Monday, September 27, 2010

Fake it 'till you make it

I feel like faking it until you make it is a trap.

To gain a testimony, you are supposed to read the scriptures then pray with a broken heart and a contrite spirit about whether the gospel is true (and a bunch of other more specific stuff about HF, Jesus, and JS and the restored church- see link).  Then, you will be given a testimony through some confirmation from a still small voice.  But, if you don't get that confirmation then you aren't sufficiently broken-hearted or contrite or you haven't read the scriptures enough or prayed enough.  SOMETHING is wrong with you.  It's not that god doesn't exist or that he doesn't love you.  You must not be truly ready to receive the spirit into your heart.  So, then what?  Well, you fake it 'till you make it, of course.  You keep reading the scriptures, and praying, and trying to be more humble and modest, and most importantly, paying a full tithe.

Well, that shit could go on in an infinite loop.  And all the while your self esteem is getting squelched, guilt is eating you alive and your desperation to hear that still small voice or feel the burning in your busom is increasing. Maybe, the desperation reaches a threshold.  That threshold is when you either say, "Hey, I really honestly gave that my best shot (and my youth) and you know what? I don't think any of that crap is true and I am sick of feeling bad about myself" and walk (or run) away. OR, you finally are so mentally and emotionally exhausted, broken and desperate, that you convince yourself that some minuscule warm, fuzzy feeling was your confirmation - Hallelujah! 

Now, some lucky souls are so willing to believe whatever they are spoon-fed (hey, it's easier than thinking, right?) that they pretty much get that confirmation after their first round of scripture study and prayer and they never question it again.  Others go through the loop infinitely, faking it all along.  Some number eventually reach their individual threshold and experience one of those two outcomes.  But, the point is, the faking-it-'till-you-make-it-potentially-infinite-loop traps a lot of people in the church indefinitely and it keeps the rest in (playing and paying along) far longer than it should.

I feel like I was totally dooped.  I recognized the circular nature of the gain-a-testimony-prescription quite early, maybe at 7 or 8 years of age, and I STILL WENT THROUGH THE LOOP for another 13 years or so.  WHY?  Would I tolerate such a loop in my science?  Say someone said "Perform this experiment and if you don't get the desired results, you suck. Keep trying until you get the results I want you to get," Would I do so?  Hell no!  That's not good science.  You form a hypothesis and you test it and you accept that your hypothesis is usually wrong, but if you are lucky, the data lead you in a more interesting direction.  Then you start again with a different hypothesis.  But if you don't get the result you expect or hope for (or must get if you are ever going to get the fuck out of grad school) after, like, 3 trials or so, you do something different.  Maybe you give up completely on that experiment, but at the VERY LEAST, you change a variable. "The definition of madness, is doing the same thing and expecting a different result."

I pretty much live my whole life by the scientific method. So, why did I stick with the testimony loop?  Well, because people like to please each other, especially others we love or whose love sustains us.  We want to believe what those beloved people tell us, to believe what they believe.  We want to fit in to our communities.  When the people we love most in the world seem to affirm that the gain-a-testimony loop is the way to go, we'll probably go that way.  We fake it until we make it, or until it breaks us.

Here's to being broken and breaking free! Here's to the scientific method!  Here's to the application of reason to our lives!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Virgin Lips Club

At BYU, I had a boyfriend, from Orem, who proudly belonged to something called The Virgin Lips Club.  I nearly shot 2% milk out of my nose when this Guy and a couple of his friends were discussing this with my roommate in my kitchen before Guy and I had started dating.  Coming from California, I'd never met a boy who was proud to have made it through high school without kissing a girl.  On our first date, I got clarification that he actually intended to wait until he was engaged to kiss a girl. En-fucking-gaged!  This is extreme even for BYU guys, no?  I thought this was utter nonsense and took it as a personal challenge.  Some time later I sort of sneak-attack kissed him then apologized profusely (with fingers crossed behind my back).  He adopted a never-look-back attitude about the whole thing and left the club without honor but with full gusto!   Six months later, we were in our respective bishop's offices trying to...ummm...clear up a few things* so that Guy could go on a mission.  Whoops!

Did any of you belong to the Virgin Lips Club? 

*Post-edit: None of those things were significant enough to keep the boyfriend from going on his mission on schedule and my bishop only asked me to skip the sacrament for one week.  I think he was kinda confused as to why I felt the need to bring it to his attention.  It seemed a little overkill to me too but the boyfriend was freaking out, pretty much as one might expect from a boy who felt that he needed to save his first kiss for the girl he was going to marry. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Formerly" Sweet Spirit

"She's a sweet spirit" or "She has a sweet spirit" is usually something an RM says about the girl he's known for all of 4 weeks when he believes he's received "personal revelation" that he should marry her.  Alternatively, this may be something said about just about any nice, single Mormon girl by just about any other Mormon.

