MORMON WOMEN, PROZAC® and THERAPY
Copyright © 2003 by Kent Ponder, Ph.D.
e-mail address: email@example.com
This report may be freely forwarded, posted, faxed or otherwise published, so long as it remains untranslated, and my name, e-mail address and copyright notice are included, and nothing is removed, added or changed.
THIS REPORT IS ADDRESSED TO:
LDS women taking antidepressants, and/or considering or undergoing psychological
therapy, especially LDS women of color, Lesbian LDS women, and LDS women temple-married to
Those concerned about women as above described.
LDS religious counselors, and LDS professional psychological therapists who treat women as above described.
From insights gained during and after my doctoral study of the psychology of
cognitive-dissonance conflict, I have for many years become increasingly concerned about
the profound mental torment of numerous innocent Mormon women, especially because the
tormented are so often among Mormonism's "best and brightest" with regard to:
(c) propensity for clear rationality,
(d) sense of factual conscientiousness.
During the last six years I have conducted extensive research, consisting partly of interviews conducted face to face and by telephone, fax and e-mail, of nearly three hundred individuals as described below under "Types of Individuals Interviewed." I have been motivated to produce this report by the increasingly massive and heart-wrenching extent of the problem, which so deeply offends my sense of justice and compassion.
The Goals of This Report:
(a) To examine and illuminate root causes of many Mormon women's chronic depression that leads to the use of antidepressant drugs and psychological therapy.
(b) To report the personal experiences, questions and observations of many of these women.
(c) To help reduce the need for and use of antidepressant drugs and therapy.
(d) To express the hope that LDS counselors and therapists, by increasing awareness of root causes, will improve their attitudes and counseling methods that now too often reinforce the causes of damage, thus intensifying it.
(e) To comment on LDS women's first-hand reports of personal experiences, beliefs and attitudes, with additional observations on my numerous communications with LDS Church counselors and professional therapists.
(f) To allow each reader to assess her/his own level of understanding, agreement and course of action.
(g) To let readers of this report provide me additional data by e-mail.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This report's goals do not focus on:
(a) establishing the truth or untruth of Mormonism's doctrinal and/or historical claims.
(b) evaluating the aggregate, overall efficacy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
About the Tone and Style of This Report
Several sections of this report are not written with unemotional scientific detachment. It is difficult to be emotionally detached from the horrendous mental anguish experienced by so many entirely innocent Mormon women, as reflected in their rate of purchase of antidepressants. Though I've honored the facts by not skewing them, you will note that some of them are presented and exemplified (often by the women themselves) dramatically, even forcefully, because:
(a) the tragic extent of the problem is itself dramatic, and needs to be presented forcefully,
(b) forceful language may be helpful, or even necessary, to jar LDS men's consciousness into a state of greater awareness, hopefully breaking through their/our habitual LDS-cultural view of LDS women.
Types of Individuals Interviewed:
(1) Nearly three hundred LDS women in four categories:
(a) church-active believers,
(b) church-active nonbelievers,
(c) church-inactive believers, and
(d) church-inactive nonbelievers (none excommunicated, nor anti-Mormon in activity).
(2) LDS bishopric members acting as religious counselors.
(3) Actively believing LDS professional family counselors and therapists.
Utah Leads In Antidepressant Drug Use.
Utah residents currently use more antidepressant drugs, notably Prozac® (fluoxetine hydrochloride, introduced in 1987), than the residents of any other US state. This problem is clearly, closely and definitely linked to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Approximately 70% of Utahns are Mormons. Jim Jorgenson, director of pharmacy services for the University of Utah, confirmed that Utah has the highest percentage of anti-depressant use, hypothesizing that large families, larger in Utah than in other states, produce greater stress. (Large Utah families are primarily Mormon families).
The same LDS Church that works so well for many works very badly for many others, who become chronically depressed, especially women. Studies indicate that women suffer twice as much depression as men. These individuals then cope with their chronic mental pain and depression by using anti-depressant drugs and/or treatment by LDS therapists, who too often treat them ignorantly and counterproductively -- though typically with such smug assurance that it borders on unintended arrogance.
Being Clear About Issues
The issue addressed in this report should not be confused with issues such as the reported low suicide rate of young Mormon males. Male depression and suicide are one scenario; female depression and Prozac are a very different scenario. Suicide is more aggressive; depression is more passive. In Utah, women's and Mormon women's factually confirmed rate of depression and Prozac use is the highest in the US, and far higher than that of men in Utah.
About Good vs. Bad -- Beneficial vs. Detrimental:
Some of the same beliefs and practices that are more good than bad for some LDS individuals are more bad than good for others.
Because I am lifelong LDS, I intimately know and support the many recognized and highly publicized benefits (individual and social) of Mormonism. And I recognize, too, its harmful aspects, some of them profoundly damaging to many innocent women.
The women harmed often experience further damage by being misunderstood, shunned, misrepresented and even disparaged by well-meaning LDS whose happy experiences and feelings leave them unable to comprehend how the same church that benefited them could damage innocent people undeserving of harm, especially since that church is defined as being beneficial for all.
As For Me, I Experienced the Benefits. -- Here's My LDS "Gratitude List":
I'm one of the fortunate ones. For me, Mormonism worked well. I'm very grateful for:
growing up LDS (fourth-generation),
participating in LDS sporting events, plays, trips, dances, group projects,
giving sermons from early boyhood on, learning confident public speaking,
avoiding tobacco, alcohol, harmful friendships, illicit sex,
marrying a fourth-generation LDS girl in an LDS temple (Idaho Falls),
serving a full-time mission,
raising seven morally clean and healthy LDS children (five daughters and two sons).
being taught and encouraged by numerous LDS women, my teachers in various church auxiliaries,
Virtually all of the valuable formative influences on me throughout boyhood and teen years were church-related. LDS clergy, doctrine and training taught me to love education, motivating me to achievements I'm sure I never would have reached without it. Examples:
studied at U. of Illinois, BYU (honors B.A.), U. of Madrid, Middlebury Graduate
School (honors M.A.), Stanford, Yale, Georgetown (highest-honors Ph.D.).
taught at Stanford U., Georgetown U., US Naval Academy, State U. of New York, etc.
I'm certain I wouldn't have developed even a third of that academic zeal on my own. My wife's and my "Mormotivation" was so focused for nineteen years that we honestly didn't even know, until our oldest daughter told us (sparing our pride 'til then), that for years she'd known that our family was eligible for free school lunches and food stamps.
The Costs of Focus: I've described the benefits of focus, but there were heavy costs. As with flashlights, the brightness of a focused beam is offset by the dimness or even darkness around it.
My Wife's Less-Positive List:
Please reread the "gratitude-reasons" above, noticing that they are mostly my reasons, not my wife's. As head-of-family priesthood bearer, I benefited far more from Mormonism than she did. While I proudly acquired degrees, respect, Time and Newsweek write-ups, as well as spousal love and support, my loyal wife accumulated her own list (unexaggerated):
Internalized the Book of Mormon's demeaning description of her gorgeous brown
skin: "dark and loathsome." (She is Samoan)
Felt second-class and chronically drained,
Suffered years-long psychosomatic eczema that oozed, blistered, bled and looked like radiation burns.
Bore eight children (that's 72 months pregnant),
Raised seven of them to maturity (an eighth died in infancy),
Hand-sewed all the clothes for our daughters, except thrift-store purchases,
Did all cleaning up after nine people (often with no washer or dryer at home),
Prepared almost all meals for nine people,
Did work-horse shopping and errands for nine people,
Held a few part-time jobs (out of the house) for extra income,
Managed all household finances, did all letter writing, bill paying, record keeping, income-tax calculating and filing,
Practiced spartan self-denial on my grad-student and teacher income,
In Short: She Struggled and Stagnated . . . Enabling Me To Star and Strut.
What astonishes me now is recalling that, at that time, I blithely took for granted everything she was doing. I'm ashamed to admit that I never gave most of it a second thought.
I was too busy exulting in my LDS male role to even perceive her work-horse status, which I accepted as normal status quo, nor did I notice (nor would I have understood) that some Mormon beliefs are direct root causes of serious harm to many women.
