Religious Blinders

I love the iconic Stephen Spielberg helmed science fiction film, Minority Report. The concept of a cop whose job is to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes, and then has to go on the run when his name comes up as a future killer is fascinating.

While trying to understand how he could have been identified as someone who is about to commit a murder by the pre-crime program John Anderton has used to put away hundreds of dangerous men, he seeks out Iris Hineman, the woman who helped create Pre-Crime. In what turns out to be a very insightful conversation, Iris tells Detective Anderton that she is the mother of Pre-Crime and Anderton’s supervisor is the father of the program. She then notes that most parents see their children the way they want to see them and not as they really are.

I would argue that people see anything they love the way they want to see it and not as those things really are. More on that in a moment – I’m going to discuss something very personal for a while and come back to it.

I have six siblings and I’m the second oldest. Unfortunately, most of my siblings hated each other and our treatment of each other could be downright cruel. My parents were so focused on themselves and on church responsibilities that they never put any real effort into resolving our issues with each other, instead choosing to side with whichever of us they liked best, causing us to become even more vicious with our vindictive and hateful behavior.

I only had two siblings who I really got along with. A younger sister and my brother, Caleb.1 Caleb and I always had identical interests. Like me, he loved science fiction and fantasy. He enjoyed the same activities – from swimming to playing board games, just about everything he liked, I liked. I liked Caleb enough that I invited him to live with my wife and me after he graduated from high school because there were better jobs in the city I was living in.

Then Caleb went on his mission and things changed. After he got back, he started spending less time around us and, after we left the LDS church, he began avoiding us entirely. However, he always seemed to be willing to spend time with our son, Adam. We couldn’t tell what we had done to offend him, but we were glad, at least that he didn’t take it out on our son.

And then we began to notice weird things. Caleb had two girlfriends over the course of seven years and seemed intent on pushing both of them away from the time he started dating them to the time he dumped them. He insisted that he would never kiss a girl until he was engaged, he would keep his distance from them when they were on dates, and he even dumped one of them a few weeks before her senior prom. The other one complained that he actively avoided her and used his religion to justify it. He took it so far that when she invited him over to watch a movie when no one else was home and he recommended that she spend the time reading the Book of Mormon since she was setting up a situation that could tempt them to sin.

After his last girlfriend, he went 5 years without dating anyone. Considering how actively he avoided women and other things like his mannerisms, his love of broadway, and a number of other things that are bad stereotypes for homosexual men, we began to suspect he was actually gay. At first we dismissed the idea, because we were Mormon and didn’t want Caleb to be gay but then, after we left the church and began to understand that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, we began to accept that it was probably true.

The idea was partially confirmed when we invited Caleb to accompany us on a trip to a water park in a town several hours away. While we were waiting in line for one of the rides, a group of boys got queued up behind us. Caleb, whose head hadn’t been turned by any of the beautiful young women at the park (he hadn’t so much as given a glance toward them), began chatting up the boys. His normally uptight posture relaxed, he leaned toward them, and his tone was extremely friendly. He was clearly flirting with them.

I definitely didn’t miss the flirtation. For someone who claimed to know that the church was true as fervently was Caleb did, such blatant forwardness with people of the same gender was odd enough, but even worse was the fact the oldest of the boys was only probably fifteen or sixteen. But I figured that maybe Caleb thought the kid was eighteen. However, the youngest was only eleven and my brother seemed to be way more interested in him than any of the other kids in the group. It really didn’t sit well with me at all, but I figured that Caleb was probably trying to impress the oldest boy by being nice to his younger brother.

On the drive home that night, we had a discussion with Caleb about why we left the church and he bore strong testimony to us that he knew the church was true and that he had had a sacred experience in the temple that proved it. I couldn’t help but think that his testimony didn’t stop him from flirting with young boys. I continued to convince myself that his interest in the boys had been because he thought the oldest was older and his extra interest in the youngest was just being friendly to impress the oldest boy by being nice to his little brother.

Then Caleb went back to BYU, where he had just changed his major from business to teaching. Christmas came around and he flew back for the holidays, during which time he volunteered to spend more time around Adam, even though he continued to avoid hanging out with my wife and me. Then my wife found a picture of Caleb and Adam together under a blanket. Even though I thought it was a little bit odd that they would spend time under a blanket, it just seemed like normal roughhousing to me, so I dismissed it, but my wife was bothered by the picture and suggested that we ask our son if his uncle had touched him inappropriately.

Adam told us that Caleb had put his hand on his crotch earlier that summer. We asked more questions about it and it just sounded like it had been an accident. They were in public view where anyone could have seen them, it was over the clothing, his hand wasn’t moving, he wasn’t looking at Adam, and he didn’t ask Adam to keep it a secret. It was very suspicious, but I couldn’t imagine that Caleb would deliberately do anything like that to Adam, so we gave Adam instructions not to sit close to Caleb anymore and to call us immediately if anything like that ever happened again.

Even though we were cautious about letting Adam go near Caleb again, I continued to believe it was an accident. I just couldn’t see Caleb doing that on purpose.

And then, six weeks ago, my parents informed me that Caleb had been arrested for sodomizing young boys. I was shocked. Not by the fact that Caleb might be attracted to kids, but by the idea that he could be so selfish as to damage young children for his own pleasure. By this time, we had forgotten about the hand on the crotch incident, but we asked Adam if Caleb had ever touched him inappropriately and he reminded us of it.

