Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Infinite Variety

Sixteen months after resigning my membership in the Mormon church, I continue to marvel at how my perspectives have changed and continue to change.  And it's not just the big theological things, on which my views have certainly changed.  It's the little things too.  Some possibly surprising.

Growing up in the Southern California Mormon Bubble, going to BYU, etc., one tends to spend countless hours in certain buildings and types of surroundings.  They end up coloring one's whole world view.  Endless hallways with carpeted floors and sometimes walls, generic classrooms, the same mass-produced art on countless white-painted cinderblock or plastered wallboard walls, imitation wood veneers.  It's all very comforting and consistent and bland.  Eventually one starts to subliminally assume that most of the world looks like that, especially in a church setting.

But now, having emerged from the bubble, somehow I'm noticing that most of the world doesn't look anything like that.  That probably sounds kind of stupid, because it's so obvious.  I'm not sure why, but somehow I just seem to be seeing the amazing variety of life and of human experience much more clearly now.  I guess that's because I've taken off those Mormon-colored judgmental lenses that were shoved onto my face when I was a tiny boy and which I was told were the only "true" and safe way to look at life.

But now, I go to church at St. Paul's, and I see the terrazo floors and the stone walls, not cheap carpet and faux wood grain formica, and I realize that the people who worship there in those surroundings have probably never set foot inside a bland, carpeted plain vanilla Mormon chapel in their lives and probably never will, yet they are just as Christian as the Mormons are--some probably more so.

I think of places I've visited in Salzburg, Seoul, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, some of them centuries and even millennia old.  Places with no carpet or correlated "inspirational" paintings.  Places that have never seen the footfall of a Mormon missionary and are unlikely to.  Totally untouched by everything that colored my whole world view growing up.

When I was inside the bubble, I tended to think of all those places as somehow deprived, even second-rate.  Because they had never come into contact with "the gospel."  It's embarrassing now to realize what an arrogant judgmental bastard I was when fueled by the benign bigotry of assumed spiritual aristocracy.  Eventually, I somehow thought, every place in the world where "the gospel" spread would come to look like my neighborhood in Southern California or in Utah.  I don't know where that idea came from; maybe from the fact that everywhere I'd seen "the gospel" permeate, well, they all did end up looking basically the same.  So I just extrapolated and assumed it would slowly happen everywhere.

Now I say OMG no way, God forbid that should ever happen.  I'm ashamed at the narrowness of mind I used to have.  I know some of my formerly Mormon friends are now firmly agnostic and bordering on atheist.  But I still retain the basics of my Christian faith.  And so I realize now that if God really did create the whole earth, and the scriptures are right to say that He loves all of his creation equally, then there is no reason to think the whole world will one day look like Utah County.  How horribly bland and boring that would be.

I hope the world will stay just as it is: an endlessly fascinating mosaic of innumerable variations in cultures, lives, choices, arts, music, right down to the little tiny details like what people put on their floors.  I can never hope to experience or learn even a small part of this infinite variety during my life, but having escaped the Mormon bubble, I find myself hungry and thirsty to experience as much of it as possible.  So ironic that the Mormons preach about the need to be "born again," yet it's only after I left that church that I really felt born again in every way.  A new heart, new courage, new confidence, a new way of seeing the world and every fascinating detail in it. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One Of Those Moments

Some people leave Mormonism and become agnostic or atheist. That's totally understandable, given the myopic authoritarian atmosphere they're escaping.

The basics of Christianity still work for me and I consider myself lucky to have found a warm welcome at the Episcopal cathedral here as I try to figure out what I really believe and can have faith in. The people there don't care about whether I'm "doctrinally orthodox," they are just loving Christians.

Today I had one of those experiences that capture in one moment how much life can change, and it was really delightful. Three years ago--not THAT long ago, actually--I was sitting bored as hell in Mormon sacrament meetings, shot through with a mix of angst and excitement and fear and uncertainty, having just barely started to come out, and watching as each week my ward and stake turned itself into a political action committee to rise in defense of truth, righteousness and Proposition 8. "The sacrament" was a rote routine to be gotten through in silence broken by fussy babies and children.

Today I sat calmly in the cool of a beautiful cathedral's stained glass glow, no longer "certain" of some old dogmas but very certain I was in a place that fit me a whole lot better. And when I walked up front to take communion I was part of a microcosm of humanity: all ages, ethnic groups, rich, poor, healthy and infirm, all together. Real life, not an insular cultural bubble. And when I got to the front, the bread was distributed by a woman, and the wine (NOT water) by an African-American man. Both in white vestments. Could that possibly have been more different than the Mormon version?

As I sat in the pew afterward, listening to the Mozart Requiem and watching everyone else walk forward, watching an aged man with slow gait kneel to seek a special blessing from one of the clergy in the apse to the side, I felt very grateful to have found my way there, a place where I can just be myself, figure out for myself what I can believe and have faith in, and participate with many other good people who are doing the same. Not rushing about in near exhaustion to "fill callings" or home teach or make temple attendance quotas or go on splits with the missionaries or any of that busywork, but just living life as best we can, not judging anyone else, and trying to figure out how God plays into it and what Jesus means and what kind of people we should become. To me that takes a lot more real faith than just going along with a Correlated series of pablumized lessons and "following the Brethren." It means you actually have to take responsibility for yourself. It's not as uniformly packaged, but it's a lot more exciting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Different Perspectives

Reading through the comments on another post-Mo's blog, people are talking about what it's like to go back to LDS services after being away for awhile.  All participants described how different it seemed after their hiatus.  More than one said they enjoyed Unitarian services so much more, because those services had no unofficial but understood "code of silence" like LDS meetings did and which prevented even the mention of doubts or differences of opinion.  Apparently at Unitarian services they felt completely accepted as they were, free of fears and freely able to say what they thought and felt.

As I read those remarks I thought of how a TBM would probably view them.  While the people who said these things feel freer and more accepted and happier to be who and what they are outside the LDS church, a TBM is more likely to think such people have abandoned the clear standard of truth and are selfishly seeking only those sources that will tell them what they want to hear.

This is an interesting difference.  Which perspective is more accurate?  I guess it depends on the standard you use to judge.

The commenters all said they'd felt frustrated, confused, disheartened, unfulfilled, and excluded by the LDS church whose teachings they had gradually realized were not true (in their opinions).  So they left and found more fulfilling spiritual solace elsewhere.  They're emphatic that their lives are better, happier, more purposeful, and more peaceful now after making the break.  Jesus said to judge things by their fruits, and so far the fruits of leaving the LDS church seem to be pretty positive for these people.

TBMs, on the other hand, would tend to consider these people deceived and selfish.  Willing to abandon divinely established, non-negotiable standards of truth and the authorized messengers who teach it, in order to try to make truth fit their personal agendas, indulging the "natural man" who is "an enemy to God" rather than submitting the "natural man" to God's requirements for salvation and exaltation.  Such a person would claim they are taking the truly long-term view and that whatever difficulties might be encountered in life as an active Mormon are worth it because such faithfulness will ultimately be rewarded.  They would probably be too polite to actually say these things to a post-Mo Unitarian, but I have no doubt they'd think this way.

So who's right?  The more I ponder, the more I realize that faith and the adoption of any religious perspective ultimately rest on a decision to believe.  Because by definition, faith is a belief in something you can't totally prove.  So you have to decide to accept and trust it regardless.  How strong that faith becomes, or how it may change, also depend on decisions.  One of them is how open the person will be to information and evidence that may conflict with their prior decisions to believe.  That in turn depends on the person's priorities.  Do they really value truth above all else?  Do they have the integrity to realize they might be wrong about something and to give good faith consideration to information that might suggest that?  Do they trust themselves sufficiently to be able to consider information from whatever credible sources they encounter? And do they have the courage to follow honest evidence and conclusions even if it means changing their personal course?  These questions apply to everyone, from the most liberal atheist or Unitarian to the most strictly conservative Mormon or Catholic.

The answers to those questions will shed light on which view of these post-Mo commenters may be more correct.  But it still ultimately comes down to a decision to believe.  If you believe beyond question that LDS authorities speak for God and the organization they run is the divinely authorized conduit for spiritual truth, then you will consider these post-Mo Unitarians to have strayed from the true path, to their own detriment.  If you don't believe that premise, you'll be more inclined to look at them as honest seekers of truth whose lives reflect decisions that work better for them and so, for them, that path is more "true" than the Mormon path is.

In the end, I think the answer will say more about the person giving it than about any ultimate objective "truth."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The View From Here

You don't shuck off the influence of a lifetime spent in Mormonism overnight.  Or even over the course of a year.  It will probably always be there.  I'll always be interested in what Mormons are doing and saying.  But I'm to the point now where, for example, when I hear about BYU TV programs featuring BYU religion professors sitting round a table earnestly and seriously discussing details of some Book of Mormon passage or issue, I almost start to laugh.  Because it's like watching Trekkies debate the finer points of Galaxy-class starship hull design.  Interesting to those who've bought into the story, but to those that see the wider real world, the Trekkies or the BYZoobies are just amusingly disconnected.