And if I had noticed, I'd have assumed I was wrong because, after all, how could God's only true Church directly harm righteous women? That would have been my "unarguably correct" LDS logic.
Eight Mormon Women Finally Woke Me Up.
My attention was drawn to these problems by eight dynamic LDS women:
(a) My multi-talented, "pack-mule" wife, as above.
(b) Our five daughters, one of whom, temple-married to a wonderful LDS man, became so doctrine-tormented that her weight plummeted and she stood in her kitchen at night, screaming and pulling her hair.
(c) My psychology-degreed younger sister who, though talented enough to teach communication courses to US federal agencies and to be an award-winning performing artist, suffered chronic doctrinal worries that caused her great anxiety and depression during her strongest-LDS-belief years.
(d) My Utah-pioneer-descended mother, who died prior to my awakening of awareness.
Though married to a kind and supportive man (my father, who paid for my mission), her
worried wrestling with LDS catch-22 concepts reduced her from the cheery, mentally and
physically robust women I had known as a boy, to this list:
chronic sick-bed migraines,
paranoid accusations and profanity,
antidepressant-drug addiction (Valium®, etc. -- she died prior to Prozac®),
several mental-hospital confinements,
psychosomatic auto-immune disorders including crippling rheumatoid arthritis that ended her years as ward pianist, organist and chorister -- all while uncomplainingly loving the Church.
New Times -- New Knowledge -- New Opportunities
Until the mid-1900s, some LDS beliefs served women much better than now. Most women used to be naturally dependent upon men for safety and livelihood, resulting in more-natural subservience to male control. Because subservience to males was more needed and natural, it was less oppressive and depressing.
But now, because subservience to males is less needed, it is less wanted, thus more oppressive and depressing to many females. Notice that I didn't say subservience to males is unwanted; I said less wanted. Many women still feel comfortable with it. But not the strongest and brightest women.
In the US and a few other countries, women now generally share in rights, freedoms and opportunities on a par with men. Also, more church-conflicting knowledge from science and history is now available, even in popular magazines and on the internet.
Why Are So Many Mormon Women Severely Depressed?
As noted above, Utah is about 70% LDS, and women lead men in depression (by about double). Why is Utah #1 in the US in antidepressant-drug use, notably Prozac®? Why are twice as many women affected? A standard answer is that LDS women are overworked, heading large families, struggling to meet too-high expectations of perfection. There's some truth in that, but there are other, more fundamental, reasons.
Three realities are much more basic. In the Mormon Church:
1. For females, "One size fits all,"
2. Females obey males from birth to death.
3. Females lack control of their own life choices,
Any Mormon reading this report will recognize that virtually all LDS girls are taught from childhood to do all 24 of the following:
be respectfully, politely, humbly and gratefully subservient to Mormon males in personal demeanor, activities, beliefs, plans and thought.
not be, nor aspire to be, nor hope to be, independent from authoritarian males, nor independent in thought.
attend male-directed religious services.
participate in male-directed activities. (Even female-led projects are organized under male authorities.)
attend male-directed weekday seminary classes in addition to academic school.
obey all male-hierarchy-generated directives.
submit to male-originated personal-matter (including sexual) private interviews.
obtain a Patriarchal Blessing which usually promises becoming a mother in Zion if faithful and obedient.
do genealogy research on male-headed (patriarchal) family lineages.
marry an LDS man in an LDS temple.
accept counsel from her husband, and not as just his opinion, but as God-inspired revelation.
look to her husband as essential to her entry into the best category of Heaven.
have children, more being far better than few.
raise all of her children in this exact-same system.
attend only the chapel assigned to her residence address, regardless of preference.
accept that if she and family attend any other than this chapel, she and they cannot enter Mormon temples.
know that her husband may, in the next life, marry numerous additional wives.
know that she may not marry any additional husband, here (if still married to the first one) or hereafter.
accept callings to work in church, auxiliary and welfare-project organizations.
make several forms of financial contributions, ten percent tithing being only one.
teach her children to become missionaries to convert other individuals into this same system.
teach this same system to her grandchildren.
teach her daughters and granddaughters to obey males at home and at church.
never openly criticize any doctrine, practice, directive or male authority related to any of the above.
That's the "One Size Fits All Females" list of 24 items. Each LDS female gains and retains respect, and even acceptance, only by adhering to the behaviors and attitudes above, assigned to her by others, most often males, rather than freely chosen by herself.
Are The Above-Listed Items Beneficial? -- or Harmful?
Ironically, they're both -- just not to the same women. Different women are impacted very differently.
Many LDS women do benefit, managing to more or less cope with that list. As the recent book, Mormon America, by Richard and Joan Ostling, validly reports about Mormonism, "For the most part, it works."
But this report is written to and about equally good women for whom it doesn't work. Many of these women discover that, too often, what they pray for is what keeps them in depression. For these women, ironically and tragically, the more prayer, the more depression!
Some women wonder how this can happen. It can happen because in reality and truth one size doesn't fit all. People are genetically different in abilities and interests in ways that the "One Size Fits All" list ignores. As proven by respected studies, identical twins separated at birth usually have, as adults, remarkably similar interests, abilities and personalities despite having always lived in totally different environments -- demonstrating that their genetics played a larger role than environment. The LDS Church is an environment,
My point is that the LDS Church's "One Size Fits All Women" is an environment that ignores these powerful, genetically based, individual differences. The Church is not a genetic-alteration device. For many people, genetic differences cannot be crammed into One Size Fits All without great, chronic mental stresses.
Or, stated another way, for some LDS women to strive to be an excellent Relief-Society-oriented homemaker, mother of six and church worker is like Oprah Winfrey striving to be a basketball player, or Katie Couric trying to be happy as a seamstress.
During my focused-zeal years, I would have mistakenly attacked the underscored sentences above as being theologically impossible.
For whom doesn't the LDS gospel work? -- Whom doesn't it fit?
One Outstanding, Righteous Woman Whom It Didn't and Doesn't Fit
One of my temple-married daughters describes Mormonism in these exact words:
"It's so counter-intuitive for women, so full of gender unfairness and contradictions. The Church's attitude, 'we'll tell you what you're worth' isn't self-worth. If a woman has any sense of self-worth, it attacks her on all fronts. And to have any real difference of opinion means having to go against every person in your [church] community."
More About, "We'll tell you what you're worth."
Some of "telling you what you're worth" is communicated by direct implication. Many women, including my daughter, are able to perceive that it "attacks [them] on all fronts." Here's one of the fronts mentioned:
"In the LDS universe, theologically described as the real eternal universe, each man who achieves the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom is worth many times more than each woman, even the women who qualify at that highest Celestial level, because each man who achieves Godhood-level may have numerous God-wives, but each God-wife may have only one husband. This can only mean that each "heavenly father" is worth many, many times more than each "heavenly mother." And, even if the ratio were strictly one to one, the male God, not the female God, holds the priesthood authority and is the only one of the God parents to whom his earth-mortality children are allowed to pray. So Mormon women can never, NEVER achieve equality with men, no matter how outstanding or righteous the women are. That's just the way it's set up."
My daughter's "problem" was only that she was intelligent enough to perceive that clearly.
In a similar vein, other LDS women have learned of the web site www.reformmormonism.org, which includes the following in their section titled, "A Message to LDS Women":
"You have known intense religious pressure to conform your life and your life's objectives to a predetermined pattern, one that does not necessarily take into consideration that which you want to pursue in your life, but one that is predictable and comfortable for others. You have seen your religious organization use your financial contributions to pursue political activities designed to insure that you are not treated equally under the law."
More About "Worth" . . . The "Personal Worthiness" Interviews
For LDS women, male definition of female worth begins early. LDS females are taught from childhood that males who are divinely appointed have authority over central aspects of these girls' own bodies, thoughts, and behavior. This occurs in regular, private "personal worthiness" interviews, conducted, usually with good intentions, by one or another of her male bishopric during her childhood/teen years.
