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The following letter appeared on Craigslist in March of 2009. It captures the reasons why leaving the Church is so painful. 

 

Dear Elder (Name):

As one who suffers from within, I write this letter to inform you of the magnitude of a growing problem. I am fully active, fully worthy, and fully apostate. I remain active solely for the sake of immediate and extended family unity, and to preserve my marriage. The fact that I cannot act upon my knowledge about fraudulent church history and doctrine has created a considerable dilemma for both the church and myself. The church is filled with people like me, and if you do not address this dilemma, the church will collapse from within. This letter, therefore, is an appeal for your consideration of my personal dilemma, and to serve as a witness against you if you fail to act.

I am writing this letter anonymously because I fear the power of your unrighteous dominion. It is not acceptable for you to claim that you personally would not wish for those like me to suffer or fear. The “Strengthening Church Members Committee” has proven its reach in the true style of “1984 Thought-Crime” investigations and “Ministry (councils) of Love” discipline. Yes, I fear you, I loath your tactics and I forcibly serve you. If you doubt my claim of forced servitude, then you would be wise to withhold your assessment until the end of this letter. I am writing with the futile hope that you (or anyone) will care enough to resolve this growing and unavoidable tragedy within the church; the tragedy of those who know the truth and cannot act upon it without destroying their families.

I come from 1837-convert lineage. I grew up in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico; I was hyper-valiant in my youth; I completed reading the full set of scriptures by the age of 16; I had all the missionary discussions and missionary scriptures memorized before even getting my call to serve; I served a very successful mission in Mexico; I attended BYU; I married in the temple; I served in four different bishoprics, high council, stake executive secretary, gospel doctrine instructor, young men’s president, high priest group leader, and various other callings; I was a student of the gospel, and was known for my answers to difficult historical and doctrinal questions; I have attended the temple more than 800 times, and virtually have the whole thing (all ordinances) memorized; I am a set-apart ordinance worker; I am currently serving in three ward and stake callings; IN OTHER WORDS: I deserve your respect, and am not engaged in any unworthy activity, so before you categorize me into some convenient slot, think again.

I have five children, two returned-missionary-temple-married, one attending BYU, and two active in the youth program. My wife and I have lived our nearly 25 years of marriage completely united in our commitment to a gospel oriented home. My wife is one of the most valiant, unquestioning, devoted members you will ever meet. Our happiness in marriage was centered in the gospel. We have faithfully performed all of the home-strengthening practices (FHE, daily prayer and scripture study, etc) throughout our married years. Our children are strong in the church because we as parents gave them that foundation. We are your typical success story.

This changed approximately two years ago. The story about how it changed is long, complicated, and spans years of personal study, personal observation, and experience. Rather than rehearse the entire journey, I will only summarize the end results. Suffice it to say that I have discovered reliable unchallenged facts about church history, church operations, church doctrine, and church culture that have brought me to the undeniable conclusion that the church is not true. Not only is the church not true (meaning that it is not what it claims to be), but the church purposefully withholds (even denies) vital information that would lead ANY thinking person to the same conclusion. Finally, church leaders even boast about the moral and ethical justification for acting this way. This is the behavior pattern of a cult; it is inconsistent with the church’s own articles of faith; and it is the central reason for the growing groundswell of revolt from within. To ignore this fact is the height of arrogance. You are either stupid or you are devious; whichever you choose, you lose.

I have a feeling (since I cannot imagine a different possibility) that you already know about this problem. You already know that the church is not what it claims to be; you already know that Native Americans are not the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon; you already know that the whole story of the BOM is not accurate or historical or even a translation of gold plates; you already know that the Book of Abraham is not a translation of the papyri that it claims to be; you already know that the first vision account is not reliable or accurate; you already know that church history is a warped version of real history and real history paints a pretty bleak picture of church origins and behavior; you already know that spiritual “special witness” experiences are not what the average member believes them to be; and you already know that as prophets, seers, and revelators, you do not possess any such gifts as they are understood by the average member. You receive and even encourage unqualified trust in your special abilities, and you know very well that those abilities are not special at all. You may be talented administrators, but you are not prophets, seers, and revelators, and you know it. Yet you allow members to revere and honor you as such. You are either self-deceived or you are willing deceivers. You know that members believe and teach that you have had personal physical visitations from Jesus Christ, and you know that you have not had this experience. Yet, you are willing to allow members to perpetuate this myth for unknown but unavoidably dishonest reasons. This is a pattern, not an anomaly. You know you are not what you claim to be (or what church culture teaches about you); and you allow this false perception to continue. What does that say about you and your integrity?

So, after coming to this awful realization that things are not what they claim to be within the church, what are my options? This journey was so disruptive and internally tumultuous that I chose to travel it alone. I was absolutely certain that there were solid faith sustaining answers to each disturbing fact. Finally, after I had absorbed the magnitude of the truth, I tried to share it with my wife. To her horror, she saw that her husband had gone into the unthinkable realm of “apostasy”. At first, she resented me for even looking; then she denied the possibility that any of it could be true; then she tried to stand on the shaky ground that even if it was true it did not lead to the conclusions I had made; finally, she clings to the defensive posture that I cannot be smarter than you (how can so many good men be wrong and her imperfect husband be right?). This is where you come into the picture. This is where the church comes between me and my wife in our marriage relationship. This is where the damage is done in countless other relationships. Do you think that you can escape responsibility for this damage? Do you doubt your complicity in creating this wedge? Can you understand how people like me come to a point of powerless resentment against the church? I suspect that you cannot understand such things, because if you did you would use your influence to make necessary changes.

There is nothing more ironic than the saying that “A man can leave the church, but he can never leave it alone.” The truth is that “A man can leave the church but only if he leaves ‘alone’”, or “A man can leave the church but the church can never leave him alone.” You would gladly split up my family rather than allow my knowledge to draw them away from the church. You have proven such intent in both policy and practice.

