagine much worse that having my clothes come open at the chest in front of the deacons in the ward. [Shudder.]

But then I heard the girls talking, and, yes, something could be worse. We were in white clothes and about to be dunked repeatedly in water. The boys will be able to see right through to our bra and panties! There wasn't much we could do about it, either, except get that towel around us as quickly as possible after coming out of the water. That, and imagine that only the boys virtuous enough to avert their eyes politely were the ones we wanted to date someday.

Once we were dressed, we nervously walked barefoot through the locker room, past the showers, and into the font area. There, we were directed to sit on a bench behind the font and wait our turns. The boys from our ward were on the opposite bench, to our left. They were goofing off. In the temple. How immature.

My turn came, and I gingerly stepped down the few stairs into the font, careful not to slip. Everyone was watching. The man in the font doing the baptisms, Mike, a guy from the ward about to go on his mission, helped me down. I got into position, standing in chest-deep water, facing a blue monitor, which sat just above the water to the side of the font. On the screen were the words for the baptism, so Mike could just read them off and not try to speak the words from memory. It was important to say the exact words, or the ordinance didn't count, and we'd have to do it all over again. Same if any part of my body or any strand of hair didn't get immersed completely--that's a do-over. My brother had been baptized twice when he was eight, because his toe had popped up. I secretly wished that had happened to me; I imagined there was something special about being baptized twice, like it washed away the sins even better.

Here in this baptismal font, I was about to be baptized for some dead women, enabling them to receive the necessary ordinance so they could progress from the spirit prison where they were, onto spirit paradise. I had heard stories about people performing baptisms for the dead, and seeing or feeling the presence of spirits, people they were being baptized for. The spirits came to witness their own vicarious baptisms, or to thank the person who got the ordinance done for them. Part of me hoped I would see some of the spirits, or at least feel them. But part of me was scared; seeing spirits might creep me out. I wasn't sure, and I wasn't sure if I had the faith to see them anyway. So I kept the idea to myself. And kept my eyes peeled.

Mike raised his right arm, elbow bent. Reading from the screen, he read, "Sister FTA, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and on behalf of Mary Klein, who is dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen." After a bit of confusion, we got our arms interlocked into position, with my fingers plugging my nose, and he immersed me completely under the water, and pulled me up again. The water was heavy on top of me, but not too cool, and the jumper pulled me down. Just as I was about to panic, I was out of the water, trying to regain my footing. He immediately started to repeat the prayer, this time with a different woman's name, and I was in the water again. I tried to pay attention to the screen to note the women's names, birth years, and birth places; I felt a special bond with them, being the person who played so significant a role in their salvation. I went down and up twenty times before it was the next person's turn.

I started up the steps out of the water, feeling the soaked, now see-through jumper cling to my body in all the wrong places. Mercifully, Sister Brown had anticipated this and was waiting just at the top of the stairs with a towel, which she draped over my back. She escorted me back past the girls, and into the shower area of the dressing room. Only shower curtains blocked the shower from anyone coming in or going out, and I felt embarrassed and worked as quickly as I could to get out of my wet clothes. But my dry clothes were secured back in the stall, so I was given a "shield" to wear as I walked back to change. The shield was basically a large square of white cloth with a hole cut in the middle for my head to poke through. I pulled my head through the hole, and tried as well as I could to hold the open sides closed all the way back to my stall.

Once dressed, my hair brushed but still wet, I was given yet another set of white clothes, this time to take part in confirmations--the ordinance done just after baptism that confirms the neophyte a member of the church and gives them the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was led into another room off the main room, and into a small cubicle, where two men in white jumpers sat around a chair. Their chairs were built specifically for this; they were like bar stools, with a crossbar elbow rest, so they could easily keep their arms up to put on the youths' heads, for blessing after blessing. I sat in the chair, and folded my hands in my lap. Both men placed their hands on my head (they were heavy hands) and one spoke the prescribed prayer, again saying my name, then inserting the name of a different dead woman each time. Between each time, they lifted their hands off my head, then placed them back down, making a clear distinction between each confirmation.