I think "Sweet Spirit" is just code for a girl/young woman who is submissive, malleable, perpetually and impossibly agreeable, and really spiritual.  Am I right? Well, those are the connotations it has for me. It wasn't exactly something I aspired to.  But, I was "accused" of having a sweet spirit on more than one occasion.  (I put up with a lot of shit when I was younger.)

A few months ago, I got into it with someone, let's call her Jen.  During the argument (which took place on FB of course), she said "you used to be so sweet."  Hot-doggity if you want to piss me off, accuse me of being formerly sweet.  It's a double insult! It implies I was sweet at one point, which is not something I ever desired to be, AND it further implies that I'm now...well...what?  Bitchy? Assertive? Opinionated?  Apt to argue with you or tell you when I think you're wrong or just being an asshat?  I don't know.  In the case of Jen, I know exactly why she'd had the impression that I was sweet at one point.  I was terrified of her and most of her family and I didn't feel like I was "allowed" to speak up to them.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I didn't feel like it was my responsibility to stand up to them.  So, I let a lot of things slide - like gossip, misogyny, lies, back-handed "compliments" to name a few.  But, at some point, I got FED UP and I started calling them out when I disagreed with them or when I felt they had wronged or insulted me.  So, now I'm not sweet in their eyes and I prefer it that way.

"Sweet" seems so hard to define when applied to a girl/woman.  After all, we females are not literally made of sugar, spice, and everything nice. And, no one has ever licked me before declaring me sweet.  Certainly, no one has ever licked my spirit before declaring me to have a sweet one.  It's weird, this term of endearment/disparagement.

If you have another take on the term "Sweet Spirit" or if it has other or different connotations for you, I'd love to hear all about it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

You have to have kids

No. No you don't.  And it's quite possible that maybe you shouldn't.  You aren't a horrible person if you don't want to.  People, this is my mantra!  I have to tell myself these things all the time.  Because, while I REALLY love exactly three of the world's children, most of the kids out there drive me bananas.  I am not a patient person, and I am what some psychologists would call "hypersensitive."  I do not like loud noise, crowds, bright lights, strong smells, or being touched very much.  I can be very affectionate when I want to be but, when I am not feeling it, you can't touch this.  I am also pretty far on the introvert extreme.  I likes me some alone time and I get all sorts of batty if I don't have LOTS of time (and blissful golden silence) for introspection.  It's not my impression that parents get a lot of privacy.

I don't buy for one second that "when they are your kids, it's different."  I know several people who genuinely do not cope well with the stresses of parenthood.   These people get really aggravated and completely lose their emotional shit in front of their kids on a regular basis.  I don't think that can be good for the kids.  It certainly isn't demonstrating healthy ways of dealing with stress. Do these people love their kids?  Of course.  Do they regret having them?  Sometimes.  Might they be happier in their day-to-day lives without kids? Almost certainly.  Should they have considered more carefully their own personalities and tendencies and ability to parent calmly before having kids?  Damn-straight.  I for one am really glad I've had other reasons to put off having kids as long as I have because I've had a lot of time to think about it, and get to know myself, and I'm just not so sure that I wouldn't be one of those people going ape-shit-banana-wonkers in front of my kids.  At the very least, I know that I would need to work on some things, have some coping mechanisms and some serious support in place before I could decide to have kids.  And, I know that it wouldn't be in the best interests of my hypothetical children to have motherhood be my full-time gig.  (That whole SAHM thing is a myth for another time.) 

I know it's not JUST the LDS upbringing (and my mom) that makes me feel pressure to have kids.  In fact, just yesterday, a very well-meaning person who knows me, ermmmm, not so well, kinda recommended to me that I should have kids to "glue" my marriage together.  If kids were to be the only "glue" holding my marriage together, I wouldn't want that marriage anyway.  Am I right?  My point is, I get the pressure from other places in society as well, admittedly. 

But, it made me wonder how many LDS marriages really are only glued together by children?  It might just be the LDS people I know, but I see a lot of young, LDS people getting married way too soon, in the temple, and getting divorced very quickly (often meeting, dating, getting engaged, getting married, and getting divorced all in the span of one year).  And, I am wondering if the pulpit-pressure to start families immediately rather than postponing until incredibly selfish things - like getting educations and establishing financial security - are completed, is the Church's way of trying to keep the divorce rate lower than the national average.  Get em' sealed and overburdened with responsibility while they are very young and naive, and you've pretty much trapped them in the church.  Especially if you can get them reliant on church welfare to support their young families for a few years.

Now, I want to touch briefly on the loudest message I heard in YWs and for the brief time that I tolerated Relief Society.  From The Family: A Proclamation To The World
"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."

