Religion Knows No Bounds

I had an experience when I was 12 that I set aside for a long time. I was about to become a deacon in the church and I had an interview with my bishop to determine my ‘worthiness’ to have the priesthood. I entered the room there was a chair in the center, he gestured to the seat I was to sit in and I did so. Then it got strange, he pulled up another chair and put it in front of mine and sat down. Our knees were nearly touching. He leaned forward staring me deep in the eyes and put his hand on my knee and said. “Profet* when was the last time you masturbated?” I was aghast, I had never ever done that and I told him so. He stared at me for what seemed like forever eyes darting back and forth as if it might make me confess some deep sin. I had nothing to confess though because I hadn’t done anything like that. I had to be interviewed by this bishop many more times as I progressed into my teenage years, each time the questions got more probing and more upsetting. He asked me about petting and bestiality, both words I didn’t even know what they meant at the time, but no worries, he was more than willing to describe them to me. Looking back from a vantage point of a few decades of life and a new belief system. I have a couple of points that I now ponder.

Did this exposure make me more interested in all the ‘evil’ things such as pornography? I know for a fact it affected my belief in the church and God because one of the things he taught me in these interviews was that only the people that made it to the highest celestial kingdom got to have sex in the next life. I remember vowing back then that I’d be temple married because there was no way in hell (pun intended) that God was gonna take sex away from me for eternity. He declared to me in these private meetings how awesome sex was once you were married, but how here and now if I were to engage or even be tempted there would be eternal consequences.

I wonder about the lasting effects of those interviews because for lots and lots of years porn was this terrible thing to be avoided at all costs, it meant you would be child molester or evil or in the clutch of satan and yet… it was so so enticing. I don’t think I was worse than any other kid when it came to porn in hindsight, I did once find a magazine on the side of the road that I looked at, and once on a school trip (where my mom was a chaperon) I bought a dirty magazine on a bet with the guys, I even had to confess to her as punishment from my teachers, talk about uncomfortable. But addicted? I don’t think so, enticing? Very much so.

Now here I am very much of the point of view porn really isn’t all that bad for the most part, like drinking and coffee and all the other prohibitions of the church, in moderation these things are simply not damaging to the average person. Sure if you are addicted to any of this that can be bad, but I just don’t see them as a commandment to avoid now.

Here’s the thing. It’s not so enticing anymore… Now that it isn’t on the ‘prohibited’ list I find that I am not constantly battling my evil thoughts about how cute that girl might look naked. Personally I think the very act of prohibiting it makes it something we want to have. Once having it isn’t an issue, well then its no biggie. I think that my leader in his efforts to protect me from the world and teach me bluntly about all the awful sins to avoid probably helped make it a bigger deal in my life than it might have been.

The other thing I realize from my new vantage point is that that leader really shouldn’t have been talking to me like that at that age. I know I wasn’t the only one he talked to like that. My brother confirmed similar conversations, so did many of my friends. Looking back I realized now with my own children that if a school teacher had a similar private conversation with my kids I wouldn’t even consider allowing it. And if they did it as their prerogative without asking my consent I’d even consider a lawsuit. That’s why when my daughter was about to be baptized my wife and I insisted that we be there for the baptismal interview. I was still trying to believe at the time, doubting my doubts strongly. However I did know for sure I didn’t want my 7 year old little girl fielding uncomfortable questions that I had. Thankfully her interview went without a hitch as we sat in the room while she was interviewed, I did get chided as a parent for letting my daughter decide for herself in some of the answers to the questions without my prodding her and them not being the rote expectation of the bishop. She was still deemed worthy of baptism and I performed that ceremony a little before I completely lost faith in the religion.

Fast forward to today. A friend on one of the discussion groups I frequent posts a recording of his discussion about what is and what isn’t appropriate for a bishop to ask a kid about to be baptized. Of course I was going to listen. I don’t see how I couldn’t, as you can tell this topic is an emotional one for me. Here is a short summary:

The background, a 7 year old boy turning 8 is getting ready to be baptized. Mother requests that the bishop in the interview does not ask any questions in regards to masturbation. Bishop tells mom she is wrong to question his authority on the matter. She goes home crying. Dad who is upset by this turn of events requests a meeting with the bishop to discuss the matter. Dad records it. Once I heard the singsong sweet voice begin to justify his calling and right to talk to a child like this. It triggered my memories of uncomfortable interviews with church leaders. I recognize today the signs of psychological manipulation, let see if my good readers do as well.

press play and keep reading.