I am trapped in the church; of that there can be no doubt. And yet I perceive that you do indeed doubt such an idea. It seems foreign to you that I would claim to be trapped in an institution that glorifies agency. But surely you can see the cultural elements (which you support) that limit my options. Extended family relationships are high-pressure control mechanisms. My leaving the church for doctrinal or historical reasons would have a devastating and disruptive impact on the entire family network. You glorify those who leave their families to join our church and at the same time you demonize those who would leave the church for whatever reason. You stereotype those who obtain damaging “truth” as intellectuals and apostates. You encourage an atmosphere of exclusion against those who have information that would damage faith, even when that faith is founded upon false data.

Your efforts of withholding and denying truth have had the result of destroying personal integrity. I know things that I cannot openly speak about, even with those closest to me. I lie in temple recommend interviews so I can go to the temple to see my own children get married, and because my wife is comforted by the image of a temple worthy husband. I lie to my children when they question an aspect of church history or doctrine, because the truth would place them in the same pressure cooker I am in. I lie to my wife because she finds the truth so disturbing. I lie because telling the truth is more painful than a comforting lie. And I learned to lie from you. You are lying to the membership by your silence (and denial) regarding information that is vital to faith. People base their faith on incorrect information; you know this; and you remain silent. You lie for the same reason that I lie; because people prefer a comforting lie over a disturbing truth. I am trapped here because of the culture you have created, and I am reduced to using the same tactics you use at the expense of personal integrity.

Your understanding of the culture you created and perpetuate through established programs is dismal. You preach adherence to the guidance of the brethren; you promise blessings for obedience to programs and leaders; you build a structure of dependence and hierarchical authoritarianism; you inculcate an environment of conformance without regard to individuality; and you do all of this with the stated intent of blessing and improving lives, relationships and family bonds. Your programs have evolved into a culture with the opposite effect than the one you intended; members feel constantly inadequate regardless of their effort; families pressure struggling children with bad advice that comes from your talks and books; you raise the bar, a blatant slap in the face to those who do not fit within your misguided program. Programs flounder not because of poor execution but because they are poor programs. When such negative results reach your ears, you are saddened that the poor members just do not see the vision; that they cannot learn the vital lessons. It never occurs to you that your inspiration and leadership is the flawed element. Either you are uninspired or uninformed, but your leadership is causing more suffering than blessings. But this is not really about bad programs. Rather, it is about faulty foundations. I do not expect you to acknowledge that the church is not what it claims to be, but I demand that you acknowledge your part in the failures. Stop blaming failure on the members. It is cheap and dishonest.

So, I am angry to the point of despair. I do not expect you to do anything with this information, except try to track me down and deal with me through your secret “committees”. I would resign today if I thought my family could remain intact. But I will continue to coax my family closer to the truth with longsuffering and gentle persuasion, and when they can see the real story without demonizing their father, son, and husband, then I will relish our departure and be rid of you and your unrighteous dominion. Someday I will not be so afraid of your influence, and I will confront your abuse of power directly.

Your success is over. You had a small window of opportunity to be forthcoming and open, and you have missed it. History is against you. Science is against you. TRUTH is against you. As you become more closed and protective, you will appear more ridiculous from the outside. Even though you will probably interpret this result to be “prophecy fulfilled,” the result will be the same. Enjoy your last breath of illusory comfort, because it will not last.

I am not alone. I am part of a growing community of knowledgeable members who will not be silenced for long. You have no idea how to deal with us because you fear our power. You fear it because you know that truth is on our side. I would feel pity for you except for the inexpiable arrogance that you currently display without remorse. The law of the harvest will be your undoing. You have sown seeds of benevolent deception; you shall reap a harvest of faithful rebellion..

Disrespectfully:

Faithful Apostate

I came across an article, “The Art of Endings”, today by psychologist and bestselling author, Dr. Henry Cloud. The following are excerpts from the article:

“In both the personal and professional life, there are times when reality dictates that a person must stand up and ‘end’ something. Either it’s time has passed, it’s season is over, or worse, continuing it would be destructive in some way.”

“But too many times, with clear evidence staring them in the face, people find it difficult to pull the trigger. Why is that?

“The reasons are varied, but understandable, especially in light of developmental psychology, our understanding of trauma, and cognitive mapping. Some people’s developmental path has not equipped them to stand up and let go of something. For example, if they did not develop what psychologists refer to as secure attachment or emotional object constancy, the separation and loss that ending a relationship triggers for them is too much, so they avoid it. In addition, in their development they may not have been taught the skills to confront situations like these.

“Or, if they have had traumatic losses in life, another ending represents a replay of those, and they shy away or frantically try to mend whatever is wrong, way past reason. Or they have internal maps that tell them that ending something is ‘mean’ or will cause someone harm. In any case, fears dominate their functioning, and they find themselves unable to do a ‘necessary ending.'”

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/t…

I left cultic Mormonism in 1992, a VERY needful personal ending, considering that the LDS Church had, from early childhood to adulthood, systematically abused not only my naïveté and trust, but also my mind and emotional ‘soul’ with its myriad of fear-, guilt- and shame-inducing ‘true’ doctrines and teachings (i.e., religious nonsense). Tragically, it’s done the same with millions of people since 1830. Thankfully, in the past 17 years of the Internet 100’s of 1,000’s people have ended their membership in the patriarchal/abusive Mormon Church and gone on to create healthy and happy lives.

Perhaps more difficult, many individuals have been married to a TBM or had parents, siblings or friends who refused to look at the mountain of facts that prove that Mormonism is a fraud. Pulling away from or ending relationships with psychologically dysfunctional and emotionally immature people (who refuse to grow up) is another important part of life that we should not avoid.

Dr. Cloud’s article is worth reading, IMO.