And despite all of the evidence in front of me, I continued to believe that it could have been an accident. However, we felt that we should contact the police and have them determine if it was likely that the hand over the clothed crotch had criminal intent. In speaking to them, they made it clear to us that Caleb’s preferred technique of grooming children for molestation involved putting his hand on boy’s genitals over the clothes, seeing if they reacted, then moving forward from there if they didn’t. Caleb had started grooming Adam to be sodomized.

Chances are that you’re reading this wondering how I could have been so stupid as to not see red flags everywhere after the waterpark and especially after Caleb put his hand on Adam’s crotch. I would like to bring you back to the discussion of Minority Report: people tend to see people they love as they want to see them, not as they really are. I loved Caleb. I saw what I wanted to see.

If I’m being honest, I had no reason to be shocked that Caleb had molested young boys. I had ample reason to suspect the attraction but, more importantly, I knew just how narcissistic Caleb could be. As much as I loved him, I knew that Caleb’s first and only love was himself. He was still holding grudges over minor things that had happened fifteen years ago. He had a habit of using people, then avoiding them like the plague. We had gone out of our way to try to help him on several occasions and he had thanked us by lying to other family members about the help we offered – to make us look bad after we had tried to be kind. He even went so far as to move to another state and send everyone an email after telling us that he had moved and had no plans on staying in touch.

Caleb was just a nasty piece of work and I knew it. Because he had once been my closest friend, I tried to convince myself that he was still a good person. I forgave all of his rude behaviors and deluded myself into believing that if I tried to be kind and supportive, he would eventually be my friend again. It was never going to happen. I saw clear evidence on several occasions that he was attracted to children. But because I loved him, I wouldn’t admit to myself that he was a pedophile and I fully rejected the notion that he could ever harm a child. Even after he had been arrested for child rape, I still clung to the belief that he hadn’t deliberately sexually assaulted my son. Because I loved him and I saw what I wanted to see, rather than the truth.

If you feel inclined to judge me, I fully understand. I won’t claim that I was anything but dangerously stupid and wrong. I know that my insistence on believing what I wanted to believe instead of what the facts clearly indicated played a role in children getting hurt. And I’m going to have to live with that.

What’s worse is that this isn’t the first time I allowed something viciously dangerous to hurt others because I loved it. When I was Mormon, I fully understood that the church was harmful and yet I refused to admit it to myself. I saw five people who were close to me driven to seriously contemplating suicide because they failed to live up to the church’s standards. One of them successfully went through with it.

I knew that there was no way that the true gospel of a God of love could make people feel so inadequate that they would want to kill themselves, but I continued to believe and defend the church because I loved it.

I saw others miss their children growing up because of callings. I knew that no church that was run by God and put so much emphasis on family could ever allow that to happen, but I pretended that it wasn’t really a problem because I loved the church and I saw it the way I wanted to see it, not the way it really was.

I saw bullies and cruel people put into positions of power and abuse their power over others. I saw countless people rely on emotions that they believed were the Holy Ghost for making decisions and I saw them make bad decision after bad decision. I saw families broken apart by people leaving the church, I saw people disowned by their parents for not serving missions, and I saw bigotry instilled into the hearts of many by the church and, even though I knew that if the leader of the church really received inspiration from God, he would put an end to such horrifying practices, they went unchallenged. Despite the clear lack of leadership from God and the pain it was causing so many people, I continued to insist the church was true because I saw what I wanted in the church because I loved it.

Long before reaching this point in the blog entry, many Mormons have already begun working on their justifications for clear problems in their supposedly inspired religion. They might ignore the fact that an omniscient god would be able to present His expectations of people in a way that doesn’t destroy their self worth and say:

“Those people weren’t drive to suicide or the brink of suicide by the church’s teachings, they were clearly mired in sin and sin leads to dark thoughts and dark actions.”

They may say that bishops and stake presidents who neglect their families don’t understand how to prioritize, despite knowing that those people are put in an impossible situation. They will invariably respond to the other problems by trying to claim that the church is perfect but the members aren’t, despite the fact that if their god were really omniscient, he would see the problems in LDS culture and tell his prophet how to put an end to those problems.

Those people love the church. They see it how they want to see it, not how it really is. And by pretending that the problems don’t exist or aren’t serious, they help to hurt other people. And what’s worse is that many of these people not only ignore the way the church abuses, they either blame the abused or actively take part in the abuse. I’ll never get through to those people, but hopefully someone who out there will read this and stop being part of the abuse cycle.

If you aren’t actively speaking out against it, you are part of the problem. And many people end up with just as many emotional problems from abuses in the church as victims of sexual abuse end up with. If you don’t believe me, go ask any of the homeless gay youth in Salt Lake City. Check the suicide rates of homosexual youths in Utah. Look up the depression medication rate in Utah. You can either stop turning a blind eye to the destruction that Mormonism wreaks on its followers or you are just as responsible for the next gay kid who kills himself as I am for the kids my brother sodomized.
blinders-on carrotPlease learn from my mistake, if you are not willing to take off your blinders and see the truth, others may get hurt because of your negligence. What does your conscious tell you to do? Can you let go of something you love to do the right thing? Letting go of what you wish for to do what is right is not ever easy, but it is right. And deep down you already know it.

honest man

 

  1.  Names and some identifying details have been changed to protect privacy of others involved. Although my brother deserves to have his name and his crimes made well known to anyone he may ever come in contact with, if his name is made public, it will make it clear who my son is and my son deserves privacy on this issue.

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