Finally, my part was done, and I only had to wait in the wooden benches while everyone else finished up. The others with me watched the people in the font, and chatted amongst themselves about this and that. Hopes that the boys didn't see through their jumpers; news that Paul had a crush on Suzie; gossip about who thought who was cute.

Once we were all gathered together, we headed back up the steps. When I left through the temple doors and back outside, I was surprised to find it was dark, and the ground was covered in snow. I had completely lost track of outside; inside had been so warm, so peaceful and filled with the Spirit. (Also, it had been windowless.) It was a little bit of a let down to go back into The World.

For a while, though, I had been inside. I had tasted a little bit of heaven, and I was eager to go back.

It occurred to me only halfway through writing this post that I would have never written down these details as a faithful Mormon. All goings-on in the temple are kept quite private, from personal feelings and reactions to actual ordinances and protocol. Mormons say this is because the temple is sacred, and it was to me. Writing about the baptisms and confirmations so openly would only confirm my status as an apostate. Keeping them secret only makes outsiders all the more curious and suspicious, and the rumors wild. Writing out my experience, I want to show my mundane interactions (talking about boys; worry about bra sizes and wet whites) in the midst of what I understood as my "sacred, spiritual experience." It was both grounded and sublime, as is much of Mormonism.

Thanks to Meg for reminding me about the bra and panties anguish.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

fertility and new life

I was pleased to find this was an easy Easter for me. Easier, that is, than the other Easters I've gone through since losing my faith. Like Christmas, there have always been the questions of how to celebrate, the discomfort of having Jesus be so prominent, the strange feeling that this should somehow be a religious holiday--never mind that I am non-religious.

I attended Episcopal church the Easter I was still a Christian, and it was immensely satisfying for me to celebrate Jesus without any interference from Mormonism. That same month, at the Unitarian Universalist church, they talked about Easter, Passover, Earth Day, and spring all in the same sermon. It was wonderful.

There are enough secular aspects of Easter, so it's easy enough to keep those. How could I tell my son that we're not having a Easter egg hunt? It would crush him. So I've always gone right along with the egg-dying, the hunt, the chocolate. (And I do love me some Cadbury mini-eggs.)

Jesus was hardly a thought in my mind today, except when Little FTA said, "I know what Easter is about. It's about Jesus dying." He'd heard that from his cousin, which is fine. I would have explained that to him anyway (though I am glad I didn't have to deal with the resurrection). I added, though, that Easter was originally a pagan holiday, before Jesus and before the Christians, celebrating the spring and life. And that's why we have chicks and eggs and bunnies--they represent life and fertility.

But he was all, Whatever, can I just have some more chocolate?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

baptisms for the dead, part 1

Another story from Growing up Mormon:

I was twelve years old, finally in young women’s and finally old enough to go to the Provo temple to do baptisms for the dead. I was almost giddy about the prospect of actually going inside the temple. I’d been looking forward to this for years. That primary song told me to look forward to it, after all.

I love to see the temple
I’m going there someday
To cov’nant with my father
To listen and to pray

For the temple is the house of God
A place of love and beauty.
I’ll prepare myself while I am young
It is my sacred duty.

I had no idea what it was like inside. I’d only seen the outside, the off white, roundish building with the orange-gold spire. Frankly, I thought this temple was a bit funny looking. Ugly, even, if I could call a temple ugly. I suspected I shouldn’t. My parents had been married in this temple, and I always wondered why they chose that one. It was the closest, I guess. But still, this was the temple I grew up seeing on the hill, lit up at night. And really, it didn’t matter what was on the outside. I was curious about the inside.

My parents kept mum about the whole thing. I saw them go off early in the morning, and come back before my school day began, with their little tote bags. I knew there were “temple clothes” inside those bags, but I never, ever saw them. They were sacred, my mom told me once when I asked. I wasn’t to see them.

Despite their secrecy, I knew a little about what went on inside the temples. There were baptisms for the dead, of course, in the basement, and something called endowments, and marriage sealings. Mom had said something about a cafeteria once, and a chapel. It seemed incongruent to have something so worldly as a cafeteria in a house of God, but then, I guess people gotta eat.

Now I was old enough to be let into the basement to do baptisms for the dead, and that felt special. It wasn’t the whole shebang, but it was something.