For all its pretense to have the answers for everything, the Mormon church sure seems not to know about a lot of pretty important stuff.  And it seems to obsess about a lot of other things that really aren't so important.  The mess it's made of dealing with the whole gay issue is almost without parallel in church history.  First it taught this, then that, then being gay went from a relatively benign less than optimum to an excommunicable offense regardless of whether the person had "acted on it," now it's just fine to be gay as long as you don't do anything about it, which is like saying it's okay to need oxygen as long as you don't actually breathe, and being gay is just a "temporary mortal affliction" that allegedly won't exist in the next life.  Well where the hell did that come from?  Sheer speculation from a couple of GAs desperate to neuter an issue that seriously threatens the stability of the whole LDS house of theological cards.  What a godawful mess.  There's no way on earth such a botched job of zig-zags could be inspired, though every LDS leader claimed to be when they preached things about it that contradicted other LDS leaders who also claimed to be inspired.

One thing that has struck me pretty forcefully of late is how fragile Mormon "testimonies" seem to be.  The church seems to be on constant alert against threats to members' "testimonies," warning against contact with groups not "in sympathy" with Mormon teachings, fostering a culture that ostracizes anyone who looks too far outside approved channels to learn about different perspectives on Mormon teachings and history, making it politically incorrect to express doubts or even say just "I believe" rather than "I know."  Teaching kids to fake it till they make it. 

But I always thought, and was taught, that truth is very robust.  It can take a beating and still stand up for itself.  It shouldn't fear the most relentless examination.  So why all the paranoia?  Why the desperation of apologists like those at the Maxwell Institute and FAIR to avoid implications of things like Native American DNA or the real translation of the Book of Abraham?

Well,  actually, the answer to that question is pretty simple.  Anybody who's honest and looks at those issues, objectively, no results pre-determined, will concede that the evidence is pretty strong against the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.  Compelling, in fact.  And if they're not what the Mormon church claims they are, then what happens to the whole edifice?  To all the careers, the investment of time and money and work and lives spent building it all up and spreading it?  Nobody wants to think their lives or efforts have been a waste, or have been spent trusting a sham.  So the Maxwell Institute and FAIR and other self-appointed apologists chug along, more and more on defense as the Internet has stripped the church of control of its message and "the rest of the story" is available with just a few clicks.  Once one sees the full picture, it's hard to understand how Mormon beliefs make sense.  Because they don't.

I recently read a story of a Mormon man who gradually came to this same conclusion over a period of years.  One of his tipping points was Grant Palmer's book (which was the tipping point for me).  He reached this conclusion while his son was on a mission.  Shortly after the son returned, they took a road trip together and dad brought along a few books he'd been reading which were on the heterodox side, including Palmer's.  The son read Palmer's book from cover to cover as they drove.  Dad didn't say much, just let his son read.  When he finished the book, the new RM son sat silently for a little while, looking out the car window.  Then he said "It was a clever hoax, wasn't it."  And dad said "Yes."

I hope I never lose the feeling of liberation.  The feeling every day that there are amazing adventures to be had out there, that the world is a marvelous, beautiful, dangerous, chaotic, messy, miraculous place and I am so incredibly lucky to have had the life I've had so far, with so much still left to learn and do.  It's like I spent my whole life inside a tiny one-room house and then suddenly stepped out and found myself on a mountaintop with incredible views stretching for miles in every direction.  Or like I stepped out onto a broad beach, so wide and vast that I can't see the ends or how far inland it goes, but I can see the vast ocean of undiscovered truth in front of me, and an amazing blue sky above stretching to eternity.  The fresh air and the open space to explore, and the feeling of boundless adventure and learning and growing and thirst for more and more of all of it--priceless.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What I Learned From General Conference

Looking back at General Conference weekend I realized a number of things.

1.  Reading even the summaries of General Conference talks gives me a headache and the feeling of being sucked back into a syrupy spiritual goo that is sweet and suffocating and prevents movement.  Yeah this sounds cutesy and alliterative and all, but seriously, I thought for a while about how to describe the feeling I got from reading that stuff, and really that’s how it makes me feel.  Like my brain, my spirit is being sucked back into this sticky morass just as I described.  Not a good sign.

2.  All Mormon General Authorities have a “look.”  There’s just something about them in their white shirts and suits that look like they’re bolted on and that barely perceptible know-it-all look in their eyes that says “I’ve made it to the red chair, godhood here I come.”  They all have it.  A very self-satisfied aura of pride, which is probably justified since they’ve survived all the political climbing and jockeying that precedes getting the jobs they have.  I’m sure lots of them are very well-meaning and talented and smart guys.  I even know a few of them personally.  I also know they’re just guys doing a job.

3.  The Mormon church is like Apple.  Obsessed with its brand equity.  Convinced it’s got the best product line-up in the world and if everybody could just see things its way, the whole world would convert and everybody would be wonderfully happy with nothing but Mormon-branded everything.  In fact, that’s its goal.  Just give up all your ability to see things and do things and think about things any other way but how the brand owner wants, and everything will be fine, you’ll be blissful and content inside the walled garden while others make all the decisions.  It’s like the Land of the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey.

4.  Leaving the church is like putting away my iPhone and changing to Android.  It’s not soup to nuts anymore.  Sure, there’s a basic platform and lots of things that fit together.  But now I have to do some of my own customization and configuration.  There’s no single entity telling me how to do everything, how to live or think.  I have to figure some things out on my own.

5.  I like the Android approach a lot better.    It’s like I finally grew up.  There’s no line of patriarchs stretching back in time making me feel like generations of stern forebears are looking over my shoulder to make sure I toe the church line.  I really am in uncharted country, exploring for myself, making my own decisions, taking my own risks, learning for my own life.  I’m an adult now, I have to fend for myself.  I don’t have the benevolent spiritual taskmasters always telling me what to do anymore.

6.  It’s exhilarating in ways I never imagined or could even have comprehended.  It’s like I spent most of my life in a small stuffy insulated square room with a handful of books, breathing nothing but that stale air, and then suddenly someone opened a door and I stepped out and found myself on a mountaintop with the most incredible views for miles and miles in every direction, the most staggering beauty above, around and below me, and I took in a deep breath of clean crisp air for the first time.  You know how intoxicating that feels?  That’s what it’s like, only not in my lungs.  It’s in my heart.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


When you grow up steeped in everything Mormon you assume that it's the only valid world view.  That everything revolves around Mormonism and Salt Lake City.  You think the trajectory of world history is simple and clear-cut, and moving inexorably to a well-known end.  You're most likely taught that you were saved for "the last days" to be part of that end.  You see the world through Mormon-colored glasses.

Then after breaking out of the shell, things are really disorienting for a while.  They have been for me.  But I'm gradually starting to get my bearings again.  And one thing I'm continuously struck by is the increasingly comical view which Mormons have of their own church's importance in the world. 

Even when I was a good faithful Mormon boy, I remember reading about early leaders' proclamations to the world, addressed to basically everybody worldwide, kings, emperors, presidents, leaders and populace alike, everywhere.  And printed in some local newspaper that probably never saw circulation beyond a few counties on the western frontier edge of the United States.  It seemed laughably presumptuous.  Like a little kindergarten boy indignantly marching outside to lecture a raincloud for spoiling his playtime and demanding that the cloud go away.  And just as effective.

But also getting just about as much notice.  And even today, with its massive wealth and media muscle, the Mormon church is still only about 4 million actual participating people worldwide.  Four million out of six billion?  With growth stalled to near zero in all developed countries? 

And yet those inside it persist in their tendency to think their organization is the fulcrum on which the world pivots.   There's such seriousness, even self-importance, within the cocoon.  Recall my previous example about apostle Russell Ballard being incredulous on learning that most Americans still had a dim view of Mormons even after decades of missionary work and untold millions spent on PR.

And this is where it gets funny.  Outside, hardly anybody even notices the cocoon's existence.  Those who do notice now have the Internet, which has stripped the church of its ability to control its own history and message, and I'm convinced that's one reason why baptismal rates have been dropping since . . . well, isn't that interesting.  Since right around the time the Internet became widely available.  Hmmm.  Coincidence?

The Book of Mormon Musical and the campaigns of Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Romney have focused some temporary media attention on the church.  But much of it isn't the kind the church wants.  And when the musical finishes its run, and next year's presidential campaign is over with, the media and the world will turn their attention to something else.  And I have no doubt the view from inside the cocoon, with its self-importance and its latent persecution complex, will remain unchanged.  As will the fact that most of the world goes on quite happily without any notice of that quirky little group out there in the Utah desert whose growth is clearly stalling out and whose social relevance is fading.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


This evening I sang the Faure Requiem as part of the special 9/11 Evensong service at San Diego's Episcopal cathedral.  I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast between how I felt as I stood in front of the altar and sang that beautiful music, and how I'd felt in countless Mormon sacrament meetings.

Much in Mormon tradition and leaders' preaching slams traditional Christianity as "apostate" and, as exemplified by Bruce McConkie, makes a huge and angry fuss over things like stained glass and incense and vestments and ceremony and all that.  I guess it's supposed to be self-evident that all those things are evidence of Satanic corruption and confirmation of Whore of Babylon status or something.