An excellent post which I originally came across during my exit from the church. Helped me put Mormon culture, and its hold on me, into perspective. This article was the beginning of learning how to be my true, authentic self. That began with recognizing the mask and prying it off my face, and oh, the peace that followed!The Mormon Mask
By Bob McCue

For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”—Machiavelli

Introduction

Joseph Campbell used a mask metaphor, which he borrowed from Yeats, to elucidate the often-difficult relationship between the individual and his social group. Campbell’s ideas helped me to understand a number of important things about my experience as a faithful Mormon, which lasted until my mid-40s. Much of what follows is summarized from an essay titled “Out of My Faith” that can be found at the website listed in the “About the Author” information accessed at the link above.

The Primary and Antithetical Masks

As we grow up in a society it puts a mask on us that Yeats called the “primary mask”. In some societies we are allowed to choose (to an extent at least) our primary mask. In other cases, such as within the Hindu caste system, there is little choice.

The primary mask is designed to teach us our role and so connect us to our group and make us useful within it. The primary mask is critical from society’s point of view. Without a workable set of such masks, chaos would reign. The primary mask also has some benefits for the individual as well since we all have to start somewhere.

As we mature, there comes a time when it is healthy for many of us to reshape our masks, and in some cases, cast them aside. Yeats calls this process the creation of the “antithetical” mask. The antithetical mask represents what wells up from within us. This is not necessarily the “real us” since it seems to be largely a product of our environment. But, it is fair to say that the antithetical mask shows much more of “us” and less of our social condition than does our primary mask.

The antithetical mask often enables our most creative, forceful contribution to life. Some people feel that this is the “best” we have within us, but since the antithetical mask is also heavily influence by our environment, and “best” is one of those terms that means different things to different folks, I do not hold this view. I do, however, regard the creation of the antithetical mask in most cases as an important and useful developmental step for both the individual in question and the social group of which she is part.

After our antithetical mask has been formed, we may identify wholly with it or we may continue to wear the primary mask to an extent, recognizing it as such, and revert to the antithetical mask as often as we can. Or, we may develop a range of masks and wear them each on occasion. How we do this, the extent to which we do it, etc. is determined by our individual characteristics and the nature of our group. For example, some scholars have observed that the more structured a society, the more chameleon-like behaviour is observed. That is, in authoritarian societies individuals tend to wear many different masks (See, for example, Richard Nisbett “The Geography of Thought”), each dictated by the different roles their society calls upon them to play from time to time (boss, subordinate, son, grandson, father, husband, friend, etc.) and are much less likely to experience the radical transformation from one state to another of which Yeats spoke to his largely Western audience.

The creation of the antithetical mask causes tension within the group. It makes others uncomfortable because it is not expected. And it threatens those who govern the group because it could weaken their authority. And after all, the primary mask was the group’s idea of what is “good”, “necessary”, etc. The usual response of those in authority, and many group members, when they find a primary mask in the process of being discarded is to fear that if such behaviour spreads, chaos will reign. In Mormon circles, for example, this view is expressed as a concern that those who leave Mormonism will fall into promiscuous sexual behaviour, drug addiction, etc.

Campbell talks about many who “fight through” this process, “for good or ill”. I perceived much of my experience in this regard to be a fight. However, I now understand that this is not as it must be. Once we place this most personal of evolutions in context, we can understand it as a necessary, healthy part of our development. And the tension it creates within our society, family etc. can itself be a healthy part of the developmental process for most involved in it.

The Formation of the Antithetical Mask
– An Important Font of Creativity

Youth is the time during which the primary mask is fashioned and placed on us. As we reach adulthood and become independent beings, we have the chance to create our own antithetical mask. The use of this mask – or playing the role we cast for ourselves as we form this mask – is what should power the most creative, wonderful and useful (as we define that term) part of our lives: middle age.

The exploratory, risk-taking orientation of the antithetical mask is what gives it creative force. This is one of the reasons for which so much scientific knowledge has accumulated in the West as compared to elsewhere. The formation of the antithetical mask causes people to reach beyond themselves and what their primary mask has taught them. As they venture into the “dark forest” – the primary, chaotic, motif of the Arthurian legends – to make their antithetical mask, they find much that they would not have otherwise encountered. The human instinct for pattern finding and figuring out whatever puzzles us then leads to the formation of new ideas, technologies, etc.

From the primordial brew into which one generation of Western man after another is thrown to make his antithetical mask, have come most of the ideas that now power our world. Such creativity is not as likely in a more static society where we are told what we are, and are subjected to a great deal of pressure not to step outside that prescribed state. This may explain much of the difference between the degree of creative power found in the modern East and West, as well as the relative dearth of Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes awarded to Mormons and members of other similarly conservative groups (See John and Kirsten Rector, “What is the Challenge for LDS Scholars and Artists”, Dialogue, Vol. 36, No. 2, Summer 2003).

Another way to think of the antithetical mask is as a metaphor for the use of the scientific method paradigm in our lives. It requires that we remain open to change and improvement for as long as possible. As Richard Feynman put it (See “What is Science?” in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out – The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman” at page 188), the trick is to balance respect and disrespect for the past. We should be grateful for the knowledge our elders have passed down to us, but not permit ourselves to be unquestioningly bound by it. We continue to journey on the same road they travelled.

Individuation

The creation of the antithetical mask can also be thought of as a basic aspect of the individuation process. Current cultural trends in the democratic west, as shown for example by the University of Michigan’s World Value Survey, indicate that the movement toward early and more complete individuation is strengthening. This bodes well for individuals and creativity, and poorly for authoritarian institutions that tend to control their memberships.