When my dad told me I’d have to get a special temple recommend, a “one time use” one, my excitement was dampened by nervousness about the interview. What kind of questions would the bishop’s councilor ask? Was I worthy? What would Heavenly Father see in my heart? I started feeling guilty.

For what? What should I be feeling guilty for? I searched my conscious, my memory. I lied that time when I was three, but that was erased when I was baptized anyway. Right, so I only have to think about what happened since I turned eight. Third grade. Okay, think. A couple lies. Never stole anything from the grocery store. Wasn’t always perfect to my siblings. Never cheated on a test at school. Um...Okay, I think I’m okay. But I still felt mildly guilty, and scared.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

a matter of interpretation

I started reading Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling this weekend.


Because I want to torture myself?

Actually, it's more the fact that this is the book my devout relatives are reading about Smith, and I want to know what information and interpretations they are getting. You see, now I know I can make a comment about the peep stone in the hat as the translation process for the Book of Mormon, and not have them look at me like I've sprouted two heads, called Evil Apostate and Anti-Mormon Liar.

I've even found there are some gems in this book that I've never picked up before, like how Joseph borrowed Joseph Knight's wagon and horse the night he "found" the golden plates, but without Knight's knowledge or permission. Leaving Knight to believe his horse and wagon had been stolen by some rogue. Um, yep, they had.

Bushman has put quite a bit of information in there that would have been previously dismissed as Lies of the Devil and now needs to be accepted by believing Mormon readers as "Yep, as weird as it sounds, that's how it happened," which is a good thing. Like the peep stone in the hat, the treasure-seeking, and the multiple first vision accounts. Of course, Bushman suffuses the narrative with enough "But it's all okay; you can still believe" interpretations that Mormons won't have too much cognitive dissonance. His interpretations usually leave me annoyed, and his straw man Book of Mormon critics are dismissed much too easily. But then, his arguments make him look like he actually believes in a golden book that told an impossible history of the Americas. How quaint.

Monday, March 03, 2008

now that wasn't so bad

If you've been reading my blog for a few months, you'll know that last time I was in Utah was for Thanksgiving. On that trip, I had an allergic reaction to the very act of driving across the border into the Mormon state (manifest in the desire to get a tattoo or some body piercings--anything to look Not Molly Mormon). This time, though, I didn't get that suffocating feeling of needing to rebel, though I did lament the noticeably small numbers of coffee shops.

I'm not sure what was different this time; maybe it's the passage of time--I've been a non-believer for nearly three years now--or maybe it's that I had a week off and actually chose to spend it in Utah. Sometimes I think that must mean I am crazy. But really, it's about my family. I like them, whatever their beliefs. If they weren't there, I wouldn't have a reason to go to Utah (though the exmo meet-ups are nice).

The problem is we (my family and I) are virtually incapable of talking about my leaving the church. We pretend like it isn't there, that elephant in the room. Most of the time that's okay, really. There are other topics, of course. But sometimes I just want to blurt out, "I resigned my membership!"

There is one sibling, though, that surprised me with her openness and willingness to talk. Her husband recently resigned his membership, and--gasp--we actually talked about it! And other topics of belief, too. It was wonderful to have someone within the family to discuss things with. She's still a believer, but I feel like I can talk fairly openly with her (as long as I don't say something like Joseph Smith was a putz). The last time I had talked to this sister about religion, she had asked me to never talk to her about religion again, so this new openness is refreshing. The trip was worth that alone.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

been reading

I've been reading this fabulous book, eat, pray, love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. You've likely heard of it or at least seen it around, as it is a #1 New York Times Bestseller, as the cover proudly proclaims. It was recommended to me by both my devout mother-in-law and by fellow DAMU blogger, love medicine (who has exponentially expanded my To Read list).

