Seems like there’s a lot of confusion lately over what Mormons actually believe. If you are a befuddled believer or heathen, here’s a handy chart to help you out. This guide can help you track the progress of your soul from its disembodied birth in heaven to its final resting place in one of the four houses of the afterlife. Come to think of it, perhaps this would make a good board game . . .
I had thought things might be on the mend with my family for a while, but there was a big row on Monday over some books I had given my sister to read. I gave them to her a long time ago, back when I believed that because she was an adult, we could discuss any topic she brought to me. The books were part of a larger conversation we were having about anger and how to move past it and see the good in even hopelessly flawed situations. Two were by the Dalai Lama; Healing Anger and The Art of Happiness.
The third was a book by two evangelical ministers that discussed how to overcome a bad experience had with abusive clergy. I had been given that book by a friend when I was dealing with the aftermath of escaping a very damaging marriage. Leaving my ex took immense willpower as I had to finally throw off the controlling arms of priesthood leaders who were scaring me with damnation so that I wouldn’t leave a temple marriage. I had a lot of anger to process, and I made many notes in the margins of the book. My sister was dealing with a lot of similar anger against LDS authorities. She stopped believing in Mormonism long before I did, and she is still living under my parents’ roof whilst attending university. We had several conversations about how to let go of anger, see the good in situations, and I offered her that book so that she could see what I was like at my most angry and hopefully learn to bypass many of the negative emotions I had felt by focusing on forgiveness and patience.
I had made a promise back in October to my parents to never discuss politics or religion with any of my siblings — even the adult ones — and I have held to that. But I forgot about the books.
My father routinely searches my sister’s room, as he used to do to me. He found the books, and had no way of knowing that they had arrived long before I understood the degree of authority they still expected to have over children who were legally adults but still under their roof. The Dalai Lama was scoffed at, but the book on clerical abuse was a cause for outrage. Before even flipping through to see that it ends on a very positive note, my parents took this text as a personal attack on the infallibility of the LDS priesthood. In their view, a book that states that men who claim to speak for God are not always doing so, and that it’s ok to protect yourself from abuse, is heresy.
I found out just how personally my father takes all of this. “The church is not an organisation or a building,” he told me over the phone. “I am the church. Any criticism of the church is criticism of me.”
I was astounded. Never in my most orthodox days did I ever believe that there was no distinction between an organisation and the people that make it up. Perhaps that’s why I was never destined to be a good Mormon? I can’t say. It’s just too befuddling for me to get my head around just now.
He told me that the path I had chosen put an enormous rift between us and that from now on we would have very little in common in this life or the next. He told me that if I was ever to visit his house again he didn’t want me to ever speak about what I think or believe, and that if I could follow that rule “we are prepared to receive you.”
Blimey. What a warm invitation. What I heard him say was:
- Your rejection of the church is a personal rejection of your parents
- We are going to heaven; You are going to hell
- We have nothing in common
- I don’t want to know anything about who you are
- If you can play a good little black sheep, we will tolerate your presence
Perhaps that’s just me being cynical because I’m still feeling the sting, but I can’t help but resent the fact that they reserve the right to recriminate me for every past wrong, no matter how long done. And because of those forgotten books and the way they were discovered, that’s one more thing I’ll never be forgiven for.
This is not a cynical question, nor is it a trap. I sincerely want to know: if everything that I am is disgusting and threatening to my parents, why do they want to have a relationship with me at all?
If there are any still-faithful LDS readers out there, or people who remember what it’s like to be faithful, would you take the apostasy of a child this personally? Would you place similar restrictions on the apostate child? Would you realise that the consequence of such a strict response has the effect of alienating your other children from you, making them more likely to reject such authoritarian religious beliefs? How would you resolve the struggle between the bits of LDS orthodoxy that are mandatory and the realities of how difficult some aspects of Mormon belief can be to deal with?
- A taco will never tell you “thou shalt have no other tacos before me.”
- Everyone each sees their own personal taco in a unique way; some add pico de gallo, others avocado. But nobody ever argues over their personal interpretation of a taco.
- Tacos do not threaten hellfire; they just come with a pleasant zesty tingle.
- Tacos don’t expect you to pretend that they are transmogrified into human flesh when you eat them.