Well show me chapter and verse in the Mormon scriptural canon that requires the type of Sunday services the Mormons use.  Other than the sacrament prayer.  Oh yeah, that's what I thought.  It's nowhere in Mormon scriptures either.  Where'd it come from, then?  Most Mormon don't realize that it was Brigham Young who set the pattern for Mormon worship services still used today, and that those services represent Young's New England Congregationalist upbringing and preferences.  Very basic, simple stuff.  No liturgy, no high church trappings.  That's what Brigham Young liked, so that's what the Mormons use.

But over the last 20 years or so, I've noticed something.  And it's not just me, either, I'm seeing people all over the Bloggernacle remark about it.  Mormon services have become unendurably boring.  Bereft of spirit and inspiration.  The spiritual sclerosis induced by Correlation made going to church a chore for me years before I actually left.  And the kids would do nothing but read or sleep through sacrament meeting and eventually began begging me not to make them even do that.  Finally I realized that my time was far better spent giving them attention than sitting with them and sharing boredom and drowsiness on a Mormon chapel's back bench every Sunday.  So we stopped attending and haven't been back.  And family life's far better.

So today, as I stood in front of the altar at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral and sang that ethereally beautiful music in memory of the victims of 9/11--who I'm sure barely warranted a mention in Mormon sacrament meetings today--I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast.  The church I was raised in came to feel like a sterile, pointless collection of automatons who assembled each week in a plain boxy room to go through the same rote, boring business meeting punctuated by songs sung abysmally with minimum enthusiasm.  Nobody new ever turned up.  There were two convert baptisms in the 4+ years I attended that ward.  It was like everybody was on autopilot.  A little cocoon of robots, unconnected to the outside world, all dutifully repeating the same things week after week.  Including the guilt for not doing better and not achieving more.  The only time I saw anybody really worked up there was during the Prop 8 campaign when they all suddenly sprang to full, vitriolic, angry, rumor-mongering, homophobic life.  The longer I was there, the more disconnected I felt.

But when I stood there today in front of the altar at St. Paul's, singing that beautiful music, I felt connected in so many ways that I never did in any Mormon setting.  Connected to everyone around me who obviously understood and knew and appreciated this music just as I did.  Connected to the greater liturgical tradition of the church in which I sang and to the literally centuries' worth of people who'd found meaning and purpose in that form of worship.  Connected to those lost on 9/11 in whose memory we sang the Requiem as a memorial and prayer for God's mercy on them.  Connected to every American who paused today to remember the victims and how the world changed ten years ago.  I was part of something vast, that reached out across the country, that reached back centuries in time.  It was awe-inspiring and gratifying in ways I can't imagine ever being possible in today's Mormon sacrament meetings.

After the services ended and the bishop pronounced the benediction, those of us in the choir--all dressed in black--filed slowly down the aisle of the cathedral as the waning day's sunlight streamed through the great rose window's stained glass and right into our eyes.  And once again, I felt connected.  Very much part of something larger, something that resonated in my heart and stirred me as deeply as anything has.  For me, at least, there really is something to the symbolism of a celebrants' procession in and out of the cathedral.  It tells everyone "Hey!  Pay attention!  Something special is about to happen!" or "Hey, be reverent!  You've been taught and inspired, and now it's time to reflect as you leave."  I was just one of many voices who'd all joined together in worship and memorial, singing music of the highest quality in a setting truly inspiring.

This was the kind of setting and atmosphere that really felt like home.  Not some barely organized plain-jane routine mish-mash of apathetic songs and rote "talks" re-hashed from somebody else's re-hash of somebody else.  For me, at least, it was real worship, real memorial, real connection to the wider world.  In a beautiful setting, with truly inspiring music, and surrounded by people that I knew cared about me not because of my home teaching statistics or anything like that, but simply because I was there, sharing faith with them.

So Brigham Young and Bruce McConkie, you know what you can do with your criticisms of "apostate" Christianity.  I'm finding a lot more inspiration there than I ever found in what you concocted and defended.  By their fruits ye shall know them, remember?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

There and Here

Being a lifelong non-Utahn, somehow I acquired the idea in childhood that Utah, being the "center place of Zion," was particularly special, maybe even sacrosanct.  That's where the prophet lived so it must be the holiest place on earth, right?  When I got older, I wanted to visit Utah and experience such a spiritual and holy place for myself.  Yeah, that's really what I thought as a kid.

Then I grew up, and actually visited.  Then moved there for school even.  Saw the real thing for myself.

Now, before I go further, I must say that there are exceptions to every rule, and I have known many people in Utah who are as true and honest Christians as you will find anywhere.  I value their friendship and respect them greatly for their faith and their dedication to practicing it in the truest sense.

That said, add me to the countless number of people who've gone to "Zion", seen it for themselves, and come away dismayed and jaded almost beyond description that the place which claims to be the home of the prophet and apostles, where the spiritual influence of the church is greatest, should be so shot through with hypocrisy.

Now, if I were naturally nothing but a cynic, this wouldn't surprise me.  Part of me is a cynic, it's true.  But part of me stubbornly clings to some perhaps naive idealism and hope that when people claim to be Christian, they actually will try to be.  That when a church claims to be God's One And Only, it will actually act like it, consistently.  That the culture it creates will reflect that truth and Christian character.  And so when those things don't happen, and the gap between claim and reality is revealed to be so great, then I am all the more disappointed.

Some people might say You set yourself up for this, no earthly organization is perfect, the gospel is perfect but the church isn't, the people will always be fallible and imperfect, yadda yadda.  I know all that.

But other churches don't claim a monopoly on God's authorization.  They don't claim to have a living prophet.  They don't claim to be guided by direct revelation both macro and micro.  That's the thing.  The Mormon church teaches that every member has not only the right but the responsibility to seek personal revelation to instruct and inform their life.  And if they were doing it, and actually getting it, and truth being consistent with itself, then one would think all of them would gradually be moving in the direction of greater truth, light, knowledge, Christlike character, no?

And wouldn't that be especially true in the place with the most active Mormons?  Where the prophet and apostles live?  Shouldn't it, of all, places, at least have the capacity to be further along the road to City of Enoch status than others?

Sigh.  Not quite.  Instead, what I found was what I've subsequently learned many others found too.  And which I won't describe, but I'll let two others describe for me so you, gentle reader, will know I'm not just being a crank.  These comments are from an article on an unrelated subject that ran in the Salt Lake Tribune:

I'm a native Californian LDS living now here in Utah,and I don't "get" the "culture" at all, it's like it's two completely different religions. The real LDS Church, and what so many claim to be, here in Utah. Huge difference, and therein lies the shame.  Since I'm from California, I'm an "outsider", a pagan idolater that actually expects people to do what they say they are going to do, instead of their myriad pathetic excuses, rationalizations and justifications for being a hypocrite.
Treat people like you like to be treated, celebrate the "differences" between you, find something in common, instead of being lazy and refusing to acknowledge the good decent people that may not be active LDS, in our faith, believe in our faith or at odds with our faith. We can STILL find the good, at least that's what I believe and try to practice-admittedly some days I'm lousy at it. 
. . .
I also am a transplant from CA.  It's a night and day difference between the Mormons outside of Utah and Utah Mormons.  I never had a problem with Mormons growing up... my best friends were Mormon, and yet never pressured me to join.

Then I moved out here, and I have changed my view on the Mormons 180 degrees.  Out here, they are arrogant and hypocritical.  And, like another poster said below, they lie constantly to promote their faith.  My CA friends wouldn't try and recruit me, but now I face an endless stream of missionaries.

I'm glad to know I'm not just Utah-jaded, and that out of state Mormons see it too.

It's encouraging to know that not just non-Mormons but even other Mormons see this and react the same way I did.  So I feel vindicated, to a degree.
But it still bothers me.  If the Mormon church didn't make such lofty claims for itself and its people, this would be no big deal.  But it does make those claims.  So when it and its people fall short, the gap is that much greater, and so is my disappointment.  

Other organizations, even religious ones, can aspire to noble things.  And they can fall short.  And that doesn't bother me.  At least they try.  

But this one is in a class by itself.  It claims to be the one true authorized gospel of Jesus Christ restored to the earth with the only authorized priesthood, the only authentic Holy Ghost for inspiration, the only trustworthy conduit for the actual voice of God through a prophet, the "stone cut out of the mountain without hands" that will ultimately fill the whole earth.  Yet what did I see in the place with the greatest number of its adherents anywhere on the planet?  Enough pharisaism, double-dealing, duplicity, bad faith, bigotry, arrogance and complacent smugness to convince both me and (now ex) wife that we would never ever raise kids in Utah.  We wanted them to confront real life head-on, without the suffocating overlay of hypocritical pretense that "all is well."

I've become a pretty practical, results-oriented guy.  I judge things by their fruits.  And when an organization claiming to be God's sole authorized channel for truth, authority and salvific ordinances produces fruit like this in the place where logically its concentration of spiritual power should shine most brightly, then I am forced to question whether it really is any of the things it claims.  Perhaps it's just that the people really aren't practicing what they preach and if they did, the place would be what I first expected.  Perhaps I should forget about the group analysis and look only at individuals.

