Men, Women, and Cows

November 19, 2009

Nineteenth-century Mormon leader Heber C. Kimball once said that to him, adding a new wife (he had 56 wives) was of as much consequence as buying a new cow for his farm.

I know, it’s not exactly fair to judge modern Mormonism by one man’s rather awful remarks from 150 years ago, but I’ve been thinking about some of the ways that assigned gender roles tend to dehumanize both men and women. Given that my experience is within a Mormon context, it’s natural to discuss this in Mormon terms.

Every Mormon knows from an early age what his or her destiny is. Boys are to grow up to be priesthood leaders. They are to be strong and righteous fathers who preside over their families. They are the breadwinners.

Mormon girls, on the other hand, are taught that their value comes from their roles as wives and mothers. The ideal Mormon mother is a stay-at-home mom who shuns a career in favor of having and raising children. (Of course, Mormon women are advised to get an education, just in case things don’t work out.)

Structured Mormon religious education is the same for girls and boys until age 12, except for the boys participating in church-sponsored Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. From the age of 18 months, they begin attending “Primary,” which is a two-hour meeting involving activities, songs, and scripture-based lessons. At age 8, Mormon children are baptized and confirmed as official members of the church.

At age 12, boys and girls are given separate instruction, with different goals and different milestones.

For boys, reaching the age of 12 means being ordained to the priesthood. This is defined as “the power and authority to act in the name of God.” At 12 they are made deacons and are assigned to distribute the bread and water of the sacrament each Sunday (no wine is used) and collect donations the first Sunday of each month. At 14, they are made “teachers,” which means they now prepare the bread and water to be used in the sacrament. At 16, they are ordained as priests and are assigned to pronounce the blessings on the bread and water of the sacrament, and they can also perform baptisms. Throughout these years, the focus for these boys is always on preparing them to serve two years as full-time missionaries. A glance at this year’s manual for Mormon young men shows a focus on priesthood responsibilities, including missionary service, faith and obedience, and two lessons on honoring the roles of women.

Girls, on the other hand, cannot receive the priesthood, but the church has a sort of parallel program more geared toward learning to be good wives and mothers. Instead of Scouting, the church has a series of “Personal Progress” goals for girls, which they are expected to complete before they turn 18. This year’s lesson manual for girls is quite different from the boys’ lessons. Topics emphasize finding “joy” in a woman’s role (there’s even one about having a good attitude about their gender role), supporting (male) priesthood leaders, finding a good husband, and of course, “Patriarchal Leadership in the Home.”

When they leave home, boys are expected to serve as missionaries, after which they will come home and get married as soon as possible so they can start a family. There is a great emphasis on obtaining a college degree so that these budding patriarchs can support their families (and give ten percent to the church).

Girls, on the other hand, are not given such guidance. They are to prepare for marriage and motherhood, and if their education is interrupted by the needs of a new family, so be it. Mormon women may choose to serve as missionaries when they are 21, but traditionally this has been seen as a fall-back for those not fortunate enough to be married by that age.

For a long time, I believed that the Mormon system unfairly hurts women. Now, obviously, it limits the choices and goals and dreams of these women, so much so that my daughter once asked me why Heavenly Father likes boys more than he likes girls. But it also wedges men into roles they may not want or be comfortable with. Clearly, gay or bisexual men are not going to fit into the Ward Cleaver role carved out for them, but there are also men who are not equipped to be good fathers or husbands, or whose ideas of what a marriage relationship should be differ from that prescribed by the gerontocracy in Salt Lake City.

In short, all of us were taught that we would find joy in our respective gender roles, even if that meant we had to work on our attitude about it. Happiness was defined for us as a nuclear family with the husband working and lots of children in a suburban home. So, we spent our whole lives trying to convince ourselves we were happy, because if we couldn’t find happiness in what God wanted for us, we could never have it.

When I left the LDS church, I literally felt like I had lost my identity. No one was there to tell me what to think or what to feel, what to do, what to wear, what to eat. But it didn’t take me long to figure out that I wasn’t really happy as a Mormon. Being Mormon made me feel guilt, shame, and inadequacy, and I learned later that I’d been suffering from depression for many years. But how could that be? I was happy. I had what every Mormon man was supposed to have. I presided in my home, and everything.

But as my therapist explained to me, every time I surrendered my feelings, my needs, to the church’s dictates, I lost a little of myself. I’m back, and I don’t miss who I once was.

