Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Control and Diffuse Boundaries

Here is one thing that bothers me about the church.  Diffuse boundaries.  I understand that the "reason" is that people are just concerned neighbors, or brothers and sisters, or priesthood leaders, also that they care about your welfare and well-being.  I know that these are official reasons, but it seems to play into a culture of control and diffuse boundaries.  What do I mean by that?  Let me explain each in turn.

Culture of Control
There is a lot of behavioral control in the church.  Now, let me preface this by saying that I do understand the official reasons.  The church just wants to see people sticking within the rules so that they don't sin.  If people can keep from sinning too much, they can be receptive to the holy ghost.  The holy ghost will purify you and make you eligible for the celestial kingdom.  Which is the end-goal of life.  Never mind that the rules for what is sinful and what is not comes from the church itself.  Never mind that the goal and the path are both created by the church.  The whole situation is circular, the prerequisites, requirements, goals, and solutions all come from the church.  Whether you buy into the circular logic or not is a different story, but you need to realize that this situation exists.

Back to control.  The church has a lot of rules.  The church has a lot of ways to try and enforce its rules.  It starts before baptism even.  "If you don't follow all of our rules, you can't join, you had a strong feeling, so you have to join now."  A need is created ex nihilo.  This need can only be satisfied by the church.  To satisfy this need you have to follow the rules as exactly as possible.  To make sure that you are following the rules exactly (and punishing yourself appropriately for any misstep) the church also subjects you to probing interviews (more on this later).

Now that this need has been created, and you already have subjected yourself to the rules in order to keep getting that need satisfied.  This is accomplished through the sacrament every week.  You need to be worthy to keep taking the sacrament.  A minor slip and you don't take it for a week.  The sacrament is also touted as the most sacred ordinance that happens outside the temple.  Why?  So that you have to keep coming back for more.  Speaking of the temple, that is the last level of control.  Now you not only have to have agreed to it once, and keep self-policing for ever more, now you need to tell the bishop and stake president every single time you slip up a little bit, just so that you can keep going to the temple.  You also have to let him ask you probing questions about what might be wrong or sinful in your life to prevent you from going to the temple.

All of this is bought into and perpetuated by the general membership.  This includes home and visiting teachers, elder's quorums and relief societies, bishoprics, high councils, sunday school presidencies, and any other person on the ward council or any other leadership group in the church.  These are the people that will check up on you to make sure that you continue to perform your duties, keep a strong testimony, and lead a sin-free life.

This also includes tithing.  The church has revealed that this must be 10% of your income, this lets you make the excruciating decision of whether or not this is before or after taxes, or on gifts, or any other nit-picky choice.

Now, you might say you don't absolutely have to follow the rules, but let me remind you that you are part of a group that has instilled in you an artificial need to keep coming back to them for more "spiritual nourishment."  They have made sure that you believe that they are the only source of spiritual nourishment, and that you will never find enough on your own.  So, they give you a need and the capacity to fulfill it, so nice of them.  The only catch is that you have to do exactly as they tell you to in order to continue to be "happy."

Culture of Diffuse Boundaries
This brings me back to diffuse boundaries.  Why is the church so invasive?  Everything is everyone's business.  You don't go to church?  Someone will be assigned to contact you.  Don't perform your calling perfectly?  Bishop will ask you what's wrong.  Don't do your home or visiting teaching?  Don't worry, you will only have about two talks and three lessons this month reaming you for not having done it, or not having done it right.

Not only that, but the bishop and stake president also reserve the right to question you about everything and anything.  This includes all of your behavior.  Whether or not you are drinking alcohol, tea, or coffee; whether or not you are having sex or masturbating; what kind of underwear you are wearing and how; what you do all day on Sunday; who you associate with; and if you are paying the church enough money.  This is all supposedly to help you keep on the track that you want to keep on, but it is invasive into every single aspect of your life.  The weirdest part is that everybody is perfectly okay with this.

Boundaries are a natural part of human existence that the church completely ignores and disrespects.  All of these things have less to do with your relationship to god and more to do with how closely tied you are to the church.  The church will get you involved and do everything it can to keep you.  It ignores the fact that your relationship to god is inherently personal and private and does not need to be dictated by any entity, this includes a church.

Control and boundaries violations do not fly in my book, not anymore.  Nor should they in anyone's book.  Yet members let this happen repeatedly to themselves in their lives.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Story

A question that I asked a friend today: "Why is it that God sees fit to reveal 3 new books during Joseph Smith's lifetime, and yet in the past 180+ years reveals a whopping 3 pages?"

First, let me introduce the blog.  I recently decided that the LDS church was simply not true.  I am currently attending BYU (the heart of Mormonville), and I have little opportunity to express my feelings here.  I figure that finding a healthy way to release all that energy will help me to work hard to finish my schooling, while also bugging my real friends with it less.  I also want to have my entire story written down so that when I "come out" to my family and friends about how I feel, it will all be clearly laid out, and I can direct them here for answers.  As such, I am going to keep this blog anonymous for now.  In other words, this blog is about my exit from the church while still studying at BYU.  I only have 8 months left, so I can't blow it now.