This trend is fuelled by abundant, readily accessible information about other cultures. Interesting, in his classic novel with respect to the functioning of ideological society 1984, George Orwell indicated that restriction of information with respect to the reality of other cultures is essential to keeping the masses under control (See the later portions of chapter 9 in part 3; the relevant portions of the text can be accessed by searching the terms “the masses never revolt” and “he must be cut off” using the search function on this website; or see pages 216 and 221, 222 in the Penguin Books edition of 1984). As is the case with most trends, more individuation should be expected to bring an assortment of good and ill. I expect the balance in this regard to tip in favour of the good.

A rough measure of individuation within any group is the range of behaviours accepted by the group. Compare, for example, the range of behaviour in a typical Mormon congregation in Provo, and a typical group of a similar size in a Greenwich Village artists’ co-op. The control a particular group exercises over its individual members can be placed on a spectrum through an exercise of this nature. Conservative Hindu culture, for example, would be near the extreme of non-individuation. The permissive fringe of Western culture would at the other extreme.

More individuation is not necessarily good. In some cases it can result in chaos. Whether more individuation or more conformity is “good” should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and will depend on how “good” is defined.

Within the relatively individuation oriented Western culture, many sub-cultures exist. The so-called “conservative” religious groups would be toward the non-individuating end of Western culture, and proud of it. This is where we find Mormonism. As noted in greater detail below, Mormons have “standards” relative to family size, sexual roles, and a host of other things. For this reason, feminists, gays and a variety of others do not fit well into the Mormon system. However, when compared to the Fundamentalist Mormons (for example), the Old Older Amish, the Hutterites, and many other more hardcore cults, Mormons seem easy going in terms of how vigorously they apply the primary mask and resist its removal or alternation.

The Reassertion of the Primary Mask

As already noted, the creation of the antithetical mask is what drives change and allows as much of our selves as possible to engage the world around us. This requires a lot of energy. And the greater the difference between the antithetical mask and the demands society makes upon us, the harder this is. For example, it would have been much more difficult to be a homosexual activist in 1960 than it is now.

During periods of life when energy is scarce (such as during ill health or old age) the primary mask begins to reassert itself in some ways. This might be as subtle as a slowing of change or growth. Or it might be a reversion to the “old”, “safe” way of doing things.

One of the ironies of the cycle involved in the creation of generation after generation of antithetical masks is that some people who created wonderful masks of their own when young and then reach the stage of life at which energy is no longer available for that creative process, begin to resist the changes others attempt to make. That is, an antithetical mask on one person can harden into a new primary mask to be placed on others. And then the process commences anew.

Robert Sapolsky nicely illustrates the process by which the primary mask reasserts itself (See the essay titled “The Dissolution of Ego Boundaries and the Fit of My Father’s Shirt” at page 227 in “The Trouble with Testosterone and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament”). He is a respected biologist, teacher and author, as well as an avowed atheist who prides himself on the manner in which he trains young scientific minds at Stanford to don their antithetical masks as he once did his. But as the end of his career approaches, he notes:

I can still do without religion, but some ritual would be nice. [He then lists a number of his age induced mental and physical disabilities] It slowly dawns on me that my ego-bounded self is not such a hot deal anymore.

A tribal mindset cannot be retained; we cannot turn back. It can only come as an echo, a hint in our armoured individuated world that a bit of confusion as to ego boundaries can be an act of health, of homage and love, and can be a whisper of what it feels like to be swaddled in continuity.

So while Sapolsky feels the allure of his primary mask during life’s twilight as his energies decline, he resists it.

As we enter our latter stages of life, our passions do not burn as brightly. We prepare to fade into the night. If we have experienced the “second birth” that occurs as we create our antithetical masks, this physical decline can be experienced with a bemused detachment, and the fruits of being our new selves can continue to be enjoyed, although perhaps not much additional new fruit will be created. Campbell, using another metaphor borrowed from Yeats, refers to the second birth as a leaping from the moon to the sun at that point in the lunar cycle – mid-life – when they both appear at the same time on opposite horizons. This means that the individual has become a creative source within society instead of a reflector of societal values produced elsewhere. As Campbell puts it, light is more important than bulbs; power is more important than the vehicle it drives. Those who perceive themselves as essentially part of the power source are more tolerant of their vehicle’s gradual decay.

We Cannot See Our Own Masks

The nature of a mask is such that he who wears it cannot see it without the help of a friend, mirror or some other device. Hence, until we understand that we are wearing a mask, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that we are our role – the mask is us. This is largely because of the forces of fear and desire. The cognitive dissonance literature describes the many mental mechanisms by which fear and desire interfere with our ability to see things as they are (See “Religious Faith: Enlightening or Blinding?” at my website). For example, it has been shown that the more uncertain the data related to a decision is and the more important the decision, the more likely we are to believe that the right thing to do is whatever the group of which we are a part has decided on that point. Decisions concerning religious belief are classic examples of this. Hence, faithful Mormons will tend to believe the dominant voices in their group that urge them not to attempt to change, or even disturb, their primary masks.

This is one of life’s central ironies. In our most important decisions, our own judgement and that of those closest to us is often the weakest. That is why medical doctors are advised not to treat themselves or their own children. For the same reason, we are wise to rely upon outsiders to the extent we are able when making our most important and emotionally charged decisions. That does not mean allowing them to make our decisions for us, but rather using the perspective of others to get outside our own heads to the extent possible. And we should of course use others in this regard whose judgement we have reason to respect. That is one of the basic differences between democracy or representative government and other more centralized forms of government – in a democracy, the judgement of the one (the king, the dictator, the prophet) is not to be trusted no matter how honourable or capable she may appear. This practise is the result of humanity’s long experience with the corrupting influence of power on individuals and small groups of people who wield it. Orwell’s comments in this regard, in the general vicinity of the quotes provided above, are enlightening.

