Tag Archives: Brainwashing

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 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 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.

*

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.

*

“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.

Let’s Talk Brainwashing.

The last time I went to church was for the Primary Program. The Primary consists of all the children in the ward (neighborhood) between 3 and 12 years old, and the Primary Program is when the whole hour of sacrament meeting is dedicated to listening to them sing. As I have two siblings that fall into the age range, my mother invited me and I didn’t resist going.

As the program went on and the children took turns walking up to the podium microphone to quote scriptures and dedications between songs, a lump slowly grew in my throat. The program that I used to find adorable as hell was hitting me in the face as full-blown brainwashing. They take the children at three years old and pump them full of lessons and songs and commandments to memorize and before they can realize they’ve been indoctrinated they grow up and the gospel way of life is all they’ve ever known. They’re the kind of Mormon adults that will quote the Church when asked for their opinion and won’t know the difference.

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At five years old, the Church is teaching my brother and children everywhere that he is going to do things in his life that he should be ashamed of and that the only way to be happy is to “repent and come unto Jesus” (not to mention repenting to the 40+-year-old stranger behind the big desk). They are teaching my ten-year-old sister to run away from me in tears when I come home with a second ear piercing, only to come back later and beg me to take them out so I can be in heaven with her. The Church is engineering the children to think only white in what is taught as a black-and-white world.

When it came time for the congregation to sing the closing hymn with the Primary, I opened the hymn book like everyone else, but I couldn’t sing. When my sister asked me why I didn’t, I whispered back “Because I don’t believe God loves any of those children.” We laughed, because I said it like a joke.

But because I don’t believe in their god, I also kinda meant it.