In an otherwise not-particularly-memorable film, Napoleon Dynamite’s uncle Rico spends his time reliving the same moment of high school football almost-glory. Armed with a video camera on a tripod, he replays over and over the game-winning pass (and ticket to future glory) that he would have made had the coach put him into the final game of his senior year. But the sad reality is that he’s a thirtysomething man living in a van whose only joy is in reliving something that never was.
They say that insanity is to do the same thing over and over again but expect different results each time. That describes perfectly my experience on the Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board, commonly known as the MAD board (I’ll leave it to you to decide how appropriate that acronym is).
I think I started posting there about 2002, when I was living in Texas and was still a fervent believer. I’m not exactly sure what drew me to the board, but I ultimately gave it up as a big waste of time, which of course it was. For some reason, however, I returned to the board in September of 2005 or thereabouts, this time a wretched (and disappointed) unbeliever.
For the most part, I’ve tried to behave decently there, with notable exceptions. But I think I’ve finally figured out why I went back. It wasn’t to convince the Mormons that they are wrong or deceived or whatever; I think I just wanted someone to understand me.
I wanted to know that someone, even a believing member of the church, would understand why I found certain issues in Mormonism very troubling and faith-decreasing. Maybe someone else in the church thought that Joseph’s practice of polygamy (and his keeping it secret from friends, family, his wife, and the public) was as troubling as I did. I wanted someone to acknowledge that there are serious issues regarding the authenticity of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon. I didn’t care if they agreed with me or not, but I wanted someone just to acknowledge that a decent, faithful person might with good reason find some things troubling.
But my desire was sadly mistaken. Mostly the response to my deep-felt issues was condemnation and contempt. One notable poster said my take on LDS history was “full of crap,” while others labeled me “deceitful,” “play-acting,” “faux-innocent,” and a wolf in sheep’s clothing bent on leading people to destruction.
As far as acknowledging that I might have a reason for being troubled, I’m simply told I’ve lost the spirit, I am too proud, I am following Satan. None of the issues I struggled with has any validity, at least not to most of the people I’ve talked to over there.
And yet I kept going back. You would think I’d need to have a thick skin to deal with the attacks, but I don’t really. I take things too personally, and I have been hurt repeatedly.
But I’m not feeling hurt anymore. Nor do I feel angry. But I am clear that, whatever I was looking for, I am not going to find it there. My wife says that MAD is a poisonous environment. I’d like to be kinder than that, but then I think for me it is a toxic place, not so much because it’s full of bad people (it isn’t) but because it does nothing for me (and for anyone else I interact with) than cause more division, with higher and thicker walls between us. Surely I’m not the only one who doesn’t want that.
It’s time to put the football away. Part of me will always want to be understood, but the rest of me realizes that it will never happen. So, as we used to sing on my mission:
“Para siempre Dios esté con vos.“