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RIP Saturn

November 17, 2009

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I own a Saturn, a silver 2004 ION 2, to be precise. Why would I buy a vehicle that Consumer Reports called “disappointing”? My trusty Nissan Sentra had thrown a bearing in the manual transmission, and given its age, I decided not to fix it. I had intended on a used car, but with my dad’s GM Employee discount, generous rebates, and 0% interest, it was hard to pass up a new car at a used-car price.

Now that Saturn is officially dead, though not quite buried yet, it’s a little sad to reflect on the short and doomed life of America’s hope for fighting Japanese imports.

Originally, Saturn was to be a “new kind of car company.” Located in Tennessee, its non-unionized workers had more say in the means of production and a stake in the company’s success. Quality control processes were supposed to be vastly improved over the rest of GM, and the plastic-bodied cars would be the first American vehicles to truly compete with Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Unlike other product lines, Saturn was to share no platforms or engines with any other cars.

The first Saturns rolled off the assembly line in 1990 and initially sold well. The Japanese were at first a little nervous that the upstart S-series might indeed take some of their market share. Until they bought a Saturn and disassembled it. Reportedly, when they saw the hodgepodge of crappy parts cobbled into the Saturn, the Japanese engineers responded with, “You have got to be kidding.”

But for the first few years, Saturns did score above average in reliability in the Consumer Reports ratings. The second-generation S-series debuted in 1996 with an all-new exterior but largely the same mechanical underpinnings. But it’s not a winning sales strategy to sell essentially the same car for twelve years, but that’s what Saturn did.

Then, rather than improving their existing model, Saturn made the disastrous decision to build the L-series, which was basically an Opel Vectra built on a regular GM assembly line in Wilmington, Delaware (though it did have Saturn’s signature plastic body panels). Not only was the American carbuyer uninterested in an entry-level Opel, but those who bought the L-series were treated to some of the worst repair records in the automotive industry. Of course, imagine how Cadillac Catera owners felt, given that they had also bought a rebadged Opel, with all of its reliability problems, but at a premium price.

The Saturn VUE appeared in 2002, another Opel-based offering, this time an SUV. With the advent of the ION in 2003, Saturn gave up the pretense of being a “different kind of car company” building the car on the same GM Delta platform as the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G5, and Opel Astra and Zafira. And, some would say, Saturn completely threw in the towel by releasing the Relay minivan, which was simply a rebadged version of the already nine-year-old Chevrolet Venture. That’s when you know a car builder has lost the will to survive.

The last few years of its life seemed to hold some promise, with decent products in the Aura sedan and Sky convertible, but once again these were merely rebadged versions of other GM vehicles. The ION was killed off and replaced by the Astra, which was a Belgian-made Opel based on the same Delta platform. But I guess they thought it looked different enough to sell. It didn’t. They sold so poorly, in fact, that Saturn didn’t make a 2009 model because they were still trying to clear the 2008s off the lots.

But back to my ION. The day I bought it was one of those rare chilly days in January in Houston, so I turned on the heater, which promptly stayed on at full blast. A trip to the dealer remedied the situation, though I was without a car for most of a day. A month later, I went to pick up some pizzas, and when I got back in the car, it wouldn’t start. In fact, it wouldn’t do anything. It was as if someone had flipped a switch and turned off the entire electrical system. The Saturn dealer graciously towed the car but couldn’t find anything wrong with it. So, with a shrug and a new starter motor, they gave it back to me. Luckily enough, there had been a recall on defective turn indicator/running lights, so they replaced those while they were at it.

One thing I noticed was that the light gray seats, made of a woven polyester that screamed “leisure suit,” showed every tiny drop of moisture. You could spend hours thoroughly cleaning the car, and within a couple of days, the seats would look as spotted and stained as the sheets in a Super 8 motel.

Two months later the stereo CD player stopped working. I was secretly glad to see it go because the clock lost about 3 minutes a month. Unsurprisingly, the new CD player had the same problem. I just got in the habit of resetting the clock once a week or so. Then everything went reasonably well for about a year. Then in short order the auxiliary radiator fan quit, which is not a good thing in the summer in Houston. And the CD player died again. The new one was just as chronologically challenged as the old one.

About that time I noticed a clunking noise in the front suspension that made it sound as if the front end were going to fall apart when we hit the slightest bump. One new suspension bushing later (still under warranty), the noise stopped.

