When I came home from my first semester of college, my sister-in-law asked me about college and if I liked the people at church. I looked at her, puzzled, until I realized she didn’t know. “I haven’t attended church in over a year.” I told her.
My sister-in-law looked shocked and then, looking around her, lowered her voice – “Don’t tell my children about this.” I have honored my sister-in-law’s request – I do not discuss my reasons for leaving in front of her children. I do not want to be the trouble-maker.
When Mormons leave, an odd thing happens. Mormons refuse to talk about the issue, creating a cocoon of denial around a person’s decision to leave. There is an almost universal desire among Mormons to ignore the fact of apostasy. I was never asked about my reasons for leaving, although there were a lot of people who tried to convince me to go back to church. Apostates are branded as angry, sinful, or deluded. The Mormons that love you don’t want to believe that you have joined the ranks of apostate – so they don’t ask, preferring to think that you are simply confused. The Mormons that don’t know you also refuse to ask, assuming that your apostasy was for the stereotypical reasons. A member’s inactivity is viewed as a temporary lapse of sanity, one that can be gently corrected by the faithful.
Ex-Mormons don’t talk about leaving because doing so will be a spark of anger in an already tense situation. If we talk about the issues within Mormonism that caused us to leave, then we are branded as the stereotypical angry apostate. Faithful members fear that we will corrupt their children or shake their belief in Mormonism. My family does not want to hear why I left and I do not want to force my opinions on an un-willing audience. There is a communication chasm between Mormon and ex-Mormon that cannot be breached.
An unfortunate effect of this impasse is that ex-Mormons have a difficult time finding each other. We cannot speak about our doubts in public and few Mormons will acknowledge our apostasy, creating a shroud of secrecy around the existence of ex-Mormons.
A couple months ago, I discovered that one of my brothers is inactive. His church attendance has been wavering for a long time, with periods of activity followed by inactivity. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know this, in spite of the fact that this has been going on for years. My brother is thirteen years elder to me; he moved to Utah when I was four. Other than a couple of years spent living near my parents when I was eight, my brother has spent the majority of his life living in the Utah/Idaho region. This was happening in my own family – and I never knew. No one told me and I didn’t think to ask. The cocoon of silence surrounding ex-Mormons runs deep, even within families.
The reason I heard about my brother’s inactivity is because my family is making a concerted effort to get him to go back to church. A couple months ago, when I was talking to my brother on the phone, he had to hang up because the bishop had arrived.
“The bishop’s here - he’s going to try and convince me to come back to church.” my brother said, sounding gloomy about the prospect.
Wait, he’s not going to church? I thought. I knew that my brother is responsible for driving his children to seminary and that his eldest son is preparing to leave for a mission – this is the gossip I have heard within the family circles. The fact that my brother was no longer attending was not part of the family narrative.
“Oh, I’ve been there before.” I said. I wanted to talk more but my brother had to hang up. I sent him an e-mail, letting him know that if he ever wanted to talk, I was happy to listen. He has not replied. I am silent because I do not want to cause a rift in my brother’s family or be labeled as the corrupting apostate influence. I assume my brother is quiet for similar reasons; I am the baby, the little sister he doesn’t know well enough to trust. Even within my own family, we are doomed to isolation because we fear the retaliation that results from speaking against Mormonism.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
When I first left Mormonism, I called myself an atheist. I walked around saying “I know there is no God.” Faced with the difficulties of transitioning out of Mormonism – the fights, the sorrow, the preaching – a hardline approach was necessary. I needed to present a strong face to the world, to counteract the rigid beliefs I grew up with. If a pendulum swings far to one side, then it must return to the other side in equal measure.
When I began to settle into my identity as a former Mormon, I realized that I am not an extreme person. In church, I was taught to say “I know there is a God.” Then I said “I know there is no God.” Neither of these identities worked for me. I do not know the truth and I do not want to lie – either to myself or others - about the fact of knowing. As people, we have a tendency to whitewash our reality, to project an image to the world. We all want to be seen as ideal versions of ourselves. The more we act the part, the further from reality we find ourselves. Saying “I know” about the existence of God is a deny our limitations as humans. There is no substantive evidence that either proves or disproves the presence of a higher power.
As an agnostic, I have been accused of being wish-washy. I disagree. Part of growing up is accepting your limitations. For me, the path to maturity involved accepting my limitations. I will never be a social butterfly – I am far too introverted for that to be a reality. I could wallow in self-pity about the matter – or I could grow up and accept myself for who I am. Within the acceptance of limitations is strength. Until there is substantive evidence concerning the existence of God, I will not claim to know the truth.