The first section, "eat," is about a four-month stay in Italy, where the author practices the art of indulgence by learning Italian--for no other reason than she wants to--and by eating wonderful, delicious Italian food. There's this great chapter where she describes seeking out the best pizza place in Naples, the city where pizza began. Get this: she's eating the Best Pizza in the World. She gushes about this pizza with it's thin crust, perfectly flavored red sauce, and fresh mozzarella (once you've gone fresh, you can't go back). I tell you, she practically describes a food-gasm about this pizza. Tears of joy over the cheese. Shit, I almost had a food-gasm myself just reading about it. I thought back to the best pizza I've ever had, in New York City, with fellow exmos Meg & Jack Slate, hank rearden, lisesymom & exV, and juggler vain. We were there for lunch, I had skipped class and taken the train in just for this lunch, and we ate pepperoni pizza with rolls and red wine. The sauce was perfect, the crust was crisp but melt-in-your-mouth wonderful, and the fresh mozzarella just made this pizza. I can't imagine the pizza in Naples.

What I love about this section of the book is that the author feels it is 100% okay to indulge like this. Enjoy life; cater to your senses; focus on the body. This is not okay in Mormonism, where the spiritual self is supposed to put above the physical self: sacrifice, deny immediate pleasure for future gain, fast from food to get in touch with your spirit. That's not to say that Mormons can't be foodies; I certainly was. But I always felt a bit guilty about it.

Twenty-three pounds heavier, Gilbert goes on to India for a spiritual journey in the Buddhist tradition. There are parts of this I really liked and appreciated. Some of it made me want to try meditation, explore Buddhism more. I felt a bit jealous, really, of the transcendent moments she experiences. On the other hand, I found myself irked by it all being explained with the term "God." I don't want to be irked, but I am. Gilbert's version of God is absolutely nothing like the Mormon's Heavenly Father, of course. It's something much more elusive, certainly not corporeal, but still, often, a He. Ick. I also found my skeptical side kicking in and asking, "Why should we be seeking these altered states of consciousness at all? And why do they have to be called spiritual? Isn't what they call "god" just a part of our brain, a state of mind, something inexplicable to them but not, someday, to science?"

There was one particular passage that describes faith. I found my skeptic self frustrated by the description and argument.

"There's a reason we refer to 'leaps of faith'--because the decision to consent to any notion of divinity is a mighty jump from the rational over to the unknowable, and I don't care how diligently scholars of every religion will try to sit you down with their stacks of books and prove to you through scripture that their faith is indeed rational; it isn't. If faith were rational, it wouldn't be--by definition--faith. Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark."

I didn't like it. That leap from the rational to the unknowable. Been there done that. Except that I was ignoring the rational because the knowable was artificially made unknowable by the scary label "anti-Mormon lies." So in leaving the church, I made the opposite leap; from what I thought was the knowable to the rational. And the rational won, and I value it too much right now to try any leap back. Maybe sometime I'll try seeking out some other level of spirituality, but not now.

The same paragraph goes on to read,

"If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, out belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be...a prudent insurance policy."

That bit I appreciated. I realized that had I read that three years ago, when I was on the verge of the collapse of my Mormon belief, I would have really liked it. It would have opened my eyes and changed my understanding of faith, and helped me see that Mormonism had a messed up view of faith. Other religions see faith as doubt; Mormonism sees doubt as antithetical to faith. Mormonism confuses faith and knowledge; people say "I know the church is true" instead of "I believe the church is true." Gilbert never, ever says, "I know" about anything. She never, ever says, "This is the way to achieve transcendence." Her attitude is more, "I'm not sure what this is, but I like it" and "Everyone should seek their own way, this way has been working for me." How refreshing. Overall I liked the section, and appreciated that even though her experience and interaction with spirituality is so different from mine, it is still human experience and valuable to her and to me.

And now for the "love" section, where she seeks balance. I can't wait to read it.

*Both quotes are from p. 175

Friday, February 01, 2008

once again, the insignificance

I haven't had much to write lately, besides being a bit bogged down by some virus. I suppose it's a good thing for me that I don't think enough about Mo'ism to have something to write several times a week.

Trying to think of something in my life that was Mo-influenced, I remembered the most significant event in a while for Mormons--the death of the president, Hinckley, this past Sunday. My response was a shocked and sympathetic, "Wow" when my mother-in-law told me. While I feel sympathy for his family at their loss, I'll confess that just a couple days before the death, my husband and I had been wondering when the nonogenarian would pass. (Nope, that doesn't make me a prophet for predicting the future, as he was 97, and I'd been wondering when he would die for years now.)