Then we moved back to Utah. My wife and I drove the car out over three days in the summer of 2007. We stopped for the night in Edmond, Oklahoma, and in the morning, the car wouldn’t start. Wouldn’t turn over. Nothing. I went back into the hotel to make a phone call, and then when I got back in, it started right up. Outside of Denver the cruise control made a rather loud cracking noise and quit, and then when I stopped for gas in Grand Junction, the car once again refused to start. We waited it out for several minutes, and it finally started.

When we got to Utah, my sister’s mechanic took a look at it and said he was 90% sure we had a bad ignition switch, but he didn’t want to replace it if he wasn’t certain. So, we took it to the Saturn dealer, and to no one’s surprise, they mentioned that IONs were well known to have a short in the ignition key lock mechanism. Of course, by this time, the warranty was long expired, and the repair wasn’t cheap. As I got into the car to drive it home, I noticed another ION parked next to mine. Sure enough, although its seats were beige, they had the same tell-tale spots that mine did.

On the way to get the car’s safety and emissions inspection, the Check Engine light lit up. The catalytic converter had died, so I replaced that. The next month, I started the car on a winter’s morning and was greeted by a horrific low spluttering and a wheezing, vibrating engine. After a new ignition control module and a tune-up, it was good as ever (which isn’t saying much, of course).

Last summer the passenger side power window switch stopped working. By this time, I didn’t care enough to get it fixed. Then the latch on the glove compartment broke, which I also didn’t bother fixing. The clunking on the left front end started again last winter, and then the windshield wipers stopped working in the middle of a blinding snowstorm. So, back to the mechanic for another bushing and a new windshield wiper motor assembly.

What galls me more than the constant repairs is the price of Saturn parts. The clutch is nearly at the end of its life, so I looked into replacing it. For comparison, a clutch kit for a Nissan Sentra runs about $115. But you can’t buy a clutch kit for a Saturn ION. Nope, you have to buy three separate parts at a cost of around $600, and then you have to have someone put it in. Even something as simple as replacing a battery is a pain when you drive an ION. Not only is the battery in the trunk under a panel next to the spare tire, but it is a nonstandard battery with front-facing terminals, and it costs a staggering $89. For a compact-car battery. The local Autozone told me they didn’t carry that battery and would have to make a special order.

It’s these kinds of things that make me think that GM either had a death-wish for Saturn or has nothing but contempt for its customers. Honestly, who thought it was a good idea to build a mediocre car (hell, my 1994 Sentra drove better and got better gas mileage) of dubious quality (you could shove an iPod through the gaps between the exterior panels) with expensive replacement parts?

I know. I’m an idiot for buying the car in the first place. And I’m an even bigger idiot for holding onto it as long as I have. Google “Saturn ION problem,” and you’re likely to come across multitudes of angry posts from unhappy Saturn buyers, most of whom have had the same kinds of problems I have.

I’m sorry for the Saturn workers who have lost and will lose their jobs, but I’m not going to mourn the demise of Saturn. It did turn out to be a different kind of car company: worse than the others (well, with the possible exception of the Yugo or the VW Fox). My daughter asked me if Saturns would now become collectors’ items.

“Only if someone collects crappy cars,” I said.


Postscript

November 16, 2009

Sometimes you have to be careful about giving too much information. I made the mistake of using real names in my post about growing up Mormon among Jewish neighbors.

The person I described as my “personal nemesis” just called me on the phone. We hadn’t spoken in a good 25 years or so, but he stumbled across my blog and called both to apologize for seventh-grade behavior and to reconnect.

First, let me say, paraphrasing Jesus, that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Heaven knows I wasn’t exactly perfect as a middle-schooler. Nor were those years full of unending misery. We did share some good times (and some not so good), and we survived. Oddly enough, he agreed with my assessment of the dynamics of middle school. We really were trying distinguish ourselves as both “normal” and better than normal. And of course the easiest way to do that is to pick on the weak.

Second, it was really great to reconnect after all this time. For whatever reason, we both seem to have turned out to be decent, relatively well-grounded adults. We both have families and careers, and we’re both successful, at least the way that term is used most often.

We talked about our siblings and growing up together. He mentioned that he had once had a fierce rock fight with my brother Danny that had ended in my brother causing him to go to the ER for stitches. As I said, Danny was definitely a fighter. And it’s really good to hear that someone remembers him. I still think about Danny almost every day. I miss him.

