Those Scary Mormons

May 27, 2011

I was just reading an article by an Evangelical about why he couldn’t vote for Mitt Romney:

A Vote for Romney Is a Vote for the LDS Church

I have to give the man credit for originality: he tells us that Mormons can’t be trusted to stand firm on principles because any day a revelation might change the church’s position on some issue (apparently, he’s assuming that all Mormons will turn on a dime when the church say so). But even worse, he says, electing a Mormon president would give the church a lot of free press, and we can’t have that.

I’ve interacted with a lot of Evangelicals over the years in these online forums. Most of them have been reasonable and fair in their discussions with me about Mormonism, whether I was a believer or not. But there’s always been a subset of Evangelicals who seem to go unhinged at the drop of Joseph Smith’s white hat. It’s as if Mormonism is this huge threat to “real” Christians, so much so that they must be shunned so believers can avoid getting contaminated by their Mormon ways.

You may think I’m overstating things. We had neighbors in Texas who would not let their kids come into our house (who knows what Mormons do behind closed doors?). A family we knew had neighbors who refused to speak to them and would quickly gather their kids into the house whenever the dreaded Mormons were outside. And of course, more than one person told me that he/she would not pray with Mormons because that would be offensive to God.

I understand why Evangelicals strongly disagree with LDS theology, and I even understand why they say Mormons are not Christians, though I disagree with them. But I don’t understand the abject terror that comes over some Evangelicals whenever Mormons are brought up.


A Cool Little Mormon Trick

May 26, 2011

Yesterday I was listening to some of the songs from Parker and Stone’s “The Book of Mormon (The Musical).” Yes, much of it is crude, and they have taken some liberties with Mormon beliefs and practices (OK, that’s a bit of an understatement), but it is funny and creative, and the songs are well-done and catchy. But one song hit me hard, and I wondered how Stone and Parker could have understood so clearly my experience growing up in the LDS church.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but it’s obvious to me that my experience isn’t the same as anyone else’s; I am speaking only of my experience. But the song suggests to me that I may not be alone.

Many of the songs in the show make joking references to the perception that Mormons are perpetually “nice” and polite, but it’s this song that explains why this may be so. Part of the socialization process in every human being involves suppressing our desires in favor of the greater good. We count it civilized, for example, to obey the laws of traffic, even if we need to be somewhere in a hurry. Those who do not keep their desires in check in accordance with the law may find themselves paying a fine or serving a prison term.

And many of us take this self-suppression even further. Because we need to fit in, we keep our desires, our dreams, hidden. I’ve always loved this quote from Marge Simpson, which explains beautifully this need to suppress the self: “It doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know. It’s what shows up on the outside that counts. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you’re almost walking on them. And then you’ll fit in, and you’ll be invited to parties, and boys will like you. And happiness will follow.” Of course, going along to fit in never results in happiness, and you probably won’t be invited to parties, either.

What Marge is talking about is external actions that express our feelings. “It’s what shows up on the outside that counts.” As a Latter-day Saint, I was really good at keeping up surface appearances, and I think a lot Mormons are. In every leadership position I held in the LDS Church, I learned that, while on the surface, most church members seemed to be doing just fine, there were serious problems in a lot of homes and families. There really wasn’t anywhere in the church to frankly discuss our problems, except to the bishop, but we had been told that bishops were not there to counsel us or help us with our problems. In public, we had every incentive to proclaim that what was on the surface was reality. We told everyone in testimony meeting and other places how happy we were.

But, for me at least, the reality under the surface was quite different. For one thing, I was dealing with chronic depression, and ironically, my attempts to be happy on the surface kept me from acknowledging the depression or dealing with it. And part of the reason for that was my desire to make my feelings and desires accord with the surface appearance of “doing fine.” Thomas Monson famously said that, if we were struggling with our desires, we should “fake it till you make it”; in other words, if we act as if our desires are “good,” eventually our thoughts will catch up with our actions.

Looking back, I can see that there was tremendous pressure to bend (or break) my desires in favor of doing and thinking what the church teaches. Jesus taught that lusting after someone was the same as adultery, and in keeping with this, LDS scripture tells us, “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12) and on the other side, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45). In other words, I was supposed to drive out bad thoughts and think only good thoughts.

So, controlling your thoughts becomes paramount for a Latter-day Saint. Boyd K. Packer taught:

Probably the greatest challenge and the most difficult thing you will face in mortal life is to learn to control your thoughts. … The mind is like a stage. During every waking moment the curtain is up. … Have you noticed that shady little thoughts may creep in from the wings and attract your attention in the middle of almost any performance on that stage and without any real intent on your part? These delinquent thoughts will try to upstage everybody. If you permit them to go on, all thoughts of any virtue will leave the stage. You will be left, because you consented to it, to the influence of unrighteous thoughts. If you yield to them, they will enact for you on the stage of your mind anything to the limits of your toleration. They may enact themes of bitterness, jealousy, or hatred. They may be vulgar, immoral, even depraved. When they have the stage, if you let them, they will devise the most clever persuasions to hold your attention. They can make it interesting all right, even convince you that they are innocent, for they are but thoughts. What do you do at a time like that, when the stage of your mind is commandeered by the imps of unclean thinking, whether they be the gray ones that seem almost clean, or the filthy ones which leave no room for doubt? If you can fill your mind with clean and constructive thoughts, then there will be no room for these persistent imps, and they will leave.