Even worse, despite generally good intentions, sometimes male prurience accompanies the process. Our daughters once asked me if they had to submit to these private, very intimate interviews conducted by an LDS man they described as "dirty-minded and creepy." I replied, "Not if you don't want to; it's entirely up to you." They didn't want to and they didn't. I then just let our bishop's negative reaction roll off my back without comment. But not all LDS fathers are as self-assured in defense of their daughters' right to choose privacy from personal sexual questions. Not even I, as their father, ever subjected them to that intrusion. Nor did their mother.
Walking The Walk
If a church's "belief shoes" (by analogy) are all narrow, even though they vary in length, which women will think this works? Those with narrow feet, of course; they will benefit. Those with wide feet will be in pain and wondering why. When bishoprics and therapists have strong religious conviction that narrow shoes are God's only true shoes, they offer corn and bunion pads to pained women with wide feet. Women who've been taught to believe that narrow feet are the true feet will accept this belief and the officially dispensed corn pads, whether their own feet are narrow or wide. Their thinking doesn't let them even conceive of solving their problem by changing their shoes.
Marching The March
How far can a female LDS soldier march in too-narrow combat boots? The LDS hymn defining us all as, "We Are All Enlisted 'Til The Conflict is "O'er" symbolizes the problem. Recall its phrase, "Soldiers in the army." How many US women would find a "fit" in the US Army or any army? The fact that some women do doesn't help the many who don't. Only one of my five daughters marches daily and comfortably in the LDS-assigned, narrow footwear.
The unhappy LDS women sense that something is fundamentally wrong with thinking that all LDS females are divinely conscripted into regimentation as "soldiers in the army."
The idea of freely chosen enlistment versus coerced conscription was given to me by the woman who said,
"My parents converted before I was born. I was born in the Church. I didn't enlist, I was drafted,"
These women mistakenly feel that something is wrong with them, because even though they're in the true church that teaches them that they "are that they might have joy," they're not experiencing joy.
I've Exchanged Hundreds of E-mails With LDS Professional Therapists.
Through my communications with many LDS bishopric counselors and professional LDS therapists (including hundreds of e-mails during the last few years), they've sent me repeated confirmation that their thinking usually doesn't let them even suspect that the shoes (by analogy) are the problem. They're profoundly certain that the feet are the problem because the narrow shoes, which they see as divinely designed and endowed, must fit all women's feet -- at least must fit all righteous women's feet.
But I don't condemn the therapists for thinking that way, because I used to see things just as they do. During my first fifteen years of marriage, I would have "known," by male Mormon logic, that pained and depressed women should (analogously speaking) undergo foot operations, not change their shoes.
It is angering to notice that the women for whom Mormonism does not work are often the highest-caliber in intelligence, education, rational ability and conscientiousness. Thus, this report.
(It is also disturbing to notice that the time periods corresponding to women's greatest reported belief in Mormonism is in positive correlation with the time periods corresponding to their greatest damage from depression.)
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch:
Here's another analogy, this time from an LDS rancher-woman in Mesa, Arizona: If we LDS were horses or ducks, she told me, we'd see that we've been lifelong-taught that God sends women to earth to be plow-horse broodmares or egg layers, not allowed to be race or show horses, or peaceful pond paddlers, at least not without profound guilt and forfeiture of top celestial rank.
The women who experience the severest strain in the harness feel, as this sister from Mesa said, that the hymn, "'Put Your Shoulder To The Wheel' should be titled, 'Push Your Shoulder To the Yoke,' or even 'Haw!' or 'Mush!'" -- as she reminded me of the sled-dog saying, "If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes," adding, "For me, the view hasn't changed in thirty years."
"View Never changes" means Blocked Personal Growth
Dozens of women (including four of my daughters) have reported that this same-view monotony, this endless focus on homemaking crafts and yearly recycling of essentially same lesson manuals in which sometimes the noticeable change is just the color of a cover, a sameness in which even the adult-gospel-doctrine manual has on occasion been the same as the one for sixteen-year-olds except for a few added questions at the ends of chapters, leaves many women feeling stymied and blocked in important avenues of personal growth. This droning sameness was a key factor that led my daughter to scream and tear her hair. And women say they've noted that, increasingly, LDS men chosen for ward and stake leadership positions are the types who, though personable and administratively adept, are sometimes too dull or narrow in awareness to be cognizant of this monotony, even after it's been brought repeatedly to their attention.
Males Rule Females
Nearly all LDS girls internalize from near-infancy the teaching that priesthood-authority males have a literal God-appointed right to enter their most fundamental thoughts, desires and choices. Many women (including my wife, whose father was a Patriarch for many years) have told me that they have felt spiritually "owned" by their father and bishop until transferred to their husband and new bishop, and thus are not able to experience an adolescence into full adulthood. Women who are affected by this syndrome often remain stunted as emotionally child-like (which some men find charming), even retaining a child's voice tone.
From childhood, the LDS female is thoroughly trained to be, in behavior and thought,
submissive to a long and imposing list of males with authority linking directly to God
Himself. This list, proceeding from the least authority upward, includes but is not
limited to these several dozens:
her three bishopric males,
her two home-teacher males,
her three stake presidency males,
Quorum of the Seventy males,
Presiding Bishopric males,
Church Patriarch (a male),
Assistants to the Twelve Apostles,
Quorum of Twelve (male) Apostles,
First Presidency (who are three additional male Apostles).
She learns that she absolutely cannot enter the highest heavenly kingdom without a temple-married husband. She is totally dependent upon her husband because:
Her husband will lead her by hand "through the veil" to celestial
Her role in heaven will be to continue forever bearing offspring for him as one of his wives.
She knows there is no approved escape from this God-decreed, interminable destiny for females, because it is the system that existed for gods in pre-existent worlds prior to this earth, and will exist without end in the future for her, her husband-god and vast numbers of other gods.
Note that I haven't labeled the above as detrimental or beneficial per se, or even as false or true. I'm just stating that the above is what the LDS female has been taught to believe. The perception of detriment or benefit depends on the kind of woman doing the perceiving and experiencing.
The above beliefs, whether true or false, constitute a massive weight of inevitability that underlies and affects, at least subconsciously, the LDS woman's every belief, thought and action,increasing in this weight according to the extent that she believes them to be literally true. In other words, the truer the heavier.
Some women, therefore, out of the normal need for emotional survival, begin to look to the hope that this monolithic mass may not be literally true, as a window of hope to maintain or regain emotional and physical health.
They sense it as: "If it is true, I'm truly doomed."
Security Versus Freedom.
As Will and Ariel Durant point out in their book, The Lessons of History, security and freedom are like two buckets in a well: when one comes up, the other goes down. Some people are more attracted to security, others to freedom and opportunity for self-directed growth.
Some women find security and comfort in male direction and decision and eternal male rule, just as some find security in convents, or even in prisons (a few so much so that after release they commit new crimes in order to return to prison: their comfort zone).
The LDS women this report is about don't find comfort in the concept of eternal male decision and rule; they find chronic pain whether they believe it is true or not, and the truer, the more pain.
My Personal Awakening about Mormon Women
I recall the exact moment when I first grasped the weight and the eternal, inevitable implication of what LDS females are taught. I was conducting our weekly family home evening in upstate New York, looking at our beautiful daughters (one of whom later became Miss California in the Miss USA Pageant, by the way), when the silent thought suddenly struck me, "Thank the Lord I'm not female."
That's when I first began to mentally put myself in my wife's and daughters' LDS shoes, thinking of their eternally unalterable second-class status as females. That night I awoke and spent hours sitting on the edge of the bed, holding my head in my hands.
Let's Hear Directly From Women
Dozens of women I've interviewed have phrased their negative experiences in heart-wrenching, haunting ways. I next quote a homemaker and businesswoman, temple-married with children, church-active with a strong conviction of LDS truth, who permitted me to record this, which I've decided to transcribe for you including all of her hesitation sounds:
"Well yes I --uh -- I do [long breath] take Prozac, Brother Ponder, I've -- umm -- taken it for quite some - uh -- mmm -- a very long time now, and yes, I do strongly believe that the gospel is true; -- uh -- I know it's true and -- uh -- I'm one who gets that 'burning in the bosom' and even a redness on my neck and -- umm -- I don't like to bear my testimony from the stand for that reason -- it's so visible -- . . . What worries me is that the more I know the gospel is true the more I feel I'm losing my mind. I bear my testimony to feel better but later I feel worse -- like losing my mind. I think I could -- uh -- be happier if I didn't -- uh -- did not believe the Church was -- is true. I think if I didn't believe the gospel I could be -- uh -- would be off of this treadmill that is making me feel almost crazy and sometimes I frighten my poor husband, the poor thing, he's so sweet about it. Umm -- I wish I knew what to do -- umm -- I still have hope even though prayer -- umm -- my praying and fasting hasn't helped, and that makes me feel worse, you know what I mean? . . . For now I think there are worse things for me than Prozac -- umm -- even cheeseburgers [laugh] . . . I believe it's helping me -- umm -- Prozac helps me save my sanity for the sake of our children."