- Tacos make you feel better about being shitfaced at 2 am, not worse.
- Tacos let you have pork. Mmm, carnitas . . .
- Tacos don’t make you show up at a taqueria at 10 am every Sunday. You can just go whenever you like.
- Tacos do not charge ten percent of your income in order to gain access to them.
- Tacos don’t get annoyed if you don’t feel like having a taco.
- A taco doesn’t make you talk to it in the false hope that it will say something back.
- If you’re having sex and you realise that the taco is watching you, it isn’t creepy.
- Tacos are not invisible and intangible. They can be seen, smelled, and tasted.
- Tacos don’t make you tell other people about tacos.
- There’s no need to shove tacos down children’s throats. Most kids love them!
- If somebody is droning on and on and on in some kind of preachy way, the pleasant crunch of a taco will drown out whatever they are saying.
Please add your own reasons why tacos are better than God!
Horrified but unsurprised by The Gay Dot’s report of an LDS bishop saying suicide is preferable to being gay, I retweeted the link to the post. xJane sparked the following train of thought yesterday:
NotSoPoetic: (link) #mormon bishop says suicide is preferable to being gay http://bit.ly/eMtcvm
xJane: @NotSoPoetic Does suicide send you to hell in Mormonism (as it does in Catholicism)?
NotSoPoetic: @xJane It sends you to the lowest heaven with Hitler and serial killers. Only high-up priesthood holders who defect can go to mormon hell.
xJane: @NotSoPoetic wait, Hitler’s in heaven? I’m SET!
xJane: @NotSoPoetic but still, weighing theological probabilities, wouldn’t it be better just to be gay?
NotSoPoetic: @xJane From mormon perspective, yes, as sexual sin is second to killing. Gay mormons may possibly be able to get into second highest heaven.
xJane: @NotSoPoetic So, he was homophobic and wrong!
And suddenly Twitter is no longer sufficient for the magnitude of this conversation. xJane is correct; this LDS bishop, who abused the trust of a gay Mormon coming out to him by responding that it was “best to follow through the suicide than to give into men,” was wrong. First, because he’s a bigot. Second, because what he’s said is theologically incorrect from an LDS perspective.
Mormons have a much more complicated and forgiving scheme of salvation and damnation than your garden variety Christianity. The traditional view is as follows:
Baptism -> Death -> Go to Heaven
Really that’s supposed to be it. There’s a Heaven and a Hell, and if you become a Christian you get to go to heaven. It’s gotten much more complex over the years, with niggling arguments over who can perform the baptism and how much water to use, and then the Catholics had to go and add bleeding Limbo to the mix. But I think we can agree that the traditional concept of Christian salvation involves acknowledging the sacrifice of Christ through the act of baptism, which then places your name on St. Peter’s VIP list.
Mormons, being the pyramid-scheme loving, wacky new business model enthusiasts that they are, had to go and muck up the works by injecting a fat load of second chances, bootstrapping and free will into the equation:
pre-existence -> earth life -> death -> bonus round -> final judgement -> go to one of three levels of heaven
Mormons teach that prior to this life they voted on participating in God’s plan for humanity, choosing to go through with an earthly life. They were given bodies, sent to earth and view this life as a trial. Jesus dying for all mankind gets nearly everybody out of Hell. In fact, the only way to get into Mormon Hell is through deliberate rejection of entering any kind of heaven. Only “Sons of Perdition” or priesthood-holding men in leadership positions allowing them a “sure knowledge” of God and His PlanTM can be damned to join Lucifer and his rebellious angels in Hell. In a way this really marginalises the function of Jesus in humanity’s salvation. Even serial killers get to go to some kind of Heaven. Your religious affiliation plays no part in your pretty much guaranteed pass out of Hell.
Mormons believe that after we all die we go to a holding tank until the Final Judgement Day that accompanies Christ’s Second Coming. Good Mormons go to Paradise, where they are called upon to minister to those who chose not to become Mormons or didn’t have the chance to hear about Mormonism. Back on earth, the living perform the necessary rituals for dead people so that they can become Mormons posthumously and have a shot at one of the higher kingdoms of heaven.
