Category Archives: Religion

Let’s Talk Stars.

Because I’m still reeling from realizing how one-sided my blog has become, I decided that this week I wanted to shift gears and talk about what I believe in. Basically, I believe in the stars.

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Six weeks ago yesterday I got a third piercing in my right ear. Call me a twenty-year-old, but it’s one I never plan on taking out, but wearing always. It’s my cross. (Plus, by buying these earrings I made a donation to the Make a Wish foundation, and who doesn’t like them?)

When I was a Mormon, looking at the stars freaked me out, especially when camping and away from city lights. They made me feel small. They made everything I had ever known or made or met or thought or seen small. The vastness of the universe drove into my young brain a helpless feeling of insignificance.

(Plus the LDS religion teaches that God lives on a planet called “Kolob” that is circling among the stars, watching you. And that’s just a little bit creepy.)

I’m not saying dropping the Mormon religion made my anxiety over the nighttime sky disappear (although for other anxieties, that’s perfectly true). But without a “God Made the World in 7 Days” roadmap, I started paying a lot more attention to science. And that’s how I fell in love with the Big Bang.

For official NASA explanations, click here: http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang/

For my summary, read below:

At the beginning of the conceivable universe, we were a star. A giant whopping star, and when I say we, I mean everything: Humans, animals, plants, water, suns, planets, solar systems. All encompassed within a giant star. In an event known as the Big Bang, the star exploded and sent its stuff into all space. When the stuff settled after the galactic sneeze, the piece we know as earth was a molten ball. Without an atmosphere, comets pummeled it over and over and over again, each time leaving small deposits of water behind. Out of this water eventually grew algae, and after the eternity it took to gain an atmosphere, the first forms of everything crawled out of the puddles.

With a universal relative like the nighttime sky, I click perfectly, knowing each person and place and thing is the literal stuff of stars. It forms this big fuzzy ball of comfort in my chest. Everything is beautiful and miraculous, a series of incredibly complex chemical and electrical accidents that form every amazing thing I do and breathe and see. The fact that I am so tiny fits into the larger puzzle so perfectly—the inevitable heat death of the universe is now a mural on the walls of my mind. It works. We were all together and we all will be again, and there’s something so tenderly wonderful in that. Reincarnation is possible on this inconceivably huge, universal scale. And it doesn’t scare me.

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The Book of Mormon tells me over and over again that I am “less than the dirt of the earth.” Every cell in my body screams that I am star dust. I am not a cog in a deity’s machine. My life is a miracle.

My beliefs still have room for a god–after all, you have to explain where the giant star came from–but knowing that we are all stars, I just don’t see why anyone needs a god.

Let’s Talk Allocations.

And LDS friend of mine once posted on Facebook a quote to the effect of “When we die, if the atheists are right, religious people still die happy, because they won’t ever know. If we die and the religious people are right, they still die happy, but the atheists are in trouble.”

Ignoring the fact that I butchered the quote, the logic is pretty sound.

For the past 20 blog posts, I have become obstinately one-sided. I found myself so suddenly surrounded by hate and harassment at the onset that I threw myself as hard as possible in the opposite direction. I stopped offering respect because I was fighting so hard for my own. I mean all the things I have written about—with such a sensitive subject, I write from my heart and my life experiences—and I will continue to pursue and expunge subjects as they come up. I am of the opinion that the LDS church causes a lot of harm in the family unit and damage to the world at large.

However, the fact that I find myself looking at religion in terms of black-and-white disturbs me. In my gut there is so much gray area, and it’s a hard pill to swallow, realizing I’m not too different anymore from the uber-conservative Mormon. As I mentioned before, I’ve become a hypocrite who asks for respect without giving it.

This blog post isn’t coming out of the blue: It’s been stewing inside of me for months. There is good. That’s what I’m going to write about this time.

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Most obviously, the Church gives its members a community. This is especially vital in Utah—if you aren’t part of the Mormon community, your other chances for community come in the form of “Heathen” Facebook groups based around partying and alcohol. Not only does the Church connect you to your neighbors (as wards, stakes, and districts are set up geographically), but it also gives members a grander sense of their place in their universe. It offers people the idea that there is an awesome plan for their lives, an individualized destiny, choices they can make that get them into the highest levels of the neatly-hierarchal afterlife. A Heavenly Father with an open heart and plan gives people hope and their lives purpose.