But groups are nothing more than large numbers of individuals, and one can discern trends about larger things from the behavior of groups.  It's a sad commentary on the group called Mormons that where their group is biggest, they have the reputation they do.  And in my perhaps still naive heart, that is not the kind of result that a truly divine organization would produce.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Having sent the kids off to the grocery store to replenish a few kitchen basics, I finally have a little quiet time to set down some thoughts here again.

I've told only selected friends about my resignation from the Mormon church.  I've not announced it on Facebook and I certainly haven't told anyone in my family of origin, who are already having extreme difficulty with my coming out.  Friends' reactions have varied widely.  Some have praised me for courage.  Some have wondered what took me so long.  Some have been matter of fact, saying "whatever makes you happy."  A couple were quite indignant.

One guy, a friend since college days who's spent his life teaching for the Church Educational System in Utah, was probably most upset.  His almost instant response was a very agitated "Well one of us has been completely deceived!"  Eventually he calmed down, but the reaction was very telling.  He's known me for long enough that he understands I don't do things rashly, and that when it comes to major decisions, I do my homework thoroughly in advance.  So I wasn't just some superficial, ignorant crank whose judgment he could dismiss as ill-informed.  He knew my previous depth of commitment and understanding.  He knew my record of church service.  And for someone that educated and knowledgeable to conclude that it just ain't so, that he'd been wasting a lot of time trusting things that didn't deserve it, well, that shook my friend to his foundations.  It took hours of conversation to calm him down and persuade him that I wasn't going to try to talk him into doing what I'd done, and that if Mormonism worked for him and helped him be a better person, then I'd say great, wonderful, good for you.  The hardest thing for him was to overcome all the "either-or" programming that instantly pushed him to fearing I'd be a raving hostile apostate.  He seemed to think there wasn't any other kind.  I never bring up the issue now, if he wants to, that's fine, but obviously so far he doesn't.  That's okay.

Another friend who's also gay but remains active in the church was angry with me because I hadn't insisted on the "court of love" thing so I could pull a Thomas More vigorously denouncing prejudice and defending truth before Parliament thing before the stake presidency and high council.  Except I would defend equal treatment and tolerance for gay people and denounce homophobia and bigotry and maybe open their eyes.  Meh.  While I admired his passion for speaking out in defense of truth as he sees it, and I was flattered by his belief that I could have made that kind of difference, he didn't know the local authorities like I did.  Ultimately I did talk with both bishop and stake president and it went wonderfully well.  More on that later.  But at the time I had no idea what might happen.  And everybody knows what happened to Thomas More after he gave his speech.

Tomorrow is my one year anniversary of resignation from the Mormon church.  And I have lots of friends who remain there, even gay friends who are still believing Mormons and trying to reconcile like I did.  I talk with them, read their blog posts, their Facebook updates, comments and questions.  So filled with sincere faith and obvious desire to continue in the church.

I can be the diplomat, no problem.  I'm not wanting to unleash a torrent of anti-Mormon content in their direction.  I truly do try to practice what I preach, live and let live, respect others' freely-chosen beliefs as long as they do no harm to others.  Even if I think the beliefs are flat-out wrong, even fraudulent.  I believe in freedom of choice and self-determination, how could I do otherwise.

I was in the same position as my still-Mormon friends for most of my life till I started looking at it all with objectivity and no agenda.  I used to trust completely subjective feelings as trumping anything objective and empirical too.  I've grown beyond that now and I trust the integrity of truth to be consistent with itself and able to withstand any examination no matter how rigorous.  And in my opinion, Mormon claims can't withstand that kind of scrutiny.

So it's weird to see my still-faithful Mormon friends talk about Mormon stuff as if it were all irrefutable truth.  Things I've thoroughly and exhaustively examined and found to be false, or distorted beyond all semblance of veracity, or misrepresented, or so incomplete as to be totally untrustworthy.  It kind of makes me feel like I used to when the kids were very small and talked so seriously about what the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus would bring.  I didn't dare tell them what I knew, of course, it would have devastated their childlike innocence.  I never saw any harm in those childhood myths that help make the world a more magical and wonderful place.

But for educated grown-ups to cling to beliefs about alleged facts that don't stand up to adult-level scrutiny, for them to make life judgments based on those beliefs, for them to treat others fairly or spitefully as they think their religious beliefs require, that is a different thing altogether.  I concede that I was for a long time part of the group I'm now gently, respectfully, taking issue with.  I know people have their own timetables and abilities for this kind of thing.  That's why I don't presume to criticize any of my still-Mormon friends for their beliefs.  If they're happy where they are, then I don't want to discomfit them gratuitously.

But privately, I struggle just a teeeeeeeeentsy bit.  Because I know they're smart.  Their hearts are good.  They are well-intentioned.  They are talented.  I want to believe the best of them.  And I honestly and truly believe that I am right, and the Mormon church is wrong.  So it grates just a tiny bit for me to see my smart, good-hearted, talented, well-intentioned friends continue to believe in, trust, and make life decisions in light of a religion that I think, to put it bluntly, is deceiving them.  Nobody likes to see their friends taken in, especially about such important things.  I care about them a lot and I don't want to see them hurt.  And while I know the Mormon church can create and do a lot of good things, it has also inflicted incredible pain and tragedy on lots and lots of people, especially gay people and their families.  On gay people as they try to resolve the completely impossible conundrum of being happily gay and happily Mormon--it can't be done, utterly impossible.  And on their families, whom the church persuades to mourn and grieve for the "loss" of their gay children from the eternal family just because a kid is gay and realizes a happy, fulfilled life as a gay Mormon is impossible.  It's cruel and barbaric what the church does to those families.  The unnecessary anguish it inflicts is unconscionable.

But ultimately it's their choice.  If they want to talk about such stuff with me, I'm happy to do it.  But I won't push them.  If I'd been pushed I would have pushed back; hell, I did, a lot.  I remember doing it.  I changed when I was ready.  I just have to continue to be the respectful diplomat, love and respect my friends sincerely, as I do, and hope that someday they will see things as I do.  And if they don't, I'll still love them.  Though I don't accept the Mormon version of Christianity anymore, I still try to follow the Savior's teachings, and I still believe that charity--the pure love of Christ--never faileth.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Saturday's Warrior.  Chosen generation, royal priesthood.  Saved for the last days to build Zion and greet Jesus' second coming.  Destined to save the U.S. Constitution--and thereby the nation and the world--when it's been shredded by evil vicious godless people.

Yeah, I grew up with all that.  Believed it, too.  Felt very privileged.  I was gonna save the world from all the ignorant corrupt dangerous plotters of doom and evil who I was told surrounded us on all sides though we couldn't see them because they were hiding, waiting for the right time to emerge and destroy the country and the world.  And it would be up to me, imagine that, to beat them back, defend truth and freedom, and then struggle to my feet, bloody but unbowed, as I gazed up into the sky and watched Jesus descend from the heavens to re-set all of world history.  Seriously, that's what I was taught to believe and expect.

Well, needless to say, we're still all standing around waiting for the cataclysm.  Sure, the world's going through kind of a rocky patch right now, but it's certainly nothing like the Great Depression or World War 2.  People who lived back then were surely more justified in fearing the total end of the world than we are now.  And guess what.  Now it's my kid who's being told in his deacon's quorum that he is the Saturday's Warrior, the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the one reserved to be born in the last days to build Zion and greet Jesus' second coming.  Destined to save the U.S. Constitution--and thereby the nation and the world--when it's been shredded by evil vicious godless people.  Wait, that sounds familiar.

I was "special" for a long time.  Then I realized it was only in my own mind, and only because I'd been told so by other people with their own religious agenda.  And after a while, I got kinda tired of it.  Eventually "special" morphed into "weird" as I learned more of how Mormons actually came across.  I laughed out loud when I read a recent story of a briefing given to Russell Ballard of the 12 apostles on how bad of a reputation Mormons have in the United States.  What made me laugh was his reported reaction: stunned disbelief and astonishment.  Like "We've spent millions of dollars and decades of missionary effort, how could people not love us?"  Sheesh.  No wonder those guys seem like they live in an ivory tower sometimes.  Because they do!

Well I got tired of being in a local version of the same tower.  I gradually felt more and more smothered by all the rules and performance obligations.  Any spiritual growth had long since petered out, replaced by growing alarm at the mounting evidence that the Mormon church had lied about so much of its own history, to the degree that I couldn't trust it anymore.

So now I'm out.  I resigned on principle, while still keeping all the rules.  I felt it was a matter of integrity.  But I knew I didn't believe it anymore, there was no reason to stay.  So we parted ways, on good terms.

And now I'm really glad to be normal.  I'm glad to have given up that benign bigoted subliminal arrogance that comes from all that "You're Saturday's Warrior!" programming.  I'm just a guy, trying to do his best to figure things out, live an honorable life, be a good example to my kids, help and serve those around me when I can.  I love a good cup of coffee in the morning.  I love a glass of good wine with dinner, and maybe the occasional more high-powered recreational beverage when I hang out with friends.  Many times I've thought NOW I get it!  NOW I understand the whole "social lubricant" thing!  Because it really does make a difference.  I don't smoke (it's disgusting) and I don't do drugs.  Those are both nothing but harmful.  But a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with friends?  What could be more normal and congenial than that?  Two little pleasures in life that I've finally been able to appreciate.

