The author writes to me [Eric], "I just recevied word today that my name has been removed from the records. And now the story begins.
I don't know where my journey out of the church began exactly. For as long as I can remember I've always had an inquisitive and curious nature. Maybe that is why I was never satisfied with the trite answers from the Brethren to questions like: Why has the temple ritual undergone significant changes if, as you allege, god restored it to its fullness through Joseph Smith? Shouldnt something as sacred as the keys and tokens to the celestial kingdom be as eternal and unchanging as god himself? Why does god prefer we coop ourselves up in some refrigerated concrete bunker three hours every Sunday to partake of bread and water, the quintessential prisoners meal?
Maxims such as When the prophet has spoken, the thinking has been done seemed to be more along the lines of a parent answering a six year olds inquiries with Just because dear, now run along and be a good boy. Remember, Santa is making a list and checking it twice and you dont want to end up shoveling coal in eternity, do you? Well, maybe not those exact lines, but you know what Im saying. Anyway, Ive always had a need to know the nature of things and there came a point at which Mormonism was no longer a viable source of answers to the questions I was asking.
At the age of fifteen I began to see through the Mormon
rhetoric. I was reading Nietzsche, Krishnamurti, Watts; and to
me, their words were as the rising sun burning away the
hoarfrost. Mormonism had become a cold and lifeless belief system
incapable of bearing any fruit. These authors werent
claiming they had the truth. They were challenging me to set
aside my pacifying beliefs and to step into an uncharted realm
few have the courage to do so. One by one I grilled my beliefs
like some detective questioning a suspect. One by one my beliefs
cracked like eggs into the frying pan. Under pressure of
relentless questioning my diamond had been formed: there is no
absolute Truth-with-a-capital-t. There is only the paradox; there
is only the riddle. I went inactive, but I wouldnt be able
to formulate these emotions in such a way for several more years.
I was left mulling seed in my craw, unable to digest it all just
At twenty, I returned to the fold after what I took to be a spiritual experience: recovering from the German measles. At the time there was no other cases that I knew of, it seemed I was the only infected person for miles. After a blessing by my step-dad and bishop I returned to health. Now, being a strapping young lad with a healthy constitution, I probably wouldve gotten over it anyway, but at the time I needed some direction in life. I had dropped out of school and was staying out all night partying with my friends and decided I needed to get my life on the track to success.
In the meantime, I had been dating my girlfriend J--- for about a year. We had met at the local movie theater where we both worked. J--- was Catholic, but it was never much an issue while I was inactive. It wasnt until I decided to go on a mission that the relationship became strained. We always got into discussions concerning the finer points of Mormonism, like the role of women (J--- was quite the feminist), polygamy, blacks, etc.--you know, the meat that comes after the milk. I regurgitated the party-line like some candidate at his partys convention. J---, on the other hand, seemed to shed light to the shadowed corners of Mormon theology. In my head I thought I was right; in my heart I knew I was wrong. The mental gymnastics I performed to continue through with my mission wouldve earned me a perfect 10. Damn that Romanian judge.
Anyway, I got my call to serve in the Oregon Portland Mission. We decided to keep in touch after I left and to see where we ended up when I returned. I asked her to ignore her feelings to the contrary and to have faith that Mormonism was the true gospel of Christ. I asked her to soften her heart, to read the BOM, and to ask the lord to give her the sign of the burning bosom that this was the truth. (I always find it interesting that that anti-Christ Korihor was trampled to death by a holy mob for asking just this thing.)
I dreamed of returning home and using the skills I learned in the field to convert J---, then we could be married in the temple and live happily ever after. Anyway, I later found she had and the answer she received was negative. Looking back on it all now, I can only thank her for being so strong when I was so weak.
I left for the Oregon Portland mission at a time when I was the most judgmental I can ever recall being. I was like the hall-monitor/teachers-pet that everybody always hated. Hell, deep down I hated myself for being that. I talked myself into believing I wasnt really that way; I was really being more Christ-like. We all have to judge one thing or another. What made my judging of things so different? I was committing intellectual fraud, if there is such a thing.
What can I say about that bastion of brainwashing that is the MTC, Mind Tinkering Central. A line from a Simpsons episode sums it up nicely: on returning from a week at bible camp, the Simpsons neighbor Mrs. Flanders quips, I was learning to be more judgmental.