After the Final Judgement, Human beings, based on their Mormonliness, are sorted into three kingdoms not unlike the various houses at Hogwarts. Everyone is guaranteed to at least find a home in the Telestial Kingdom, the Slytherin of the Mormon afterlife. Suicides, murderers, and the scum of all mankind will be found in this kingdom. And apparently it’s not too bad! Wilford Woodruff (allegedly) once said that if human beings knew how lovely it was in this lowliest of heavens, they’d be killing themselves to get there, and the general understanding among Mormons is that Telestial Slytherin House is pretty nice.
In the middle is the Terrestrial Kingdom for spiritual Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, where decent non-Mormon people and backslidden Mormons will go. These are folks who never became Mormon or didn’t accept posthumous Mormonisation.
The Gryffindor of the afterlife is the Celestial Kingdom, which is for good Mormons. The top tier of Celestial glory is reserved for Mormons who are heterosexually married in the temple. (You can see how this makes being gay a problem.) For years it was also taught that a man needed at least three wives to achieve this highest level of glory, something that Fundamentalist Mormons and traditionalist LDS still believe in. Good Mormons who have done everything right, received their temple ordinances, but never got married, will serve as “ministering angels,” a bit like personal assistants to the glorified married folks birthing new spirit babies and creating new worlds to set up yet another deified Ponzi scheme.
These ministering angels in the Celestial Kingdom should, doctrinally speaking, include gay Mormons who remained faithful to their covenants. Gay Mormons who killed themselves, regardless of other issues of worthiness, would end up in the Telestial Kingdom. It’s hard to say where a sexually active gay Mormon would end up. I want to say that if the person had ethical sexual relationships, they’d likely end up in the Terrestrial Kingdom. So if the Mormons are right, repression or living a gay lifestyle seems like it leads to a better situation than suicide.
So not only was that worthless git of a bishop abusing his parishioner by telling him suicide was better than being gay, he was wrong according to his own doctrine.
And, since I believe Mormon teachings are a load of rubbish, I’ll add that he was just plain wrong.
Not a good week for me. I’ve found out what my mum thinks of me, and the level of paranoia about my alleged crimes against my parents and the church are positively Orwellian. I wouldn’t be able to believe that she really thought those things of me if I didn’t have confirmation from one of my siblings who is also likely on the way out of the church.
I’ve been pronounced “anti” my parents and the church, and any LDS person will know the power of that label. It’s comparable to being labelled “suppressive” in Scientology, although Mormons certainly won’t attempt to sue former members or actively attempt to ruin their lives.
I’ve been ordered not to have any contact with my siblings, since I’ve allegedly tried to usurp parental authority, persuade them to leave the church, and tried to influence them to follow me. I don’t believe any of these charges are true, and neither do my siblings. Thanks to the Internet I’m still able to have contact with them, and they think this situation is utter bullshit. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to help with alleviating the impression that I influence my siblings to go against my parents.
I hope over time this situation can be repaired, but for now I’m grateful to have so many good friends in my life. There is so much more to family than blood. I have a family of my own choosing, made up of people who love me unconditionally because of and in spite of everything about me. And I love them back — unreservedly, unapologetically, and unfailingly.
It hurts. A lot. I’ve had to fire up every happy song in my library to banish the ironic version of “Families Can Be Together Forever” that’s been playing in my head.
I recently sent in my resignation letter. Here’s the FAQ:
What was in the letter?
I copied the text of a sample resignation letter available on many sites explaining how to resign and used that. I chose the briefest and most perfunctory version, which contained all the needed language to prevent any stalling or refusal to comply on their end. There was no point in getting personal, since my resignation is going to be handled by some drone at the COB who has no interest or need to hear my list of grievances. The sample letter is a fitting way to resign, because it treats LDS, Inc. with the same one size fits all attitude with which it treated me.
What were your real reasons?
There are oh, so many, but if I had to sum it up:
- The Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price are not historical records. This an essential requirement for the church being true.
- Mormonism privileges whiteness over other races in its scripture, culture, and power structure, holding that dark skin is a punishment from God.
- Women are barred from leadership and kept segregated from one another through multiple layers of priesthood authority.
- The top-down structure of church power leaves no method for correcting abusive or incompetent leaders.