Service. One of the big reasons why the church is set up geographically is so that its members are better able to serve each other. I complain often of how this includes visiting with the intention of drawing non- or inactive-members “back into the fold,” but I couldn’t count on both my hands how many times the Relief Society (the women’s organization within the church) has brought my family full dinners when my mother was stuck in bed recovering from surgery, a miscarriage, or depression. One Christmas when finances were low, my family found gifts on the front porch every night for a week. When my mother finally left her abusive husband but found herself financially bereft, the bishop paid the rent on our little apartment. In preparation for youth summer camps, my hands helped put together a hundred emergency kits and baby blankets that went out across the world. Teenagers rake the leaves and weed the gardens and sing to the elderly weekly. Wards are set up not just as community hubs, but as support systems.

These are just a few examples of what are unmistakably acts of human love. And at the core of every Sunday message, this is what everyone is preaching—love. And I believe that the masses mean well, even when the message is executed with a million contradictions.

I’m not one of those agnostics who argues that religion has no place in the world at all. I believe that it absolutely does—within parameters that I feel the LDS church oversteps—because of the simple fact that it makes so many people happy.

That’s what I’ve been meaning to argue this whole time I’ve been bashing: Everyone’s right to the thing that makes them happy. I grew up around thousands of people who found great happiness in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am still surrounded. My own mother is one such person. Sundays give her strength and hope and peace and happiness, and I would never wish my mother to feel any other way. Just as I have grown and questioned and struggled, so have many Mormons, and at the end of the day, many make their own choices to stay. No one has the right to take away another human’s happiness. More often than not, my blog is about the small-town Utah Mormons, and I understand that outside of the bubble things are better, and that there are also exceptions.

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Let’s face it, though—my blog isn’t for those who are happy and strong in their church membership. That’s not why I write. I support happiness unequivocally, but my blog is a community and support for those who, like me, are transitioning happinesses. Just as I would never mean to offend my mother, I do not write to offend anyone who is happy in their faith. It’s like accidentally calling Dominoes when you want Pizza Hut—you came to the wrong place. If you want Dominoes, hang up and try again.

Let’s Talk Figs.

Throughout my teenage years, I went through several periods where I would try really, REALLY hard to be Mormon in my heart. Each episode of devoutness would last from six months to a year. During that time, I was towing the line: I confessed to all the bishops and endured the humiliating repentance processes. I took time out of my high school education to take the seminary classes. I poured my energy into completing my Young Women in Excellence (a program that rewards “virtuous young women” with a ruby necklace [which, if you ask me, is the real incentive]). I prayed twice a day and credited God for everything in my life. In addition to reading the Book of Mormon every day, I was also reading the Doctrine and Covenants and the Bible daily. A couple times I was grappling with the decision to become a missionary.

It’s the most terrifying thing to fall out of a religion. I desperately tried to force my eyes closed and pray my blind faith back. I was so depressed I didn’t sleep for most of my senior year of high school. I wish more people knew that.

During my second-to-last religious episode, when I was 17 years old, I was reading through the New Testament in the Bible when I came across the only imperfect thing I thought Jesus had ever done.

Found first in Matthew 21 and later in Mark 11 is the story of when Jesus killed the fig tree. As the story goes, the son of God found himself hungering one morning, and walking up to the fig tree was so mad not to find figs ready to feed him (Note: Figs were not in season, based on Mark’s account), Jesus curses the tree, saying “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The tree then withers, dead.

I was immediately disturbed. Jesus? Killing a tree because it wasn’t bearing fruit when it factually could not? That sounded like an evil dictator to me. The verses following the episode didn’t explain anything, unlike the explanations that come after all the parables.

I took my question everywhere from friends to seminary teachers. I didn’t get it. What furthered my confusion is that no one could explain it to me—the most answer I ever got was to ignore it and focus on how much power Jesus and prayer had.