Again: Which LDS women are benefited? Which are harmed?
We've talked shoes, horses, ducks, convents, prisons . . . Bear with me one more time and consider surfing. My Samoan wife and daughters are skilled ocean swimmers; three are good surfers (California, Hawaii). By analogy, if a church were to teach that God's divine scriptures forbid women to surf or swim in the ocean, which women would embrace such a doctrine and which would not? Poor swimmers would like the prohibition; they'd find security, protection and comfort in it.
It would protect them from letting others know that they're weak swimmers, so they can stay safely out of the water while enjoying the illusion of feeling righteously superior. The fact that people ordinarily aren't aware of the psychology of this syndrome further protects their feelings of confidence and illusion of spiritual superiority.
But strong swimmers with surfing talent would not like it. They would see nonbeliever women surfing and swimming with their friends and daughters, and would lower their heads and return to their laundry, feeling deprived and maybe . . . depressed.
The happy LDS woman is often the one who likes restriction of choices. She gains security from having to make fewer decisions since so many are made for her. But the strong swimmers who are not allowed to swim and surf in the ocean feel depressed by being made to stay in the shallow pools.
The Right to Control Her Main Choices According To Her Abilities -- Not To Feel Owned, Coerced, Stymied.
Even many animals become depressed under conditions of lack of control.
Our youngest son even has two large iguana lizards that react that way.
Experiments have shown that when rats cannot control whether they are shocked or not, they fall into depression and lose the motivation even to flee from or resist the shocks.
The shocks themselves don't depress them if they have some control; it's the lack of control that depresses them, and then the shocks deplete and defeat them.
Zoo keepers know that animals in small, boring cages also often become depressed, listless, neurotic and ill.
Some LDS women feel that they are in small, stifling or suffocating mental cages, with no real control and no way out -- ever.
An inactive LDS woman described her active late-middle-aged LDS friends' facial expressions in church: "They're just sitting around waiting to die."
Non-LDS women (including other Christian believers) are free to choose. They choose without first being required to get permission from men.
Retarded Emotional and Intellectual Development.
Many of the women report that they have suffered from being treated as children after becoming adults.
One woman told me: "Having to play 'Mother, may I?' is bad enough. We have to play 'Father, may I?' -- and it never ends."
Another: "Men in the Church can't help treating us this way. It's like a Priesthood-produced blind spot. They don't even know they're doing it. How can they know? We've all been taught it's right."
[Remember this comment about "blind spot" as you read, further on, the LDS White male obstetrician's comment about Black women.]
Subconscious vs. Conscious: Intuitive vs. Analytical.
The Intuitive Ones: Many LDS women (like many men, for that matter) don't study and analyze doctrines, teachings and practices academically or scientifically. The unhappy campers in this group just subconsciously intuit, or socially perceive, that some things are just plain drastically amiss and don't make sense, or sometimes they mistakenly feel that they themselves are the problem. The women in my family, unusually bright and extraordinarily perceptive but not preferentially scholarly, tended to be of this category, developing eczema or rheumatoid arthritis or screaming in the kitchen at night, etc.
The Analytical Ones: Other LDS women may have a more scientific inclination or historical/academic-research bent. The unhappy campers in this consciously analytical group tend to seek out information in order to compare and contrast ideas. Some of them dig into archives, search the internet, examine old documents, sometimes developing cognitive-dissonance headaches and brain-fog worries trying to make sense of it all.
Examples of Women's Intuitive Observations:
Some women are observant enough to notice that LDS converts seem to be, by and large, emotional-security seekers rather than factual-truth seekers. A few college-educated women have said they notice that the truth-seeker profile doesn't fit the LDS-convert profile.
Some women say they notice that, increasingly, firm-testimony LDS are (in the words they've used) "kooky," "nerdy," "nutty," "weird," "wacky." My third daughter used the term "hypnotized."
Some women say that too often those who teach gospel subjects, especially genealogy, are among the "nutty" people mentioned above. They wonder how such ostensibly important activities in the one true church are so often headed up by such nutty people.
One woman expressed it this way: "It's like the televangelist problem; would God pick such nuts to be his spokesmen?"
Some women have noticed that LDS men who defend scriptural "people" issues and handle their ward congregation's people problems are just not "people people." By this the women (who tend to be more alert to social relations than men) mean that engineers and mathematicians, etc. who hold forth on sociology, history or philosophical/theological subjects, etc., demonstrate too little affinity or ability for it.
As one woman said it: "In about twenty years, we've never had a bishop or stake president who understands people. The bishop we have now is a computer technician who doesn't understand about women or real people in real life. He's like a caricature of a bishop. . . . Oh no, my husband and I never ask him anything."
Bridging Intuitive and Analytical:
So those are some of the worries reported from the intuitive side. Here's one that bridges intuitive and scientific/historical. Women don't have to be personally up to speed on the science involved to ask these intelligently perceptive questions:
Some intuitively perceptive women recall that they have been lifelong-taught that the loving Jesus Christ of the New Testament and Book of Mormon is the same being as the fiery Jehovah of the Old Testament, and thus is the same being who, when little boys were teasing a prophet about hair loss, this God's solution was to send bears out of the woods to kill the boys. The women wonder why the highest divine intelligence would do such an unconscionably vicious thing. They wonder if it doesn't make a lot more sense to believe that an ancient writer just claimed that a god did a thing that seems so crazy, rather than believe that their LDS God really did something that by today's moral standards seems to them so psychotic.
One woman worded it this way: "That's a man's invented idea about God. No womanbelieves in her heart that God would use bears to kill boys. Even Satan isn't reported to have done anything that vile."
Some women, though they haven't academically dug into the data, intuitively wonder why virtually all respected scientists and historians in the entire world, other than a few LDS ones, believe that the Book of Abraham (B of A) is fiction having nothing to do with any Egyptian papyri? And why do all these scientists believe that the three Facsimiles as published in the B of A do not relate in any credible way to the B of A text, Hugh Nibley's explanations notwithstanding?
And why, these intuitive women wonder, do the majority of educated specialists who examine the Book of Mormon (B of M) conclude that it's not true? Why do virtually all respected archeologists, anthropologists, historians, linguists and other scientists, except a few LDS ones, conclude that the B of M is fiction?
Analytical: Searching Into Scholarly and Scientific Matters:
The more academically inclined LDS women, whether in college, on the internet, or even reading common magazines such as Discover, National Geographic or Popular Science, are nowadays likely to encounter eye-opening facts unavailable until relatively recent years, such as articles showing that humans lived on earth over 100,000 years before any time sanely connectable to Adam and Eve (even from Old Testament genealogies), having left human artifacts such as clothing, jewelry, tools, pottery, etc. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, these women think as their brains compute this data, couldn't have been the first humans, though the LDS Church still teaches that this occurred literally.
Some LDS women, reflecting upon the Garden of Eden, wonder how it could have been near Independence, Missouri, as Joseph Smith taught, considering that Genesis (as also confirmed in P of GP, Moses) says the Garden of Eden was near Assyria, Ethiopia and the Euphrates river (the Genesis and Moses descriptions best fitting what is now near Baghdad in Iraq). How, they wonder, does that make any sense at all, despite FARMS's convoluted commentaries?
Now puzzled about Eden and Eve, some LDS women see articles about women's mitochondrial DNA (which is not in men) traced by credible scientists back 150,000 years as confirmed even by BYU anthropology professor Brant Gardner, who writes:
"The so-called 'genetic Eve' was the ancestral mitochondrial genetic line for all modern living humans. Obviously it was carried ultimately by one real woman over 150,000 years ago. . . . The mitochondrial Eve was therefore one woman among thousands living over 150,000 years ago."