As human beings, we have our collective limitations. As much as I love watching X-Men, humans will probably never develop super-powers. I also don’t think we ever know the truth of what happens after death, as much as popular books and pop-science try to convince us otherwise. We can either wallow in denial and self-pity or we can accept the limitations of our beliefs. There is no shame in admitting we don't know the answers.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I have a habit of browsing through food blogs. The photos are tempting – bright, colorful, and immaculate. Sometimes I replicate these recipes – a couple weeks ago, faced with a deluge of oranges from the tree in my backyard, I made sweet orange marmalade, based off a recipe I found online. Last month, when I was craving pumpkin spice lattes, I made my own pumpkin mixture to add to my morning coffee. I found the recipe online, my attention caught by the gorgeous photos.
When I made these recipes, the results looked flat in comparison to the glossy photos found online. Don’t get me wrong – the results tasted delicious. But my kitchen counters are worn, the lighting is funky, and my utensils are chipped. My life lacks the filters and editing of modern photography.
I live a pretty ordinary life. My house is a 1920s’-era bungalow that is slowly being into turned into a home. The furniture is sparse, the bathrooms are old, and the garden is an on-going mess. I still don’t own a proper bed or matching sheets. I eat good food – sometimes. My husband and I are happy together – most of the time. When guests come for dinner, I scramble to put my house in order and to make sure that I have enough matching plates. My efforts at entertaining are a comedy in errors.
We live in a world of photo-editing, where any photo can be turned into a surreal work of art. When I look at magazine photos and Instagrams, I see an alternate reality. Photoshop “accidents” are memorable; people lose limbs and gain curves in unexpected places. Less notable is the effect that photo-editing has on the way we look at life. Surrounded by photos of immaculate kitchens and beautiful examples of perfect lives, I feel inadequate.
Behind every two-dimensional photo is a three-dimensional reality. Photos capture a sliver of life, a bare millisecond of the world we live in. In math class we put one over infinity, resulting in a number that forever slopes towards zero. With photos, we take an infinitesimal fraction of reality and subject it to further manipulations. The result is glossy, lightened, and devoid of the visceral heft of the real world.
We all edit our lives; when I talk to people, I don’t go into every detail of my life. I pick and choose what I want to share. When I write, I pick and choose my stories, in order to create a specific narrative. Editing is a necessary process of life.
Where do we draw the line? When does editing stop being necessary and start becoming dishonest? There are many different ways in which I can re-arrange my life. I can cut and paste my experiences to create very different stories. Each version presents a slightly different reality. Which narrative is true to who I am? Which snapshot presents my reality?
Monday, November 19, 2012
Segregation (n): The action or state of setting someone or something apart from other people or things or being set apart
I was summoned for jury duty today. The jury duty itself was anti-climatic - four hours of waiting around only to be dismissed before jury selection began. What struck me, however, was the assortment of people around me. Jury duty, along with voting and identification, is the great equalizer. People are summoned regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status. The result is a mixture of people that would never be thrown together otherwise.
I go through life surrounded by people that are similar to me. Most of the people that I know I met through school, work, or leisure activities. As diverse as my interests are, there is a limit to how many people I meet or the type of people I meet. The people I associate with on a regular basis share a common bond with me.
People segregate according to shared values, culture, and social status. We do this because identifying with people like ourselves is easy. Friendship is an organic process that develops out of a shared bond; by that standard, most of our friends will be an echo of who we are. I live in a city that echoes this trait on a larger scale – if you tell me your ethnicity and socioeconomic status, then I can make a pretty good guess as to which neighborhood you live in.
Standing in the line at the courthouse, I struck up a conversation with a guy holding a Bible. He was a youth pastor; I asked him about the training a minister is expected to go through. This is not my usual conversation; I felt ill-at-ease, as though I had a big red “A” for agnostic tattooed on my forehead. I am guessing that this youth minister probably felt the same way talking to a woman that seemed clueless about the basics of church leadership.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I met an old friend this weekend. This girl is my Mormon counterpart, the “what-if” version of a life spent inside Mormonism, rather than outside. Our parents are long-time friends; we grew up in the same ward and attended the same school. We were the minority Mormons in school, a fact that threw us together on a regular basis. We were both blonde, straight-A students who went on to study biology in college. Between early-morning seminary, our shared honors classes, and youth activities, she was the person that saw me the most. And so, when my belief in Mormonism began to fall apart, she was the first person to pick up on the tension.