So, it’s not enough to behave righteously, but it is important to think and feel righteously, too; otherwise, your mind will yield to evil such that “all thoughts of any virtue will leave.” The ability to think and feel only righteous thoughts is variously spoken of as “self-control,” “self-mastery,” and “purity of thought.” Parker and Stone describe pretty well the way I did it:

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head
Don’t feel those feelings hold them in instead

Turn it off, like a light switch
Just go click
It’s a cool little Mormon trick
We do it all the time
When you’re feeling certain feelings
That just don’t seem right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
And turn ’em off like a light switch

But I was never entirely sure that the feelings were really gone and would not resurface at some point. Was I the only Mormon who was afraid of alcohol and drugs not because they were dangerous but because I might “lose control”? No, I had to switch it all off, as the song describes:

Well, Elder McKinley, I think it’s okay that you’re having gay thoughts
Just so long as you never act upon them

No – cause then you’re just keeping it down
Like a dimmer switch
On low (on low)
Thinking nobody needs to know (uh oh)
But that’s not true
Being gay is bad but lying is worse
So just realize you have a curable curse
And turn it off

I don’t think my struggles were anything compared to that of gay Mormons, but the principle is the same. As long as you still feel and desire something contrary to the gospel, you are guilty. Church leaders have often used this passage from “Huckleberry Finn” to illustrate the point:

It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. … I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing … ; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

Of course, Huck’s lament is mean to be taken as ironic, as it is his conscience that won’t allow him to do the “right thing and the clean thing” by turning in the slave, Jim. But we were meant to understand that, if our heart isn’t right, we have to find the “determination to choose the right when a choice is placed before us” (Thomas Monson, Ensign, Sept. 1993).

The only solution is to choose only positive, uplifting thoughts and switch off every bad thought or feeling: anger, lust, greed, laziness, whatever it is. Self-mastery, then, is a constant effort to think and feel and do the right, no matter what, and it isn’t just avoiding pornography. In the “Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood” manual, we read, “Developing self-mastery will help us form positive habits such as arising early, studying the scriptures daily, and fulfilling our assignments promptly. Such habits can free us from confusion.” Other positive habits listed include paying tithing and keeping the Word of Wisdom. The manual urges us to set goals “to live [gospel] principles” and “do our best to reach those goals.”

Strangely, the analogous lesson in the manual “The Latter-day Saint Woman” gives an example of how to achieve such goals. The manual describes an American woman who feels tremendous guilt for eating “nearly a whole box of chocolates” at Christmas time. She continues:

Eating the chocolates represented my low point. I cannot describe what I went through to one who has never experienced similar feelings: I was stuffed with chocolates, disgusted with myself, despondent, and thoroughly discouraged. Through this ridiculous, silly weakness, Satan worked with me and brought me down. All my feelings and thoughts at this time were unworthy.

“So that Christmas I decided that I would never experience that situation again. I sat down and wrote myself a letter. In the letter I described my feelings so I couldn’t forget them, and I promised myself that I would not let another year pass without gaining total control over my appetite. I’ve seen such progress in myself in the year since then, and my confidence has grown daily. I know that I have almost won this particular battle” (“My Worst Enemy—Me!” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 62).

Most people would just shrug this off as a typical holiday overindulgence and not repeat it (well, at least until the next Christmas). But this woman feels disgusted, despondent, and discouraged; this is truly her “low point.” One box of chocolates, and Satan has brought her down until all her thoughts were “unworthy.”

I could relate to this overreaction. Towards the end of my mission, I saw a movie poster in the main plaza, which showed a woman in thigh-high stockings and heels. I quickly averted my eyes, but I knew I had felt something unclean when I saw it. I spent a ridiculous amount of effort chastising myself for that fleeting thought, which otherwise would have been nothing more than a moment in time. But I couldn’t allow that image to gain a foothold in my mind, as I had recently read in a church magazine that, once an image was in your mind, it “may never be erased.”

Obviously, I’m not advocating that we abandon all self-restraint in our lives, but I don’t think I was the only Mormon who obsessed over small things because I desperately wanted the stage of my mind to be free and clear of any shady thoughts that might commandeer it and lead me to misery and sin. It seems to me that obsessing over these things made me miserable, perhaps as much so as if I had let the persistent imps take over.


