Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We Were the Victims of Ourselves, Maybe the Children of a Lesser God

My original plan was to tackle this thing chronologically, but I've decided the following post has its place and that place is right here. Also, I must ask forgiveness for utilizing a popular song lyric as the title, it just seemed so fitting.

In a recent post on this quite interesting website, a friend of mine mentioned that most mormons seem to believe that people exit the church because they were offended.

"And you know what, I was offended. I was (and am) offended that the LDS Church would have me worship a god who perpetrated the above mass murder [refer to 3Nephi, 8 & 9]. And not just any god, but Christ--the prince of peace. On the cross, Christ (according to Luke's gospel) plead with the Father to forgive his killers. Are
we to honestly believe that this same Christ, just moments later, would burn, bury and drown 16 cities and their inhabitants? "
This comment, combined with my recent first viewing of this disturbing documentary has spurred me into writing this post.

It took a surprising amount of energy to keep myself from becoming truly angry and bitter when I left the church. In fairness, I must admit that I was not wholly successful, but have nevertheless made my finest effort in maintaining civility and understanding, offering respect where it is given in return. But I digress. The point is this: I'm angry.

Leaving a religion like Mormonism is rather difficult because you have all these glorious promises (being w/ your spouse for eternity, etc.) that suddenly disappear. Most would argue that they disappear because the one to receive them has rejected them. Not so. I'm afraid I must convey a bit of personal information in order to make my point. I've mentioned previously that I am bisexual, and I mean that in the true sense of the term. I haven't gotten curious after a series of negative experiences with the opposite sex and it's not that I'm just open to trying anything. For me, the experience of attraction to either sex is identical and has been since the onset of puberty.

Like any good closeted conservative christian, I spent my entire adolescence fighting and repressing it, an experience that I believe to be psychologically and emotionally debillitating. The religious explanation was that in the pre-existence (a concept fairly unique to mormons), I was a particularly strong spirit and was "blessed" with the challenge of overcoming this temptation that not everyone would have to face. I was born with it and had to accept that I would die with it. My mission was to find an obedient and loyal returned missionary to marry in the temple. After a number of what I believe to be valiant efforts, I encountered a particularly difficult experience in which I was forced to face my own repressed sexuality. When I told my boyfriend at the time just what I was (though I had no intentions to act on my inclinations toward females) he rather lost his cool. After 24 hours of silence and a phone call to his mother, he declared that he still loved me and could accept me. How noble, I know.

His mentality was frankly, not much different from my own, so his overreaction was exactly what I expected. Still, I felt slightly indignant that he should be so burdened by this very personal ordeal of mine. It seemed a bit too noble for him to declare he could still love me when he knew nothing of my personal experience and even used it as a method of abuse. In a way, I owe him for the pain because it woke me up. All he really did was emphasize what the church had told me all along: I was only worth the time if I rejected and ignored that part of myself. Still I fought it and after the relationship ended, I found myself praying about it, long after I thought I'd come to peace with the issue. "Heavenly Father," I said, "If it is your will, I will carry this burden for the rest of my life. If it means I must spend my life alone, I will do so if it is your plan for me." I was completely submissive and can honestly say that I had never said a more faithful prayer in my life. My answer was a very clear "No, you have proven yourself. This is no longer your burden to bear and I release you from it." What a powerful experience that was for me. I rose from my knees as the tears streamed from my face. Two weeks later, I discovered what a magnificent lie it had been; my attraction to women was no less than my attraction to men. My promise of freedom was only a reinstallation of the chains, after a decade of already-tested faith and unceasingly vigilant and damaging repression. My sexuality was no longer a struggle when I let go of God. Only then did I understand I was worth loving exactly as I was and am. It was neither pride, nor self-love. It was simply self-acceptance, one of the most potentially saving events in the human psychological experience.

So, why exactly am I angry? Most faithful mormons who hear this experience respond immediately with "Well maybe you misinterpreted it." Why thank you, I didn't even think of that a 479th time. Of course I considered that, but how do you misinterpret something that is as clear to you as the morning sun? I should also add that I questioned it at the time of the prayer and was given a firm "Yes." on my interpretation. "Well, we don't understand everything in this life." How is that a good enough answer when the contrary makes perfect sense? I was insulted to find everyone, my bishop, my friends and my own family, questioning me after a lifetime of being called a "spiritual rock." In the moment that something contradictory arose, I was the variable, because a lying God is not possible. God lied blatantly to my face, people. It wasn't a priesthood blessing that didn't come to pass, it wasn't a feeling, it was a promise, in words, made directly to me.

I'm angry because I was told that any part of myself that contradicted the teachings of the church was something less. RMs were typically frightened of a woman whose ultimate goal was s a PhD in Psychology and who dared to argue against ill-formed arguments and rationalization. When I disagreed with the church on Proposition 8, I learned I could be considered for having my temple recommend revoked. I wasn't considered because I didn't live in California and because the practice was too controversial to become widespread. Nevertheless, I became the metaphorical racist grandma that everyone hopes will fall asleep at the family reunion. I was expected to be silent for thinking that people who didn't share my religious beliefs should still share my rights. My politics were based on my desire for others to practice their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) in peace, just as I wanted to mine; separation of church and state in order to protect the religious and agnostics/atheists alike. I was frowned upon and that struck me as fundamentally wrong.

I was often told that I thought too much or too deeply, simply because I needed a reason for everything. I needed to understand the deepest "hows" and "whys," but when I came to a contradiction, I was simply "thinking too much." Many of my questions went unanswered and some people that I asked became uneasy around me. I'm angry because I was lied to and because I lied to myself. What a genuine crime to tell a curious child she is thinking too much!