I wish that I had a story of a friendship that transcended religious belief – but I don’t. The fall-out was messy, involving a seminary schism and the involvement of her uncle the bishop. I guess we both had our anxieties surrounding the Mormon faith - we were just on different sides of the spectrum. I was angry with her for a long time; now I find my anger is slipping away. And so, when I made the arrangements to visit my parents, I contacted her to see if she wanted to get together. She said yes and we agreed to meet at a bakery downtown.
We are now a little older, a little fatter, and more aware of life’s realities. Neither of us have the life we dreamed of in high school. I am OK with that; I like my life, even if it is not the life I expected. We have both had our struggles; a traumatic accident for me, an autistic child for her. She joked about her son, saying that he was the clone of Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory. I joked about my accident, saying that my thick skull came in handy. I have learned that life cannot be controlled; I suspect she has learned that too.
I have been running from my past for my entire adult life. I have avoided my high school classmates and most of my college-friends; they are a reminder of an angry, painful period in my life. I have kept quiet with my family, afraid to spark controversy or tackle the harder issues. I am not good at confrontation; I do not know the art of constructive argument. Avoidance is easy - but does not solve the issue.
I needed the space to sort out my thoughts, to figure out who I was and what I believed, to arrive at acceptance. Now that I have grown into my identity as a post-mormon agnostic girl, the time has come for reunions, for confronting the past, and for moving on to a future that includes all the facets of who I am.
Past, present, and future.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
I for one am neither surprised nor the slightest bit dismayed by my political antithesis's re-election. We know what leads to the final 'passing of the torch' and this just hastens the day and solidifies the resolve and preparation of those who are already well entrenched.
It is completely disenchanting to hear so many people of the same faith in me post such hateful, extremist, end of the world, life, liberty and happiness comments. If you are a true follower of Christ and of the LDS faith you should have hope in your own life-knowing that YOU determine your own happiness. Civility and compromise are qualities that we should all exemplify.
These quotes showed up in my Facebook feed this morning – both of the authors are Mormons that I grew up with. Post-election day is always a let-down; people win and people lose. Some people are happy, some people are sad, some people get angry. This particular election was historic; Mitt Romney was the first Mormon presidential candidate of a major political party. Romney’s candidacy sparked an interest in Mormonism that I have never seen before; this election season has been a roller coaster of emotions, as I have watched the media cover the issues that had such a profound impact on my life.
As a child, I sat through many lessons about the Second Coming of Christ. One teacher taught us that two missionaries would be shot in Jerusalem and that their bodies would lie in the streets for the period of three days. Another teacher told me that the Saints would gather in Missouri and that there would be a period of intense natural disasters. Families were commanded to store a year’s supply of food, in preparation for hard times and famine. After the Second Coming, after all of the chaos and terror, we were taught that Christ would usher in the Millennium, which would be a thousand-year period of peace and prosperity, when Mormonism would spread throughout the world. The Second Coming of Christ is a strong belief within Mormonism; a video that went viral last week indicates that even Romney believes in the predictions surrounding the Second Coming. The leaders never made predictions as to when the Second Coming would take place but we were warned to always be ready, as it could happen at any moment.
Growing up, my father would say that “one day the Constitution will be hanging by a thread and the leaders of this country will look to the Mormon leaders to save it.” This statement, purportedly made by the founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, is commonly referred to as the White Horse Prophecy. I am not sure how many Mormons still ascribe to this prophecy. After Romney’s loss, a quick glance through the ex-mormon discussion boards indicates that more Mormons believe this prophecy than I realized. Many ex-mormons have reported the doomsday predictions of their Mormon relatives. Glenn Beck appears to believe in the White Horse prophecy, although I have always considered Glenn Beck to be a more extreme example of Mormonism. Nevertheless, there is a doomsday attitude that goes deeper than just the sorrow and fear associated with a candidate’s loss; I find myself wondering how many Mormons view this as a sign of the Second Coming.
Friday, November 2, 2012
The night of Election Day, 2008, I found myself in the library writing a paper. Genetics lab – and the fly report – is infamous at Cornell, the bane of many aspiring biologists. As it turned out, this report was due the day after Election Day. The morning of Election Day, I woke up early, rode the bus to the local town hall, entered the red-curtained booth, pulled the lever for my choice in candidates, and then headed back to the library to write my report. I worked late into the night; I could hear the cheers outside the window as I alternated between writing about fly genetics and checking CNN every half hour for election updates. I finished my fly report a few hours after the race was called and then crashed on the couch at lab for a few hours of shut-eye. I was both thrilled with the Obama victory and exhausted from the demands of a heavy course-load. I fell asleep dreaming of a better tomorrow.