- Loyalty to the institutional church is prized over loyalty to family or the gospel.
- Homosexuality is forbidden, despite scientific evidence that it is natural and normal.
- The church has repeatedly engaged in political activity over the years that is racist, sexist, and homophobic.
- The church has changed so much over the years that even if the organisation was the true church when Joseph Smith founded it, it isn’t the same organisation now.
What was the procedure?
I used a letter that contained the necessary language to require them to mark me as no longer a member. The letter was notarised and I scanned it for my records before sending it with a tracking number so I could verify delivery. Now it’s the waiting game. The church usually sits on these letters for a month before taking action, despite the fact that legally I was no longer a member the moment they received the letter.
Does your family know yet?
No. I’m waiting for confirmation that I’m no longer a member before telling them. This is partly because I don’t want to give them false hope that I can be dissuaded during the Church’s waiting period. It’s also partly because I want them to know that my decision was real and final when they learn I’m no longer a member.
What’s your family’s reaction going to be?
Not sure. Either shock, sadness, and withdrawing, or shock, sadness and anger. I shall only inform my parents initially and let them decide who they wish to tell and when. I hope for my granny’s sake they do not tell her. I will happily pretend for her sake. She’s very old and doesn’t need this burden. My guess is that there will be a period of estrangement, but for the sake of appearances they’ll eventually let me back in to family events.
How do you feel?
Not that different. This is just executing the formalities of a state of mind I’ve been in for some time. My membership in the LDS Church is largely symbolic, as I haven’t attended actively for several years. The only anxiety I feel is over how much this will hurt my parents, and I particularly worry about my elderly grandmother should they choose to tell her.
Dunno. Heroin? More likely I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing all along — earning a living, spending time with friends, and looking after the loved ones in my life. Damage control and drafting the letter that will break the news to mum and dad. After all, I want them to get this bad news from me and not from the LDS gossip chain . . .
Not a good day for Islamic political figures today. The newest black sheep in the Saudi Royal family was convicted in London of murdering his servant after a lengthy history of abusing him. Islamists held in prison with Prince Saud Abdulawhatever have also been making threats at him because the prince has now been outed as not only a sadistic psychopath, but also a party boy who loved to carouse with alcohol and rentboys. Solitary confinement in a British prison never looked so good; if he ever gets back to Saudi Arabia, I doubt even his family connections will keep him from being executed for the capital crime of being very, very gay.
The real story boiling my blood is the case of two battered women in the United Arab Emirates, where after a man brutally attacked his wife and daughter he was told it’s just fine to beat them, but he went a bit too far by leaving physical marks.
The Koran does specify proper procedure for wife beating. I consulted a recovering Muslim friend, Fatima (not her real name), and she agreed that it is impossible to read those verses in a way that does not give tacit approval to a man being violent toward his wife, both psychologically and physically. Keep in mind that Muslims are obligated to accept the Koran as the pure unadulterated actual words of god. At least other faiths acknowledge human beings as intermediaries. For Islam, the Koran is much less negotiable than other forms of scripture. The only way around the teaching is to move into a reformed or post-Muslim mindset and ignore these verses, the way many modern Christian sects view the unsavoury parts of the Old Testament, but to openly advocate this would be viewed as apostasy by most Muslims. Essentially, all non-new-age schools of Islamic thought agree that a Muslim man has the right to humiliate his wife. What they argue over is how hard she should be hit. It’s astonishing to see people miss the point that any form of humiliation, even symbolic, is still harmful to the woman and her abuser.
Problem one with this so-called word of god: It ignores the lasting damage done by psychological abuse. Mental scars take longer to heal than physical damage. Even if a man taps a woman under his power lightly, the purpose is still to humiliate, control, and demean. It tells a woman, “I may not be really hurting you now, and you owe me gratitude for that. Just remember that if you really displease me I’ve got the right to put you in your place, you stupid cow.”
My second problem is the almost laughable conclusion that the daughter in the case was “too old” at the age of 23 to receive physical discipline from her father. Clearly her mother wasn’t too old, so the issue is that really the daughter should have had her own protector and maintainer husband to do the beatings himself.