And, that being the case, these LDS women say they know there is no valid way to reconcile an "Eve" of that long ago, especially as just "one woman among thousands," with a literal interpretation of the Genesis (and Moses) story of Adam and Eve.
Some women, before or after thinking the above thoughts, see the now-common bumper sticker, "Eve was framed." One LDS woman in Santa Monica, CA joked with me:
"Men see us as second-rate in most things, but at least they honored us with a 'first' for sin in the Garden."
A few women have mentioned the many different versions of Joseph's First Vision story, claiming different numbers of divine beings. They remind me that the version now officially used is the latest, which didn't appear until about 18 years after the claimed occurrence. One woman (an attorney) added, "I know how that shakey kind of alleged fact looks in court."
Another active LDS woman mentioned the LDS teaching that Noah's flood was a total immersion of the earth, symbolic of earth's baptism -- wondering how koalas from Australia, sloths from South America and arctic penguins could have reached the ark.
Her husband has long read about similar doctrinal puzzles in FARMS's defensive apologetics, and she asked him: Why do LDS scholars say Cumorah was in Meso-America when she and her husband know that Joseph Fielding Smith and other apostles have opposed these theories, reaffirming that LDS authorities have always taught that Cumorah was in Palmyra, New York? She wonders why various BYU scholars still oppose Joseph Fielding Smith's position. She and her husband tell me they have no sensible answer to that.
Some women who, on the internet, discover Jerald and Sandra Tanner's publishing house, Utah Lighthouse Ministry, additionally discover that even Joseph Smith's History of the Church, though it has been reworked to read in first person as though written by him, was in fact 60%-written by others after his death, with many changes in the other 40%, though the History itself gives no indication of these facts. These women learn that FARMS researchers don't dispute this (and of course they can't, since both the earlier and later versions are right there in print), attempting merely to explain how this could be OK, which these women feel makes no sense.
Some women do basic internet searches and discover that there have been massive and substantive changes in the Doctrine and Covenants, documented by side-by-side photos as in Jerald and Sandra Tanner's book, The Case Against Mormonism, and in Sharon. I. Banister's book, For Any Latter-day Saint: One Investigator's Unanswered Questions. The women note that explanations by FARMS don't actually change these facts, which are amply proven after all by photographic evidence. FARMS explanations mainly attempt to say they're no problem. But most of the women say they're much more impressed by Banister's material than by FARMS' attempted explanations.
A talented LDS woman, a Fed. Gov't. employee in Wash. DC with a sly sense of humor, told me that she thought FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) should be DORMS (Diversion and Obfuscation in Rationalizing Mormon Scriptures).
Many LDS women wonder why Joseph Smith and Brigham Young strongly admonished and loudly warned people, in the official name of God, to flee from other countries to Zion in the US, claiming authoritatively that these wicked nations would shortly be destroyed when the Lord returned. The women wonder why Joseph, Brigham, et al. would have said that in light of the undeniable fact that these nations have not been destroyed despite the prophecy and Joseph and Brigham's insistence. These women wonder why the Church now teaches exactly the opposite, telling people to stay in those countries, and they wonder why the Church is building lots of temples in those supposedly wicked nations, even though the Lord has not returned. Why this complete reversal in teaching? In Gordon B. Hinckley's book, Stand For Something, given to me by one of my daughters, he describes these nations not as wicked but wonderful. So the women notice, too, that reversal of teaching.
MORMON WOMEN OF COLOR
What if a Mormon is Native American (I am part Cherokee) or Polynesian (as is the woman I married)? He or she may then wonder why the Introduction to the Book of Mormon states that American Indians (and therefore Polynesians, per Matthew Cowley's and other LDS Apostles' teachings about the B of M's Hagoth the ship builder's traveling to and populating Polynesia) are descendants of the Lamanites, and thus are inherently less than Whites. LDS Native American, Polynesian (and African American) women have been officially taught for over 100 years that they were born into those lineages and marked with a dark skin because they and their ancestors were markedly defective in the premortal world. In LDS scriptures, official teachings and tradition clearly dark is less, light is more -- dark is worse, light is better -- dark is to be forgiven and overcome, white is to be aspired to and someday achieved. Numerous LDS apostles and prophets taught that when dark straightens up and behaves, "dark and loathsome" skin will become "white and delightsome" skin.
LDS Women of Color, and DNA
Some women remember the many official LDS statements, for over one hundred years, that American Indians are descendants of Lamanites (as officially stated in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon), and they wonder why all non-LDS anthropologists, and even some vocal LDS anthropologists, such as Thomas Murphy, believe that DNA evidence is clearly inconsistent with the B of M and historic LDS teachings that dark skins originated as visible marks of God's curses.
Thinking LDS women of color have reported to me that they've learned enough real facts to know that dark skin is not a mark of divine displeasure. It is just sun-protective melanin, solely and simply a result of their ancestors having a history nearer to the sunny equator.
These women know that dark hair and dark eyes are best similarly explained. Blond hair, blue eyes and white skin obviously correlate with areas farther from the equator.
Some of these dark LDS women have internalized so much self-deprecation, so much cognitive-dissonance stress, that it has given them, on top of being female, another theological reason to reach for a Prozac, or a phone or computer to contact an LDS therapist..
Analytical LDS sisters of African heritage (I've worked professionally with many African Blacks) have told me that even though they are technically accepted in the LDS Church and that Black males may now hold the priesthood, they are all still defined and seen as morally inferior in lineage.
One Black sister joked: "Oh, I'm OK, Brother Ponder. It's just my ancestors all the way back on both sides that were all moral reprobates."
And you'll love this one: Years ago my wife and I were in a restaurant with close LDS friends, an M.D. and his wife. He worked in obstetrics and gynecology at the Wash. DC General Hospital, where most of his patients were Black (and obviously all women). He looked at me and my wife and said exactly this: "Kent, these [Black] women love their kids just like we do." I replied, "Yes, and our kids' non-White mom loves them too." Think about it: As an obstetrician all of his patients were female, but he was surprised to learn that Blacks love their children as do Whites. And he'd been raised in the Wash. DC area. His comment illustrates how LDS beliefs can skew a White's perception.
Very little research is needed to find many LDS authorities' references to inferior Black ancestral history back into the eons of pre-earth existence. Though Blacks have relatively recently been allowed access to LDS priesthood, many LDS Blacks perceive it as that we Whities are now reaching down to pull their previously inferior Black souls up here to sit at table with us morally superior Honkies.
As they worry about these issues, many LDS women, of whatever color, say they worry about what to teach their daughters, and as emotional stress affects digestion and endocrinological balance, these women sometimes experience adverse auto-immune reactions.
MORMON WOMEN and HOMOSEXUALITY.
LDS Lesbians: For a Mormon woman, to feel a strong self-image identity as homosexual is much worse than to be dark-skinned. Though the latter are labeled "dark and loathsome," LDS women who are genuinely in love with a woman instead of a man are, beyond loathsome, labeled as gravely sinful, and may achieve top celestial status only by repenting of and desisting from any intimate relation with another female, no matter how genuinely and exclusively devoted, and instead, marrying a man in an LDS temple, thus being "cured," or at least, akin to the alcoholic, diligently abstinent. The LDS Church has always defined homosexuality, male or female, as grievous moral sin to be repented of, a defect or illness to be cured, behavior to be forever abandoned and eschewed. But many LDS women are learning that this no longer accords with the most respected scientific findings.
A female LDS gynecologist (not lesbian) reported:
"The pre-scientific religious misconceptions of lesbianism die hard as any internet search of "causes of lesbianism" immediately demonstrates. Yes, there are instances of learned lesbianism, but the fact is that many if not most instances are genetically driven. Currently, the professional consensus on homosexuality, male and female, is that it is not a malady to be cured, and that attempted "cures" such as aversion therapy, female-hormone injections for women, placing individuals in behavior-modification camps for rehabilitation, and so on, are in reality forms of physical and emotional abuse stemming entirely from ignorance and misguided ideology, most often religious."