What I realized and what so many have pointed out about religion is the negative things that can occur when a person believes it is their right from God to tell others what to do and how to act. Listen to this bishop justify why it is his duty and right to ask an 8 year old kid about masturbating. Listen to the dad insist that his son is not ready for this type of conversation. Bishop isn’t giving up easy, he “comes back forcefully” at the dad steam rolling his concerns and in essence threatening the dad that his son will be addicted to masturbation or molested or heaven help him the kid might die without baptism and that sin would be on the heads of the parents.

Listen as the bishop thumps the desk to make his point and hear the emotional plea in his voice for the dad to let him talk to his son about ‘touching himself’. Hear the simple statement that if the bishop is not allowed to ask these questions then the boy won’t be baptized. Put yourself in this dad shoes as he repeatedly asks for leniency on this topic while the bishop is unwilling to yield.

Why is this leader not willing to leave it out of the discussions as others have? Well that comes up in the conversation too. He states unequivocally that the other bishops are not doing their job right. According to the training he has received and according to the stake president, his leader, he is in the right on this thing.

When the bishop goes off 9 minutes in and says, “I have a child who’s been masturbating since he was 9 years old…” in that diatribe the voice sounds exactly like other leaders that I have spent time with when they are explaining their duty to do what God called them to do. Now when I hear that voice manipulation, alarm bells go off in my head.

Listen as the dad repeatedly stands by his decision to not allow his son to experience this, he is willing to reconsider the baptism of his son if this is part of the requirement of an interview for an 8 year old kid. Seems to me that the bishop really wants him to simply submit, right up to the end.

The leader talks about that mantle he has to wear. My leader in the example above often talked about his mantle as a judge in Israel. I even saw him in person just a few months ago at a reunion of friends of the town. (It was at his house because his daughter was our age) as adults now my teenage friends joked about his penchant for asking these questions and he in the same type of low strong whispering voice on this recording declared it was his prerogative as a bishop at the time and his mantle to be able to look out across his congregation and know what people were suffering in sexual sin and whom to confront with it. In the same low, emotional, strong, reverent, whisper as this recording he said that he did his job even though he wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it was a great experience as a bishop.

My skin crawled when I heard him that day because of those uncomfortable conversations of my youth. It crawled again when I heard this recording because the voice was so similar, I have heard the same type of voice from my most recent stake president who I am sure feels the same way about his mantle.

Listen to this tape and you can hear subliminal threat after threat things like, … sure you can talk to the stake president, but he might say I’m not being forward enough and that is a risk you take dad.  He clearly states that it is policy of the church he is enforcing, not by his choice but it is the church telling him he has to broach this topic.

Ultimately the argument he makes is the world is a bad place full of child molesters, addiction and sin. That is the reason it should be ok for a bishop to talk to 7 and 8 year old kids about touching themselves. The logic is so illogical I simply can’t see why he asserts that…

Part of me though does understand it. When you think it is God’s will you are willing to discount what you know inside just isn’t right and do the awful thing you otherwise wouldn’t do. Is there anything different in this bishops assertion he must query a child about masturbation than a muslim that is willing to drive a plane into a building? Other than a level of damage done to fellow human beings, I don’t think so. In both cases they feel it is their duty, their right, their mantle to carry to the end. That is the danger of religion that is how religion knows no bounds. 

 

* names have been changed to protect the innocent 🙂

Transcript for those that like to read it.

Transcript1

I suggest listing to the voice though, at least 9 minutes in so you can hear the psychological manipulation and recognize it. I honestly don’t think most leaders even recognize it for what it is they just pick up on it as they are trained in meetings as to how influence their congregation.