I was told no less than once each Sunday and often during mid-week activities that I was innately nurturing.  Not always, but occasionally, in those exact words.  The message was that women were put on this earth to bear children, and are divinely destined for motherhood, and all are therefore endowed with some deeply spiritually nurturing nature and maternal instinct.  This message caused me more inner turmoil than anything else I heard in Church because I never felt that nurturing instinct until I was about 26 and long out of religion.  Before then, I had never wanted to me a mother at all.  If the most critical and divine purpose for my existence was to be a mother, then why, I wondered, had my Heavenly Father neglected to install the most important software on my OS.  I felt defective and hurt and angry.  It seemed like too cruel a test. One more reason I doubted an infallible, loving God's existence.   

People who know me well might call me out on that last paragraph and say that I was always nurturing.  But, I didn't feel it.  Babies especially made me extremely anxious until my first nephew was born.   As I mentioned earlier, I am really only comfortable with a few kids who all happen to have about 25% DNA content in common with me. While I recognize that I do have some innate nurturing tendencies, I attribute those solely to biological, genetic, and evolutionary adaptation to ensure survival of the species.  So there.

In contrast to the message that motherhood was the most sacred and divine of Gods gifts to women, there is this troubling part of scripture (probably my least favorite).  

Genesis 3:3-6 KJV (emphasis mine)
3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
 6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

The punishment for this disobedient desire for knowledge and wisdom can be found in verse 16.

16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

To me, this reads that marriage and motherhood (and childbirth) are God's punishment, meant to make women sorrowful, not a sacred gift.

Lest you think I mean to crap all over parenthood let me say, I am sure that parenthood is beautiful and amazing and deeply "spiritual" in some ways.  I think this can be true even if, like all forms of love, it is primarily a hormonally-derived attachment to ones children that creates these human emotions around it.  And to me, that is not less miraculous.  But, then as a scientist, I don't find science and nature cold or empty.  Rather,  I find it extremely inspiring.  I just don't think parenthood is for everyone and I think it is detrimental to individuals and families for the church to push marriage and parenthood (especially on people who are very young) who might not be ready or of the right disposition.  It might not be for me.  And, I am okay with that now.  Not so much when I was told it WAS for me non-stop.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Leaving the church can only lead to sorrow.

I struggle with this one because I struggle with depression.  I think that most ex-mormons I've encountered will freely claim that they are happier out of the church than they ever were in it.  I too make that claim, even when I am in the midst of a deep depression.  But, I would imagine that it sounds disingenuous to my friends and family who see that I've been prone to bouts of depression since I left the church.  I fear that my depression may serve to strengthen the testimonies of LDS friends and family who think that this teaching about leaving the church bringing certain grief is confirmed by my experience.  Add to this the tendency of members to hide all things imperfect, to deny doubt and unhappiness and portray the picture of harmony and peace and joy.  So, the member perspective is that everyone in the church is happy and every family is loving and everyone who leaves is miserable and I am the misery poster child.

But, let us step back a bit.  I started struggling with chronic clinical depression late in my teens/early twenties.  I also left the church in my early twenties.  But, correlation does not equal causation.   Late teens and twenties are a very common age-of-onset for such depression.  Many people who had happy, healthy childhoods struggle with depression later when they are in these challenging phases in life, figuring out who they are, what they believe, what they want and trying to build the lives and futures that suit them.  It's not easy being a young adult.  Doubly so when you are coming to the realization that you've lost your faith, or as in my case, finally just accepting that you never had it to begin with, and now you have to completely rebuild your conception of the world and how you are going to move through it.  Mormonism is all-consuming with rules about everything from how you dress, how you eat, how you wear your hair, how you dance, entertainment you should and shouldn't enjoy, how you get married, and how/when to have sex and children. Just when all of the things I was told my whole life to shoot for (my prescribed goals: temple marriage, motherhood, selfless service to family and church and utter religious devotion) were meant to be happening for me, they suddenly become part of a big lie.  One that I could no longer tolerate.  I had to accept that the prescribed life I had struggled to accept was never going to make me happy.  So, yeah, that all added to my anxiety and depression.

I also wonder if intellect is a contributing factor.  I'm a firm believer in the old addage "ignorance is bliss".  It requires a significant amount of intellectual fortitude to question everything you've ever been taught (kudos to all of us).  So, I wonder if many of us who leave come to do so only because we are "burdened" with enough intellect and natural skepticism to question, read beyond the sanctioned materials, and consider evidence and other hypotheses with truly open minds.  Those eternal optimists who accept everything they are told are destined (pardon the term) to be happier, right? The people who stay are the happy, unquestioning ones and the ones who leave are the skeptics and cynics?