There is little in life that is more important than decisions related to how we will deal with the removal of our primary masks, and the formation of our antithetical masks. But practically speaking, who can be trusted to help us make such a decision? To be sure, those who want the primary masks to remain firmly attached will vilify all who would counsel their alternation or worse yet, removal. And those who love us most have the same objectivity problem we have.

It is my view that those best equipped to provide us with perspective in most respects are the scientists who study the relevant phenomena. They will help us to see how things work and how we can use them to accomplish our chosen objectives, but they should not be relied upon to answer questions of essential meaning – the “whys” of life. And generally speaking, they do not seek to tell us what to do so in any event.

For example, if I have decided that I wish to have a life that is as connected to reality as possible; that I wish to live with people who are honourable and loving and who invest significant energies in maintaining family relationships; then scientists are better equipped than anyone else to help me understand the principles on which I can bring such a world into existence, and can help me to identify other like-minded people who not only say that they want what I want, but who have a track record of behaving in a fashion that is consistent with their words. So often, with the best of intent, we say X and believe that we are doing X, when in fact we are blind to the objective reality of our behaviour – that we are in fact doing Y.

The Mormon Mask

So, where does Mormonism fit into this picture? It seems clear to me that Mormonism, with its collectivist, authoritarian social model, tends toward the Eastern end of the cultural spectrum as far as the mask metaphor is concerned. It may, or may not, be coincidental that many of Joseph Smith’s most innovative theological points have an Eastern flavour – man participating in God’s nature; Kabala concepts; reincarnation; etc.

The Mormon Concept of God

One of my favourite Mormon concepts relates to the nature of God. This is one of the key issues dividing Mormons and mainstream Christians that some BYU academics are trying hard to paper over at the moment.

The Mormon God is not omnipotent. He is subject to eternal law. Eternal law in this context plays the role of ultimate reality, or Brahman-like concepts, in many Eastern religions. The Mormon god is more like the underling gods of those theological systems in the sense that he is not all powerful but rather has mastered a system of rules that give him power. That is, his power is derivative from and subject to another system, not omnipotent. He is not the power source. If we use this concept metaphorically, it works well with Campbell and Yeats’ idea that we should ourselves become creative agents by mastering to the extent possible the rules of cause and effect to which we are subject. In this sense, man can become as God as Joseph Smith taught.

When we decide what we value, determine what we can do that is likely to bring what we value into being, and then do it, we are creating in the most real sense possible. And so we become as Smith’s god – creators in our own small sphere.

Joseph Smith did not, of course, define the concepts he spoke of in this regard as well as the Eastern theologies that have had many centuries of oral tradition to work the bugs out of their ideas with no one watching. Joseph had to spit it out and let it stand, because his ideas were often written down as he spoke them, which is I suspect about when many of them emerged from the “primordial soup” into which he threw himself when be became a religious leader.

Components of the Mormon Mask

As noted above, the East puts the primary mask on tighter and resists efforts to take it off more severely than does the West. If you are a Hindu Untouchable and do certain harmless but nonetheless “out of caste” things even today, your life will be endangered. Mormonism is not that bad, but it has far more behavioural standards than most Western religions. Here are a few that I can recall off the top of my head:

– The “Word of Wisdom” must be obeyed regardless of what current medical science has to say regarding its “wisdom” from a health point of view;

– Tithing and other onerous financial requirements must be complied with to hold a temple recommend and be considered a fully participating member of the community;

– Information that does not support the view of Mormonism promoted by the current leadership should be avoided;

– Adult members are expected to hold “callings” that are often so time consuming that they preclude most other social or community interaction and substantially limit family time;

           – Dress and grooming standards for both young people and older people are promoted that create a distinctive “Mormon” appearance;- Certain forms of vulgarity are permissible, and others are not; for example, R-rated movies are not approved regardless of artistic merit but “high”   art that involves nudity or violence is not specifically discouraged and is studied in university courses;

– Only one earring per ear is approved for women, and no body piercing or tattoos are approved;

– Seemingly endless group, family and personal rituals on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis are highly recommended; here are just a few: daily personal prayer at various times; daily personal scripture study; couples’ prayer; couples’ scripture study; family prayer at various times; family scripture study; weekly family home evening; weekly church meetings of various sorts; monthly home teaching; monthly visiting teaching; etc.;

– Permissible and impermissible sexual acts both outside of, and within, marriage are specified, one of my favourites being that garments must be put back on after intercourse before falling asleep;

– 19-year-old young men must serve a “voluntary” two-year “mission” or face social stigma within Mormon society;

– Men who postpone marriage past their early 20s are browbeaten; unmarried men of age 25 years or older are referred to as “menaces” to society;

– Couples who postpone child bearing are brow beaten;

– Mothers who work outside the home without a good excuse are brow beaten;

– Members who do not refer their friends to the missionaries are brow beaten;

– Retired members who do not volunteer for missionary service are browbeaten;

– Homosexuals are encouraged to do a variety of unadvisable things, such as marrying heterosexually to “overcome” their “problem”, undergoing various forms of invasive therapy to “cure” them and living “chaste” lives.

Campbell describes those who cannot distinguish between the human individual and the mask as “stiffs”. He provides as an example the big businessman who does not know how to take his mask off when he comes home and as a result has trouble relating to his family because the mask gets in the way. The performer who continues to perform for his family and closest friends has the same difficulty, as does the litigation lawyer whose intimate relationships are characterized by control struggles and conflict of other kinds.

We humans are perceptive, and react negatively to what we intuit (often unconsciously) to be a mask worn by a human being to whom we wish to intimately relate. Masks get in the way. But, those who have known nothing other than a life of masks will not see this unless they experience the terrifying-at-first life without masks.

Theological Superglue for Mormon Masks

Mormonism also attempts in a variety of ways to use a kind of superglue to hold the primary mask in place. For example, Mormonism attempts to monopolize energy in order to prevent it from being available for use in creation of the antithetical mask.