The next day, as I headed to class wearing the rumpled clothing from the previous day, I started hearing murmurs about a Proposition 8 that had been passed in California. I was confused about what Prop 8 was – something to do with gay marriage. Since it was a California initiative, I assumed the proposition was in support of gay marriage. I had been so focused on the presidential election that I did not stop to think about what else was going on in the rest of the country. But, as I later found out, Proposition 8 was not in support of gay marriage; it was a ban against gay marriage.
A little while later, I began hearing about the Mormons and the role they played in getting Prop 8 passed. There are no words to describe my devastation when I found out that the religion I was raised in – and that my family actively supports – had invested so much time and energy into stripping human beings of their right to marry. Before Election Day 2008, Mormonism had been a part of my past, an identity that infused my up-bringing and had been responsible for shaping my character. I had complicated feelings about the culture and the authorities but Mormonism was simply a quirky part of my up-bringing. My identity as an agnostic humanist is owed, in part, to the rigor associated with leaving Mormonism.
After Election Day 2008, my relationship with Mormonism became much more complicated. There is no way to sugar-coat this issue - I became ashamed of my up-bringing, of my family's association with a religion that had actively campaigned to remove the rights of both friends and acquaintances. With that initial flush of shame set in an even deeper shame; how could I be ashamed of the religion that my family loves so much? Pre-Prop-8, I had made a tenuous peace with Mormonism. Post-Prop-8, I found myself battling hurt and anger all over again.
There is a long history of homophobia within the Mormon Church; Boyd K. Packer, one of the most out-spoken authorities on homosexuality, is next in line to become the President of the Mormon Church. In 2010, Boyd K. Packer, in a telecast watched by Mormons the world over, said "Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”* Should the current leader, Thomas S. Monson, die, Boyd K. Packer will assume leadership of the Mormon Church and be seen as a modern-day prophet, with the power to commune with God and receive revelation for the Mormon Church at large. Last month, in another world-wide televised broadcast, the General Authority Dallin H. Oaks gave a speech titled “Protect the Children”, the topic of which was the danger of single-parent homes. Following his descriptions of the dangers associated with children growing up without married parents, he proceeded to state “We should assume the same disadvantages for children raised by couples of the same gender.”
The Mormon Church’s stance on homosexuality – along with their actions to actively suppress the rights of gays and lesbians – is heart-breaking. At this point in time, gay Mormons only have a limited set of options - mixed-orientation heterosexual marriage, celibacy, or leaving the faith they were raised to believe in. All of these are heart-breaking options.
The truth is, I struggle to balance the love I have for my family with my concerns about the teachings of Mormonism. I am uncomfortable with prevalent insularity of Mormon culture, the active hostility towards members who leave, and the swift punishment that is meted out to members who express views that are not in alignment with the teachings of authorities. As a former Mormon with a devout Mormon family, I find myself in a tenuous position. How do I balance my two worlds? How do I reconcile the love I have for my family – for whom Mormonism is both an identity and a way of life - with my deep unease over the intolerant actions of Mormon authorities? With every piece of writing, every conversation, I find myself walking a fine line, one that carries the constant risk of falling. How do I balance my own personal convictions with the convictions of my family?
I love my Mormon family but according to Mormon theology, I have thrown away my chances of being with them for eternity. To my family, the most hurtful part of my apostasy must be the simple fact that I will no longer be with them for eternity. The obligations of Mormonism that consume their lives are no longer part of my world-view; I am no longer on the path to an eternity spent with my family, in spite of the fact that I was raised with a full knowledge of the obligations that the Mormon Heavenly Father expects of me. I am unable to grasp the concept of a loving God who requires rituals and a belief in a specific theology as a requirement to enter Heaven.
Heartbreak is found on both sides of the divide between Mormons and former Mormons.
Another Election Day is approaching, historic for the fact that the Republican nominee is a devout Mormon. Once again, I find myself wondering what impact the future will have on my relationship with my family and my up-bringing. I have been watching this Mormon moment, wondering what impact politics and religion will have on the relationships between faithful members and former members. The MormonThink controversy has reminded me of the omniscience of the Mormon authorities and their willingness to suppress any truths that threaten the church’s image. I wonder what will happen when the eyes of the media are diverted from the actions of the Mormon Church. Will the actions of the Mormon Church cause a further rift between faithful Mormons and non-believer family members or will the Mormon authorities work to create long-lasting changes for a more tolerant future?
*Note: The transcript for Boyd K. Packer's speech was later amended following a public outcry. For that reason, I referred you to the original video of his speech; for a more detailed explanation of the changes made, I refer you to this article written by a gay-rights website.