Another MD (psychiatrist) told me:
"There is no doubt that religious opposition to homosexuality rests on erroneous assumptions."
A female LDS clinical psychologist reported:
"Homosexuality in both sexes might roughly be compared to handedness. Being left-handed is not a defect to repair."
Another women (non-LDS clinical psychologist) wrote:
"Attempting to cure lesbianism or male homosexuality is tantamount to attempting to cure red hair. It is silly, harmful and guilt-producing. . . . Doctrinally based psychotherapy should be outlawed, but I don't think that is going to happen any time soon."
One of the best-read and most generally impressive LDS lesbians with whom I have communicated summarized it in these words:
"I have a wonderful father and mother, wonderful and heterosexual brothers and sisters, and during my entire life I have always been successful and emotionally sound in every way. But I have never been romantically attracted to any man. I have no aversion to them or disinterest in them, but I have always been romantically attracted only to females even as a young girl, even though everyone with whom I associated during my formative years, so far as I know, was heterosexual. Because during my entire life I have always been so clear about who I have always been and how mentally and physically healthy I am and have always been, I am not interested in the opinions of ignorant individuals who know nothing about how I have felt all of my life and who know nothing about lesbian relationships. I am so clear about this that I have no patience with any religious persons addressing a subject that they in truth know nothing about."
LDS Women Married To Homosexual Men: After I released the earlier version of this report, I received e-mails from women reporting their experiences married to gay men. While there is relatively little separate data for this category related to use of antidepressants, it is a chronically stressful problem for the women who have found themselves in it, in addition to the other problems outlined in this report. Mormon gay men are not exempt from the requirement of temple marriage to qualify for first-class celestial status. This requirement obviously coerces them to deny their homosexuality and marry LDS women, leaving the pressures to erupt farther down the road, many times after there are children involved. Again, their feet do not fit the one-width-fits-all, standard-issue shoes. Typically they spend many years feeling guilty about their feet instead of suspecting the shoes.
Here's the inescapable logic of it:
First Premise: Highest Celestial Kingdom admission is limited to heterosexual couples married in LDS temples.
Second Premise: George is homosexual.
Conclusion: Therefore George must renounce homosexuality and enter into heterosexual LDS-temple marriage to gain the highest Celestial Kingdom.
Since George must marry an LDS woman, he must either genuinely become heterosexual or must hide his homosexual orientation from his wife in order not to lose her and thus fail to qualify for heavenly admission. Clearly, this sets the stage for depressing disillusionment of the affected LDS women. (No, I do not yet have data relative to LDS women of color temple-married to homosexual men, but does it not stand to reason that this would be an extraordinarily depressing set of circumstances for an LDS woman?)
Summarizing the "Depression Categories"
The depressed LDS female, whether white, "delightsome" and heterosexual. dark and "loathsome," sinfully lesbian, or married to a homosexual man, looks around and sees her still-happy Relief Society sisters, and worries that she's not faithful enough or righteous enough, or white enough, or correct enough in sexual orientation, or is too intellectually curious -- because so many of her LDS sisters have obviously found so much more joy than she has. She consults with her bishop or his counselors, but they too often seem perplexed by her problem and unable to adequately empathize with what she's talking about. The prayer and fasting, etc., that they recommend to her, she has already tried for months to no avail.
She concludes that she can't do it on her own, and that the men in her bishopric can't help her. So she decides to take . . . the next step.
THE NEXT STEP: PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING
When she contacts a therapy service, if the therapist tells her the equivalent of the exact
words that one LDS therapist (though I've never been a therapy client) wrote to me
a few days ago, "Jesus Christ loves YOU, Kent," though the words may
ostensibly appear to be reassuring, these same well-meant words, in the opinion of some
damaged women, can be harmful because, as they have reminded me, the words
reinforce the very belief-paradigm that brought her to the therapist -- the male hierarchy
heavily weighing on her shoulders:
-- her male God speaking to her male authority prophet
-- speaking to her male authority stake president
-- speaking to her male authority bishop
-- speaking to her male authority husband,
all supporting the same message for her, which is:
Jesus Christ loves YOU, by cementing you to this LDS salvation system.
Christ and all of your male-authority benefactors have blessed you by making the main decisions for you, as follows:
Follow the prophet's choices for you:
attend weekly Sacrament Meetings as you are commanded;
have your daughters attend male-conducted worthiness interviews;
marry a male authority in the temple;
have babies and more babies;
obey the Brethren because "when they speak the thinking has been done;"
hold to the iron rod;
don't ask questions that aren't essential to your salvation;
endure to the end and you will be saved in the Celestial Kingdom where you will continue bearing millions of offspring for your husband-God forever."
So the therapy she's under, though Jesus-love-linked, is implicitly LDS male-monolith-authority ideology, even though offered to her with professional psychological TLC. Even though the therapists may be unaware of the direct implications and ramifications of their male-monolith-ideology orientation, she is being further cemented into her worries, while paying for her therapist to reinforce the very system that prevents her from controlling her own life, which is one of her root problems.
And what's worse, whether or not she's fully conscious of this web of direct implications, she dares not even complain.
Complaining wouldn't be proper. It's almost unthinkable.
How could she in fairness complain?
Jesus Christ loves her enough to die for her.
Joseph Smith, as prophet, restored the "Gospel of Joy" for her.
Elohim personally hears her prayers.
All of these other men are bending over backward for her every day.
And the only small things these male humans and male Gods require in return is for her to keep serving in the divine system as:
a brood-mare baby birther (or feeling guilt if she's not),
a human sled-dog (or feeling guilt if she's not),
an obedient, non-criticizing, uncomplaining servant to males for eons without end or any hope of end -- forever.
Conscious Eternal Hope -- vs. -- Subconscious (or Even Conscious) Eternal Despair
In this context of eternal male, God-mandated domination, knowing that the LDS therapy she has sought is another means of reconciling her to this same eternal fate, Prozac® and Zoloft® enter her mind as the new hope, her new saviors, the pillow and mattress of the new eternal rest she was promised as a reward for enduring.
She knows that indeed the LDS Church, for women, is "one size fits all." It doesn't feel like it fits her, but the therapists are helping her modify her feelings so the fit will feel better to her. The LDS therapists define mental health for an LDS woman as her fitting herself to the LDS system.
She still believes that women need men to return to God and to become co-gods themselves, and therefore it would be clearly wrong for an LDS woman with strong and doctrine-informed testimony not to cherish this beautiful gospel and pass it on.
How could a woman, after all, not cherish what the Lord Himself died to give her -- and what Moroni came back to give her?
She has been taught and believes that any other life-path is less godly and less worthy of a righteous LDS woman, and actually would be traitorous for her at this point. So she prays strongly that her naturally wide feet will become miraculously narrower in the way that "dark and loathsome" people, as she has been taught, will become "white and delightsome."
Well, sure, she knows that all the major decisions of her life are being made for her and handed to her ready-wrapped, but that's how the gospel plan is designed by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to work for righteous women, and is she not righteous in her heart? How could anyone complain when the Lord himself designed it and is commanding it?
Remember that, for many LDS women in Utah, this is really all they know. They have nothing to compare it with.
Oh, and About Her Mother in Heaven --
From an LDS woman's point of view, how can this good sister complain, since she has been taught (by direct and inescapable implication) this additional eternal truth?
Her own Mother in Heaven went through this same earthly trial with male authority when She was a mortal on an earth eons ago, just like this sister is undergoing now. So how could our good sister presume to criticize her Father God and her Mother God and their Only Begotten Son, her Savior God? Could our LDS sister even think of acting against God's plan? To do so would be what Satan did.
As I said above, when the implications and impact of these teachings began to dent my awareness years ago in upstate New York, I sat on the bed for hours with my head in my hands.
My Questions To LDS Professional Therapists:
So I ask you male LDS professional therapists: Can you understand how, for high-caliber LDS women, Prozac® is much more attractive than that clear awareness? Have you THOUGHT about that before?
Do you LDS males reading this begin to understand the weight on our LDS women who are intelligent and clear-minded enough to grasp the direct implications of these LDS doctrines? And remember, I'm not defining whether they're true or not. I'm just stating that those are our teachings, and you know they are. And I'm relaying to you, in this report, how these teachings impact many women -- the women bright enough to understand that these are the direct implications of LDS doctrines.