This explains the frequent use of the saying “Idle hands do the Devil’s work” within Mormonism and similar cultures. It also explains why young Mormon men (and some women) are sent on missions, and marriage is strongly encouraged soon after the missionaries return home, as is the starting a family as soon as possible. A young person saddled with the responsibility of marriage, family, getting an education etc. will feel the need for the community support structure Mormonism provides, and will not be as likely to have energy available to question his role in that society.

Mormon leaders do not sit around and plan these things. Social organizations that survive in the long term evolve effective means of keeping their people under control, and these means usually come to be regarded as “sacred” and hence beyond question. The Mormon practises described above are a few of the countless techniques that ideologies have evolved over the millennia of their existence that help to counteract all other forces that may dilute institutional power. How far a particular ideology can go in this regard is constrained by the nature of the broader society in which it is found, how much its members know about that society etc.

In my view, the social control mechanisms just described pale in terms of their ability to keep the primary mask in place when compared to the theology Mormons are taught from childhood up. Think of the idea of the pre-existence. Our “true” characters are formed there and only manifest themselves through obedience to Mormon authority. Our “natural” (that is Earthly) natures are God’s enemies (see Joseph Smith, “The Book of Mormon”, Mosiah 3:19), again indicating that when we incline toward taking off the primary mask, we are fighting our “true” selves. And what happens after death? Again, only those who have kept the primary mask on, and “endured to the end” (a revealing image if there ever was one) will live with God. In fact, the primary mask is made in God’s image, and the ultimate destiny and ambition of orthodox Mormons (and even many liberal Mormons) is to become just like Him – to be eternally unified with the primary mask.

Nowhere is the Mormon mask more evident than in Mormon marriage (See the essay titled “The Effect of Mormon Temple Ritual” at my website). There, the Mormon Church becomes a third and dominant party to the marriage itself. The spouses covenant to each other, and to the Mormon Church, that the Mormon mask will remain on. The mentality carefully engrained in this regard is likely responsible for the high divorce rate among Mormon couples where one chooses to take the primary mask off, and the other keeps it on. A master’s thesis in anthropology at a Canadian university found that rate to be 80% among a large sample of LDS returned missionaries in this regard. This study was conducted in the 1980s. I suspect that the percentage now is lower because of the increasing understanding within both Mormon and non-Mormon social groups that absolute obedience to Mormon standards is nonsensical.

Mormon Masks at Family Reunions

I thought of Mormon masks as I recently recalled a family reunion I attended some time ago. There were lots of good times, sharing of memories, catching up on what was going in different families. A high percentage of the conversation in this regard was either expressly or implicitly connected to the Mormon Church. The Church’s standards and expectations as to how life should be lived – its mask – guided both questions are answers. Here is some of what I recall in terms of questions asked and what they likely meant when the nature of the answers typically give is considered:

– How is Jimmy doing at school? (Means: Has Jimmy cleaned up his life and decided to go on a mission yet, and how is he otherwise doing?)

– So, what are you up to these days? (Means: What calling do you hold, and how is the career going?)

– How are Bobby and Ann (newlyweds) making out? (Means: Is Ann pregnant yet (they have been married for three years!); are they still “faithful”; and are Bobby’s studies/career headed in the “right” direction?)

And, to top things off, each evening at the family reunion featured an activity that allowed the patriarchs and matriarchs of the group to bear testimony to the truthfulness and importance of the Mormon way of life to younger family members, and to express their genuine love for those present. That expression of love, mingled with Mormon testimony, contains a powerful subtext – “If you do not believe and obey as we do, it will cause us great pain, and you don’t hurt the ones you love!”

What could have been a chance to get together and broaden our horizons by enjoying each other’s varied experience was hence turned into a group behaviour modification exercise designed to narrow the range of future experience. But this should not be surprising. The Mormon Apostle Boyd Packer, in a leadership-training seminar I attended by videoconference while I served as Bishop, taught us that each and every activity sponsored by a Mormon congregation should have as its objective to influence those who attend to make, and keep, Mormon covenants. This applied, he said, to everything from Cub Scout meetings through to High Priests parties. Have lots of fun, he said, but remember the point of getting together is to help people make and keep covenants, and the fun and everything else should be set up with that objective in mind.

Why should we expect men and women who have spent most of their lives getting together for the purpose of encouraging their Ward and Stake members to make and keep Mormon covenants to do any differently when they gather their extended families around them?

Mormon Masks Create Irony

I don’t think it is fair to suggest that Mormonism’s goal is a monochrome existence for all Mormons. In fact, the teachings of Mormon leaders often indicate the contrary. But many of them lived in a different time. Joseph Smith himself provides a textbook example of how to take off the primary mask and fashion an antithetical one. In this he does no more than follow the pattern of religious innovators. Then, Mormon leaders like Brigham Young took the torch from Smith and followed the pattern of religious consolidators and standardizers.

Mormonism’s main goal throughout most of its history has been to maintain an obedient people – to keep the herd together, and moving in the “right” direction as determined by the leaders from time to time. Without that, Mormonism as we know it would pass out of existence. And in its dogged pursuit of mechanisms to inculcate obedience, Mormonism during the past several decades has forced the primary mask on faithful Mormons more and more tightly. There is nothing uniquely Mormon in this. Mormonism merely reflects the pattern of countless other religious and social groups.

A review of this aspect of Mormon history discloses many ironies. For example, modern Mormonism has championed “traditional” family values, which given Mormonism’s polygamous history is fascinating in and of itself. When we look close at what it means to be an “ideal” Mormon family, we find a number of odd things related to the nature of the Mormon mask.

– Mom and Dad’s discretionary time is usually heavily committed to their “callings”. This means that they spend little time together. This is particularly difficult for Dad in many cases. So, the religion that advertises itself as creating a people that puts “Families First” and believes that “It’s about time” for family, has the effect holding many families apart. My wife and I rationalized that this was acceptable on the basis that we would eventually be together when we served missions in our retirement years (while separated from grandchildren etc., I note) and that we would be together after death because we had been faithful to our Mormon covenants.