Last, “obnoxious” is probaby not the word to describe my former neighbor. True, we have almost opposite personalities, but I suppose when you’re quiet and shy like I was you consider anyone more outgoing to be obnoxious.


The Great and Spacious Mall

November 11, 2009

I’ve made a few (usually snarky) comments about the LDS Church’s ongoing City Creek Mall project. To recap, the church tore down the old (and dying) Crossroads Mall and ZCMI Center Mall in downtown Salt Lake City. The massive new mall complex is to be called City Creek and will include retail stores, office space, and luxury condominiums. The announced cost was originally $750 million. Currently, the estimate is $3 billion, and as I mentioned, some insiders expect the final cost to be in the neighborhood of $8 billion. Presumably the money is coming from the pooled resources of the entities held by Deseret Management, the church’s holding company.

A lot of ex-Mormons (and some active Mormons) have expressed dismay and some outrage at the church’s project. I think the main reason is that many ex-Mormons regret having donated 10% of their income to the church, and it’s doubly galling that the money they gave is going toward such business enterprises. And in a sense they are right because money that could otherwise have augmented church programs has been diverted to this large project. Indeed, at the very time the church is undertaking this massive expenditure, local church budgets and staff have been cut quite a bit.

It’s telling that the church, with every announcement about the project, insists that no tithing money is being used to pay for it, as if they recognize that such a large expenditure on non-religious efforts will raise some eyebrows in the church. Ultimately, however, the church’s money, even their for-profit entities, at some point originated in religious donations; the church could not have funded these for-profit businesses without some seed money, which of course had to have come from donated cash or property.

But that’s really beside the point. It may surprise some people, but I don’t have a problem with the church’s mall project. It’s their money, and they can do what they want with it. I take them at their word that their primary goal is to prevent the area around Temple Square from becoming urban blight.

In my more cynical moments, I have said that the church’s twofold mission is growth and income. I know, officially the mission of the church is to invite people to “come unto Christ,” but in Mormon terms that means joining the LDS church and obeying its rules, including paying tithing. I’m not alone in my cynicism, of course. A number of years ago The Economist discussed LDS proselytizing in terms of “return on investment” for each convert. They concluded that, even at low retention rates, the church profited from its missionary program (you have to admit that’s much more cynical than I am).

From a purely mercenary perspective, a business case can be made for the mall project. That said, the church started the project at a time when real estate prices were very high, and now, with the continued weakness in real estate (some say the commercial real estate market is about to crash) and the explosion of the project’s budget, the church is unlikely to recoup its investment anytime soon.

But again, the church made a business decision that is theirs to make, and I don’t begrudge them that decision. I’m no longer a stockholder in that corporation, as I don’t contribute tithing money anymore.


Christmas Time Is Here

November 10, 2009

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s November 10 today. That means that we’re still a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, and Christmas isn’t even close. But apparently, it’s not too early to start celebrating the Savior’s birth.

When we moved back to Utah, I purposely set my alarm clock to “Lite” FM 100, the local easy listening station here in Utah. Why? Simple. The music is guaranteed at least 80% of the time to be some schmaltzy 70s or 80s love song that I can’t stand. It’s much more motivating to get up and turn off the alarm than it would be if it were a song I liked. But I digress.

This morning, the alarm went off as usual at 5:45, but I sat up in disbelief as I heard Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” from the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. You have got to be kidding me.

I hit snooze (I do that sometimes), and when it went off again, it was Harry Connick, Jr.’s version of “The Christmas Song.”

What. The. Hell.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this. Perhaps they’re trying to encourage early Christmas shopping this year to help get us out of a deep recession. Or maybe they think that Christmas will cheer us all up in the wake of so much doom and gloom. Or maybe they’re just idiots who don’t know when December is.

In other news, the cost of the LDS Church’s City Creek Mall project is now officially estimated to be $3 billion. Originally, then-Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said the project would cost approximately $750 million. Since that time, the cost estimates have steadily crept upward, just as predicted by a construction expert involved in the project. He says the true cost is $8 billion and that we can expect further increases in the public estimate until that figure is met. I suppose time will tell.

Come to think of it, FM 100 is owned by Bonneville Communications, which is owned by the LDS church. I wonder if there’s a connection between the Christmas music and the mall. Maybe they’re trying to get people used to having an early jump on Christmas so that, when the mall finally opens, people will buy early and often.

After all, the mall isn’t going to pay for itself.