 

 

The Radio Man

I know a man that fought in Vietnam. He was the radioman in his platoon. The radioman would follow second in line to the platoon leader so that the radio was close by. One steamy morning as the platoon moved single file through the jungle, the platoon leader tripped a booby trap that was made from an American hand grenade with a four-second delay.

Four seconds… one… two… three… four…

It was just enough time for the radioman to pass the center of the coming explosion. The man behind him was killed instantly as he took the full force of the detonation in the face. The radioman was hit from behind. The radio pack he carried was shredded as the shrapnel tore through it. The pack took the brunt of the damage, protecting his back and saving his life, but his legs were not so lucky. He remembers flipping in the air to land in the hole created by the grenade. Looking down, still conscious, he found himself in a pool of his own blood. His legs had been shredded, much like the radio pack.

He drifted in and out of consciousness as doctors fought hard to save his life. He heard them talk about amputation but no, they would try and save his legs. The doctors tried a new type of skin graph as part of the reconstruction. It worked, but the doctors said he would never walk again. After he started walking, the doctors said he would wear braces and use a cane for the rest of his life.

limpI remember when he took those braces off. I remember when he left the cane behind. I remember watching him water-ski when I was still too young to understand what a miracle it was. However, a few years later as I drove the boat one sunny afternoon, I had begun to grasp a bit of how much effort it took for my father to get up on one ski and slalom for the first time. Last I heard, the doctors said he would be in a wheel chair by the age of fifty. My father is nearly 20 years past fifty now, and while his walk is not very straight, it is certainly very inspiring.

I would like to thank my father and all the veterans that have fought for this country, and thank you Radio Man for doing your duty and proving to me that no one can tell you what can or can’t be done!

The Good That Was In Me

caterpillar butterflyI have heard many people who leave the church describe those first days of doubt as “the dark night of the soul.”   So it was with me.  Those were dark days when my reality began to crumble around me.  At the time, I had just become pregnant with my fourth child.  I was sick.  It was winter–the longest of my life.  I remember lying in bed for hours at a time sobbing as though someone had died.  To tell the truth, I felt that I was the one dying and I was grieving my own death.

I loved everything about the church and it was everything to me.  Every milestone of my life was intertwined with the church–from the day I was blessed as a baby, to my baptism, to my graduation to Young Women’s, to my college years at BYU, to serving a mission, to marrying in the temple, to giving birth to each of my children and my husband blessing them.  My eight-year-old son had just been baptized and the “circle of life” was continuing with him.  I had often said in the past that if I ever left the church I would lose 95% of my identity.  I couldn’t imagine a life without the church, and I felt that by walking away, I was losing all the good things that had given form, beauty, and meaning to my life.  I felt that I could not take them with me.

My greatest fear was raising my children without the gospel.  What would I teach them?  What music would we listen to now?  What would we do on Sunday?  Where would we find opportunities to serve others?  Where could we find a place to nurture our spirituality–to find peace and consolation? How could we be good without the church?

In a way, I had the feeling that the church was the source of that goodness in my life, and that it held some copyright or ownership on that goodness.

You hear this sentiment expressed in testimony meeting all the time.  “I’m so thankful for the gospel in my life.  I can’t imagine what I would be without it.”  Or better yet, “I’m sure I would be __________ without the church” (You fill in the blank with any number of vices–alcoholism, a life of crime, etc.)

At first I didn’t even try to imagine what I would do or be.  I just felt empty and lost.  My husband and I talked late into the night many nights trying to get a grasp on what we could be without the church.  Slowly, as the initial grief and shock began to wear off, I began to lift up my head and look around me–at my nonmember friends and neighbors who I loved and respected for their good lives.  I started calling them to pick their brains about what they did on Sunday, how they raised their kids, what they believed about the purpose of life.  Slowly I began to realize that there might be a way for me not only to create new goodness in my life, but to take the goodness I already had with me.

Finally I listened to one of the Mormon Expression podcasts (which I highly recommend to help you make sense of things as you contemplate exiting the faith) that helped me work through those feelings of loss.