The death would have been much more a significant for me had I still been a believer, as it is, I'm sure, for my family and friends who are. I imagine many of them will watch the four-hour funeral proceedings tomorrow. The most time I'm going to put in, though, is watching the Colbert Show coverage. 'Cause it's hilarious. Predictably, it links the death and the passing of the mantle to Thomas S Monson to Romney's candidacy, then switching into a writers' strike joke--showing exactly how little the small world of Mormondom means to the rest of the country.

On facebook, I noticed that some Mormons are "getting their panties in a bunch" about the video clip and have formed a group to boycott Colbert for it. But I also noticed that there's another Mormon group to boycott the boycott.

Friday, January 25, 2008

notes on religion and health

I was updating my list of "Further Reading" books, and realized a couple books I had on there previously were dropped when I switched from the old blogger. (Some of my blogroll was also lost; my apologies if your blog is not on my list--just let me know!)

The two books I recognized as lost were God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection, by Jeffrey Levin, and Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Medicine and Religion, by Richard P. Sloan. I read them both for a class I took, and looking through my classwork, I found some of my notes about the books.

Koenig [who he is, I can't for the life of me remember] argues that health benefits might only come to those who are intrinsically religious; this leads me to wonder about all those people who are extrinsically religious, but belong to religions that do not let them admit that. Are they not only getting no benefits, but are they also harmed by religion? Even Levin acknowledges that such people exist in his comment about “the exceptions, such as people whose emotional well-being is harmed by religion” (Levin, p. 8). It is easy for Levin to say, “If we find that how we worship is only making us more miserable, then it may be time to find a new way to pray” (p. 92). However, for people in conservative religions especially, Levin has a frustratingly simple view of people’s ability to switch religions or styles of worship. If religion is paid better attention to in public health and medical practice, it should be to find those people for whom religion causes negative health outcomes, particularly with regards to mental health. Much more research needs to be done to even tease out these effects and to determine how widespread they are. Unfortunately, at this stage most studies on religion and health are financially supported by religious funders; it is in their interest to ignore religion and negative health outcomes.

The application of findings of religious studies to medical or public health practice should only be done only with great caution. The studies are indeterminate enough that medicine cannot go beyond saying religiousness/spirituality may have benefits for prevention of chronic disease in general, particularly with regards to providing social support, reducing rates of high-risk behaviors, and providing time to relieve stress. But this ignores the cases in religious communities where social support morphs to coercive demands for social conformity; where youth are ignorant about how to protect themselves from STDs because of demands for absolute abstinence; and where participation causes stress. These cannot be simply ignored.

If findings were to be used in practice, it would best be secularized first. For example, doctors and public health interventions could recommend people find social groups, reduce risk-behaviors, and take time out of each day to relieve stress. The recommendation could then list possible forms of social groups, with church groups as one example of many, and possible forms of stress-relief, such as yoga, breathing, prayer, meditation, etc. Religion should not be ignored, but it also should not be trumpeted as a panacea, especially given that membership in a religious community stems from many reasons, not limited to an actual desire to be a member.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

shirt and tie

I dreamed a dream...

I was at my parents' house in Utah, and lots of extended family was there too. It was a Saturday evening. I walked into the living room to find at least a dozen family memories hanging about. I saw my son in the center of room, playing with three of his male cousins. I saw with annoyance that all of the boys had on white shirts and ties, as if in preparation for church, including my son. (Who had a Star Wars tie on, to his delight.) I could see he was enjoying the group uniform, the feeling of being one of the crowd. Obviously, one of the adult members of the family had decided to introduce this particularity of the Mormon church to my son, as if grooming him for more exposure to the One and True Living Gospel.

As I stood there steaming about it, my dad asked me, right in front of everyone, "When you are going to have Little FTA baptized?" My son is a couple years away from the Age of Accountability still, but in the dream, he was just old enough. Just old enough that people were wondering when the date of the baptism would be.

Just after my dad asked that question, my husband came and stood by my side. I answered, "Not until he's 18, if he wants to at all." That created quite a ripple through the crowd, and I left the room, only to be hounded by others about why we would wait so long. The dream ended.

Now I have to think, how would I answer?