No, that's not why I left the church, because I "wanted to sin" like this.  But having left, for solid and legitimate reasons, I can say that it's good to not be special anymore.  It's good to be normal, to feel like I can finally choose for myself from everything that life has to offer.  Not because of guilt or some responsibility somebody else imposed on me, but because of my own best judgment.  Acting for myself, and not being acted upon.  It's really, really good to just be normal at last.

Friday, August 26, 2011


It's gotta be weird in all kinds of ways that underwear features so prominently in any religion.  But the Mormons have never shied away from seeming strange, in fact, they tend to embrace it as verification that they're right and the rest of the world is wrong.  It's that thing Jesus said about the world will hate you because it hates me.  Which the Mormons fall back on whenever they do or believe or say or adopt anything that's just flat-out bizarre.  And obsessing about underwear in the name of faithfulness certainly qualifies.

Growing up surrounded by and saturated with every bit of Mormoninity possible, temple garments seemed to innocent little kid me a badge of achievement, accomplishment, spiritual maturity.  When I finally went to the temple and put them on my first time, it was like "Wow, I've arrived, I'm all grown up now!"  I remember going once to the LA temple on a Saturday during the summer just before my mission with a BYU dormmate buddy.  After a session we went to the temple cafeteria for lunch still in our whites.  There were hordes of youth there at the same time still drying out from baptism sessions (the LA temple cafeteria is, like everything else in that temple, huge.  It's bigger than a lot of ward chapels I've seen).  Since dormmate buddy and I were only a couple years older than a lot of them, we attracted quite a bit of attention from these kids since we were in full temple whites and the garment lines were of course clearly visible.  I felt very mature.

Afterward at BYU, the g's were of course a badge of legitimate eligibility.  All RMs there remembered what it was like to be socially dismissed as a non-garmie-wearing freshman boy.  And any observant BYU alum who attended a student ward probably remembers seeing some girl somewhere in some church meeting tracing the garment seam lines on her boyfriend's thighs or arm or chest or back.  That's the only legitimate way to relieve sexual tension there.  Other than biting through barbed wire.

But once you leave Crappy Valley's cocoon and go out into the real world, start working out at real world gyms, that kind of thing, you start realizing that g's maaaaaaaybe aren't quite as cool as you always thought.  Those funny marks are . . . well, kinda funny.  Especially where they're placed.  It's like you've got permanent scars on your t-shirt from what some people might think was the world's most powerful titty-twisters.  No wonder Mormon guys outside Utah act shy and jumpy in "gentile" locker rooms.

I just dealt with it for a long time as best I could.  Figured I'd made a commitment to wear these things the rest of my life so I'd better do it.  When I married, I got the standard advice, it's okay to take them off for sex but put them right back on again afterward.  And since wife was even more orthodox than I was, that became the unquestioned rule.  I remember once when we actually decided beforehand that we wouldn't put them back on again but would sleep without them.  Just that one night.  We were trying to get pregnant and thought that might help.  It didn't, and we both ended up feeling horribly guilty in the morning because we hadn't "kept the rules."  I roll my eyes now to think about it, but that was our mind-set at the time.

Then the whole Prop 8 thing came along and I began seriously questioning everything.  I started doing some business travel, and one evening after work, for some reason I still haven't figured out, I decided I was gonna go get some non-Salt-Lake-approved underwear.  It'd been a lotta years since I'd even let myself consider doing such a thing, so I played it safe and went to Nordstrom and got some boring white Hugo Boss briefs.  Not the same cut as little boys wear, but they were still called "briefs" on the package.  Took 'em back to my hotel room, and tried 'em out next morning after showering for work.

I couldn't believe how it felt.  I could actually feel the fabric of my jeans against the skin of my thighs.  Damn it felt good.  It wasn't a sexual thing, either.  It was sensual.  There's a big difference.  Look it up if you don't know it.  Didn't take me long to realize that wearing the g's all those years seemed to have basically deadened the skin sensitivity everywhere the g's touched.  I was hooked.

I liked wearing t-shirts to absorb sweat so I figured I'd just stick with the garmie tops for a while, why pop for a bunch of new t-shirts when I already had enough.  But I obviously needed more bottoms, so I got adventurous and went for some black Calvin Klein boxer-briefs.  That was a big step.  Non-white underwear?  After so many years of nothing but garmies?  I felt dangerously daring as I tried those on for the first time.  Then I got even more reckless and got some bright blue ones.  And soon after, the garmie tops started to wear out, and I decided transition time was over.  Why halt between two opinions.  So I chucked the lot, got a whole stack of regular t-shirts, and haven't looked back.  And now I have evolved to complete decadence, with bright red boxer shorts that have sharks all over them, and the sharks are saying "Bite me."  Bright orange ones with hamburgers and french fries on them and the words "Check out my junk."  Bright blue ones with whales and the words "This blows."  And they are SO comfortable.

Taking off the garmies for the last time seems to all endowed active Mormons the ultimate act of rebellion and defiance.  I'm sorry but that's just weird.  The whole idea that you can judge someone's religious commitment by their underwear.  And there are so many stupid myths about it all too.  First of all, the recommend question is wrong.  You didn't make a covenant to wear the garment night and day, you were "instructed" to "wear it throughout your life."  And what that phrase means is up to each person.  But Mormon culture loves its cheap and easy talismans for judging others, and wearing the garmies has become one of those.  Nobody seems to know that 24/7 garment wearing was NOT the rule until Joseph F. Smith, the original Garment Nazi, took over as church president in 1901.  He preached that the original garment design was revealed straight from heaven and should never change.  He instituted the 24/7 wearing requirement.  He had those new rules posted in all the temples.  And what did his successor Heber Grant do when he took over?  He promptly ordered all those instructions taken down and burned--yes, burned--and authorized the most significant changes to garment design ever, to that point.

All of that is academic to me now, of course, since I no longer accept any of the premises for garment-wearing.  But researching and reading the history of the garment was one of the things that contributed to my progress out of the church.  More contradictory statements and claims by different people who all claimed to be inspired when they spoke.  It became clear that the garment was just another man-made pro forma ritualistic practice that one particular sect decided to cling to, like a barnacle, as a badge of uniqueness. One that, conveniently, became a revenue-generator for the church.  Funny how that works sometimes.

More seriously, though I also realized that the 24/7 garment rule is another means of controlling members' lives.  Make them promise to (buy and) wear this one kind of underwear for the rest of their lives.  Make them feel guilty if they don't do it every single damn day.  Use it as a means of interposing church requirements even between husbands and wives in the privacy of their own bed, when of all times, nothing should come between them.  The more I think about that, the angrier I get at such presumption.  Make them fear that if they ever take the things off for more than is "minimally necessary" for certain types of activities, God will be displeased with them.  Create a culture in which everybody is subliminally curious about what kind of underwear everybody else is wearing.  'Cause if they're wearing garments, they're faithful and you can trust them, right?  After all, they've been to the temple.  WTF?  How creepy is that?  Judging someone's religious faith and trustworthiness by their underwear?  That's just bizarre.  But that's the way it is in much of Mormondom. 

As I gradually realized all that, it seemed more and more pointless to keep wearing the things.  So on the day I resigned from the church, I cut 'em up and tossed them.  Just before, though, I put on both bottom and top one last time just to see how it felt.  And it felt suffocating.  I really felt like I couldn't breathe.  And that was that.  The things I'd looked forward to wearing had ended up smothering me.  Literally.  It was an ironic symbol of what the whole Mormon package had become for me.  So I said no more of this, I need to breathe.  And ever since I have reveled in a regained sense of freedom that is not just physical but emotional, psychological and spiritual too. 

So that's the story of how I've gone through the whole Mormon cycle of Underwear Obsession.  The rest of my family of origin continues to wear their garmies faithfully, or at least I assume so since I hear about them going to the temple and all.  But other than that, I have long since left the ranks of The Secret Mormon Underwear Police.  Gawd, what a silly thing to think about.  So much is more important.  Like which boxers should I wear tomorrow, "bite me" or "check out my junk"?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It Happened To Somebody Else Too

I've been reading some correspondence to Jeffrey Holland from a Canadian guy, married father of seven, and until a few years ago very active and dedicated Mormon.  Apparently he was forced out of the church when his local leaders told him they would kick him out if he didn't stop discussing his own faith and gospel study with his other LDS friends.  I guess they thought he was spreading apostasy or something.  He ended up writing a couple of times to Jeffrey Holland about it.

I'm reading his second letter and it's remarkable how similar my experience and observations have been to this guy's.  One insight he shares is that the church will do and say whatever's necessary to maintain its control over its membership.  That principle drives virtually everything else and can explain a lot that might otherwise seem contradictory.

What struck me though is when he talked about "monochrome Mormonness."  I've never met this guy, never talked to him, never corresponded with him.  But it was surprising and delightful to see him use the same metaphor I used in a previous post about how the world looks to an active Mormon and how that view changes if one can muster the courage to step outside.  I realized I could have written exactly what this guy did so I wanted to post it here.

As a Mormon comic recently put it, "Growing up Mormon was great, as long as you like sensory deprivation tanks." I wouldn't go quite that far, while appreciating the caricature he drew.  I would say, however, that a Mormon life is filled to overflowing with monochrome Mormonness.  A busy Mormon whose horizon is jammed with Mormon things is not likely to question authority.