This kind of story needs intense scrutiny in the news. It’s disturbing to see papers like The Guardian pulling the story “for legal reasons.” I expect more backbone from a British news source. Religion does not deserve immunity from criticism. Beliefs that are barbaric should not be tolerated in any way, shape or form. Islam is such a hot-button issue that many people instantly shy away from any legitimate criticism of the system, lest they be painted “Islamophobic.” As Fatima pointed out to me: “All religions have serious problems: violence, magical thinking, misogyny, superstition, or truth denial. Islam has all of the following. We need to stop lying to ourselves. When Islam is in the wrong, it is an imperative to say so.” I couldn’t agree more.
I didn’t pay any attention to Ginrul Confernz, as my BYU brethren were wont to pronounce it. I spent the weekend pubbing and clubbing in my hometown. (It’s the rather sprawly one with the horribly oversized airport on the lower right corner of the map.) The advantage of this laziness is that I can reap the fruit of everyone else’s labour.
Looks like most of the talks were the usual — follow the prophet, gender roles, tithing, missionary work et cetera et cetera. Apart from honourable mention given to the soppy yet sweet talk on gratitude by CEO Monson, the headline-grabber was Boyd K. Packer’s latest assault on The Gay.
This evening @porlob put forth the question: “Anyone else starting to think Boyd K. Packer is a big ol’ closet-case? He’s always had hangups on sex and and gayness.”
The answer: Yes. Unequivocally, absolutely, unreservedly. No person who devotes as much of their professional career as Packer has to sexual repression and denial can possibly be a healthy individual. Given the timely release of the most comprehensive study of American sexual behaviour ever, it seems that 8% of American males are gay or bisexual. (My guess is that the number is likely a percentage point or two higher, given that homosexuality is very likely to be under-reported due to stigma.) Eight percent. Let’s see. There are twelve apostles in the LDS church. What’s one divided by twelve? Gee whiz, it’s eight percent.
Based on pure statistics, somebody in the quorum is just a little more fabulous than the rest. My money’s on Packer. He was the 10th of 11 children; younger sons are more likely to be gay. Each older brother increases the probability of being gay by a third. Packer is the fifth son.
It’s interesting that all published accounts of Packer’s courtship with his wife, Donna, show her as the initiator. The story goes that Packer was asked to give a talk in a ward he did not usually attend. His future wife was present and thought to herself “Now, this is the type of man I would wish to marry.”
If there’s one central theme to Packer’s career, it’s self-denial. Glancing over the greatest hits of his career, it’s easy to see the signs of a deeply conflicted man who represses himself so badly that he can’t ponder a world where all men don’t need similar restraints. This is a bloke who disdains art and music if it doesn’t serve a utilitarian function of promoting “The Spirit.” I found a fairly comprehensive list of his speeches, and a disproportionate number are addressed at the youth, and a disproportionate number address masturbation, sex and pornography. It is nearly impossible for him to give a talk that is aimed at youth without sexualising them to some degree. These highlights stuck out at me, and I think they offer us a glimpse into his state of mind when we consider that his talks may be aimed at himself as much as they were at us:
- 1965: I’m a Person: In an uncharacteristic speech, Packer tells us we should “feel free, perfectly free, uninhibited” and affirms the importance of feeling like “a person” with “eternal worth.” This hardly sounds like the mean-spirited old man we hear from today.
- 1970: The Path to Manhood: Packer’s appropriately-titled début as a member of the twelve highlights the necessity of marrying a woman in the temple and pillow talk with his military bunkmate in which he asks “What did I do wrong?” He relates how a military supervisor told him that he was too uptight and needed to go out and have some fun. Packer congratulates himself for never giving in to self-gratification.
- 1972: Why Stay Morally Clean?: Packer tells teenagers to stay out of each others’ pants. Sex is only for procreation, and nobody has any reason to grope one another.
- 1976: To Young Men Only: Don’t touch yourself. Self-gratification is evil. Gay sex is evil. If you touch yourself, you will go gay. If someone tries to get gay with you, beat them up.
- 1981: Marriage – Divorce is evil. Sex is only permitted in marriage. Do not lose faith in marriage. Do not lose faith in marriage. Do not lose faith in marriage.
