Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Things Hidden, Part 4 (or Ignorance Was Bliss)

I t's hard to pinpoint the moment my religious journey shifted. Perhaps I was always on this path. Perhaps me leaving religion and putting aside faith was inevitable and always going to happen. Who knows? I can definitely point to some paradigm shifts and "Aha!" moments though. But it would naive of me to discard the many years of religious and spiritual experiences as disingenuous. So I won't.

I think the first big paradigm shift for me, began when Randal was finishing his Masters degree at Midwestern University. It was probably 2006 or 2007. In a class about learning styles, he was introduced to personality psychology. The book that started it all was Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey (a clinical psychologist and former department chair at UC Fullerton). Randal taught me what he learned from this book and finally in 2010, I read the book for myself. And then I read several more books on the subject all written by clinical psychologists. And now I'm going to school to learn more about psychology (and get some credibility). As I learned about psychology - and specifically personalities - I began to see psychologically harmful things that I had been taught growing up in Mormonism. One thing that stood out at the beginning, was that the greatest accomplishment and satisfaction that women would ever have, would be that of mother. But I'll come back to that.

In 2009 or 2010, the next paradigm shift began. This one was also prompted by a book. I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The subject matter of the book and Ms. Rand's philosophy are irrelevant. Reading this book did a funny thing. It didn't change what I thought; rather, it changed how I thought. Ms. Rand introduced me to critical thinking, logic, and reason (I know some of you are laughing at that). Suddenly, I began questioning things. It started with political leaders and laws. When I started researching laws and the histories behind them, I discovered some astounding things. I think the first thing I looked into was marijuana use. It seems like it was around that time that the first states were voting on medical marijuana use and I wanted to be educated. Turns out, the history behind its criminalization is full of misleading propaganda and out-right lies. The ridiculousness of it could be the plot for a B movie (and was in 1936). The interesting thing about me questioning authority figures is that one, it didn't start then, and two, it didn't stop with political leaders and history teachers. It was an easy transition to question spiritual and religious leaders and discover that they're wrong more often than they're right.

But all that began several years before I decided was really done with religion. My transition was a slow one. Church was still an overall net positive. I felt better when I went to church and the temple. I felt better when I read the scriptures and prayed. I lived in amazing wards and felt the love of people through their service to me and mine to them. 

When I went back to school in 2011, I was studying to become a yoga teacher. Ever since my first yoga class in 1999 or 2000, I've always loved yoga and have felt better when I was able to have regular yoga practice. So deepening my study in a teacher training program was amazing. I had to take philosophy of yoga classes which is intertwined with Hindu philosophy. During that time, the questions I had about Mormonism were getting harder to reconcile. I had reached a point where I was separating "eternal doctrines" from "policies and practices." I still felt a connection and appreciation for the uniquely Mormon teachings of eternal growth and the potentiality of godhood. New Testament teachings of love God and love your neighbor found greater importance to me. But the rules and regulations that, over the years, had become the litmus test of "sainthood" repelled me. Things like the "Word of Wisdom" and "Law of Tithing" seemed like ridiculous rules that excluded otherwise Christlike people from church membership and full participation in the church. The whole thing looked very pharisaical to me - the very thing Jesus spoke against! It was no wonder that yogic philosophy felt so right to me. Particularly the teaching of divinity. My first tattoo was "नमस्ते" which is "Namaste." Put simply, it means "the light in me recognizes the light in you and that they are the same." I found comfort and peace in thinking of divinity in everyone and everything. 

Around the same time I was studying yoga, I was asked to be a teacher in the women's class (Relief Society) at church. It was a calling I had always wanted and never had. It's a funny thing that during this time, my questioning of the religion got serious and I stopped believing. One lesson that I had to teach stands out. The title of the lesson was, "The Scriptures, the Most Valuable Library in the World." Just the title had me questioning whether or I could teach the lesson from an ethical standpoint. I certainly did not believe that the scriptures were the most valuable library in the world. I had read and studied the scriptures. During my early college years, I was a Religious Studies major and had studied Biblical Hebrew. I read the Hebrew Bible (the "Old Testament") in Hebrew. I had studied all of the books that Mormons consider scriptures through decades of Sunday School, Seminary, Institute classes, and personal study. And I had an extensive library that included every kind of book. I could not reconcile that the Scriptures to which my lesson referred, by themselves, were more valuable in any way than the rest of my library was without them - let alone other great libraries that have existed or do exist without those books. I taught the lesson anyway, and I was able to do so in a way that didn't compromise how I truly felt. And the lesson turned out pretty well, but it was becoming clear, that I was no longer a traditional believer.

After the separation and divorce, I really began to see things differently. It was an interesting thing to see teachings and council from leaders - especially general leaders who were supposed to be the closest to God - from the perspective of a single mother, happily divorced, intellectual, socially progressive, feminist woman. Which brings me back to the first big teaching I remember being dubious about: The greatest accomplishment and satisfaction that women would ever have, would be that of mother. This is absolutely false. And it kills me that women are being taught this. Some women will feel their greatest accomplishment and satisfaction through being a mother, but definitely not all women. Some women will never feel satisfaction through motherhood - either because they never become a mother, or because their brain is not wired for motherhood. And so there are, undoubtably, Mormon women who feel they are failing because they don't have children, or they are miserable being a mother. The psychological abuse that these women face in the Mormon church is heartbreaking. Granted, not all women are going to feel this way. I recognize that. But general Mormon leaders do not. Men who are supposed to be led by God do not understand this aspect of human physiology. My conclusion was that either these men were not led by God, or this God was not one I wanted to follow.

It was crystal clear, I no longer fit the mold I always had. Church was painful and people were surprisingly hateful - and it wasn't just your everyday members - local and general leaders were judgmental, exclusive, and even misogynistic. I hadn't been to the temple in nearly two years and I was afraid to go. The temple had always been a place of peace and comfort - even from the very first time I went. If was going to end my relationship with Mormonism, I wanted to end it on a good note, and was afraid that going back to the temple might jeopardize that. But I went. Mid-March 2013, my divorce was final, I was not longer a literal believer in Mormonism, I wasn't sure I believed in God, my temple recommend was about to expire, and my older son was about to turn 8 (the age Mormon children get baptized). Going to the temple needed to happen now or it was never going to happen. So I went. And I knew that if I were asked to make those same promises and commitments today, I would unequivocally say, "No." I ended up in a session with a girl who was going to the temple for the first time. She was there with her family and I could see the love and joy they were all experiencing. I remembered feeling that way also. But I no longer felt that. I left the temple that day with the closure that I needed. The next day, I told my family that I was done with church. I would not be in attendance at temple weddings. Israel and Elijah were not going to be baptized. I still supported all of them in their religious endeavors, and would participate where appropriate, but I and my family were not longer going to attend church or participate in ceremonies or ordinances ourselves.

As I've said in past posts, this has been a hard transition - but I think it has been harder on my family. Ignorance was bliss - for me, but mostly, for everyone around me.

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