Note: I am not a Bible/scripture scholar by any means. You can bash and clarify me all you want, if you have the “divine” answer, but this is my answer. No one else could tell me, and after years of rumination, this is the best I’ve got (yes, I dared to think about it with my own brain).

I finally found an answer in my faith transition support group that makes sense.

Fruit image is rampant throughout the Bible, especially as it related to the theme “And by their fruits shall ye know them,” meaning that you can judge a person by the works and things they produce.

Applied to the cursed fig tree, because is has no fruit to offer (all facts aside), Jesus deems it worthless and prevents it from ever achieving fruition. As there is no spelling out of his reasoning, but rather the whole thing is slipped in, one word comes to mind:

Subliminal brainwashing.

Seeing the fig tree as a person, bible readers are subconsciously taught that if that person cannot give you a religious profit, that person deserves (Jesus did it) to be completely cut out, cast off, and considered as good as dead. No room for compromise. No consideration for the facts of the situation.

This is what Christians everywhere are worshipping without understanding what it is they are reading.

No wonder so many of my Mormon friends turned so bitter so fast without a second thought as to cutting me off, never mind the years of our friendship.

Let’s Talk Suffering.

I was in the living room, my mom around the corner in the kitchen, when I heard her discussing my blog on the phone with her brother. Among comments of how she didn’t know what happened to me, I sat rigidly perched on the couch, no longer reading the book in my hands. Over lunch an hour later, I told her I heard her discussing me on the phone, and I told her it hurt my feelings.

My mom gave me a polite look. “What did I say that hurt your feelings?”

“Well, the whole part where you’re gossiping about me and talking behind my back. Especially when I’m right in the next room.”

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On Sundays, Mormons are pumped full with the prejudice that ex- or inactive Mormons are sinners, projects to be preyed upon, and poor unfortunate souls that got sucked up by the devil for not saying their nightly prayers. When they open their mouths, evil is going to spray forth, so you better bring your umbrella to every encounter. They are people that didn’t try hard enough.

From the pulpit, speakers cry over what a loss to the kingdom of Heaven these lost sheep are.

But people are so focused on themselves being right and everyone else being wrong that they don’t notice that lost sheep stays home on Sundays and cries because they’ve lost the security blanket of religion.

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I recently heard the difference between pain and suffering described like this: Suffering is when you quit and give up all hope of trying.

Do people look at ex-Mormons and think they are suffering? Because they should. People who leave the Church (or any religion, for that matter), especially in the Utah bubble, quit trying on the religion that demanded to be the center of their lives. At home, they lose entire social circles, not just of friends, but of community. They trade open conversations with family for their mother’s tears. Some are cut off and rejected completely by the parents who raised them.

But it’s more than tangible loss. Reader, if you are religious, imagine losing God. If you’re not, imagine losing the sun.

Everything you’ve ever believed in crumbles. You trade daydreams of learning the secrets of the temple with an eternal companion for staying awake for six months straight with the anxiety of dying and losing consciousness forever. You realize that nothing and no one matters, and for a really long time, your outlook is scary as hell because you’re scared of being alive. You don’t get a magical book to read that saves your soul. You don’t get to fall on your knees and talk to someone who has the power to make your life change. You don’t get to drive half a mile to visit God’s house (the temple) and take peace from being so close to your Father.

You give everything you were ever taught to believe in for nothing. And unless you’ve done that, you have no idea how alone and terrible you constantly feel. There’s more than one reason there are more suicides in Utah than any other state.

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I am part of a generation of “heathens” that is suffering enough from the demons in our own minds without the world’s condescension. Instead of looking at us as Satan reincarnate, look at us like artists who have gone blind, runners who lost their legs, birds suddenly too heavy to take flight. We are little boys and girls, coming out of the baptismal font dressed in white, who grew up and opened their eyes.

And opening your eyes is like pulling the trigger on a gun—you can never take the bullet back.

The world needs to realize we didn’t shoot them, though. We shot ourselves. Please, treat us less like murderers and more like someone who needs medical attention.

Let’s Talk Madness.

While out to dinner with a good friend, conversation inexplicably turned to Jonestown (I think because my peach lemonade reminded him of red Kool-Aid?). Between bites of fried pickle, he expressed how curious he was about how one man who claims revelation from God can convince people to kill themselves.