Please understand me.  I struggle with depression.  I believe that in my case, my depression is tightly linked with my intellectual, inquisitive, introverted nature.  I THINK constantly.  I struggle every moment to make sense of the world around me.  And it is a STRUGGLE.  It would be much easier to accept what I'm spoon fed and move on.  But, I couldn't even if I wanted to because my brain simply won't allow it.  It is mentally and emotionally exhausting to question everything.  But, I don't have a choice in the matter.  I can't control the questions and they won't be ignored.  I am also a firm believer in the phrase "nagging doubt".  The same intellectual, inquisitive, introverted, contemplative nature that makes me prone to depression led me out of the "bondage" (I believe that, too) of a prescribed Mormon life.  I couldn't be happier for that and I wouldn't change for anything.  Leaving the church was the greatest gift I have ever given to myself.  It was the freedom to be who I am, rather than accept what I was told about myself, the freedom to accept and embrace my shortcomings and flaws, and the permission to pursue my own path. That is true happiness, even if it does lead me through occasional periods of "darkness", for I always emerge stronger and with a better understanding of myself, what I want, and where I am going.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

and I'm a Mormon

I posted this about a week ago on my private blog.  I think it appropriate to post it here as well.

I just came across this article in the Huffington Post (which I generally hate, but this article spoke to me) about the LDS Church's new "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign, which I refer to as the "I'm a fringe Mormon who elicits scowls of disapproval and is the subject of endless judgmental gossip in my ward and while I may participate in a really cool sport ( I surf!!!) and generally seem pretty mainstream, I believe some really wonky stuff" campaign.

I think Holly Wenker gets it exactly right. I don't think this ad campaign is going to change the public perception of the LDS church.  Perhaps people will see these ads and think, "Oh hey, Mormons appear to be pretty normal sorts of people" and for the most part, they would be generally correct and they have probably also experienced this with any Mormons they happen to have met in the meat world.  But, that doesn't change the fact that Mormons belong to and, if they are "good" members, financially support, an organization that has a long history of campaigning to limit the rights of women, racial minorities, and the LGBT community - not just by ostracizing them within the church, but also by funneling money and support (illegally) into the political system in order to deny equality to non-members as well. I don't think the right-thinking general public is going to forget that.

I agree with what others in the ex-mormon and mormon blogosphere have stated as well, when they say that this campaign feels disingenuous.  It is truly a slap in the face to those members (or former members) who have forgone their dreams and ambitions in order to "follow the prophet", that the Church is now attempting to improve it's public image by using the very members who opted to ignore the (constant) chastising and calls for conformity coming from the highest pulpits in favor of individuality.  I think the most offensive (to me personally) "I'm a Mormon" ads I've seen feature the women who, despite having young children and a husband who could provide for their families, have chosen careers which keep them frequently away from their families.  I appreciate these women thinking for themselves and pursuing their ambitions. I don't judge them for these choices in the least and I am sure that with the help of their husbands, family and other caregivers they are providing for the needs of their children while they are away from the home. But, I find it dishonest for the Church to advertise using these women who have gone VERY DIRECTLY against the teachings of the prophets of the church and representing them as if they are typical members and not on the (much scorned and maligned) fringe of Mormon culture. (I was asked some time ago when/where women had been actively discouraged from pursuing careers by the church leadership and where/when members had been told that women are meant to stay home and men are meant to provide. That last link is to a talk given by E.T. Benson that was constantly sited in YWs lessons I received growing up. The other is to the Proclamation on the Family and I quote: "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.")

On the I'm a Mormon website, one can search for profiles about Mormon's who "share your personal experience".  Well, I did a little experiment.  I entered my gender, my age group, my ethnicity and for keyword, I first tried "immunology" (my chosen field).  No hits.  Then, I deleted the keyword and entered nothing.  As you can imagine this returned hundreds of hits (I am a white woman in my late-20's/early-30's, after all.) Then, I typed "PhD" into the keyword slot.  I got exactly seven results.  Five actually hold or are pursuing PhD's (the other two mentioned their husband's PhD pursuits).  Three of the five who hold or are pursuing PhD's were married (the other two were hopeful).  So, while Mormon's may be normal, average, or even super cool surfer people, there clearly aren't many sharing my experience.  I don't expect to ever meet an active Mormon woman who is my age, pursuing or holding a PhD, married for 5+ years, and child-free by choice (gasp) because such a woman would be exceedingly rare.  But I am absolutely certain that if I do, she won't tell me how welcome and loved she feels at church and how supported she feels in her lifestyle choices by her priesthood leaders.   Advertising to the rest of society with this message that Mormon's are diverse and accepting, and not at all focused on conformity or prone to defining roles in absolute terms, is misleading because while these things might be true of individual members, they aren't the truths of the doctrines of the LDS church as an entity.