I was pretty overwhelmed heading into Portland. As the plane circled above Portland on its final descent, I wept as I looked out over the homes of those precious spirits ignorant of the fullness of the gospel I would be bringing to their doors, arm in arm with my companion. (And the church gets pissed at the gay and lesbian community for pushing their agenda on god-fearing America.) I really felt at the time that I had a testimony burning within me. I felt so full of the spirit I thought people on the ground would mistake the plane for a UFO. It pisses me off when Mormons say that I, and others like me, never had testimonies. My testimony is what drove me out of the church. Following its echoes of inspiration has always been something I strive for. Living a life in good faith, that is true to the self behind the personae, is of prime importance to me. I cant dissociate myself from what wells up within me. In so doing it becomes something outside of myself, something to be obtained. It becomes a dissembled life.
An example of following this current occurred about four months into my mission. On the way home from the temple one P-day, my companion and I--along with several other companionships--had stopped at a Seagull Book and Tape. We all were looking something inspirational. Ironic, I think, since we were the ones supposedly inspiring others through giving of ourselves to such a moarvelous work and a wonder.
As I recall, I was drawn to two books in particular: one, entitled Womens Spirit Rising: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, edited by Maxine Hanks--excommunicated in the purge a couple months later; the other, Sisters In Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, edited by Maureen Beecher and Lavina Anderson--the latter, I believe, disfellowshipped in the aforementioned purge. I believed these books would help me in showing J---, or anyone else I came across, that Mormonism was one of the few religions in the world that truly respected and esteemed women and had been behind the womens movement since the beginning. After all, the Relief Society was one of the first womens organizations in the country. Little did I realize what a different body it was then compared with what it is now.
Over the course of the next month I devoured those books. I didnt want to put them down. The stories by women smothered under the churchs dictum that the godhead is male moved me like no other book, not even the inspired Book of Mormon.
I read of how women in the early days of the church had held and used priesthood authority to minister to the sick, to prophesy, to bless those in need of comfort, and more. These women left journals that stated how they had received the keys within the temple.
I read how the general authorities changed positions over time
and curbed the use of these keys by women. While women were
fighting for suffrage in the early 20th century the church seemed
to be fighting a rear guard action to keep women in their places;
their reason being "separate spheres" and the
"divine order of creation." I felt there was something
wrong with an eternal and unchanging god that seemed to change
with the times into what sounded today more and more like some
John-Birch-Republican spewing family values.
I read of women who had kept silent long enough and were finally speaking out on how the church patronized their desires, belittled their needs, and ignored their requests for some word from their Heavenly Mother(s).
I dont know why I identified so closely with these stories. My parents divorced when I was eleven. My dead-beat dad reneged on the child support leaving my mom to fend for her own in raising the four of us, aged six to eleven. The church helped at times but they never seemed to take her side of it seriously. My dad was soon back attending temple and being a good Mormon while my mom was drowning financially. As our lives came crashing down on us, she could only find room to breathe by moving us all back to her mothers. She kept up the fight though. She attempted to take him to court for back support payments and to up the monthly amount. He was only paying $200 a month in child support. He had no alimony to pay. My mom gave up her right to that in exchange for full custody. Those were his terms.
I was old enough to see how even the legal system treated women in her situation. The courts always took his side and reprimanded my mom for contempt when she started to get emotional. Maybe growing up through all this left me with a certain bitterness towards authority in general and male authority in particular.
I subjected my companions to questions and they gave me that sideways-brow-raised-glance and told me the answer would come through obedience to the mission rules. My mission wasnt for myself, I was told, it was for others. I was on the lords errand now and should focus on what he wants. But I couldnt in good faith with myself simply chalk these stories up to learned men and women who stumble on their pride in second guessing the lords anointed. These womens (and mens) stories struck a nerve deep inside me that was not pacified with the idea that they probably came from women who had a grudge against their bishop, home teacher, etc. or had probably committed adultery. Those pacified with explanations such as these expend a great deal of psychic energy to maintain the web of Mormon apologetics. I admit I couldnt maintain that level of faith in the Brethren. It all became too Orwellian for me.
There was a gap opening ever wider within me. I prayed. I fasted. I thought I would try and stick it out for my family. I was the oldest and felt I had to be a good example. I believed I could work for reform from within the church. Hard as I tried though, I felt more and more like an impostor, that I was living a lie. The time finally came when I could not teach the discussions because I couldnt stomach the hypocrisy of painting the sepulchers white.