- 1986: Little Children – The top two gravest threats to children are the idea that any two adults can have sex even if they aren’t married and “misuse of that procreative power in degraded acts of perversion is widely promoted as the right of consenting adults.” The biggest threat to kids is two people enjoying themselves in a consensual relationship. Not lack of access to education, physical abuse, or malnutrition.
- 1989: To Young Women and Men – AIDS and crack and Satanism is your doom if you give into temptation.
- 1993: Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council – Gays, lesbians, feminists and intellectuals (all groups that advocate self-acceptance and explosion of stigmatising gender roles) are the greatest threat the church faces.
- 1996: The Unwritten Order of Things – Even when you are dead, you don’t deserve to have some attention for yourself. Even your funeral needs to be co-opted as a marketing tool for The Church. High-ranking priesthood leaders should never indulge themselves and come down from the stand to sit with their families during church. Don’t ever ask to be released from a calling.
- 1997: The Father and the Family – Packer begins with an overtly sexual definition of why people have families but later reprises his wish that everyone can feel like “a person.”
- 2009: Counsel to Young Men – Stay pure and worthy. Don’t wank and don’t let anyone else wank for you.
- 2010: October Conference – Gay is a choice. The church will continue to try to stigmatise homosexual relationships by preventing them from gaining social and legal standing.
It makes sense that a man who refuses to confront his own sexuality would give sermons demonizing free thought demonising self-indulgence. The most telling passage, for me, comes from “For Young Men Only.” Dim the lights and read this passage aloud to yourself in a sultry voice. It quickly becomes clear that no person comfortable with their sexuality could have possibly imagined that the following would have any value in a meeting meant for spiritual education:
Now a warning! I am hesitant to even mention it, for it is not pleasant. It must be labeled as major transgression. But I will speak plainly. There are some circumstances in which young men may be tempted to handle one another, to have contact with one another physically in unusual ways. Latter-day Saint young men are not to do this. Sometimes this begins in a moment of idle foolishness, when boys are just playing around. But it is not foolishness. It is remarkably dangerous. Such practices, however tempting, are perversion. When a young man is finding his way into manhood, such experiences can misdirect his normal desires and pervert him not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. It was intended that we use this power only with our partner in marriage. I repeat, very plainly, physical mischief with another man is forbidden. It is forbidden by the Lord. There are some men who entice young men to join them in these immoral acts. If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that, it is time to vigorously resist.
Now skip to the following and imagine yourself alone in a room, penning these words, tears trickling down your face as you force yourself to believe them:
There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just “that way” and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil. No one is locked into that kind of life. From our premortal life we were directed into a physical body. There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits. Boys are to become men –masculine, manly men –ultimately to become husbands and fathers. No one is predestined to a perverted use of these powers.
Verbal self-flagellation if I ever read it. If you are trying to force yourself to believe such words, the best method would be to get others to believe them too. The level of obsession is ridiculous. Packer’s in the closet, but the door is made of glass. The cheap shot that I simply can’t avoid taking is the irony of a repressed self-loathing gay man with the surname of “Packer.” He is someone to be pitied and loathed. When he shuffles off the mortal coil, the world will be a better place. In different circumstances, he could have led a happier and more productive life. However, the part of me that wants to forgive him for being the victim of a system that assaulted his identity from birth is overwhelmed by the part of me that holds him responsible for the deaths of countless LGBT youth.
Come out of the closet, Boyd. It isn’t too late. You can’t take back the years of agony you inflicted on the trusting souls who believed you spoke for God, but now that you’re at the end of your life and your health is beginning to fail, would it really be so bad to go through the last rite of honesty?
Looks like Pastor Terry Jones finally came to his senses. The right to burn any book is and ought to be a protected right. Exercising that right, however, is tacky and juvenile because burning books is for psychotic totalitarian idiots, not civilised human beings. All I’m left with on this topic is:
- Fifty slope-browed fundamentalists in Florida do not merit media attention.
- If a book is potentially controversial or might promote dangerous ideologies, it is especially important that the book is kept so individuals can learn for themselves what parts of it are harmful. This will prevent repeating the mistakes of the past.
- Even if you think the Koran is a deficient guide for society, destroying copies of it is not anything more than an ideological temper tantrum. Change your wet nappies and grow up.