My friend is a bitter atheist who believes that religion has no place whatsoever in the world. Jamestown is one of his many good points.

Suddenly, he steered the conversation much closer to my little Cache Valley: “What if Thomas Monson suddenly had a revelation and told everyone to kill themselves?”

We agreed that the Church was too profitable for the prophet to pull a move like that, at least in the foreseeable future. Still, the thought was scary enough to make us put our forks down. He decided that his family would do it without hesitation. I wondered.

Not to jump on the bandwagon that is Mad Max, but I didn’t realize in time that I paid for my movie ticket with my soul. (Brief sales pitch: Go see it. Especially if you like being uncomfortable.)

With no further introduction/warning than one commercial that came between me and the movie I was trying to watch, I jumped from my theater seat into a world of pure, sandy Hell.

(If many of you are familiar with this version of the apocalypse, I apologize, but I need to recapitulate a bit to make my point)

At the head of a group of barely-survivors rules fat ol’ Immortan Joe. He is worshipped by everyone (not coincidentally, Joe controls the water distribution in his desert community). He cages and breeds with the most beautiful, multiple wives, considers human beings his property, and even raises an army of young boys to become chaotic warriors. Did I mention he hogs the water in the desert apocalypse?

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Joe is worshipped, especially by his brain-washed (and potentially drug-addicted) army of young men. They consider it an outrageous honor to die at his command.

How does an old, fat, dying guy rise to the top of the dung pile and stay there? How does he talk his citizens into giving him all the gorgeous women and keep everyone else impoverished? How does he manipulate his hordes of men?

Ahaha. With religion.

In the end, my friend and I decided that if the prophet of the Latter-Day church were to ask everyone to kill themselves and their families, he would know. If only because they would call him and try to get him to kill himself, too.

Let’s Talk Silence.

In preparation for visiting my grandmother on Mother’s Day, I warned my own mother than I had made Grandma swear on Facebook earlier in the week (by sharing an article titled “My Mormon Mission Made Me an Atheist,” a very poignant read found here: https://broadclarity.com/my-mormon-mission-made-me-an-atheist).

What I had intended to be a soft warning (if I could make sweet ol’ Grandma say “Bull Shit” on the internet, I was a little nervous about what would be said face-to-face) turned into the first time my mom really opened her heart to me since I started my blog. She told me (correctly) that 90% of my friends had rejected me and 99% of my family were deeply hurt by the things I wrote. My mother wasn’t making a point about my decision not to be Mormon anymore. It was about this.

When she asked me if my blog was worth it, I quickly said yes. I told her first about all the people I were helping and giving a sense of community to, and secondly that the Church is doing so much harm in people’s lives and damaging world at large.

Mom said she didn’t understand how I could choose strangers over all the friends and family I was hurting/losing. Now, nearly two weeks later, I have words for the sadness that welled up inside of me at my mom’s confusion.

From left to right: My mother, myself, my grandmother.

From left to right: My mother, myself, my grandmother.

One thing it is not okay to do in this world is to stay silent—especially when you have something to say. There is not much practical difference in this life between the schoolyard bully and a corporate religion suppressing groups of people. In their gut, everyone has to stand up for what they believe is right, even when the fight isn’t theirs and the bully is punching the kid next to them. Only the people who speak out loud can share their ideas and make change.

Speaking up isn’t easy. Especially when you’re stuck in a mud puddle of opposition. But it will never be okay to swallow your tongue and sink in, because this life is yours and it really is what YOU make it. It’s not about the friends you lose, the grandmothers you make swear, or the strangers who are thankful they’re not alone. It has always been about you and being true to your voice.  

It’s the unconditional love and support my mother gave me that made me as brave and unafraid to follow my heart as I am right now. I hope she knows that my blog is me trying to pass that along to others who don’t have such a blessing in their lives.

 

So raise your voice up and pick your kickass boots out of the mud. What you have to say is beautiful every time.

Let’s Talk Red Marks.

We didn’t go to church very often when I was a kid. My single and tired mom let me bring my dinosaur encyclopedia to look at instead of hymns the few times we did go. I wouldn’t know I had been a technical part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at all if there wasn’t pictorial evidence of chubby baby me after my induction into the religion, drowning in white lace, my deep blue eyes half confused and half pissed.