Finally, after five months of trying to turn that smile upside down and smile that frown away, I told the mission president I felt it would be best for all involved if I just went home. He went on about how I was turning my back on the lord and asked if I was sure I knew what I was doing. He told me these were trivial things to worry about and that the lord loves women too. I thought to myself, How many times did Brother Joseph use that line on some unsuspecting young virgin?
My last interview was a double interrogation, the pres. brought in the first lady. Together they tried to show me how women in the church really feel. They bored me with their testimonies and reiterated that obedience to the mission rules would bring peace to my troubled soul. To me, thats like telling an alcoholic swimming laps in a pool filled with brew to just keep his mouth shut. I had to get out of the pool if I was ever going to deal with this properly.
My family took my early homecoming well. I know they were disappointed but I was fortunate to find a home filled with lots of love and very little judgment. No explicit judgment at any rate. Nobody seemed to really want to talk about it though. They had a few questions but never really seemed too interested when it came down to brass tacks.
My first Sunday back happened to be fast and testimony meeting. There I was, sitting in my homeward pew with my family 10 months after my farewell. I had to do something. I walked up to the podium and bore my un-testimony. I thanked those who wrote to me and stated that I wanted to make it clear that the decision to come home was entirely mine; I was not sent home. I stated there were some doctrinal issues I was uncomfortable with and that I couldnt in good faith with myself teach others of their truthfulness. I stepped down from the podium, strode straight to the back of the chapel and disappeared out the door. Ive only been back twice in the five years since: once for my brothers farewell and once for my sisters farewell. Needless to say, I spoke at neither.
The Mormon system of breaking free-spirits did quite a job on
me, but Im feeling more whole and connected to nature, to
creation, and to myself thanks to activities such as this that
allow for some sense of catharsis. Thanks to Eric K. for
providing a place for us to share our stories with one another.
Thanks to all those who have shared, and who will share, their
stories in an effort to heal and to make whole the fractured
existence they lived under Mormonism.
I know I still have a long journey ahead of me. There are still patches of bitterness, resentment, and conflict within me that havent yet received word the war for my soul is over. I dont mind though; either way, I am one.
I cant help playing devils advocate. Its my nature. One of Mormonisms central tenets is that the natural man is an enemy to god. Succumbing to ones nature has always been evil in the eyes of the lord. Succumbing to ones nature is realizing ones virtue. Ones nature is ones virtue. We are human by virtue of the fact that only we wield the double-edged sword to either embrace our nature or to annihilate it. No amount of faith in god and no amount of human effort will ever keep the sun from setting and the night from falling; they happen in and of themselves. It is their nature to do so.
I have gone beyond Mormonism. It saddens me when I see so many afraid to take that step, to make that choice, to look beyond the mark.
At twenty-five, Im still rather brash and impetuous and when my patience is stretched to its limit I just say, F&$# em, theyll learn sooner or later. I no longer feel an obligation nor responsibility to teach them my way or any way. Nature needs no lessons. Rather, we should be learning from Nature. All a person needs to learn is staring them in the face. It is as ephemeral as the breath. It is as eternal as the need to breathe.
Euripides, in his play The Bacchanal, puts forth the notion that Justice is balance. When the scales of Justice balance, Grace comes into play. Every evil is canceled by every good. Mormonism doesnt sit well with this idea of Grace. It prefers the idea of being at the mercy of the lord. For all its rhetoric to the contrary regarding economic debt, Mormonism places humanity so far into spiritual debt that the only way out is through indentured service to the plantation owner. Ever notice how Amazing Grace is has been omitted from the hymn books? I first noticed this trying to plan a baptism in my first area. The couple wanted it sung during the service and my companion and I had a hell of a time tracking down the lyrics and music to make copies for everybody.
After leaving Mormonism, I was left with what Sartre called the god-shaped hole, that yearning vacuum that nature so abhors. In my philosophical expeditions I came across a Chinese form of atheistic mysticism called TAO--literally the path, the way. I was intrigued by its mystical view of the universe, of nature, and of consciousness with its simultaneous denial of the existence of a supreme being who created and ordered it all like some glorified taskmaster. I had it backwards all along; god didnt carve this niche out for humanity, the hole shaped god. TAO was around before Heavenly Fathers Heavenly Father was born. In fact, its what gives birth to the myriad things. TAO is the pulse that is the big bang-big crunch-big bang-big crunch-big bang-big crunch . . .
the path I tread alone,
alone to tread.