Tragedy and Kitsch

November 9, 2009

The other day I was driving my son to school, and I noticed in front of me a pristine, baby blue Trabant, which of course was the infamous automotive product of the DDR (German Democratic Republic). The car was in beautiful condition and sported vintage East German license plates and an oval DDR sticker on the back.

I asked my son if he knew what kind of car that was, and he said he didn’t. I asked if he knew what the DDR stood for. He didn’t. To him, the Cold War seemed as distant and irrelevant as the Spanish-American War. I then told him about the day twenty years ago when the Berlin Wall “fell” and thousands of East Germans streamed across the border on foot or in a seemingly endless line of “Trabis.” These people had endured 44 years of a brutal totalitarian regime that had no respect for its citizens human rights, and suddenly they were free. Crowds of people stood on the wall and in “no-man’s land,” where just a day before they would have been shot by the border guards.

The wall came down on my 25th birthday. By the time I reached elementary school, much of the immediate fear of nuclear holocaust had receded into the background, but the uneasy knowledge that a conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union could end life on earth was always there nevertheless. I grew up during the “detente” years of Ford and Carter, and in my teenage years saw the resurgence of nuclear fear with the election of Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was seen by many in the media as a warmongering imbecile (an “amiable dunce” in the words of Clark Clifford) who might recklessly provoke the Soviets and cause nuclear confrontation. In the late 1970s, the Soviets deployed to Europe SS-20 missiles. These were first-strike weapons capable of hitting their targets within nine minutes after launch. Reagan responded by deploying Pershing II missiles in Western Europe. The deployment in turn prompted the “Nuclear Freeze” movement in the US and Europe, which opposed the Pershing deployments and called for a moratorium on further development of nuclear weapons (later, naturally, it was revealed that much of the funding for the nuclear freeze movement had come from the Soviets). There was in many circles a genuine fear that we were headed toward confrontation and catastrophe.

What no one saw coming was that in a few short years the two superpowers would sign treaties reducing nuclear arsenals and that the Soviet Union would cease to exist as a political and military rival to the West. The fall of the Iron Curtain filled a lot of people with tremendous optimism. People spoke of a New World Order based on cooperation and peace, not conflict and hostility. Politicians insisted that military spending could be cut drastically, and the peace dividend could be spent on social and development programs.

Of course, the first Gulf War and the rise of Islamo-fascism brought us back to reality somewhat. And we should also remember that 1989 was the year that the Chinese crushed the Tiananmen Square protests and thus entrenched their brand of Leninist capitalism. And in the formerly Communist countries, optimism at the new opening of society was quickly overshadowed by the reality of building a capitalist society from scratch.

Twenty years later, I’m celebrating my 45th birthday, and the Germans are celebrating reunification, as they should. But something interesting has happened: relics of the old DDR are now seen as collectible, nostalgic kitsch. At Checkpoint Charlie, in years past the main gateway between the Russian and American sectors of Berlin, one can now buy a replica passport complete with an East German entry/exit stamp. Shoe and clothing companies in Germany are now producing styles that were available during the days of Stalinist repression.

It’s interesting that nostalgia for, say, the Nazi regime is unthinkable and suggests a rather diseased mind, but it’s fine to have a soft spot for Erich Honecker and his friends. I wonder why that is. I thought about that as I admitted to my son that I was a little envious of the guy driving the Trabant.

“Why, Dad? It’s a crappy car.”

“Yeah, but it’s pretty cool.”

“It’s still a crappy car.”

Maybe it’s just that I associate that car, that image, with a watershed moment in our history. No, the fall of the Berlin Wall didn’t erase all the problems in our world. But it was a good step in the right direction. Maybe the transition of the East German state from feared dictatorship to ridiculous kitsch is a sign that we are past worrying that it will return. We see harmless fun in the relics of totalitarianism because, in the end, they are harmless.


Faith Deficit Disorder

November 4, 2009

Recently, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and I started taking medication for it. I had never realized just how much this condition had prevented me from functioning fully. I simply hadn’t know what normal was like. After a month on the Adderall, I am doing really well.

One visible benefit from the medication is that I’m a lot more organized, and my desk at work, which has always been obscured by piles of papers and CDs, is organized and clean. One of my coworkers mentioned that he had thought I had been laid off because my desk looked like it had been cleared. When I explained about the Adderall, he said he was taking it, too, and for him, like me, it has been life-changing. Another coworker mentioned that he too is on Adderall. Coincidentally, both of these guys are closeted apostates in that both of them have lost all belief in Mormonism but stay active and participating for social and familial reasons. One of my apostate coworkers said that it was funny that all three of us unbelievers suffer from ADD. He wondered if there were a connection between our loss of faith and the ADD.

