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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Diving In

I had the wonderful luck to be born gay and Mormon.  Lots of guys blessed with this interesting combination go through sheer hell for a long time trying to reconcile things.  I did too before I finally realized that it can't be done.  Eventually a gay Mormon has to choose one or the other.  The way the church has set things up, the only way out is to kill off part of yourself, either the gay part or the Mormon part.  I've seen some guys try to maintain both, and while it's certainly their choice, I think it's wasted effort and they're just setting themselves up for disappointment.  Eventually even that kind of balancing act is going to end up with the same decision, made by default. I see liberal-minded Mormons who believe the church is wrong in its approach to gay issues and some of them really go out of their way to say why, and to advocate for change.  Nice to see, but I think that's all wasted effort too.

The balance tipped for me when I reached the point in study and pondering and research that I no longer trusted or believed the LDS Church to be what it claims to be, to speak the truth honestly, or to act as God would have it act.  That was probably the most difficult realization I've ever come to, especially after all the time I spent in church service.  While the process that led me there started with the gay Mormon thing, my conclusions eventually went far beyond that one issue.

Once I got there, the whole bit about reconciling the gay and the Mormon fell into place.  I was surprised but probably shouldn't have been.  Why should I worry what the church said about being gay if I didn't trust or believe the church anymore.  So that part's done.  The gay part of me is fine, happy as can be.  It was a long struggle and I'm glad it's over.  I'm not going to talk about it here, that's not my purpose.  Other people have blogged about being gay and Mormon  so I'm not going to try.  They have pretty much said everything about that topic already.

But now I'm finding that there's another reconciliation I need to make.  I was born and raised Mormon, active all my life.  BYU, mission, temple marriage, ward, stake and temple leadership.  I read FARMS and FAIR stuff and owned Nibley's collected works.  I was a vigorous and active amateur apologist for the church, had been since high school.  I even worked for the Church, in the course of which I worked with numerous General Authorities and once gave an extended report presentation to Pres. Hinckley.  My LDS bona fides are pretty solid.

So it's a big change for me to walk away from all that, resign my membership and try to figure out how to make a new non-Mormon life when the Mormon way is all I've ever known.  I've figured out some ways to do this but have realized the process isn't complete.  Maybe this blog will help.

Writing helps me work through things, and I've been thinking for some time that I should write down what I've been going through.  For a while I thought I would just do it in a journal.  But then I realized that if I blogged about all this, others might read what I wrote and maybe I could learn from them if they commented.  Plus I can stay anonymous, which I really have to because if my extended family (who already know I'm inactive) found out that I've actually resigned it would cause them more angst than when I came out.  That was tough enough, especially for my TBM convert father, who is as fine and wonderful and loving a dad as one could wish for, and with whom I will never see eye to eye on this or certain other topics.  Shrug.  It's just reality.  My coming out has bewildered and hurt him very much already, and I don't want to hurt him further.

There's going to be a lot to talk about.  It'll be a mish-mash of memories and vignettes and growing up Mormon and things I always wondered about and how my life got from there to here.  Don't expect clean linear thought or organization.  Or euphemisms.  Parts of this process have been brutal and I'm not going to hold back when I talk about them.  But I've realized that I really do need to talk about this.  So watch out.