In contrast, it seems impossible, even to those who know me best, that I might be on to something, that I could think for myself. My mother often responds in anger, "I blame [aforementioned boyfriend] for this. I know you say you got here by yourself, but I think he had so much to do with it and put things into your head." In a sense she is correct, but not the one she intends. Another comment I receive is "I blame that stupid major of yours. Sorry, I know you love it, but I blame it for this." How nonsensical! This is probably a reiteration, but I have a bachelor's degree in psychology and am focused primarily on research into disabilities/disorders and their physiological bases (again b/c of my desire for tangible evidence). These comments of outrage do not make sense to me. The people who encouraged me (and I thank them) to go to college, are condemning something that encourages thought and evidence, simply because it contradicts the religion in which I was raised. Whether I am truly of high intelligence remains to be seen, but that is what I was so often told growing up. Why now, when I am finally beginning to trust myself and that intelligence, am I pegged as a mindless zombie, easily swayed by boys and professors? Suddenly the overthinker was incapable of thinking for herself at all!

Most of all, I am angry because of the time I lost. I spent far too much of my life being soothed by the notion that it would all get better when I died and went to be with God. I could have had greater appreciation for the present and what it was trying to teach me. For too long did I expect the second coming of Christ, eliminating the necessity of worry over the welfare of our planet. I thought I was humble, when in reality I was far too proud. It is not possible to be humble with respect to others when they themselves are "nons" and you belong to the "only true church upon the earth."

Along with lost time, I am angry for the joy I missed. I have one life. I am small and insignificant in the grand scheme of the cosmos. At the same time, I finally understand what a miracle is. For life to evolve the way it has and to a level of intelligence such as ours is surely a rarity in the universe. As Carl Sagan said, "Every cell is a triumph of natural selection and we're made of trillions of cells." Surely that is a beautiful thought. I am the result of aeons of evolution and millenia of cognitive adaptation. To me, that is so much more awe-inspiring than anything I was raised believing, especially doctrines that are such a source of hate and disagreement. How I wish I could have known that so long ago, rather than suffering under the self-loathing and guilt that my religion so readily reinforced.

What matters is that I know it now. I am angry and I was offended, but I am also joyous to have a grasp of my own capabilities and to finally give credit to my own intelligence and the awesome intelligence of my species. I can finally have a relationship with some one I find wholly appealing (agnostic argument style has always been kind of sexy to me...) and I can finally love myself and feel loved by some one else for everything that I am. Everything from my sexuality to my intelligence, to my tomboyish quirks can be not only acceptable, but beautiful. It is incredibly freeing to say "I believe/know this," knowing that you got there on your own, even against the odds. And that what you believe has tangible, measurable evidence behind it! I do not know everything, but I feel that I am finally free to attempt to. It is in my personality and written into my very DNA.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Prologue: Questioning should not require a disclaimer

Well, I said I was going to give a little chronicle of my journey out of mormonism and I suppose the time has come. I may have to make this a widget on the page or something because I'd like what I'm about to say to be kept in mind throughout this little journey we're going to take together (anyone? anyone? no? ok.)

If you click only one of the links I've connected, make it this one. (there's a chance you'll see it again later)
Anyway, for anyone who might happen across my little jumble of text and ill-focused conundrum that I so generously title a "blog," there are some things I want you to know. My beliefs have changed radically since my childhood and I tend to address things in terms of experience. I'm hoping I can keep a reasonable balance between narrative and argument. Also, as much as I hate to, I may over share at times. If I do, it is only to make a point because, frankly, people who over share for no reason at all really annoy me (especially on the Internet). Third, the Internet is not my favorite medium. I don't like exposing such intimate things to the open air. However, I've chosen this medium because it is the simplest way to publish, but still edit and amend, and because it allows me the level of anonymity that I prefer.

Finally, and probably most important, what I write will not always be agreeable and may even seem disrespectful. At one point, I am very certain that it will sound blatantly racist. This is the most crucial thing you must understand: I was fully immersed in a religion with an edited history and with controversies, many of them older than a century. When the answer "I'll ask God when I die" is not satisfactory, a person searches under rocks for conclusions and understanding. The result is sometimes unpleasant and illogical, but if it eases our anxiety and rationalizes our conflicts, we accept it. I will do my best to provide solid references, but understand that I am communicating the doctrine as I learned it. I spent 18 years as an intensely faithful and devout Mormon. I did everything I could to believe the doctrine and agree with it, but some pieces of the puzzle cannot be forced together.

For any Mormon readers out there, understand two things:
1. I do not hate Mormons and I am not serving Satan in hopes of leading you astray. I am telling my story and explaining things as I understand them. All I ask of other people is that they open their eyes to the world beyond the one that raised them. If they can do so and still follow the church leaders, I have no quarrel at all. If you can tell me logically why you believe what you do, I am glad to hear it and admit a stalemate of ideas.
2. I did not leave the church because I was offended. I did not leave the church because I wanted to sin. When I left, I was doing everything members are expected to do: attending church, paying tithing, reading (not looking at words in) my scriptures daily, praying daily and attending the temple. I was dutiful and intentional, meeting with my bishop about my questions and doubts. My entire family is LDS; I did not leave because it was easier than being a member. I did not crawl around the truthfulness of it. (feel free to skip to 8 min). I faced and questioned it. It was (and remains) one of the hardest things I have ever done. My relationship with my family was damaged, I lost friends and felt ostracized from an entire culture.
I had a visiting teacher who still came to see me, giving me guitar lessons when I became uncomfortable with the relief society messages. I am very thankful to people like her, who reach out to the person and not the "church member."

I think that covers everything. I've sat in silence long enough. I will admit that I'm weary of having doctrine pushed in my face and then having my opinions marked as "irreverent," "disrespectful" or even "satanic." One of the greatest gifts my ancestors gave me is free speech, so let's get started.