The Sisters? -- or The System? Time To Think Logically and Sensibly.
We must require ourselves to confront, clearly and logically, this question : Is the problem the sisters or is the problem the system?
Stated more precisely: Is the cause of the problem more properly attributable to the women or to the belief system which has been taught to these women and that they have believed?
Let's begin with what is known. It is known that Utah leads the nation in antidepressant-drug use, and that approximately twice as many women as men suffer from depression. It is known that this is a closely Mormon-linked problem. Logically, scientifically, even using common sense, it is clear that it is not credible to think that an acceptable explanation is that Utah and the LDS Church have simply attracted so large a percentage of genetically depression-prone females who spawn so large a percentage of depression-prone daughters. No one, to my knowledge, has even suggested such a preposterous idea. There is no scientifically sane way to suggest that these are simply females who, compared to the national female population, carry a "depression gene." Nor, I facetiously note, has a "not-righteous-enough" gene been postulated.
In short, the cause does not reside in the females. And, by simple process of elimination, the cause therefore resides in the belief system that has been taught to these females. Thus, women have not brought this calamity upon themselves; the problem these women have is clearly not of their making. It is also clear that this problem is sharply inconsistent with and even contradictory to the promises these women have been given by people whom they have trusted.
Is There No Way Out of This Gilded Mental Cage?
Some LDS women have reported to me that one nudge in a sanity-saving direction for them has been that they have begun to intuit that all this maleness is inherently suspect because, they say:
There is something just plain-old, flat-out incongruous, if not ludicrous, about the idea that the God of the universe is, in practice, unable to come up with a better plan than that of using harems of subordinate females through whom to be reproductive enough to have become the Father in Heaven for, currently, six billion souls on our planet.
To these intuitive women, something is very wrong with such a picture. So the women become willing to consider other, sanity-saving, pictures:
Some thinking LDS women come across important books such as Reality Therapy, by William Glasser, MD, and his later Control Theory, and through such books they gain a better understanding of many LDS women's psychosomatic problems including auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and depression, that develop when these women do not have control of their individual lives.
Some analytically and academically intelligent, stressed LDS sisters I've interviewed wonder if they should start taking seriously the majority of respected anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, etc., who present the scientific case that women (and men), as believing members in a religious community such as the LDS, are living in a microcosmic societal illusion that can seem very real.
These women wonder if what this vast and respected majority of the scientific world says is true: that the LDS view and testimony, no matter how true it may seem to us as LDS and how much the bosom may burn when one thinks of it, repeats it and feels it, is simply one of hundreds of societal mind-sets that sociologists and anthropologists, world-wide, commonly refer to as "cultural trance" -- a cognitive state that makes it very difficult for believers of any religion, not just the Mormon one, to examine their own beliefs objectively and rationally, looking into their real origins, and looking into the means by which the strong belief-state is created.
These LDS women wonder if it could really be possible that we are subject to the same psychological principles that, as we can observe around the world, create tremendous strength of religious conviction in others, such as people willing even to strap bombs around their waists and blow themselves up.
About "Understanding." -- The Larger Perspective
Some LDS women, of all shades of color, have read Eric Hoffer, who wrote that "In order for a doctrine to be effective, it must not be understood." They understand how that clearly applies to other religions, defined by us as teaching false doctrines, but then they wonder if their lifelong LDS understanding should possibly be rethought as "understanding" in quotes -- an "understanding" that constrains Mormon women's thinking and feeling to repetitive circling in tightening coils of stress and depression.
Can this be, these women then wonder, what Werner Erhardt of the popular "est" movement meant when he said that "Understanding is the booby prize?" Could this really be, they wonder, our problem and the root source of our depression-causing worry? It is really possible that what we think we "understand" is wrong, and that we could actually be in a belief system similar in some ways to the belief system that causes people such as otherwise good Palestinian parents to be religiously proud of their suicide-bomber sons -- and daughters in some cases?
Other women have watched Joseph Campbell's popular PBS presentations on mythology, noting that he wrote, "Religion is misunderstood mythology." How can such a world expert on religion and mythology think that way, they wonder -- What did he mean by that?
A few women have confirmed to me that they've heard Winston Churchill's comment, that "All sensible men are of the same religion" and have wondered why such a great man would have said that, especially since when he was asked which religion that was, he cryptically replied, "Sensible men never say." They wonder what it is that sensible men (and women) are not saying.
Some LDS women tell me they read FARMS materials, though my research indicates that it is much more often read by LDS men. But women, often more perceptively intuitive than men, tell me far more often than men do that they find it suspect and convoluted. Many women have expressed doubt that any God would expect anyone to have to understand the Nibleys and Tvedtneses et al. of the apologetic world. Can this really be, they wonder, what God expects of already overloaded women?
Mainly they wonder why LDS General Authorities don't simply speak to us directly and clearly the way Joseph Smith used to do. (Though other women remind me that many things Joseph Smith directly and clearly said have now become deleted embarrassments.)
Many women tell me they intuitively sense that Mormon apologists have drifted into the same realm of diversion and heavily footnoted obfuscation that older mainline Christian denominations have been wading hip-deep and candlelight-illuminated in for centuries.
Spanish Catholic Street Smarts?
A few women are acquainted with a very famous, old Spanish saying: "A quien dices el secreto, das tu libertad." ("To whom you tell the secret, you give your liberty.") Wondering what secret this could be, one woman, knowing I speak Spanish, asked me. I answered that a Spanish academic I knew at the University of Madrid explained that if a person figures out that the Catholic Church isn't literally true and that even the pope is just a man in a fancy robe with a claim to a gift of infallibility that has fallen on its face on various historical occasions, having figured that fact out is "el secreto," which frees its discoverer from feeling guilt-driven to adhere to all the rules, rituals and financial obligations of Roman Catholicism, and feeling guilt-ridden if he/she hasn't been able to do it. And if the discoverer then explains that "secreto" to others, he/she makes the mistake of giving them his/her liberty to obey or not obey, to pay or not to pay, which the people to whom the secret is given don't deserve, because they have not figured it out on their own through their own study and effort, and which can backfire on the discoverer who discloses it, because such disclosures weaken the social structure of the religion and negatively affect the discoverer's new "libertad." So the meaning is that the discoverer should be prudent enough to keep quiet about it the secret, doing his/her part in keeping the "secreto" secret.
Some LDS women wonder if they're mainly unknowing cogs in a wheel of a similar huge Utah-based institutional doctrinal/historical machine with a similar "secreto." They wonder, is it possible that there's a similar "secreto" here too?
And why, they wonder, do the General Authorities remain silent on the above issues and so many more, while letting FARMS apologists spar and speculate, even advising LDS apologists to avoid going head to head with Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Utah Lighthouse Ministry?
Why did Gordon B. Hinckley answer journalists who asked about the Mormon
doctrine that God was once a man, by responding to one journalist, "I
wouldn't say that." and to another, "I don't know much about that; it was just a couplet; I don't know that we teach that." How can President Hinckley
repeatedly respond that way, they wonder, when they know that the Church does still believe and teach that.
Some of these LDS women tell me they wonder if they are any better attached to reality than if they believed in such deities as Vishnu, Krishna, Sun Myung Moon as the Korean Christ reincarnate, and so on. These women wonder if they're more reliably perceptive and intelligent than the computer-programmer males of the Heaven's Gate group who had themselves castrated and killed themselves after being seen looking serenely happy, interviewed on most of the major TV networks, trying to reach a higher dimension as their promised spaceship sped to earth behind the Hale Bopp comet.
So, They Wonder, Which is the "true path?"
Some tell me that they think this may not be a proper question. It may need to be rethought. I've asked them, "Do you mean that no one asks, 'Which is the true language?' -- or -- 'Which is the true car?'" They confirm that that's exactly what they mean. Virtually every individual knows that it is irrelevant to wonder whether his or her native language is "true." Neither do they look for the true car or think they have found it; they look for a brand and model that suits their needs. Increasing numbers of LDS women say they realize that Mormonism fits some women a whole lot better than others. Some say that they shouldn't feel inadequate about that, since they're the ones astute enough to have "figured it out," naming, as helpful in this figuring-out process, the recent books, The Jesus Mysteries, by Freke and Gandy, and, Who Wrote the New Testament?, by Burton Mack, that explain how the New Testament was put together in ways far different from how it appears.