You may be temped to say, as a few of my friends and family have, "Bob, I am sorry that your experience with Mormonism was so negative, but that is not my experience at all, and you know that almost all active members of the Church would not agree with your assessment." I understand and accept that. However, let me point out that I was one of those faithful for many years. I was one of your enforcers and cheerleaders. And had anyone asked me if I was happy as a Mormon, and proud to be a Mormon, I would have answered a resounding yes. My feelings in this regard were based on the information to which I had access. In the same fashion that I perceived Paul Dunn differently after I found out that he made up most of his wonderful, faith inspiring stories, I have perceived the Church and my experience at its hands differently since I became aware of how it misled me. My eyes now see, my ears hear and my heart feels differently than before. This is a rebirth process. I remember how the world looks through the eyes of a faithful Mormon leader, and I know how it looks now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What I Didn't Know

I spent almost my entire life in the Mormon church and believed I was a very educated apologist for it.  But there were still a lot of things I didn't know.  Some I didn't know because I just hadn't gotten to them in the history.  Some I didn't know because they were only available from sources I'd been told were bad and dangerous and shouldn't be touched.  Some I didn't know because I chose not to examine the implications of conflicting information I'd already encountered.

I didn't know that Joseph Smith had married two teen-age girls.  I didn't know that he'd sent men on missions far away and then secretly married their wives.  I'd always been tolerant of polygamy as a principle because I'd been taught from early childhood that it was okay with God.  But there's no way I can square God's will with secretly stealing other mens' wives and then publicly lying about it.  That's just too big a stretch.

I didn't know that Joseph Smith said any man who'd been educated in the principle of the Word of Wisdom and failed to follow it was not worthy to hold any office in the church, yet he himself apparently enjoyed tobacco and liquor till the day he died.

I didn't know the full extent of non-Mormon commentary on the Book of Abraham or the fact that the actual papyri had been found and translated, or the universal conclusion that Joseph Smith's "translation" is completely bogus and that his transliterations of "Egyptian" words are utter gibberish. I didn't know that parts of the "facsimiles" published with the Book of Abraham in the PoGP were filled in by Joseph Smith himself since the originals he had were missing some parts of the pictures, and that it's now been shown he completed those pictures incorrectly.  I didn't know of the almost laughably pathetic Mormon apologist attempts to explain away these facts and posit some other explanation for the text in the PoGP.

I didn't know that the ban on giving priesthood to black men apparently traces its origin to Brigham Young's personal revulsion at the marriage of a black man to a white woman.  Yet his institutionalized racism was held out and defended for over a century as God's will and requirement dating back to before Abraham.

I didn't know the wildly gyrating trajectory of teaching and preaching by LDS leaders on subjects like homosexuality and masturbation.  These have fluctuated so much over time that there's no way it could all have been correct or true.  Yet the leaders who taught all these changing and sometimes contradictory positions all claimed to be inspired.

I didn't know that my own ancestor Martin Harris said that he and David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery never saw any gold plates with their actual physical eyes.  Nor did I know that Joseph Smith himself wrote the statement of the Eight Witnesses and that some of them were reluctant to sign it because they thought it made the whole experience sound too literal, which apparently it wasn't.

I didn't know that Joseph never actually used any gold plates when producing the Book of Mormon, but that at least 20 different witness accounts confirm that he used only his seer stone inside his hat.  Yet all the lessons I ever got in church and all the presentations I ever saw about it uniformly showed him using gold plates, or lugging them hither and yon, or taking heroic measures to keep them safe.  What's the point, if he never actually used them?

I didn't know that the reason there's no recorded date for the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood by Peter, James & John is that Joseph Smith never talked about such an experience until years after it allegedly occurred, and then only when the most serious leadership crisis of the new church was occurring, he was facing mass defections, and needed to shore up his authority.

I knew there was more than one account of the First Vision but I didn't know there were eight, or that Joseph's accounts of what he saw varied widely from version to version.  In one it was "the Lord."  In another it was two distinct persons.  In one it was "your sins are forgiven" but no more.  In another it was "all churches are corrupt and you're going to restore the true one."  Obviously I'm not Joseph, but if I'd had an experience like that I would have written it all down immediately, in full, and I would have promptly told others I trusted about it.  And my versions would have been consistent.

I didn't know that an enthusiastic and ardent LDS attorney called Thomas Ferguson was the prime mover for establishing BYU's first Department of Archaeology, became president of something called the New World Archaeological Foundation, and with official LDS church backing and support devoted much of his life to expeditions and explorations and studies and efforts to prove the Book of Mormon was a true historical document.  Yet it was precisely because of that effort that he ultimately concluded there was no evidence supporting the Book of Mormon, that it was spurious, and that the Foundation he'd started to prove the Book of Mormon's authenticity actually ended up disproving the book because it failed to find any evidence whatsoever of any Pre-Columbian Christian culture in the Americas.

I didn't know how definitively DNA testing of Native Americans showed that they came from East Asia and were not Semitic peoples from Jerusalem.  Nor that, faced with that inconvenient truth, the LDS church quietly changed the Book of Mormon's title page to say the Lamanites were "among" the Native Americans' ancestors, rather than their "principal" ancestors.

I didn't know any details of the "blood atonement" principle preached by Brigham Young, namely, that Christ's Atonement was insufficient to pay for certain sins, that a person guilty of such sins had to shed their own blood to pay, and that there were cases where certain early Mormons actually submitted to it.  For things that today sometimes don't even necessarily guarantee excommunication from the church.  Yet an ostensible prophet, seer and revelator preached that horrific principle as God's will.  How can something be so heinous in the 19th Century that it requires bloodshed in addition to Christ's Atonement yet in the 20th or 21st Century it doesn't necessarily guarantee even just the temporary loss of church membership?   How does that square with truth being consistent with itself?  How can I have any confidence in the "prophet" that preached such a shocking thing or any of his successors who repudiate what the first guy said?  Some Mormon apologists defend it with the "a prophet's only a prophet when speaking as such" thing, but as far as I can tell, Brigham Young fully intended to speak as a prophet when he preached this barbaric and, IMO, blatantly anti-Christian practice.

I didn't know the extent to which LDS temple ordinances were undeniably copies of secular Masonic rituals that were only a few hundred years old, yet the LDS versions were defended as restorations of ordinances that were administered all the way back to Adam and are essential to getting back to God.  Since when have the "secret" handshakes of a man-made fraternity like the Masons been required to pass by the angels that guard the gates to God's presence?  Why would such angelic guardians even care about such trivial formalities, if God looks on the heart and not the outward appearances?  If they're angels, surely they have the ability to discern far more about passers-by than could be revealed by a few special handshakes which are now publicly available to the world anyway and could be faked by otherwise "unworthy" aspirants.  It just seems silly.

I didn't know that at some point I would no longer be able to ignore the combined weight of all this evidence, and more like it, and would be forced by my own sense of honesty and integrity to look at it not from the viewpoint of trying to force it to fit predetermined conclusions supporting the LDS church, but simply to see what conclusions the evidence supported.  Nor did I imagine, after a lifetime of defending and serving in the church, that I would ever conclude it wasn't what it claimed and that I couldn't in good conscience support it any longer.

Nor did I know how much better my life would be in so many ways after the church and I parted ways.  I was always taught that people who left did so because they wanted to justify sin, or they couldn't measure up to the requirements for exaltation, and that despite their claims of finding better lives elsewhere, secretly they were miserable and knew they were doomed.  It's just not true.  I've found so many who, like me, left on principle alone, and whose lives are far better elsewhere.  Mine too.  I'll talk about that in another post.  Point is that in hindsight, all those warnings can just be lumped in with the rest of the misrepresentations.  When you realize you've been the victim of scare tactics, it's natural to distrust everything else said by the person or organization who tried to scare you.  Add it to the list.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Kind Of Faith Is That?

Even when I was an active Mormon I always thought the little kids who "bore their testimonies" on the first Sunday of every month were ridiculous.  They obviously hadn't a clue what they were talking about.  Even worse were the parents who took--or sometimes almost dragged--those little moppets up there and whispered the words in their ears.  I was in one ward where the bishop began the meeting by reading a letter from I think it was the First Presidency about that very thing, saying that little kids should not be encouraged to do it.  And right after the bishop sat down, guess what happened?  Yep.  Some airheaded male Primary teacher got up and excitedly told everybody how he had challenged every six year old in his class to come up and give their "testimony."  And they all got up and marched to the front and repeated the same handful of stock phrases.  And I rolled my eyes and thought "well, so much for listening to the prophet."

Over the years I learned to really hate those first Sundays.  What I considered real spiritual inspiration seemed to get harder and harder to find.  Those stretches of awkward silence between speakers got longer and longer.  Yet too often there was the rush to the front toward the end of the meeting with the result that the bishop always let the meeting run over.  Just once I would have paid serious money to have a bishop stand up at the actual time he'd said the meeting would end, and tell everybody still waiting to speak that they were just gonna have to save it till next time.

