September 24, 2009

Protection or Confinement

Since my decision to leave the Church, I have struggled to find a healthy position to take relating to active members. While many have agreed to disagree, and others have vaporized me from existence in their minds, there are still those who choose to make this about something other than religion. I feel that I began with a very defensive stance, but recently I have come to a realization about active members who cannot tolerate intense discussion of the doctrines of the Church; they don't really have any other choice.

There is a large part of me that wants everyone to really examine the Church and deal with the hard truth about Joseph Smith and the controversial history and doctrines. One could say that I crave it. I think this is because I worry that so many millions of people have signed up for something that they do not really understand. So many are born into something that is near impossible to leave. In a very general sense, I feel that so many people in the Church are enslaved: stuck in a position that they might not necessarily want to be in if they knew what it really was. And the most difficult part is that they do not want to know what it really is; many of them want so badly for it to be what they believe it is that it does not and will never matter what it really is. We typically see what we want to see, and changing this habit is very difficult.

In many ways it is like being born in a cage, and your entire life being told that the cage is there for your protection. You are free to leave at any time, but leaving will cause you only pain, death, and ultimately damnation. We each hold the key to this cage at some point. We can choose to lock ourselves in, or let ourselves out. Many people lock the cage and throw the key far out of reach. That way, even if they felt tempted to get out of the cage someday, they are absolutely committed to it. Some step in and out of the cage, never really sure which they prefer. Some step out of the cage and realize that it was not for protection, but confinement.

I find that many members of the Church do not realize or care that they are in a cage. They like the cage and trust that it is there for their protection. They have made the cage comfortable for them; it is all they have ever known, and it truly is what they want. In that case, who am I to unlock it and shove them out for a breath of fresh air?

After slavery was finally abolished in the United States, many former slaves had no idea what to do with themselves. Many had no idea where to go, had no skills to work in anything other than what they had done as slaves. They had never had the responsibility of making their own decisions, so many found that being in charge of their own destiny was overwhelming. I wonder if it is similar religiously. Members are provided with what to believe for their spiritual well-being, and would not know how to provide for themselves if it weren't for their leaders' direction. Their chains and bars are comforting, for they know that it means someone is taking care of them.

But at some point, we all must decide if the chains and bars are there for keeping us safe, or keeping us from leaving and finding something better.

This blog is directed at those who wonder what the cage looks like from the outside. If you stumble onto this site and have no desire to know if the cage is really confining, I invite you to leave. If you truly want to know, I invite open and honest discussion and, most of all, sincere study and soul-searching.

September 18, 2009

The Family as a Weapon

One of the very clever pitfalls of the LDS church is the eternal family. Please do not misunderstand; I love the principle itself, but what I find disturbing is the lingering threat of the impending separation of the family, unless all principles of the LDS church are accepted.

What I mean is that the LDS missionaries make a wonderful promise to investigators - they can be with their families forever - but then they explain that for this wonderful promise to come to pass, investigators must do whatever the Church commands (see page 53 of Preach My Gospel). In other words, they indirectly threaten that one's family will be taken from him or her if one fails to accept their teachings. Few put it that way, but it is the inevitable consequence of the doctrine. And since announcing my decision to leave the Church, more than one person has told me that I will lose my family for following my conscience. If that is God's way, He is not a god I can worship.

Imagine a realtor showing you a house. It's absolutely beautiful from the outside. She lets you peek through the windows and see the yard from the sidewalk, and it looks fantastic. She tells you that if you buy the home, you and your family can live there forever. But if you don't buy the home or ever sell the home, you will have to live alone for the rest of your life. Every other dwelling in the world is a single bedroom apartment. Your wife and children will love you, but will never be able to live with you. If you want to be with them, this is the only option.

You'd buy the house, right? You'd move in and say, "Wow! Look at those vaulted ceilings! The kitchen is huge!" But what if you noticed the foundation was cracked? You can't sell the house, because then your family would never be able to live together. You would ignore the crack, patch it up superficially to make you feel better, etc., because the alternative is to lose your family forever.

So while the LDS church makes great promises about the family, it also very much uses the family as a weapon against questioning, rational thought, and the conscience. For a very concrete example in its history, consider this quote from Helen Mar Kimball:
I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it. (quoted in Van Wagoner, 1992, p. 81)
In other words, young Ms. Kimball was bullied into denying her conscience because of the lingering threat to her family. Joseph Smith might as well have said, "Marry me, or God will separate you from everyone you love forever!" He chose different words, but the message was the same.

Incidentally, I've never really understood what it actually means to be "sealed" to one's family. If I am sealed to my family, but my siblings are sealed to their spouses and children, and my children are sealed to their spouses and children, what does it mean to be with them forever? We all live in some massive celestial hotel, taking turns with each individual to whom we're sealed? Perhaps even more mind boggling for me is what does it mean exactly to not be sealed, and how is that different from sharing sealed family members with everyone else sealed to them? Do I never get to see those to whom I could have been sealed, but spend lots of time with people to whom I never wanted to be sealed?

Isn't it more likely that the eternal family, as the LDS church preaches, is just a very attractive way to lure people into something they do not understand and then keep them from leaving when they discover the truth behind it all?

Van Wagoner, R. S. (1992). Mormon polygamy: A history. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

September 12, 2009

Deal Breaker

It's no secret that the final straw in my decision to leave the LDS church was the doctrine of plural marriage (most of my posts surround it in some way). More specifically, it was the exact form of plural marriage as practiced by Joseph Smith that broke the back of the camel that was my trust in the Church and its leaders. Of all of the reasons to leave a religion, particularly the LDS church, many have wondered why that was the deal breaker.