– If Mom was in university, she usually did not finish her degree. Going to university was more about finding the right husband and preparing for motherhood than it was about getting an education that would be useful in a broader way.

– Mom usually does not work outside the home. This means that money is often tight or that Dad works very long hours.

– The number of children is usually large. This means that the time spent with each child, particularly in light of the other pressures on Mom and Dad’s time, is small. It also puts additional pressure on Mom and Dad’s relationship.

– And most ironic of all, in my view, expressions of love within Mormon families often occur in the context of testimony bearing or fathers’ blessings. See my take on this in “The Blessing Chair” on my website. Therefore, the Mormon Church determines the main parameters of and otherwise brokers the expression of love and other transmission of important emotions between family members. It then takes credit for the wonderful feelings that occur as a result of intimate expressions of this type, thus harnessing this powerful human force to keep the Mormon mask in place. This formula is seen in countless aspects of Mormon culture. It is, for example, the formula followed in Mormon testimony meetings all over the globe. The smallest children lisp, “I love my Mommy and Daddy, and I know the Church is true!” in that environment. And for all others, the testimony formula is dictated and it inextricably links the expression of love for family, and expression of certain belief in the basic tenets of Mormonism. The feelings for one are hence intertwined with feelings for the other.

What Happens When the Masks Come Off?

It has been said that the beauty of Mormonism is that in order to make it to the Celestial Kingdom, all one has to do is show up and do what one it told. And if you move from one city (or country) to another, no sweat! Just show up at the local Mormon ward and keep on doing what you were doing. It won’t change much; or at least shouldn’t. You will hardly miss a beat. Mormonism is a tribe with outposts in most parts of the world where a Westerner is likely to end up living. All you have to do is “plug and play”. And Mormons are trained to think that without the support of the Mormon system, life would be awful, and that they likely could not cope without the support Mormonism provides. Again, there is nothing uniquely Mormon in this. Most tightly knit social groups use this technique to keep the herd together.

So, the experience of taking off the Mormon mask is designed to be as terrifying as possible. Mormons who come to understand that they are at liberty to, and in fact perhaps should, take off their primary mask are often reluctant to do so. This is because Mormons are trained to rely so heavily upon others for approval that the prospect of doing things on the basis of self-approval only is daunting.

Concerns about divorce, loss of respect of parents and friends, loss of business or career opportunities, etc. play a role in this. And yet again, there is nothing unusual about Mormonism in this regard. Masks order society. Hence, life without masks is much less predictable than life with them. However, we soon get used to playing by a new set of rules and our fear of uncertainty abates. And after a while, the thought of being hemmed in by the myriad mask related rules makes our skin crawl.

I am reminded in this regard by a family from Japan I knew many years ago. They were transferred to Canada for a period of several years. When it came time return to Japan, the parents were reluctant, and the children refused to go. They had individuated to a point at which they did not think they could survive in Japan’s much more structured, mask oriented, society.

I have had similar conversations with people from Korea. One high school age girl I got to know was, during her first year in Canada, learning English, carrying a full load of high school courses, and getting straight A’s while as far I could tell still not communicating well in English. I asked her how she was enjoying Canada, and was told that it was wonderful. “So easy”, she said in broken English.

I was puzzled by this and enquired further. It turned out that in Korea the competition for a few university seats is so severe that this girl, starting in grade 7, had been going to special classes before and after school to “prep” for her university entrance exams. These prep classes ran six days a week. To make it to them, she had to be up at 5 am and habitually worked until after mid-night to get her work done. Sundays – her day of rest – was only a half day of school work. She thought her first year in Canada, with all of its linguistic and cultural adjustments, was a cakewalk by comparison to the only other life she knew. She could not imagine going back to Korea and putting back on the “student mask” that she had worn without much complaint for years and was prepared, until she came to Canada, to continue wearing. I now feel much the same with respect to my former Mormon mask. I simply cannot imagine how I could go back to living in the tiny space Mormonism allowed me.

I also note, in fairness to Mormonism, that the Mormon mask does not cripple as the worst of masks do. See, for example, the article linked above with regard to the “lost boys” who have been tossed out of Fundamentalist Mormon society during the last several years. I have read similar accounts of Old Amish and Hutterite young people have left their societies and found themselves singularly ill equipped to deal with the cultural mainstream of our society. Some primary masks have the effect of so limiting the worldview and coping skills of those who wear them that leaving their social group of origin is not a real option, and to remain in the social group the mask must be left in place, at least for appearances sake.

It is my view that that the Mormon mask cripples those who wear it by causing them to think in magical terms, be unusually naïve, be too respectful of anything that looks like authority, etc. This is reflected in statistics that place Utah at the top the heap in terms of personal bankruptcies, anti-depressant use, certain types of fraud, etc. However, Mormonism is nowhere near as crippling in this way as more extreme cults that use the same mind and behavioural control as does Mormonism, but in a much more intense form. Again I refer to Orwell’s masterpiece 1984 that can be accessed in full text at the link I provided above. He describes a society in which many things Mormonism does have been taken to their logical extreme, and the predicament of those who still have the essentially human inclination to fashion their antithetical masks. Mormonism does not do anything like that. Orwell’s writing in this regard (see “Animal Farm” as well) can be considered caricatures of the ideologies that use the mechanisms he described. Caricatures are often useful in this regard because they highlight the features of a society that are of interest in some particular respect, and explore how they work and where they may lead if left to their own devises. Hence, I would say that the study of Orwell discloses much about the mechanisms Mormonism uses to control people, and illustrates why this kind of thing should be nipped as near to the bud as possible.