-We feel that childhood is not the appropriate time to join a church, any more than it is the time to join a political party.

-We're not going to baptize him. And, no, you can't baptize him either.

-Little FTA doesn't believe in god.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mormonism and the Bible

I realized that in my last post about the Bible, I forgot to write some things I wanted to say. Like how Mormonism has a strange relationship with the Bible. Because of the 8th Article of Faith, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God" (I typed that from memory; I think I got it right), Mormons are kind off the hook in some respects. For example, you could take a passage in the Bible you don't like or agree with (hmm, like slaughtering every man, women, child, and animal; or sacrificing daughters; or destroying gay people) and throw it out with a "it must not have been translated correctly."

Joseph Smith seemed to have done this with the crazy story of Lot offering up his daughters to the Sodomites in place of the male visitors (as if it's better to rape women than men?). "Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof" (KJV Genesis 19:8). In the Smith translation, the scripture reads "And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes;" (JST Genesis 19:13). Smith's version certainly makes Lot sound like a nicer dad (we'll not get into what happens later).

I've seen Mormons discount stories with other morally questionable passages, like the story of youth getting eaten by bears because they teased Elisha about being bald (see 2 Kings 2: 23-24). When you believe the Bible is true only insofar as it was translated correctly, it's easy to decide that the whole bear story was a fairy tale, or at least told incorrectly. God wouldn't do that. And yet I've seen even worse stories held up as absolutely factual, like God telling the Hebrews to slaughter every living thing in wherever-it-was (see, I really need to improve my Bible literacy). I mean, why not give God the benefit of the doubt that He (ahem) really is benevolent and decide that particular passage was an after-the-fact justification for massacre, or that the incident didn't even happen at all?

I would expect some Mormons to also take the as-far-as-it-was-translated-correctly clause as an easy way to reconcile modern science with the early stories of the Bible. You know, like the 7-day creation, Noah's flood, the parting of the Red Sea, 900-year lifespans, the Tower of Babel as the origin of diversity of languages, etc. It'd be pretty easy to dismiss these as mythology if you don't have to believe every word of the Bible as Truth. And yet the party line is that these things did literally happen (I'm sure there are many Mormons who don't believe these literally, and many are able to handle the cognitive dissonance of believing both evolution and creation, for example).

I suspect that one of the reasons Mormons generally don't dismiss those stories as mythology is Joseph Smith's literal belief in them--and his placing of mythological characters and events in prominent, literal events. Noah's flood must be literal, for example, because prophets said the flood was the baptism of the earth (for example Smith, Joseph Fielding, Jr., Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: BookCraft, 1955), Vol.2, p.320.). And if the Tower of Babel is just mythology, then the story of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon would have to be mythology too--so if you believe the Book of Mormon is true, you must believe the Tower of Babel is literal. Then there's Joseph's assertion that Abraham was a real person who wrote a real book and hid it among Egyptian papyri while he was really in Egypt. And while I've on the rare occasion heard Mormons refer to the temple version of the creation as symbolic, it's safe to bet that a large proportion take Adam and Eve's existence as quite literal. Joseph certainly did--he reportedly spoke to not only Adam (aka Michael), but also Gabriel (aka Noah), Raphael (D&C 128:20-21), Seth, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Journal of Discources 17:374; 18:325-26; 21:65, 94, 161; 23:48). So it's safe to say that Mormons are supposed to take those men's respective Bible stories as real.

Which is unfortunate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the spirit and transcendence

I recently had a faithful Mormon friend ask me, "Okay, so you left the church. But what about your spiritual experiences? Didn't you have any? What did you 'do' with them since leaving?"

In reply, I sent here edited versions of two previous posts, the spirit and exorcising the spirit. On reading those posts, I realized I've thought more about the issues, and added the following to my reply.

I also think that transcendent moments (e.g. spiritual experiences) happen across religions, and to the non-religious, and people interpret them according to how they were taught to interpret them, or according to their personality. A Baptist takes it as confirmation that her church is the true one; a Mormon takes it as confirmation that her church is true; an agnostic takes it as a beautiful moment of feeling a connection with the community or the cosmos; one boy decides his experience means he should become a priest; another boy sees his as a great love for science and the natural world. It doesn't mean none of it is sacred or important. A good quote for this is "I now believe that whether or not there's a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday. It's possible that humans created this sacredness ourselves, but that doesn't take away from its power or importance."