How the Church Takes Things From You and Sells Them Back

In this episode, John Larsen, the founder of Mormon Expression, shows how all those good things really weren’t the church’s to begin with.  Everything that is good in the church can actually be traced back either to truths that are common to all great religions and philosophies, or simply to the goodness of the members themselves.

Many of us who begin to walk the lonely path away from the church wonder whether or not it’s possible to live a good life and to be happy without it.  Somehow we are made to believe in the false dichotomy that we must either keep the goodness and spiritual power we felt there by staying, or else we must lose it if we walk away. The truth is that so much of the beauty of the church is because the people are beautiful.  So much of the inspiration is because the people are inspiring.  The church didn’t create that beautiful music that I loved.  The people did.  And I am good and spiritual and powerful whether in or out of the church.

With that realization, I have begun to reclaim what is mine.  I  choose to pray–not exactly in the way I had always been taught to pray, but I have made my prayers my own creations.  I decided that I wanted my new baby to have a blessing–not in church, not by the supposed authority of the priesthood, but in our home, by my husband and me together, claiming power to bless by virtue of our love for our child.

We can create our own rites of passage.  We can spend a day each week to rest and turn our minds to the things of greatest significance and sacredness in our lives.  We can listen to beautiful music–even the hymns if you love them.  After all, most of them are Christian hymns common to other Christian religions.  We can find opportunities to serve.  We can discover our own personal missions and live those missions out for the rest of our lives–not just for two years.

I have realized that the spiritual death that I feared so much really didn’t exist.  Rather it was more like the death that the caterpillar experiences on its way to becoming a butterfly.  Yes, I felt a deep emptiness in my life as I walked away.  But I’ve found that the emptiness doesn’t last long.  The vacuum is quickly filled with beauty and goodness that is more authentic, and more personal than what the church fed me.  I’ve learned that I am the source of that goodness and it was in me all along.

 

The Toothpaste War

 No one is sure when it started, sometimes these things just happen. Personally I remember it different than she does, as to who fired the first shot we will never know.

It’s the little things that make a marriage fun I thought, as I looked at my wife and squeezed a bit of toothpaste out of the tube and then handed the limp skinny tube to her one morning. The moment our eyes met we both knew… it was on! I had handed her a tube that was pretty much gone. It was a simple premise, the person that couldn’t Photo Nov 03, 11 27 47 AMget enough toothpaste to brush their teeth and succumb to that fact by getting out a new one would lose. The winner would bask the the fact that he or she didn’t need to dig through the closet for a new tube.

In the first battle, I was willing to go for days brushing my teeth toothpastlessly just to win! I was sure her OCD would kick in sooner or later granting me eventual victory. I smiled to myself the day that I opened the drawer and there was a brand new tube of minty freshness.

In the second battle I decided to get more creative, I wasn’t going to brush without toothpaste, that was cheating (or so she had told me!) I would some how get out that last little drop even if I had to cut open the tube! Again I was awarded the satisfaction of victory.

She wasn’t done yet though, my wife found a gadget at the pharmacy that would squeeze the tube completely flat, eventually I conceded defeat and replaced the flaccid tube.

This bit of fun became a battle of wits that I looked forward to every time the tube of toothpaste tube showed signs of thinning. So this most recent battle royal was really fun, every day when I opened the drawer I saw the tube just a little more empty than the last, each time I found a way to get just a little more out! Just a little more, I wasn’t going to Photo Nov 03, 11 27 38 AMlose this time! For a week this went on, longer than ever before, “wow she is doing amazing this time I thought.” Never in all our battles had she had such resolve. Each day I would nearly consider admiting defeat and yet found some way to get just a little more out of the tube. “I’m not giving up I thought to myself, never!” I was particularly energized this time because I was reasonably sure that there wasn’t a new tube in the closet and the loser would have to actually go to the store. It would be an epic win if I could just hold out. Admittedly, it was getting hard though. Thinner and thinner the tube became as each morning I marveled at how she had gotten yet one more bit of the minty stuff out leaving me to try even harder.