Conclusion

The Mormon version of the primary mask is only one of many, but by Western standards it is very firmly applied. Mormon behaviour is shaped by this mask in a multitude of ways that are, of course, invisible to the average Mormon. It is both terrifying, and incredibly liberating, when a Mormon finds the courage to take off his mask and begin to create a new one. That experience has been the more difficult and joyful aspect of my life thus far.

 
As I continue my journey, I’m coming to peace with ‘not knowing’. I am beginning to realize that I know more about what I don’t believe than what I do believe.

Mormons reading this will most likely scoff and sneer… because Mormonism provides ‘all the answers’. You see, this is part of the attraction to Mormonism for many followers: having the answers. Never mind that the answers were created out of thin air by a power-hungry, imaginative, over-sexualized man (Joseph Smith); they are answers.

As I progress in this life, I am realizing that it is ok not to have all the answers. In fact, there is a wisdom in accepting the fact that we neither have nor require having all the answers. I have been expanding my studies outside of the parameters of religion and venturing into the world of science. I have always had an instinctual belief that God and science were one.

In my studies, I’ve found that there are many parallels between God and science. Recent research into the field of quantum physics has shed new light on the fundamental properties of matter. It has been theorized that the most fundamental properties of matter involve consciousness, a state of existence that is all-knowing, having always existed and unchangeable. Sound familiar? In the bible, God has been similarly described.

As my studies continue, I continue to find myself in a place of letting go: letting go not just of Mormon theology, but also of cultural ‘norms’ regarding religion. I feel as though I am peeling back the layers of a Mormon upbringing as well as cultural indoctrination regarding God and coming to a place of increasing simplicity.

I have been asked, “So, what do you believe?”

I believe in God: a God who is all knowing, unchangeable, a God who is our creator according to the laws of science which he also created, a God who loves us in a perfect way (so perfect it is far beyond what many can even comprehend). I believe God loves us unconditionally regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

Man has so complicated life through religion. Mormonism is an extreme example of how complicated life can become through religion. Religion is man’s creation, not God’s. Wars have been fought over religion. In the name of religion, humankind has judged, condemned, hated, and murdered. Families have been ripped apart in the name of religion. All of this is contrary to God’s purposes.

I believe God exists whether there is a religion out there to box Him in or not. His way is simple. His way is one of love and letting go.

 
As I celebrate my 2 year anniversary of my resignation from the LDS church, I find myself increasingly in a place of peace with myself, the world around me and God. Looking back, I can see now how God prepared me for the transition that I went through 2 years ago. Being placed in a calling which I believed held great responsibility in my Stake was a catalyst not only for me to strengthen my own testimony, but to humble myself before God and to go to a deeper level of honesty within myself.

Before opening my mind to investigate my own shelved doubts and the church, I had spent many months in prayer, turning myself completely over to God. I placed myself completely in his hands and trusted him to deliver me into a closer relationship with Him. At the time, I fully expected my testimony of the LDS church to deepen, and it came as quite an unexpected surprise to uncover the errors of LDS theology. I had expected to come out of the process with greater commitment to obey all of God’s commandments (according to LDS theology). As was my spiritual progression up to that point, I fully expected this next step to take me into a deeper, more complex and more stringent understanding and adherence to the gospel.

What happened was quite the opposite. My position of humility and reaching out to God, instead took me to a place of simplicity: a place of communion with God. I came to understand the true meaning of Grace. I came to understand that salvation was simply a matter of releasing all that I’d been taught to cling to and to accept Christ’s unconditional gift of salvation.

More than anything, my journey has led me to a place of letting go. Fortunately, nearly at the same moment of my de-conversion from Mormonism, I was converted to a full understanding of God’s love for me. It was an amazing process which is still difficult for me to put into words. At that moment 2 years ago, I was filled with the love of God. It filled me up like an unquenchable fire. The most amazing thing is: it still burns just as brightly within me today as it did that day 2 years ago. I never dreamed that I could feel like this.

As time goes on, I feel increasingly disaffected from the world. I still see and feel what goes on around me, but my focus is so different now. I feel completely loved and accepted by God. Nothing can take that away from me. Bad stuff happens in the world. Relationships can cause us distress, but nothing compares to my perfect relationship with God. In this state, I no longer feel the need to judge myself or others. I finally understand what unconditional love is all about. I feel it from God. I feel it for myself and I feel it for others. It is a joyous freedom I never glimpsed as a Mormon. The fire that burns within me now drives me to reach out to others: to meet their reaching and help them as they investigate the church. I find great joy in this.

As a Mormon, I never really felt like I was enough. Never enough to be completely loved by God or anyone, for that matter. I think many Mormons struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Why? I believe that the more legalism that is involved in a religion, or rules and compliance expected of  followers, the more difficult it is to feel as if one has ‘arrived’. Salvation is always out of reach. One’s job is never complete. Even at death, as taught in Mormonism, we only enter into a new life of further work and earning of our salvation. Inherently, the culture instills a sense of futility and unworthiness. Reaching perfection is something often spoken of, but forever out of reach.

My views of institutionalized religion have evolved over the last 2 years. At first, I felt the need to ‘belong’ to another church. I searched high and low for a church where I felt comfortable and a church which was as basic a Christian church as I could find. I did find one, and I still attend occasionally. However, I no longer feel compelled to attend. As the remnants of Mormon belief have worked their way out of my system, I’ve come to focus less on my actions and more on my relationship with God. I believe it is good to assemble together with other believers. I enjoy it very much, but I do not feel that doing so is necessary for my salvation.

In a nutshell, I believe that relationship with God is a personal thing, not anything a religion can give you. I think that God’s truth is simple and the more man is involved (religion), the more complicated and distant from God’s purposes we tend to get. Mormonism was founded by a man, complicated by more men, and I believe, has taken its follows far from a relationship with God.

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