Monday, October 19, 2009

Uncensored I

I've been rolling this post-I-wasn't-going-to-post around in my head for the last few days and it's funny how once I took off the various restraints of offensensitivity it ballooned up and grew out of all sensible proportion. I had to spend an hour or two hacking off the more egregious branches just to get it down to size, and even now I know it's a two-post post. So, here's the back story.

I was raised Mormon: well, nearly, and practically totally raised Mormon. My mother comes from a genuine, old-school polygamist ancestor while my father was the son of an Episcopalian priest. By the time they met and married my mother was, as she puts it, a heathen and my father, according to her, was practically a beatnik with a pipe and a weakness for black t-shirts (I didn't know what a beatnik was for years but that didn't stop me telling the story). For the first six years of my life we were not a religious household.

Until, that is, a nice set of Mormon missionaries knocked on our door in England and were met with my father who rubbed his hands together and said, 'right! Now, about the Journal of Discourses...' which as a lot of Mormons could tell you is practically announcing yourself as a Joseph Smith hating, Salt Lake City bashing ANTI [the Journal of Discourses is 22 volumes of writings - mostly sermons - from early Mormon history including stuff from Brigham Young. Many of these sermons are now a bit... distant from what is taught in the Mormon church, including the Adam-God theory (Brigham Young taught that Adam was God), a whole lot of polygamist rhetoric and some pretty egregious racial statements among other things]. According to family lore, as far as I remember it, the missionaries recruited a particularly bright young woman to deal with my irritating father and, somewhere along the line, she gave him the traditional Mormon challenge:

"10:3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

10:4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

10:5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."

My father accepted this challenge, to his own surprise he felt he received a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, within a few months, he was baptized.

My mother, as far as I can remember, was furious. She even gave him a dire warning that those darn Mormons would make him a bishop. (Mormons have, mostly, a lay ministry and a bishop is like a parish priest) She was quite right, they did, and kept him there for seven years. It took her another year or so to come around but she became, and is to this day, a deeply faithful and very happy Mormon.



Not so much.

The trouble is, and it's something that non-Mormons don't really understand, Mormons teach that their church is absolutely true, the last and final truth that had been withheld from the earth for generations until it was restored, in perfect form, by Joseph Smith. There is a lot of reference to 'the fullness of the gospel' and in every meeting, at every gathering, you will hear the reiterated testimony of the members that 1) the church is true, 2) Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and 3) the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I was taught that there are bits of truth to be found in other religions, but no other church has everything - that all of it is True. It's not quite complete yet, mind you, there was a section of the Golden Plates (the ones that Joseph Smith translated to create the Book of Mormon) that was sealed off until 'the last days,' but what is known, what is here now is undeniably, and most importantly FOR EVERYONE, true.

We learned about it in Primary - the children's meeting - about how the true and everlasting gospel was restored to this earth in latter days and, here's the kicker, how everyone, every last person is promised a personal witness of the truthfulness of these things - the one prayer that will be answered no matter what is Moroni's promise.

We sang about it, we talked about it, we knew the correct answers to all the questions. How does the spirit speak to you? The Still Small Voice, the Warm Feeling. What does Heavenly Father want us to do? Pray and be good... but always, always we knew that we, little grubby souls that we were, would receive an answer to prayer.


Yes... see, that's the kicker. Moroni's promise has a small out to it - you have to pray 'with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.' So, let's say you're a small child who does indeed pray diligently - or as diligently as you can with a seven-year-old attention span - and... nothing happens. No still small voice, no warm feeling, nothing. But, as you've been told over and over again by people who love you and trust you, there WILL be an answer - IF you are faithful and good enough.

Because, you see, God can't talk to you if you're bad. And we all know that the church is true, and we all know that the promise of individual answer to prayer is a sincere one which means...

And the funny thing is, I never did get an answer - not once. I tried, oh my WORD how I tried. I fasted, I prayed, I read my scriptures, I agonized over every sin, real or imagined. I repented with tears and self-loathing. I attended meetings and paid my tithing and sang hymns. And God still didn't talk to me.