Then early one day as we met in the bathroom, I declared. “You are doing awesome in the tooth paste war, I may have met my match this time!” She looked at me, and I saw a little smile at the corner of her lips as something obviously just dawned on her. She didn’t say a word, just opened the drawer as I looked on and took out the small tube of extra sensitive toothpaste she had apparently switched to a couple weeks ago and put a dab on her toothbrush.

Yeah, I may have won the battle, but she obviously won the war

Abstraction and Power

The ability of the human mind to engage in abstraction is an amazing and powerful tool. In a way, it has enabled us as a species to progress far beyond that of the other species on this planet. What is abstraction, you ask? It is merely the ability to let one thing represent something else. To give a brief example, let’s use language as an example. The word “home” is an example of an abstracted idea. When someone says “home” we immediately think of the place that we live when we are not working or going to school or even out somewhere playing. It is where we have the bed that we sleep in, a kitchen where we make our meals, a place where we take care of our hygiene. All of these concepts are included in the word “home.” It is a concept rather than a thing.

All language is an abstraction. We use words to represent things. Those words can then be combined together, to create an even higher level of abstraction. It is a way of compressing knowledge and communicating it efficiently. If we meet someone with a different language and we need to communicate, the first thing we do is point at an item of which we both recognize and use sounds to represent that thing. This becomes the first layer of abstraction. Within the abstraction of home we also have the concept of “kitchen”, within the concept of “kitchen” we have things like dishes, sinks, stove, and cupboards. At the highest level of abstraction, the word “home” contains all of these concepts.

As valuable as the ability to use abstraction is, there is also a downside. We sacrifice details for speed in communication. Many times, the details can create huge misunderstandings between people when communicating with others. Nowhere is this more evident than when people come together to argue about religion.

One of the important and less understood facets of abstraction in language is the fact that there is often emotional content wrapped up in it. Let’s make the definition of God a little less abstract by listing a few common attributes that are relatively well accepted across multiple belief systems. Here are a few:

Omnipotent
Omniscient
Omnipresent
In charge of everything
Can give life – can take life
Is above us in every way
Knows the future and the past
Creator of everything including the universe.
Everything is controlled by “His will.”

The emotional content hidden within these attributes is that God is above us in every way, intelligence, power, and knowledge. Not only do the concepts present superiority, but they also imply that it is God’s right to do with us as God pleases. There is awe, fear, subjugation, authority and other concepts included within the abstraction of “God.”

We don’t just abstract in language. We also abstract in other very important areas. We view people as “representatives” for functions. We view a man wearing a police uniform as an abstraction for the power of the law. In a similar manner, we view our ecclesiastical leaders as representatives of the power of God. In so doing we automatically grant that person (or persons) respect in accordance with our concept of God. In this way we are subtly programmed to accord an unearned authority based on our religious tenets.

For thousands of years, religious leaders have utilized this unearned authority to subjugate others, enrich themselves, and control multitudes of people. Our politicians wrap themselves in God, Country, and Patriotism to garner the votes influenced by the power embodied within these conceptual abstractions.

Perhaps this explains the fear in America of the Atheist movement. If God is viewed as a “mythology” the unearned power held by ecclesiastical leaders evaporates. Politicians who wrap themselves in God become viewed as “delusional.” It becomes an enormous shift in power. No longer can anyone claim that “My way is the right way, because God told me so.” Instead ideas, propositions, and efforts become examined under the light of a multitude of contrasting viewpoints and decisions arrived at through compromise.

It is this reason, why I stand against religion in all its forms. It is the subtle programming, the nuances hidden within the abstractions, the unearned power and its misuse. Relegating God to the dustbin of “mythology” accomplishes some useful things.

  • First, it frees us from the dominion of those who would use God to control us.
  • Second, it removes the “unquestionable source” from the equation, and everything can be challenged.
  • Third, it frees us from fear based psychology based in “what happens after we die?”
  • Fourth, we no longer can use God as an excuse to invade and attack those whose beliefs differ from our own. We can then look for and examine the motives of those who would use God as the excuse for war.
  • Fifth, and in my opinion the most important reason of all, it permits us to take responsibility for our own actions instead of using God as a scapegoat.