One problem, as I reported at the beginning, is that very often the brightest women who most strongly believe the Church is true are the ones made most depressed by it. That's a very serious and fascinating problem. For our "best and brightest" women, the truer they believe it is, the more depressed they feel. Why?
Because these best-and-brightest women have studied the LDS gospel enough to understand its implications for them as women, as I've clarified above.
They tell me they're coming to understand the consequences of being mentally trapped in never-ending male control of and rule of their very souls . . .with men drafting them into a system of male servitude and never-ending baby production, in a never-ending universe of worlds and male gods and blood-sacrificed male saviors on gazillions of worlds. They're coming to understand the consequences of living like children, not allowed to make their own life-choice decisions.
Some of the mentally strongest "survivor types" among these women have told me they are learning not to worry or even care about whether the LDS Church's doctrine is literally true. One woman worded it to me this way in an e-mail:
"We have already been taught that other churches' doctrines are not true, so if we discover that our LDS version of alleged revealed truth is also in that big pile, ours adds just one more to the pile. I know I will never be able to sort out all the arguments on both sides. The main thing I am sure of is that some of our teachings are very unhealthy for me, and nobody anymore can get away with trying to make me think they are [healthy for me]. I can't believe that God would design it that way, so I feel good about ignoring it."
Some intelligent and educated LDS women have adopted a pragmatic strategy of looking around and noticing which group of people are the kind they enjoy being with and want their children to be with, and then, while remaining on the LDS rolls, they increase their family's association with the other group as an additional "village," as per Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes A Village.
These women tell me that they have succeeded in becoming self-confident and secure in their feeling that no man, no matter how loudly he claims divine authority, has the right to define their reality if these men's claimed reality is mentally and physically damaging to these LDS women.
One active LDS mom said it in these words:
"The scriptures claim God made Adam first? -- and then as an after-thought, made Eve as a helper? That can't be right; who are they kidding? You know a man had to dream that one up. Women reproduce, not men. The female is much more central. Males weren't needed for reproduction until well along in evolution. And God being male? God the Father more primary than the mother? Please!, that doesn't wash either. Who can really believe that anymore if they sit down and think about it?"
I asked her how she could still be active in the Church with the above ideas, and she joked: "What else would we do Sunday mornings? We're not golfers."
LDS women tell me that their new perception and style of family management restores their control over their feeling of emotional integrity in their own perceptions, and improves their confidence and self image and their health and their relationship with their husband and children.
Of the hundreds of opinions I've received, one of the most interesting is from a very prominent journalist and famous lifelong Mormon (male) in Salt Lake City, who e-mailed me this statement:
"It's been a while since I cared whether or not the Book of Mormon or even the Bible constituted the word of God. Maybe so, maybe not. It's enough for me that I'm Mormon, that these are my people, and that I could have done a hell of a lot worse. All theology comes down to people who don't know behaving as if they did, which pretty well sums up the meaning of life for everyone regardless of I.Q. I don't bother with religious debate, even within myself. It's too much like arguing over who has the best imaginary friend."
Many LDS women are very aware of unarguable photographic documentation proving that LDS authorities have massively changed and deleted from or added to the Doctrine & Covenants and the History of the Church to make them more currently believable.
Some tough-minded LDS women don't quibble about how or why massive editing was done because they say they're confident that its goal was to inspire people, especially younger people, to live cleaner and more productive lives.
Do we, these women ask, know of any other organizations demonstrably better at inspiring large numbers of young people to lead clean, productive lives?
LDS authorities recently eliminated from the temple ceremonies death penalties that until quite recently required us to vow being disemboweled and have our throats slashed if we disobeyed or denied certain LDS vows, but, some LDS women have asked me, should LDS leaders have left that antiquatedly anachronistic violence in?
And though many good LDS women are convinced that there is not any credible evidence in the Americas for any existence of any of the alleged millions of people of the Book of Mormon, is it realistic to expect LDS leaders to shut down BYU, board up temples and chapels and tell everyone, "Go find a life path of your choice?"
Various women have reminded me that a good feature of the LDS Church is its ability to pilot-test social projects and then apply the best through local LDS congregations around the world. The women regard that as an admirable concept for average social improvement, though it doesn't fit some of them well.
Or consider President David O. McKay, who was fond of saying, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home." Are there any other church, government agency or humanist groups doing a better job of applying that important concept to improving homes? Not that they know of, they say.
But remember that it doesn't work for a very large percentage of excellent people, especially women. The women referenced and quoted here have already stated that. .
Again, it works only for the people for whom it works. It helps some women while others report that it tortures their souls and drives them insane because it provides them too little opportunity to direct their own lives.
Prozac®-Free LDS Women Skeptics
Some ex-Prozackers, ex-Zoloft®ers, etc. tell me that their mental stability improved when, instead of succumbing, dropping out or fighting, they began using the LDS Church as they would a cafeteria: consuming what didn't gag them, and ignoring what did.
These women stay with Mormondom for whatever good they can find, which they pick and choose -- things like decency, honor, clean living and wholesome friends. Then they teach it to their children as my wife and I did: as a helpful and beneficial guide rather than as sole truth.
In any event, you LDS women deserve the best in your right to direct your own choices in ways that make sense to you and feel right and don't make you sick, whether or not they make sense to men.
You increasingly see yourselves as the mothers of future generations of women looking men in the eyes as their equals, not as their servants seeking approval or permission.
And if you're reading this report as an LDS woman who thinks the Church is A-OK just as it is, and you're happy with it as it is, stay with it in peace.
But please also recognize that other women, just as righteous and sincere, have experienced it differently and been hurt by it, often through no fault of their own, though you may find that hard to understand.
True? . . . Untrue?
As I stated at the outset, the goals of this report do not include establishing the
truth or untruth of Mormonism's doctrinal and/or historical claims. Consistent with that
statement, I leave it to each LDS woman, LDS religious counselor, and LDS professional
therapist to evaluate and decide for him/herself how the LDS belief system could, in sound
logic and good common sense, and at one and the same time, accomplish both of the
(a) be the direct cause of so much chronic and profound mental anguish for so many clearly innocent women,
(b) be literally true as bestowed by a loving Heavenly Father.
This is the kind of question whose answer one person cannot resolve for another, regardless of amount of compassion for that person's welfare. It is the effort to answer that question for herself, based upon her inherent right to seek out information and decide what makes sense to her, that allows each woman to gain needed, yea, biologically necessary, control of her own mental and physical health.
Please Take Heed, LDS Counselors and Therapists --
You therapists who confidently presume to counsel LDS females, be informed that many of the hundreds of active and inactive, pained and depressed LDS women I've interviewed have expressed important thoughts that some of them have specifically asked me to convey to you on their behalf:
These women recommend and hope that you, as therapists, will:
1. be open to the possibility that what you have absorbed as divine doctrine may be another mythology presented as literalist doctrine in order to be more convincing and motivating to developing minds, and to the women needed as uncomplaining workers in the system.
2. try harder to be humble enough to understand and appreciate the women who honor you with their client relationship, and who flatter your overconfident ignorance with their intuitive questions and honest concerns that too often fail to enter into your real human awareness.
3. become increasingly able to apply the above and be inspired, by the experiences of these deeply injured women, to help mold a kinder, gentler, less microcosmically miopic and monolithically male Mormonism.
I leave you with the reminder that I'm grateful I grew up LDS, and I still value its obviously admirable points. But I wasn't one of the ones damaged by it, maybe just because I was born male -- that pesky Y-chromosome thing.
Feel free to write if you think I have erred in or missed something important, am off-track in some way, or if you have additional information.
My sincerest best wishes and gratitude to you all. Life is complex and we sort it out as we go along.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2003 by Kent Ponder, Ph.D.
This report may be freely forwarded, posted, faxed or otherwise published, so long as it remains untranslated, and my name, e-mail address and copyright notice are included, and nothing is removed, added or changed.