Which made it clear, so far as I could tell, that I was a pretty horrendously flawed person. I mean, how bad do you have to be for God not to talk to you? It worked for everyone else - every month we had fast and testimony meeting and seven or eight people would cry and cry as they talked about the way God had spoken to them 'in the stillness of their hearts.' But not me. I was caught in an unbreakable problem: The Church is True; God has promised to tell you of its truth (as told in the Church's own scriptures); all those who pray with a sincere heart and real intent will know this truth; I did not receive this answer; See Item 1. The church had to be true, which meant God had to fulfill his promise which meant I must be Unworthy. I figured that out at the ripe old age of seven and sat, mutely miserable through my baptism interview (aged 8) waiting for the bishop to tell me I was Unworthy (he didn't. I was baptized and all my sins washed away. Which gave me great comfort until three hours later when I realized I was being Prideful and Puffed up over being spiritually washed and therefore perfect - which was likely a sin and... dang.)

By the time I married Kirk I was an anorexic and suffered from a crippling perfectionism. I also was deeply and thoroughly convinced of my own unworthiness, and, frankly, miserable whenever I thought of God, church, religion etc (which I did All The Time).

It took another five years, five years of struggle and emerging self-knowledge, five years of discussion and work and misery before, with a gasp, I decided that I would just stop. Stop going to church - just for a little while, just long enough to catch my breath and figure things out. I had had bouts of inactivity before - never more than a few weeks at a time and always, always with crippling guilt accompanying them - but this was deliberate and thoughtful and, to a certain extent, desperate - and to my great surprise I found happiness. I mean real, genuine, soul-saving happiness! Without religion I was suddenly peaceful and content and calm: I could believe in myself as a reasonable, moral person who was flawed, yes, but always trying to do the right thing. All those things I had heard about coming from faithfulness in the church - calmness, happiness, certainty, personal growth etc etc etc, all of those I was finding once I left.

Now mind you, I still believed the church must be true for everyone else because that was what I was taught. I had no idea why it didn't work for me, no idea why I was better outside of it, I just knew what I knew with, to use a Mormon phrase, a sure and certain knowledge: Mormonism was wrong for me. It's taken me quite some time to realize that I'm not the only person in this situation!

Now, why on earth would I have censored this?

Well, first (and non-Mormons will not get this) because The Church is True, and true for everyone, it is impossible for most Mormons to understand or accept that the Church isn't right for someone. Really, fundamentally, that opposes what they know to be true. So lapsed Mormons, or post-Mormons, or ex-Mormons or recovering Mormons or whatever you want to call us are judged, even by the most loving, wonderful people, judged to be wrong. They are lazy, they have been offended, they 'want to sin,' they have been deluded by Satan (or their own false pride in their intellect). These are the only reasons that people could possibly leave - no matter what they themselves say. I know this, I've heard it over and over again from people I love dearly. I don't want to hear it again from strangers who stumble over this - and I promise you I will whether in emails or comments.

Second, once you call yourself a post-Mormon (or whatever) you are immediately placed in the 'them' category - that's as in 'us against them.' Post-Mormons are believed to be anti-Mormons, whether that's said outright or not, and everything I say is going to be judged as being anti. I will never be seen as being unbiased, and there are dear people, loving people, delightful people who will stop reading (have possibly already stopped reading) because by reading this, by knowing me, they would be 'supporting, affiliating with, or agreeing with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' (re-worded from one of the questions asked in order to ascertain temple worthiness in a member).

Thirdly many Mormons feel that an ex-member writing about their disbelief or their experience leaving the church is an attack on the church - on their own beliefs and this offends or hurts people - people I love.

But there have been some things happening recently, things said, things done, that I feel pretty strongly about, and I think it's important to talk about them, and in order to do that I have to let you know who I am.

Raised Mormon, now post-Mormon.


Ezekiel said...

You wrote about this more eloquently than I could ever hope to. Thank you.

I was raised Mormon too. I had the same problem you did. I never heard god either. I tried so very hard and got nothing. I explored other religions, nothing has ever come to fruition.