So what does all of that have to do with anything, or the title of this post?  This is what.  Almost without exception those "testimonies" were repetitions of a handful of stock phrases that I knew wouldn't stand up to any actual objective critical examination.  I had a growing sense of unease with "the rest of the story" that I knew would never be mentioned from a Mormon pulpit.  Things like the Book of Mormon anachronisms and the DNA issue, implications of the accurate translation of the Book of Abraham, the major shifts in what's been considered essential doctrine while all the time claiming revealed truth, and so on.

Just as much though was the attitude that objective examination of church teachings and history was something to be feared and avoided.  Don't read "anti-Mormon literature"!  It will destroy your testimony!  Stick with what the Church teaches!  For a long time I went along.  But then gradually I realized that truth doesn't need to be scared.  It can withstand rigorous examination.  And that included examining all the LDS claims to legitimacy and primacy without an agenda or pre-determined conclusions.  Just "what does the evidence support"?  If it's all true, why should the church fear that kind of examination?  And if it's not true, don't adherents deserve to know that?  How strong or robust is a faith that insists on teaching even its little kids to think in ways that make them feel guilty for intellectual exploration, or fear honest inquiry?

Oh I'm sure lots of Mormons would say No no no, that doesn't happen, the church never restricts freedom of inquiry.  Well maybe not officially or explicitly.  And not so much anymore.  But when I was a kid, oh yeah.  Very blunt warnings.  Now that the Internet has robbed the church of control of its own history and messaging, it has to change its approach, no choice.  But the things it claims and defends are unchanged.  And so are my questions.  Why the need to scare members, especially impressionable young ones, away from asking unrestricted questions?  Why the insistence on "fake it till you make it" testimonies?  That's really the message of Boyd Packer's "a testimony is found in the bearing of it."  But isn't that just a fancy way of saying "if you repeat something enough times you'll start to believe it"?  And what if it's a belief that's totally contradicted by actual facts?  Just because you believe something doesn't make it any more or less true, objectively speaking.  Yet that's the approach for Mormon "testimonies" and the now-more-subtle-but-still-potent official pattern of trying to scare Mormons away from a truly objective examination of their own religious history.  Truth shouldn't need such "protections." 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sundays are Different

It's still slightly . . . well, not "weird," I guess, but noticeably different to wake up on Sunday and realize that my time's my own.  I don't have to rush to shower and shave and truss up in a white shirt and tie and hustle over to the church to sit for three hours of the most stultifying lethargy while pretending to be inspired.  God, the boredom was awful.  Seriously, the most restful thing about those 3 hours was that I knew I could turn my brain completely off.  There was some therapeutic value in that, I suppose.

I see lots of people who leave the Mormon church and quickly become agnostic or even atheist.  After some initial puzzlement about this, I now think it's quite understandable.  If you escape an extremely overbearing, demanding, authoritarian religious culture that claims to be God's sole authorized channel for legitimate truth and the keys to heaven's doors, realizing it's not what it claims to be and you can't trust it or its leaders, why would you be comfortable submitting yourself to another one that might end up treating you the same way?

I understand all their questions and reasons for skepticism about anything having to do with God and faith.  A lot of the questions are quite legitimate, and some of the arguments compelling.  Having realized that a lot of things I formerly accepted as absolute truth were in fact false, or at best incomplete, my comfort level with uncertainty has gone way up.  It no longer bothers me that I don't "know" what comes after this life, or what God's really like, or a bunch of other stuff like that.  Or that the Jesus I was taught about in Mormon Sunday School does not seem to be the Jesus described in actual history.  The real story is a lot sketchier and subject to interpretation than I was first taught.

That means I have a lot more individual responsibility to figure out what works for me, what resonates as true, what survives exacting intellectual scrutiny with some (any) plausibility intact, what inspires me, motivates me toward the Christian virtues I continue to believe in.

I'm really glad I don't have to sit through the Mormon version of communion anymore.  As time went on I found myself actually resenting how it was administered there.  Like it was an administrative obligation that had to be gotten through so the real substance of the meeting--the speeches and the sleeping through them--could be focused on.  When I was a ward music director one year at BYU, I persuaded the bishop to let us do the Easter program first and then have the sacrament at the very end, so the whole meeting would focus everyone's attention on its symbolism.  And I got rave reviews afterward.

That's what I like about Episcopal services.  They figured this out long ago.  So when I need some spiritual recharging, as I did yesterday, I go there.  Always wonderful music to start the service, of course.  I like the procession because it means something special is about to happen.  Everyone is very reverent.  There are readings from scripture, prayers, more music, a sermon.  Then more music and prayers, and all of that leads to the main purpose of the whole thing, the bread and wine.  The culmination.  And when it's done, there's one more hymn, and that's it.  The officiant says "go in peace to love and serve the Lord," and the congregation responds "Thanks be to God."  And that's it.  Done.  I love that ending.

I love watching everyone walk up to receive communion too.  At the Episcopal church I attend it's not just the same old white Anglo-Saxon families with tow-headed kids sparsely scattered about the pews, men in white shirts and suits and women in best designer dresses while awkwardly dressed boys scurry about with trays.  Everybody walks up to the front, and it's a microcosm of all of humanity: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, young kids and white-haired great-grandparents and every age in between, the quick and the infirm, tall, short, wide, slim, some exquisitely dressed and some in beat-up jeans and t-shirt.  All walking together to express their faith and receive the remembrances of Jesus' sacrifice.  Whatever heaven may be, it surely must look a lot like that.

They don't care if you're not a baptized Episcopalian, either.  Every week they say "If you're here, you're family and we invite your full participation."  I hadn't been there in several weeks and I felt the need for some spiritual recharging, so I went.  Sang with gusto.  Listened carefully to the scriptures and the sermon.  Made the prayers my own.  And felt very much refreshed and renewed after walking up to the front with everyone else and taking communion and having some private prayer time afterward.  Honestly, a lot more refreshed and renewed than I remember feeling in years when I was attending LDS services.

So I feel lucky to have so quickly found another place where I can still find spiritual renewal.  This time "on my schedule and my terms" as a wonderful, kind, wise member of the clergy there told me many months ago when he invited me to give the place a try.  It's a place that not only doesn't discourage but actively values and welcomes inquiry and debate and even argument as a way for all participants to perhaps discover new truth.  It doesn't claim a monopoly on inspiration or knowledge of God, and freely admits that it doesn't have all the answers and that it's okay to say "I don't know" or even "I doubt."  It's not afraid of those things because it recognizes that when you're honest about not knowing, or about doubting, you're more likely to be humble and teachable and ready to learn.  There's no correlated pre-approved dumbed-down pablum-esque centrally controlled lesson manuals everyone is forced to re-hash all the time.  Everyone's paths and understandings are different.  I'm glad I found a new home that not only has beautiful music, architecture, liturgy and that wonderfully fragrant incense, but that also is such a good fit for my mind as well as my heart.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I mentioned in my first entry that the process of my leaving the LDS church began when I was forced to confront the impossible combination of being gay and Mormon.  There seems to be growing attention to gay Mormons generally, which is a good thing I think.  Pretending they don't exist just perpetuates all the problems.

There also seems to be growing effort toward figuring out how to be gay and Mormon at the same time.  As I said before, this is impossible without each gay Mormon killing off part of themselves.  The LDS church won't allow anything else.

The church is a whole culture.  It can occupy virtually every waking moment if you let it.  It's very good at creating social networks and communities and feeling part of the group is hugely important.

This characteristic of Mormonism is so ingrained that it shows up even in the gay Mormon groups.  Probably augmented by the fact that gay Mormons rightly feel persecuted by--ironically--the spiritual heirs of those who were violently persecuted themselves for their own alternate lifestyles.

So it's been a very interesting process for me to . . . I don't know, "watch myself," I guess, as I get further away time-wise from LDS membership and participation.  I look in now and again on all the kerfuffle going on with some gay Mormon groups, on the new people that keep popping up, the new stories I read (so many of which follow the same basic scripts I've already seen), I see new initiatives and new efforts to try to "build bridges" and "promote empathy" and "increase understanding" and such stuff.  No doubt their sponsors believe wholeheartedly in such efforts as worthy and charitable.

And as a lifelong product of all that groupthink, I am surprising myself by my reaction.  I used to care passionately about all that stuff because I clung so tightly to the religious teachings that made it necessary.  I guess logically I shouldn't be surprised that, having realized the religious teachings aren't trustworthy, I should care less and less about all these "reconciliation" efforts.  Maybe it's just the fact that culturally I'm so used to being part of at least one religious group that I'm not accustomed to being indifferent.

But that's about where I'm at.  I look at all that furious activity by all these well-meaning people, many gay and Mormon, many straight allies, and I smile, and I think "fine, it's their time and their lives.  It's all futile but they're entitled to try."  I don't bother reading a lot of the blogs anymore, nor do I spend as much time on the Facebook pages.  It's all just different actors, but same plot.  Eventually the current crop will disperse, some will realize what I did and just move on with happier, healthier lives, some will want to stay stuck but will run out of steam and their activity will fade, and new actors will take the stage and go through another iteration of the same story.  And the LDS church will be unmoved, because it has no choice.  It has totally boxed itself in on the gay issue and no "reconciliation" worth having is possible unless it totally re-writes its theology.  And that's not going to happen.