The things that happen to us are a result of the decisions of others combined with random chance and how our own decisions interact. It isn’t “God’s will”. When we make mistakes, “Satan” didn’t tempt us, we made a choice or acted on instinct. We get to take responsibility for our own actions and we get to learn the lessons of those actions. We also learn that we can ONLY be responsible for our own actions. We are not responsible for the actions or the feelings of others. When someone takes offense or feels hurt by our actions, they are responsible for their own feelings.

It is important to remember that virtually every statement made in “God’s name” is a manipulative effort by one with unearned authority in an attempt to control behavior. In short; power.

Expectations

I woke up this morning with the word “expectations” running around in my head.  I’m not really sure why, but I figured it was time to put (virtual) pen to (virtual) paper and see if this speaks to anyone else.

As a child, I became aware of certain days each year that held significance in my life.  With the usual childish view of “the world revolves around me,” those days were of course, my birthday and Christmas.  During my childhood years and into my early teens, I developed certain “expectations” (see there’s that word again) surrounding these days. I would build them up in my mind for weeks prior to the actual event and the next thing I knew BAM it was over and I felt completely let down.  I’d often be awake most of the night before, imagining the events of the next day.

Then came one of my birthdays early in my teenage years where I had my most disappointing day ever.  Everyone forgot it.  I felt pretty devastated.  It was, in retrospect a rather illuminating experience.  I vowed that from that day forward I would do my best to simply forget my birthday.  If I did remember, I just assumed that everyone was going to forget and if they did – well, it was no big deal.  It was, after all, just another day.

Something rather strange happened.  In losing my expectations, I discovered that when things did happen on these (no longer) special days, they turned into delightful days.

I submit that it was my “expectations” which were the problem.

Mormonism is a belief system which creates “expectations.”  You are “expected” to live in a certain way, you are “expected” to do certain things, and you are taught to “expect” certain blessings for living up to these “expectations.”

Let me give you an idea of what I mean.  As a returned missionary marriage came with certain…well – expectations. First and foremost was the idea that I would, above all else live to a certain standard.  This standard included perfect church attendance, obedience to church rules, service, paying a full tithe, have a big family, provide for that family, maintain strict fidelity to my spouse, be the sole wage earner so that my wife could be a stay-at-home-mom, and attend the temple regularly.  I was expected to be the priesthood “authority” in my home.  My children would be baptized, confirmed, taught to be obedient (again, to the church), encouraged to serve missions and continue the Mormon circle of life.

The blessings are also something that is to be “expected,” right?  As it states in the D&C 130:20-21 –
20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

From the Mormon paradigm, these expectations seem to be…not only normal, but “right”… even “promised.”

Over the years, I discovered that these expectations also came with an enormous load of guilt, judgment, and condemnation.  Perfection wasn’t a goal, it was a necessity. Minor infractions were viewed as major sins. The necessity of perfection ruled in our lives. After all, “I God, cannot look upon sin with the LEAST degree of allowance.” D&C 1:31 and Alma 45:16

This is, in my humble opinion, what has given rise to the pharisaical culture of Mormonism.  I think it also the source of deep depression which seems to be so prevalent among the Saints.  As social animals, humans seem to be especially sensitive to the power of “expectation.”  Likely, it is occurs from the basic need for acceptance.

Mormonism teaches us some very egregious doctrines that enable “expectation” as a weapon against us.  In addition to the scriptures listed above, Mormonism also teaches that “The natural man is an enemy to God.”  The one thing that is consistent throughout these teachings is the basic idea that God has rejected us, and we must “earn” our way back into his presence.  Even in Christianity, one has to earn their way by “accepting Christ” at the very least.  Mormonism seems to take that considerably further with the idea that Christ’s sacrifice only offset’s Adam’s transgression (“By Adam, death came into the world, through Christ came the resurrection and eternal lives”) but “exaltation” requires us earning our way into the Celestial Kingdom.  This “rejection” by God becomes the foundational premise of which we must accept in order for religion to exert control over us.

To state this another way, expectations are a form of “conditional love.”  Love which is “conditional” isn’t love, it is the expression of manipulative power.