The answer is that family is the most important thing in the world to me. My ultimate goal in this life is to raise a happy, healthy family, where my children grow up surrounded by love, my wife remains my best friend and I hers, and my children eventually grow to be productive, content members of society whose existence has benefited those around them.

Anything that hinders me from this goal is to be overcome. Plural marriage, especially as practiced by Joseph Smith, not only obstructs my goal, but stands in direct conflict with it. I cannot allow polygamy to have any place in my life, even the afterlife, if it directly contradicts what I hold most sacred. Hence, I am compelled to fully reject it and anything that advocates its practice and calls it righteous.

I cannot reconcile the practices of Smith, Young, Kimball, and others with what I feel and want for my wife and daughter. I refuse to let my daughter grow up believing that she does not have the God-given right to complete emotional and physical fidelity from her husband. I refuse to let her believe that she would not be entitled to the joy that comes from equal partnership between a husband and wife when both are fully dedicated to each other and the family above all else. I refuse to let her believe that God would frown upon her for defending her virtue (see D&C 132:54; and this example of "God" threatening a young girl and her entire family if she refused to marry Smith).

If God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (Alma 45:16; D&C 1:31), maybe the LDS church needs to stop trying to justify the evil doctrines and practices of its leaders. Either (a) the family is the central unit in God's plan (source), or (b) polygamy is an eternal principle, marrying other men's wives is righteousness, and coercing 14-year-olds into marriage with men 3 times their age is justifiable. As far as I can tell, these two are incompatible.

And I have chosen my family.

September 7, 2009

On Milk and Meat

A classic response to each of my concerns about the Church's leaders and doctrine is that the answers are so far beyond our capability of understanding at this point, that... well, I'm not sure exactly. Will my brain explode if I hear the ultimate answer? That's never been very clear to me; why am I incapable of understanding principles of plural marriage, why God commanded The Bretheren to deny priesthood blessings to people of African descent, etc.? D&C 19:22 states that I would perish if I knew the answers. So does that mean I am wrong to ask? I shouldn't wonder about these things?

A phrase often used is that milk comes before meat (see 1 Cor. 3:2; Hebrews 5:12). I like this metaphor because it applies to so much. To understand complicated things, one must first understand the building blocks and fundamentals. In an introductory statistics class, one does not start out with multiple regression; it begins with some vocabulary and a few t-tests. Even before that, algebra is required: before that, simple math.

I suppose the red flag with the Church is that nobody seems to know. You don't get to the meat in this life. Whereas in that statistics class they tell you what week you're going to learn about multiple regression (it's printed right there on the syllabus, and if you have some pressing questions, you can read books on it or sit down with the professor until it slowly begins to make sense), in the Church, not even the prophet himself has answers (source). Members and investigators are never told by teachers and leaders that there was even a problem so complex that no one on Earth knows the answer. I suppose it's possible that Thomas Monson knows the answer now, but can't tell anyone else because it would blow our minds. I say, "Try me." If I perish because I know why God denied blessings to people based on skin color, I'll perish. If the alternative is to blindly accept such a huge flaw, I'll risk my life. But it seems to me that it would go the other way. If I understood why God would do such a thing and it would be justified, I think a whole lot of other things would fall into place with my understanding.

So how much milk does a person have to suck down before realizing that the meat probably isn't coming?

September 1, 2009

Division of Principles

There is an excellent article in this month's Ensign, with which I whole-heartedly agree. In fact, I actually sat down with the author a few years ago in his office on BYU campus and had a wonderful discussion. He is a man I very much respect and admire.

The article is on complete fidelity in marriage, including aversion of what he terms "spiritual infidelity": something one can commit as easily as thinking about a person of the opposite sex (who is not your spouse) for amounts of time that seem inappropriate. Or, for example, if I were to find myself dressing nicer on days where I knew I would spend more time near an attractive classmate or coworker, or looking for excuses to speak to her, that is probably not quite playing with fire, but it's getting the matches and fuel together.

Dr. Matheson's point, as I understand it, is that a healthy marriage exists when a person gives his entire heart to his spouse: not dishing out little bits to others too, or reserving pieces to give out later. By definition, one cannot love his spouse exclusively, while at the same time having similar feelings for another.

I think it's great advice. Once a man starts unconsciously courting other women, it's a very short step to consciously cheating on his spouse.

Now, what I'm confused about is how this excellent advice fits into the eternal, celestial law of plural wives.

I suppose that if Zina Diantha Huntington were right, it could work.
She said a successful polygamous wife “must regard her husband with indifference, and wits no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy” (quoted in Compton, 2001, p. 108).
So if the purpose of plurality of wives were simply to produce children, maybe the husband could be spiritually faithful to only one wife. Seems awfully cruel to the other wives, though, to just be impregnated repeatedly by a man who is little more than a reverent acquaintance. Maybe I'm just a romantic and God isn't.

But this draws my attention to the problem of Joseph Smith producing no children from his plural wives (some sources suggest he may have fathered 3 at most; see Embry, 2007). What confusing doctrine! If complete spiritual fidelity and polygamy are compatible, please enlighten me as to how.

Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.
Embry, J. L. (2007). Setting the record straight: Mormons and polygamy. Orem, UT: Millennial Press, Inc.