If somebody chooses to stay there regardless, that's up to them.  Personally I think it's far healthier to leave an organization that relentlessly seeks to deny some of its members the hope and happiness it just as relentlessly urges on others--as long as they fit the pre-approved demographics.  I'm seeing the results in my own life.  Far more tranquility, satisfaction, peace, calm, joie de vivre.  And I'm caring less and less about all that furious activity by gay Mormon reconciliation advocates.  The "Mormon" is less and less a part of my life, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that anything affiliated with it is less and less compelling, or interesting.  Intellectually, perhaps, when I choose to look in on it.  But not nearly as much as I used to.  I have my own life, my own friends, my kids, new relationships to pursue, new things to learn, a new job to focus on, a new religious community, new opportunities for service to others.  I guess I just don't need all that other stuff anymore.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

No More Pretending

The Internet's miraculous in its ability to connect people with similar experiences.  One of my new favorite blogs is called "Ain't No Mo No Mo."  And I'm going to shamelessly steal most of a recent post there because it's exactly how I feel and it's worth repeating here.  So with thanks and apologies to the author, here goes (you can find the original text here).

When my best friend C. lived in her dream house, there was one day that most of her family and my husband were inside her house watching the World Cup. But her son Ch. and I were outside in the swimming pool being goofy and having fun.  I remember him launching himself at me, proclaiming at the top of his lungs, "I am Reptar! Hear me roar!" and he roared loudly with a mighty yawp, and it was fun.

And the thought of that led me to that old Helen Reddy song, "I Am Woman." "I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore, and I know too much to go back to pretending..."

That's how I feel about the church. I know too much to go back to pretending. While I admire and respect most of the members of the church, because I know they are good people and genuinely serving God and doing what they believe to be right, I cannot align myself with this organisation. With its murky beginnings, the even murkier issue of Joseph Smith being a sexual predator (among many other unattractive characteristics), the tiny amount of money that goes to humanitarian aid as opposed to building malls and condos, the fact that there is no archaeological evidence supporting the book of mormon, etc., there's just nothing there for me.

I'm not happy about it. I mean, it's been a part of my life for 30 years. It's not easy to cast off something with which you have identified yourself so strongly. And I'm trying to find where my beliefs lie. The truth is the truth, no matter what people may believe.  There's nothing that everyone on this earth recognizes to be true, when it comes to faith and religion. My chances of choosing the incorrect one, if there is such a thing, are far greater than stumbling upon the correct one.

Therefore, I believe that I will just continue to try to be a good person and hope that God, if there is a God, will accept that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Glasses

Being born, nurtured, raised, soaked in, surrounded by Mormonism from infancy to adulthood, and not being the type to quarrel with or question what my parents taught me in good faith, I grew up inside a virtual cocoon that colored everything I saw in the world.  My mom told me I would ask startlingly probing questions even when I was 4 or 5.  So I was obviously always curious about larger questions and issues. 

I'm glad I went on a mission.  I learned a new language (which I'd always wanted to do), and I learned how to work hard.  But honestly, I didn't really want to go.  I'm not a salesman, and I don't like trying to be one.  I hated knocking on doors with a passion.  I went out of a sense of duty and because I knew I couldn't withstand the social opprobrium that would have resulted if I didn't go.  I made the best of it, and as I said, for lots of reasons I'm glad I went.  But if it had been completely up to me, I wouldn't have gone.  I think I could have accomplished a lot of the same things in different ways and places.

I went because I couldn't see the world in any other way than what I'd been taught.  I was part of the valiant modern Army of Helaman, bring the world God's truth.  I had a priesthood duty and responsibility to go.  I was going to be one of the elders of Israel who saved the Constitution.  All that stuff.

So naturally, when I encountered critics of the church, I wouldn't even let myself consider the possibility that they might be right about anything.  I was an aggressive amateur apologist, well on the way to becoming an insufferably self-righteous ark-steadier like this doof and some of his commenters

Then I ran up against something that I couldn't rationalize or defend.  I'll tell the story later.  But the result was to force me to re-examine everything I'd ever been taught and believed.  Not from the perspective of "how can I make this inconvenient evidence fit the church-approved narrative" but simply "what conclusions does this evidence support?"  No pre-conclusions.  No template.  Just as much objectivity as I could muster.

When I did that, my conclusions were totally different than before.  I agreed with Grant Palmer that the evidence supporting many traditional claims about the church was either problematic or non-existent.

THAT was a revelation.  Things just weren't as I'd been taught and had always accepted without question.  It was like realizing I'd been born with grey monochrome sunglasses surgically attached, and I couldn't have imagined seeing life or the world in any other way.  But with the realization that the Mormon church wasn't what it claimed to be, those glasses were ripped off. 

Ever since then, the world has been far more amazing than I'd been taught before.  Oh, I know, God created the glorious world for us, made it so beautiful, yadda yadda.  But even that belief was filtered through the agenda-driven Mormon lens.  But when I took those glasses off, I really saw the innumerable millions of colors and facets of the world for the first time, I felt.  Not as just some contrived staging area for a mortal test, but just intrinsically, fascinatingly, indescribably beautiful in and of themselves.  It didn't need to have a reason or a purpose anymore.  And it was far vaster and grander and more mysterious than I'd ever imagined.

I still marvel at that revelation.  How ironic it was that shucking off that Mormon world view actually made me more awestruck and reverent toward God's creation than I'd ever been before.  I'll talk in other posts about how it also made me a better Christian than ever before, another amusing irony.

So that's how I took off the glasses.  Now that I'm not driven by the Mormon agenda and unrelenting world view, the world is so much wider, astonishing, miraculous and beautiful now than it ever was before.  One theme of this blog will be my strong belief that the goodness or badness of things should be judged by their results, their fruits.  And when I took off those old glasses and saw the world clearly for the first time, some amazing results followed.  Definitely a good thing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Way Way Back When

I grew up stuffed with all the same sort of programming my kids tell me they're hearing today: You're the most valiant generation, saved to come forth in the last days, you're greater and stronger than anybody that came before, yadda yadda.  I remember hearing this from the time I was a deacon, and my son is hearing it now that he's a deacon too.

Looking back, I realize that my thoughts about the church and my place in it were a lot more fragmented than I realized at the time.  One part of me believed it all, with complete trust, and honest lack of comprehension that anyone could see things any other way.  Another slowly, almost imperceptibly, began to wonder about some things that I couldn't quite explain and it seemed nobody else could either.  But like most faithful believing Mormon boys, I did as I was told and just "put the doubts on the shelf."

I remember when I got baptized at age eight.  Seems like my pattern of doing things a different way started even back then.  Most kids do as they're told, bend their knees and lie back into the water, right?  Not me.  I don't know where I got the idea, but when my dad pushed me under the water, I crossed my legs and literally sat down on the floor of the font.  It was enough to submerge completely.  Mission accomplished, but I did it my own way.

Side track.  I don't remember not knowing how to read.  So by the time I got to 1st Grade, I thought the simple little readers they gave us for textbooks were way boring and easy.  We had reading time each day, and the first day, we all sat round our round tables and took turns.  When it was my turn, I dove right in and read along at a regular clip.  Just normal reading.

And the teacher stopped me.  Not only did she stop me, but she scolded me!  "You shouldn't show off like that," she said, "you're making all the other kids feel bad.  Slow down."

And even in my little 6 year old mind, I remember being angry, and thinking "How dare you?  You're supposed to be here to help me learn, not hold me back!  I trusted you!  And now you're trying to shame me into doing and being less than I already am!  This is wrong!"

How ironic that years later, when all the doubts were too heavy for the shelf to withstand and it all came crashing down, I finally found the courage to say the same thing to and about the church I had been brought up to trust implicitly.  You were supposed to be there to help me learn, not hold me back.  I trusted you.  And yet you tried to shame me into doing and being less than I already was.  That's wrong.

I know lots of people who have left the Mormon church and who seem perpetually angry at it.  As in really outspoken, get visibly mad type angry.  I'm not like that.  But I am angry nonetheless.  Angry at the loss of time, the waste of effort and energy and devotion and money.  Angry because of all the things I could have done but passed up because I was taught I had a responsibility to spend that time "building the kingdom."  Angry at the opportunities I lost for schooling, learning, new experiences and adventures I denied myself because I thought I had a responsibility to stick to The Mormon Boy's Life Map that was relentlessly drummed into me since childhood, and which didn't seem to allow for any of that other stuff.  Mentally, it was like being inside a walled compound.  I could look over the wall at the wide world beyond, but I mustn't dare think about actually going out there.  It was evil.  It was Babylon.  It wasn't safe.

And now I know that was all a load of crap.  I shouldn't have been scared.  But I was taught to be.  Something I trusted held me back from becoming the really, really best I could be, shamed me in order to keep me in line with what it said I should be, but which wasn't right for me.  So while I'm not raving yelling angry, I am definitely low simmer angry and I'm gonna stay that way for a long time.  Because I devoted years to things I now am convinced were a complete waste of time and resources.  Fortunately, I still have a lot of years left to make up for all that.

Recently a friend gave me a very nice compliment.  He said my "inner kid" was very apparent because I always wanted to go places and do things and have new experiences, and he couldn't imagine me ever becoming a grumpy old man.  Well, buddy, now you know why.