Friday, January 11, 2008


I've been reading more of the book I mentioned in my last post, and realized that I've never actually read the Bible all the way through. Sure, I attended Sunday school, where the Old Testament (I now prefer to call it the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament were the year's topic every 3rd and 4th year. And I was a highly-faithful seminary student all through high school, where the Old and New Testaments were taught my junior and senior years. I even liked it that way; I loved that New Testament finished off my seminary career. Keep the focus on Jesus and all. Then in college, I took a New Testament class again, one focusing on the Four Gospels.

But in all that, did I ever actually read the whole thing? Nope. In seminary, it's the usual practice to read every verse and chapter (or section, for D&C) through the school year. For the Book of Mormon year, that was easy enough, since I'd made a habit of reading that book daily since I was 11. I read every section of D&C, retaining virtually nothing. But for the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, the powers that be selected which chapters and verses were important enough for us to read. Numbers for example--we read all that. Vital to know the exact count of each of the tribes wandering the Sinai. And at least most of Deuteronomy. Why did we read those? To know all those laws we no longer follow? Song of Solomon was completely nixed. If anyone asked why, we were told that part was not inspired. Among ourselves, we discussed how it was immoral, pornographic even. Which was enough to get some kids to crack those pages on their own, I'm sure, but if anything was even labeled pornographic, that was enough to keep me far, far away. (I've still never read that book, though I have read some exegesis on it.) So I have read most of the Bible, but I skipped quite a bit, not according to what interested me, but according to what the Church Education System thought I should read.

Oh, and only the King James Version. Which is considered the worst English translation out there. Not only is the English difficult to understand, but it's just a poor translation. It's old. Scholars have learned a lot more about translating Hebrew since then. More modern versions better represent what the Hebrew says, and they say it in language that doesn't sound 400 years old. "Charity never faileth" becomes "Love never fails." Ahh, much better.

Mormons cling to the King James Version, though. Why? Ultimately because that's the version Joseph Smith, Sr. had in his home, as far I as know. So it's what Joseph Smith, Jr., grew up with. All kinds of justifications have arisen as to why they haven't switched to another version like a lot of churches have. Like, the language seems more noble, more holy. Why is James's English more holy than any earlier or later English? And are we forgetting Smith's idea that God speaks the "Adamic" language, not English? And have we forgotten that when the Bible is in other languages, it's not in King James English? The Book of Mormon and D&C are in similar archaic language, which Mormons take as evidence that God just speaks that way. But which says to me Joseph Smith thought God speaks that way.

In addition, there's the major quoting of the Bible in the Book of Mormon. The King James Bible. Supposedly 1000-2000 years before the King James Bible was written. Mormons take this as evidence that both are from God, and further evidence that the King James version is the way to go. Occam's Razor compels me to interpret that anachronism differently.

The greatest joke the King James version played on Joseph Smith is in the italicized words. I asked about the italicized words as a young child, and was told that these words are glossed, not exact translations. For example, in Hebrew you might not need the word "to" in a certain phrase, while in English you do, so it's put in, but italicized. Or there are other words that are translated with hesitation, where the meaning is unclear. Joseph Smith didn't have the luxury of an educated dad to tell him this, though. So when Smith came across the italicized words when rendering his translation of the Bible, he added whole phrases. A large portion of his translation is just his expanding glossed translations as if they were secret passageways to God's lost words. The same is true of the (mis)quoted parts of Isaiah in 2nd Nephi. When I learned about that I was still unsure about the Smith and the Book of Mormon. When I read about that, though, the possibility of Joseph's prophethood dropped 20 notches. Not the final nail in the coffin of my testimony, but it definitely raised suspicions.

Part of my Bible illiteracy is the quoting the Bible in the Book of Mormon. Lots of (2nd) Isaiah, a oneupmanship version of the Sermon on the Mount. So sometimes I can't remember which verses are in which book. At least I recognize this, so I can avoid making a fool of myself by spouting off a quote I think is from the Bible only to have a Sunday-schooled Bible thumper tell me I must be quoting Satan. Then there's the problem of the Pearl of Great Price--it has a lot of similarities to parts of Genesis, but is definitely in its own la-la-land. Like that story about Abraham almost getting sacrificed by his father? I didn't realize that wasn't in the Hebrew Bible until a few years ago. (Who can keep track of all those sacrifices and twice-told stories?)