My sister is in the same boat, so I'm going to pass this to her.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your excellent writing. I had exactly the same experiences as you did. I have respect for relatives and friends who have found their "truth" from whatever source. But I know that these are not mine and I am no longer waiting for god(ot).

Megan said...

Ezekial, and Anonymous - thank you! It took me a very, very long time to discover that I wasn't the only person who had gone through this, and after having the loving (always loving) incomprehension of family and friends who simply couldn't, COULDN'T grasp my experience, it is incredible to discover that it's not unique. That's one of the reasons I decided to write about it. The other, being the next post of course!

Mujja said...

As you know Megan I am not, nor have ever been Mormon, but I can appreciate how hard it must be to stand against the teachings of all your family and friends. I have great admiration for the fact that you have used the huge energy that you turned agaisnt yourself which showed itself as anorexia, perfectionism and self loathing and made it into positive outward looking strength. A strength that has made it possible to live life following Kirk's dissapearance. You are an amazing strong woman..well done!!

Earthenwitch said...

Gosh. What a lot to think about, and what a lot to process for you. I found this a very interesting read; how I wish I could believe in something so clearly, and so unquestioningly, as those you describe.

Other Anonymous said...

I, too am going through a similar dilemma. I was raised Catholic and my father's family especially is very Catholic, I even went to a Catholic School! I don't really know how to tell my family that it doesn't work for me.

Megan said...

Mujja - oh dear. I'm really awful about compliments. I get all red and flap my hands about and do the 'oh no, not really, I'm not so good at all.' but... thanks, really, thanks. It does mean a lot. Also - I know, I KNOW I totally fell down on the email stuff and I feel a complete idiot. I will try again, I really will!

earthen - I dunno. Is believing in something absolutely, without question such a good thing? I realize that given my background I have a built in prejudice, but I rather think that a healthy ability to evolve is a pretty darn good thing. Seems to me that you believe in a lot of stuff, a lot of good, fundamental stuff like the importance of small girls in stripy tights. What is best for those small girls - well, that's going to change from day to day, isn't it? But the wonder of tiny, staggering legs in knitted tights... that's forever!

Other (I can call you other, can't I?) - it's so hard. I know, it's hard, hard, hard and there's no easy way. You aren't asking advice which means you can toss this out the window as needed but: 1) love your family. Let them know, let them see, let them feel that you love them (oh heavens, I know that assumes they're lovable which can be a big assumption... but...). 2) go slowly. For you, for them, just go slowly. 3) find a community. They are out there - I know there are several for post-Mormons and I've been interested to see how many post-Catholic or post-Jehovah's Witness people pop up on them. It really, truly helps to talk to people who are facing the same issues. 4) respect your own truth, respect theirs. It's honestly the best advice I can give!

Child 1 said...

I must say that I am so so glad that you are my mother. Raised the way I was I can ask the right questions of the world and hopefully can use a clear mind when I pass my judgments. I see so many broken people who have lived their whole lives without a loving family and can't conceive of one. It's so cool that you can go through all that but still have the strength to raise the three of us well. Ever since I was old enough to understand that I might have a family someday I always hoped that I could do as good a job.
And one good thing we all got out of the church was a whole batch of loving, caring and I must admit, cooky relatives. They fit in well with us.

Anonymous said...

I read this with such a kinship with your words. I was raised Mormon and still feel like that is where I should be, despite not really believing, but wanting to be accepted by my family. You wrote this very beautifully and as a post-mormon I thank you. We are not bad people!

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Anonymous said...

Thanks to The Author for your Frank account on Mormons; A subject I know little about. It being Sunday, my favorite day for comparative faith led literature. I esp. Enjoyed your experience with 'Atheist' thinking. I too came to a similar conclusion. Dogma compared to say applied Ethics in everyday life...'treating others as you would like to be treated yourself' etc, seemed to be the important factors in relation to metaphysics and Life.. I hope You continue Your journey with good luck and smiles. Just a last word, People who think this way are not the majority. So keep your wits about You. Good evening! P.s Kindness is not weekness!