Next, I want to tell my story.  I was always very faithful and devout.  I grew up in the church, my parents are both regular church-going members.  I was always told how to think and behave when it came to religious matters.  Luckily, my parents also instilled in me a deep curiosity about the world, and taught me to question things (as long is it wasn't doubting the church).  Nonetheless, this didn't ever bother me until recently.  I always did as I should without even being asked to when it came to religious matters.  I attended every meeting, participated fully, read my scriptures, said my prayers, etc. etc.  The whole nine yards.  I ended up serving a full-time 2 year mission for the church, during which I met many people that made me think and question on a deeply fundamental level, but I always resolved the resulting cognitive dissonance by appealing to my past experience with feelings (the "gold standard" of the church), rather than to my reason.

Coming home off my mission, I decided to attend BYU.  Everything worked out smoothly getting in, it had the program I desired, and it seemed like a good fit.  Even coming back, everything seemed to be perfect.  I was continuing to grow more deeply entrenched in the gospel.  I believed more strongly than ever, and I had been able to puzzle out some rather complex answers to complex questions.  I did, however, start to see a lot of hypocritical behavior amongst the people around me.  "No matter," I would always tell myself, "The church is true, even if the people aren't."

Two years into my BYU education, I was becoming less satisfied with my scripture study, prayers, temple worship, and church attendance.  Not that I wasn't doing them, but that I didn't feel like I was getting as much out of them.  In turn, I decided to throw myself with more abandon at the whole "Mormon experience" in order to "rekindle" my spirituality.  Needless to say, this did not really accomplish what I was after.  After three years at BYU, my cognitive dissonance was at a peak, and I was burying an awful lot.  I can see that now, even though it wasn't apparent at the time.

Finally, after a short burst of hypocrisy from my several neighbors and "friends" (several things happening within a day that disgusted me), my cognitive dissonance finally resolved itself.  This time, however, without the self-deceit, without repression, and without burying anything.  I finally let myself ask the questions I had been dying to ask.  I finally let myself feel the feelings I didn't think were right.  I finally let myself put the pieces together that obvious were meant to be together.  At this point, it hit me like a ton of bricks, I asked myself "What if the Mormon church isn't the only true church?"  This is what started it for me.

Soon after that, I started picking up every belief I had held, and examining it, questioning it.  Asking it some questions, interrogating it to see if it was telling me the truth.  I started by throwing away lying beliefs one at a time, but then I progressed into whole-sale abandonment of large swaths of beliefs.  I unraveled every bit of religious education and upbringing within the short space of 3 months.  During this time I talked to several family members, several friends that I could trust, my bishop, and my mission president (who, by now, was home and around BYU campus).  Some people gave me good advice, some people told me I was sinning and should stop, some people told me that I shouldn't have stopped reading, praying, and going to church (I want to reiterate right here that I had been doing all these things devoutly, even attending the temple the week of my epiphany against the church).  I was lucky to have a core group of friends and family members that told me it was okay, that they didn't judge me, that let me talk things out.  I am extremely grateful to have had these people in my life at this time.

In spite of the backlash I received from some angles, I still couldn't simply wish my new beliefs away.  What was truly distressing to me was that I didn't even know if God existed anymore.  I couldn't reconcile the lack of involvement in my personal life and the lack of response to my prayers.  I finally cried out in sheer desperation in prayer "Heavenly Father, are you really there?  Do you hear my prayers?  If you are there, please help me to find you, make yourself known to me."  After praying this way a couple of times, I realized no answer was coming, and I simply gave up.

At this point, I started realizing that anything I did and believed had to come from me.  Not any external source.  If I didn't think it was true, I didn't have to believe it.  If I thought it was a good idea, I should do it.  I realized I needed to come up with my own moral code, and that I can't live on borrowed ethics any longer.

Throughout all of this, it has been a very liberating experience.  I feel that I am more capable and confident.  I feel like I have been more true to myself.  I feel like I am doing the right thing, more so than I ever have in the past.  I realize that this will be a completely alien concept to any Mormon reading this, and they will probably think that I am misguided by satan (or some other such BS) and will completely discredit my feelings, my beliefs, my experiences, and my intellect.  Blaming other people, circumstances, or situations for my loss of faith.

In fact, the only dark cloud in this new found light has come from the church itself.  Now, going to church (and I still need to attend in order to keep my progress at BYU) is a depressing act that reminds me of how much I struggled (and failed) to find the truth and the emotional pain that went along with not receiving anything (not for lack of trying), the pain that came as a result of the cognitive dissonance that was so pronounced.  The fact that I need to lie to myself and others about my beliefs in order to not get into trouble with the school is part of this darkness.  That the church and the school compel me to lie in order to not have wasted the last 3.5 years of my life (not to mention tens of thousands of dollars) is probably the most annoying part looking towards the future.

Other than that, life hasn't ever been better.  I am on a quest to find true light and knowledge, not the false light presented by the church.