Anyway, I've decided I want to read the Bible--and not the King James version. Not because I think I should, because I want to be Bible literate in a culture so infused with the Bible. I've tended to be pretty anti-scripture the past couple years, but I know there are some nice things in the Bible, too, among all the morally despicable and just plain wacko parts. I'm looking forward to reading it as mythology for the first time, too. What freedom to read it as "this is what one guy thought" and "this is a ancient story from the Hebrew people" instead of "this is what happened" or "this is what God wants me to do"!

And I'm looking forward to the Song of Solomon.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Since leaving the church, I've learned to differentiate spiritual from religious, and feel that one can nourish one's spirituality without organized religion or even religion at all. (One can also be religious without being spiritual.) But the actual definition of spiritual is elusive, maybe because it is intensely personal.

I think of it as a selfhood, a soulfulness (though I don't think there is a "soul" per se), paying attention to that part of the world that is me and only me. I also see it as a feeling of connection to others, to the world, the cosmos, the sublime. A feeling of peace, or joy, or love. A contentedness. It can be found anywhere, and it's different for everyone. A book, a movie, some music, dance, or art. In a walk through the forest or on the beach, or even in the neighborhood. Creating, building , destroying. Meditation, prayer, recitation, exercise, thrill-seeking.

Why do we seek it? I believe it has something to do with the fact that human brains have evolved to the point that we are conscious of our consciousness. We are animals smart enough to ask, "Why?" Smart enough to realize we are one tiny bit of one great whole, and we seek significance and connection within that.

I've been pretty non-spiritual and secular the past couple years, for the most part. Don't have god, don't need sublimeness or religion. But every once in a while, I feel like I'm in the mood for something spiritual. I miss it and crave it. I wonder, am I missing out on something by being secular? Is there really something special about religion that I can't achieve without it?

These questions were brought on this last week by a book I'm reading, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I thought it would be terribly funny and irreverent, the whole book aimed at poking fun at all the wacko things in the Bible. It is quite funny, but the author really, truly tried to find god by following the rules in the Bible (wacko rules and all). It's written by a secular New Yorker who wondered if he was missing something by being secular. He wanted to give the Bible an honest try. Half way through his year, he found himself praying to god when his son was hurt. Spontaneously praying, and actually believing it might help (for a few seconds anyway).

And I realized something. I miss that. I used to structure my world view around a benevolent god watching over me. Me personally. I used to pray. Now? I've not once prayed that my current illness would go away. Most of the time, I am perfectly reconciled to the idea that I'm an outcome of evolution, that there is no ultimate purpose, no afterlife of reward. But sometimes, sometimes, I miss how it was.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

only the good stuff

I've been on a little hiatus, what with family in town for the holidays, Little FTA out of school, and my persistent no good, rotten, bad mood since Christmas. Unfortunately, this was one of those bad moods that kills my muse rather than brings it out. Sigh. I just haven't felt like writing or felt like I had anything to write.

But last night, on the way back from dinner with my husband, son, and believing brother-in-law, Little FTA busted out with a great line. And I thought, That is so going on the blog.

We were telling stories, and mission stories came up. Both my husband and his brother went on Mormon missions, so they've got lots of stories. Little FTA piped up, "What's a mission? Is that like when you go out and find something?" He was thinking of secret agent missions, in the vein of Backyardigans Super Secret Spy or James Bond.

I started to explain, "No, it's not like going on a secret mission to find something. See, Mormons and some other Christians go out as missionaries to try to convince people to join their church, to be Mormons or Christians too."

"Oh, right," Little FTA added in all seriousness, "but they only tell them the good stuff."

We laughed at that, and I said, "That's right. They only tell them the good stuff."

My brother-in-law was a bit shocked, but good-natured about it. "What are you teaching him?" he asked.

"Not to be a Mormon, that's for sure," I mumbled.