When Mom married Julio, our lazy-family-bath days turned into tights that pulled two inches below my crotch and dresses with thick tags that itched. Bath day turned into the day that Mom pulled brushes through her screaming daughter’s hair and shoes guaranteed to blister. “Going to church will unite us more as a family” was Julio’s justification.

Weekends with Dad, however, were guaranteed to be church-free. When I was fourteen my dad would drunkenly stumble and snatch an official paper I found in his scrapbook with the letterhead CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS from my hands, a document I can only assume wrote out the reason my dad didn’t go on a mission. It directly followed the pictures of him with a full head of hair, in a suit at the Missionary Training Center, the place where young men and women were taught before leaving their homes for a couple years on “service missions” for their religion. The only times I saw him dressed up, not in a suit but his black working shoes, khakis, dark green button-up shirt and a Homer Simpson tie were the three occasions my sisters and I were baptized, his wedding to Kristi, and the one time I was eight and asked him to take my sisters and me to church.

Right after being baptized, I was high on praise and expecting CTR (Choose the Right) rings and books from adults telling me I was holding the iron rod to heaven. Maybe I had also been excited by the way my dad looked at my baptism—the button-up such a different look from his bald-guy-with-a-motorcycle-tee usual—that I wanted to see the phenomenon again. It was the only time he ever took us.

I was sitting next to him in Sacrament Meeting when the namesake—the tray with the little pieces of bread—finally came our way. The fact that the bread was supposed to be Jesus’ body was always overshadowed by the secular growling of my stomach. My grandma had the tray—then my sister—then my dad would take his piece and hand it to me—

Except my dad didn’t take a piece. He just stiffly took the tray and was tried to hand it off, like he was trying to play hot potato with the best part of church. My tiny body locked.

“Dad,” I whispered in the silent chapel, “why didn’t you take one?”

Dad got his gruff face on, the one that didn’t look me in the eyes. “I’ll tell you later at home,” he grumbled.

He never did. He never told me what was on the paper he ripped out of my hands, either.

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The children’s Sunday School was held in the basement of the old brick building and not well-lit. The light from the windows on the far side of the room barely cut through the gray at all. There was just enough for the tubby brunette woman to lecture using the chalkboard. An equally bloated and cheery woman, this one blonde, passed a basket down the row of squinting children. This was it! The little reward I had come to expect and crave! It was a beautiful pencil, painted black with lead like a cherry.

Up on the chalkboard, white lettering reached through the gloom like the Holy Ghost. The woman wrote a series of scriptures down and told us to mark them in our own copies with the red pencils. The basement primary children hunched over and rifled through pages to obey. My eyes filled with panicked tears.

I had scriptures, a brand new set my mom and Julio had rewarded me with for getting baptized with Brittney Skye McDonald in fancy gold scrawl on the cover. I knew how to look up scriptures, although it took me longer than everyone else since my method was flipping through both books of scripture until I found the name I was looking for in the corner. I’d marked scriptures plenty of times before, practicing in colored pencils on the dozens of generic copies of the Book of Mormon lying around my house. It was the act of being told what to mark that shook me to my core as wrong. I learned that I should mark scriptures only when finding them special to me.

“I don’t like this church,” I confidently told my dad, slipping into his large calloused hand when I rejoined him in the light. “My church is way better.” The church building I regularly went to with Julio and Mom had tall white towers and new cookie-cutter carpets and cupboards—Dad’s church building was a square red-brick three-story that creaked in all corners.

It was a few years until I realized both churches were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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“He gave up,” my mom told me one of the dozens of car rides we took together when I was nineteen. I asked her to tell me, flat out saying I wasn’t going to ask him again, why my dad didn’t go on his mission last-minute.

My answer: “He just decided he didn’t want to do it anymore and gave up.”

I looked away from her and out the car window at my valley home flashing by, the spires of church buildings so frequent they could have been keeping the earth pinned to the ground. I didn’t relay the message to her when my gut told me I was giving up, too. What started in that shady basement a decade earlier was only the first of handfuls of disagreements.