Looking back

On a day a few weeks after I turned eight, my mother was curling my hair as I stood in her room in my white dress. I remembered thinking it was odd that my hair was being meticulously fluffed, as it was about to get soaked. The whole family was milling about in the lounge getting ready to go to the chapel. My dress had lace and ribbons, and a nice thick slip underneath so nothing would show when it all got soaked, Mum had ripped the tag off my knickers because it had black printing on it, as if this would somehow diminish the water’s ability to bleach the sins from my soul.

I stared at myself in the mirror, unused to getting this much fuss and attention. I was the oldest grandchild in the family, the example for the next generation of Mormons. My mother probably felt a sense of pride at having produced the first grandchild to be baptised in the extended family, although the race was still on to produce the first future priesthood holder. (Do not fear; she won this race eventually.)

As my head bobbed from the gentle strokes of hairbrush and hot iron, I thought of something. Here I was, about to engage in a very important ritual, and I had never actually agreed to do it. (I’ll be so vain as to acknowledge that I was a rather precocious eight-year-old.)

I turned to my mother, who nearly burnt her finger on the curler from the unexpected movement. “Mum, do I have to get baptised?” The question was not one of fear, but rather curiosity. I just wanted to know if I had any say in the matter, or if having to get baptised was simply another “must,” like eating veg, no telly on school nights, or bedtime.

She looked very alarmed for a moment, but remained calm. “No,” she told me. “It’s a choice. You should only do it if you want to.”

My immature mind considered this possibility for a moment. I was too young to understand that I really was unable to make a real decision on the issue. I had been carefully conditioned since birth to understand that this was the only path to walk on. All of the preparations for my baptism had taken my compliance in the ritual for granted. I had been trotted up to the microphone on fast Sundays and had my opinions whispered into my ear so that I could parrot them before the congregation. “I know this church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet. I love my mummy and my daddy and my teachers. I know President So-and-So is a prophet.” My “testimony” was something I’d been spoon-fed, like baby food. So far I hadn’t tasted anything bad, so I had no reason to bite the hand that fed me.

“Well, I think I shall,” I told my mum. She sighed with relief finished curling my hair and sent me out to be admired by the family before we left for the chapel.

An unremarkable moment, But that day a light went off. Although I didn’t grasp the meaning of free will, I recognised the concept. I didn’t really give the decision much thought, but I at least saw that a decision could be made. Even in my first moments of Church membership, the spark of inquiry was there.

Now that I look back on it, I don’t think I ever had what it takes for this Mormonism thing to work out.

9 thoughts on “Looking back

  1. So LDS baptism is almost exactly the same as Catholic First Communion, eh? (minus the holy dunk tank) I shall post on it! Haha, you give me so many ideas, I ought to pay you or something.

  2. This infuriates me. Choosing to be baptized? There is no such thing for a child born mormon.
    I don’t remember sending out baptismal announcements/invitations back in the 70’s, or phrasing it as the child’s choice back then. So when I received one from a niece in Utah recently, with professional photos like an engagement announcement or wedding invitation, I thought it was a little much. Then I read what it said: “______ has chosen to be baptized…” Chosen my a$$.

    • When you grow up being indoctrinated into the Truth of any belief system, participation in any rituals cannot be considered voluntary or a choice. My baptism wasn’t a choice because I was a baby; my First Communion and Confirmation weren’t a choice, because what other choice is there when my family has drilled it into me that this is the only way to be? I wasn’t fully informed about my “options.” And I definitely wasn’t seriously consulted on whether or not I really wanted this for myself. The LDS emphasis on free agency makes it all the more hypocritical, in my opinion.

      The idea that kids should just do what we tell them to is appalling to me.

  3. Your choice was to please your mother, maybe? That’s really how it all works, after all. The cult is adept at deeply intertwining its doctrines into our most cherished family relationships. This is probably the primary reason it’s so frightening and painful to walk away. We have to leave behind a lot more than our former faith. We have to cut out pieces of our hearts in order to be true to ourselves.

    And they dare ask why we “can’t leave it alone.”

    • Well, CD, in fairness to those still believing, these issues are often hard, if not impossible, to fully perceive until after you’ve left. Many ask why you can’t “leave it alone”, because they simply have no idea what befalls those who’ve left. I certainly didn’t. In my particular case, it wasn’t lack of empathy, or judgmentalism; it was extreme naivite. I simply had no idea that real people–people I’d loved, and shared my life with–could turn on me like that.

  4. I was told in the months leading up to my mormon baptism that mormons weren’t baptized until age 8 so they could make the choice themselves, rather than as a baby like those “evil” Catholics. But of course, eight is not an age at which someone should be asked to make that choice.
    Very poignant, thoughtful writing. I really enjoy reading your thoughts on the mormon church.

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