No longer carried about by the winds of doctrine

May 25, 2011

The last few years have been a real struggle for me spiritually, in that I have not been able to find a path in life that I know God wants me to take after leaving Mormonism. But I think my search is over, and my new spiritual guide is right here in Utah:

At least he’s cheaper than Todd Coontz.


Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies

May 13, 2011

Just thought I’d plug the new journal published by Claremont University, first because the content is excellent, particularly Chris Smith’s discussion of the fictionalized names in Joseph Smith’s “United Firm” revelations; and second, because I know Chris quite well and I also know Loyd Ericson, one of the editors of the journal. I think very highly of both of them.

Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies

Congratulations on publishing the first issue!


Exclusive: Osama’s Diary

May 13, 2011

Owing to my connections in high places within government, intelligence, and civic organizations, I am pleased to announce that my blog will be the exclusive home for selected excerpts from Osama bin Laden’s diary. I think you will agree with me that the diary is a revealing and intimately personal glimpse into the life of the man revered by jihadists and hunted by governments and armies.

The diary begins March 10, 2010.

I’ll begin from the moment I got you, the moment I saw you lying on the table among my other birthday presents. I wanted an XBox 360 because, duh, Final Fantasy XIII came out yesterday, but I guess a diary is OK.

Last night we stayed up late and watched al-Jazeera and then American Idol. Didi was totally channeling Stevie Nicks, but Lilly doing Patsy? OMG, barf! The wives were getting into Casey; they said he looks like a blonde version of me. As if. Adam (you know, that kind of dorky American) just kept gushing about Aaron Kelly and his “smooth, boyish features,” and I was like, Ick, whatever.

Ayman was being a total douchebag because he wanted to watch 90210, but I was like, Dude, get your own TV! I mean the guy is a doctor, he can afford it.

Slept in late and watched iCarly over a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I told Ayman I was taking the day off, so no calls, no couriers, just a relaxing day in the hot tub with the wives. Adam was way pissed when I told him there wasn’t room for him in the hot tub, so he stomped off to play MapleStory for a while. What the hell kind of screen name is Purple Cherub?

Lunch was great. Wife #3 (I always forget her name) made “ultimate nachos” and Nestle’s Quik. What would I do without her.

Played World of Warcraft while Ayman was busy working on some bombing or something. Who knows? Who cares? Adam noticed I was on, so all of a sudden I’m being followed around by the Purple Cherub. I know he likes me, but jeez, give it a rest!

Mom Facebooked me a happy birthday. I totally forgot to harvest her peaches on FarmVille. Maybe after the party. Adam’s status was “crushing on the OBL.” Kinda squicked by that, but you know, he’s awesome with the video and scaring Americans, so what can I do?

The party was, like, OK. I got a sweater from Mom (again!). The wives chipped in and bought me a George Foreman grill (like I’m ever going to cook, duh). Ayman said his gift to me would be a wicked-good attack on the crusading infidels, but I was like, “Dude, attacking infidels doesn’t get me any Microsoft Points.” I swear he rolled his eyes at me, but he promises he wasn’t.

Adam got me a two-year subscription to the Undergear catalog. He said he just wanted me to look nice and be comfortable. I guess he was right; some of my stuff is getting a little worn out. I’m not sure why he circled a studded latex jockstrap, but the wives thought it was pretty hot. I guess I should be glad to have someone around who has good taste.

Stayed up late getting a pedicure from Adam (the mauve looks nice on my nails), and then we braided each other’s beards and watched Suite Life on Deck (Adam likes Cole, but I think Dylan is cuter and a better actor). Watched al-Jazeera for a while. I am so freaking sick of that Obama. All I ever hear about is Obama this, Obama that. He thinks he’s soooo popular and cool, but it won’t last. I mean, look at Bush. His ratings were like in the 90s, and now where is he? Clearing brush in some god-awful hole in Texas.

OK, I can go to bed now. My Idol faves are safe (Go, Didi!), and Ayman is watching Futurama (I keep having to remind him you can’t assassinate an animated robot). Tomorrow I guess I have to get back to work, you know, evil terror master and all that. But today was pretty awesome. I think I might keep the toenails polished. I mean, no one will know but me, Adam, and the wives.


Latte Bloomer

May 12, 2011

OK, this piece is just thoroughly delightful:

The 40-Year-Old Coffee Virgin

Coincidentally, I had my first cup of the dreaded brew at age 40. Surely, the existence of coffee is proof of God’s love for us.


The Most Popular Post on My Blog

May 11, 2011

I was checking my blog statistics today, and I saw that the most-viewed post, with over 5200 hits was this one:

Ten Reasons I Can’t Be a Mormon Anymore

I wrote that a few years ago on my old blog, but everything I wrote still stands. All those things are true, and I know they are true. And that’s why I can’t force myself back into the church.