He isn’t the first person I know who has attempted to make a connection between psychological disorders and apostasy. My old friend, amateur apologist and armchair psychotherapist Wade Englund, has long asserted that loss of faith in Mormonism is a result of distorted cognitive processes. Thus, he advocates cognitive behavioral therapy for us apostates. I’d never given much credence to that, but then my cousin, who is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, mentioned in passing that she had “trouble feeling the Spirit” before she started taking ADD medication.

Could there be a link between ADD and apostasy?

In talking to my co-medicated friends, I discovered that what we had in common was a real hunger to learn and discover and propensity to become bored when we’re not learning. In me, this hunger for learning led to a passion to read as much as I could about my religion, its history and its doctrines. At one point when I was commuting by bus from Orem to work at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, I was reading my scriptures for 90 minutes in the morning and then reading the teachings of the modern prophets (LDS church leaders) an equal amount of time on the way home. On my lunch hours I would go down to the Church Historical Library and read whatever I could get my hands on.

Oddly enough, I never read anything that could be considered “anti-Mormon.” I avoided “The Godmakers” and Fawn Brodie, preferring to read pioneer journals, scripture commentaries, and old conference addresses. Inevitably, as the people and events of my religion’s history became more real to me, my perceptions of my religion changed. Now, I’m not saying that exposure to church history necessarily leads to loss of faith, but certainly the jarring disconnect between the sanitized Mormonism of Sunday School and seminary and the messier but real history changes the way one understands Mormonism. Certainly many people find their faith strengthened by their study of church history and doctrine, but I would argue that their perception has been changed forever.

My interaction with apologists and ex-Mormons bears this out. Those who have been exposed to church history outside of official Mormon publications view Mormonism much differently than do those whose study is limited to correlated church materials. The difference is exemplified in the reaction of some to new information. As an example, quite often we hear of people discovering troubling information about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygyny and polyandry. One could grow up in the LDS church, attend meetings, read lesson manuals and scriptures, and yet be totally unaware that Joseph Smith had at least 33 wives, 11 of whom were concurrently married to someone else at the time. I knew growing up that Joseph Smith had taught and practiced polygamy, but I had always been told that these were sealings, not really marriages, and they were mostly to support widows. I know, it sounds naive, but that’s what I was taught. I suspect I’m not unique in having been taught that. But when someone goes to FAIR or MAD with their concerns about these issues, they are uniformly ridiculed, first because they are said to have been “lazy” for not learning about these things earlier, but second because they are clearly not sophisticated or nuanced enough to understand the godliness of Joseph Smith’s actions.

It seems clear to me that, even in their defense of Mormonism, apologists have radically changed their perspective on troubling issues from polygamy to the very problematic Book of Abraham. What separates the apologists from the apostates is the conclusions they allow themselves to reach. An apostate looks at the Book of Abraham, for example, and understands that the papyrus that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated bears no relationship to any story of Abraham, much less to the anachronistic story canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. Apologists, on the other hand, are reduced to sputtering about missing scrolls and redefining the word “translation.” My favorite apologist response has to be the one suggesting that, although Joseph Smith believed he was translating the papyrus, he really wasn’t, but the text is still the revealed word of God.

But in the end, the new information has forced a transformation of heretofore “orthodox” belief. Lamanites thus stop being Native Americans, and the Book of Mormon takes place in an ever-shrinking geographical location. And the apologists got to this transformation the same way we did: they too hungered for knowledge and found it.

That to me is the common ground between apologists and apostates: we all have a natural curiosity, a desire to learn and understand more. Despite the ulterior motivations believers ascribe to apostates, almost without exception it has been the drive to learn, to know, that characterizes the ex-Mormons I know. The same is also true for most of the apologists I know. The difference, I suspect, is in a person’s willingness to consider that the church might not be what it claims to be. One prominent apologist once said that he believed, a la Thomas Kuhn, that it was healthy and necessary to shift one’s paradigm with new information, as long as the center of the paradigm never shifted. That center of course was that the LDS church is true.

In the end, the Adderall hasn’t dampened my natural curiosity, but rather it has helped me to be more focused in learning new skills and new information. But who knows? Maybe a few doses of Ritalin might have kept me on the straight and narrow.