Guest Post: A Mormon-Atheist Marriage

The following is a guest post by “Lehi,” an ex-Mormon atheist who was willing to share his story here. My usual house rules do not apply to guest posts. I allow readers to be pretty nasty to me before I show them the door. I expect a higher level of courtesy to be shown to those who have been brave enough to make themselves vulnerable in a public space. Thoughtful inquiry and respectful analysis are welcome. Nastiness is not. Should any of you have follow-up questions for Lehi, please do leave them below as part of my goal for guest posts is to stimulate the exchange of ideas.

Lehi’s Story

This is my story of the challenges of being an ex-Mormon atheist married to a life long and devoted Mormon. My spouse (let’s call her “Sariah”) and I are both descended from a long line of Mormons. We both grew up very Mormon –- regular church attendance, paying tithing, reading scriptures, and saying prayers. We both graduated from Seminary. I went on a full time mission. We met in college when I returned, and married in the temple. It was a very happy marriage. We almost never fought and rarely even disagreed. It was so easy to be together and we were happy.

The moment our marriage took a turn was in 2008 during the Prop 8 campaign in California. (Prop 8 was a ballot proposition to eliminate the rights of same sex couples to legally marry.) During sacrament meeting, our ward Bishop read a letter from the pulpit written by the First Presidency. It declared that same sex marriage was a moral issue of serious gravity and urged all members to do whatever we could (giving of our time, talents, and especially money) to pass Prop 8 and protect the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

After church I mentioned to my spouse how troubled I was by the letter. She, too, was upset and agreed it was definitely not something she would like to support. What she said following this, however, has haunted me ever since. She said that even though we disagreed, we should make a financial contribution to the Prop 8 campaign. It was a test of our faith, she explained, and by doing what is asked of us, even when we disagreed — especially when we disagreed — we would be showing our trust in the Lord and His prophets. In many ways that was the beginning of the end of my Mormonism and our happy marriage.

It was at this point I realized I was at a crossroads. I decided that it came down to either the Church was true or not. If it was really true, then I needed to give in 100% and stop questioning things, and turn my life over to it completely. If the Church wasn’t true, well, then what were we doing? Since I didn’t have a nearby grove of trees to which I could go and supplicate the Lord for direction, I took the 21st century approach of anyone lacking wisdom -I delved into books and the Internet. For the first time in my life in addition to reading all the pro-Mormon materials, I also took the forbidden path of reading things that were not approved by the Church. It took less than a week for the Mormon Temple of Cards to crumble before my investigation. It quickly became apparent that an honest inquiry and willingness to accept that the Church may not be true was all that was needed to completely dismantle everything I’d been taught about Mormonism my entire life of nearly forty years.

From my research and pondering it didn’t take long to go from losing my Mormon beliefs to losing my belief in God entirely. With my new beginner’s mind, I looked at not just Mormonism, but religion and faith in general, and observed the absurdity of all religions. Belief in God became so obviously based solely on wishful thinking, following tradition without examination, confirmation bias, and a general lack of critical thinking.

Having made this incredible discovery I was eager to share it with those I loved and free them from this fraudulent religion. I was too eager apparently, as nearly everyone I talked to did not merely disagree with what I had to say, but they didn’t even want to hear what I had to say. The most upsetting to me, of course, was with Sariah. I had foolishly figured she would just evaluate the evidence I presented to her, be as astounded and enraged as I was, and together we would leave Mormonism behind us. That was my own wishful thinking. She had no interest in what I had to say, and in fact, felt threatened. She truly feared for my soul and for our family (we had three young children at the time all under the age of eight). A divide in our relationship was forged. It became something we could not talk about without it being argumentative or leading to hurt feelings. After many discussions and tears, we finally just stopped talking about it. That, in my opinion, isn’t healthy for a relationship either — having a huge issue that is important to both of you and that comes up all the time, but cannot be discussed without it turning ugly. But it seemed like a better alternative than to constantly be arguing. So we just slowly drifted apart.

I recently started attending an ex-Mormon support group led by a licensed clinical social worker and I also began meeting individually with the social worker for therapy in dealing with this issue. The therapy has been incredibly helpful. My wife and I are now to the point that we can discuss religion amiably. It is still difficult, however, and there is seemingly an abundance of compromise on both of our sides, especially with regard to our children.

Even seemingly safe discussions are often polarizing and unpleasant. For example, during the ten-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, Time magazine did a special issue regarding that tragic day. There was a story of a man who survived being in the World Trade Center when it was struck by the plane. He was able to make it down the stairs and out of the building before it collapsed. He credited the choices he made to escape as directed by God. My wife found this story so inspiring. I found it appalling. She said it showed how humble he was to not take credit for his escape, but to rightfully give the honor to God. To me it is not a sign of humility to think yourself so important that the omnipotent Master of the Universe guided your every footstep while allowing a building to collapse with thousands of other people perishing in terror and agony. This is just one of many times when conversations quickly and easily turn into conflict.

The greatest challenge to our Mormon/Atheist relationship, however, has been in regards to raising our children. We have two sons and a daughter that we love dearly and want the best for. Unfortunately, to Sariah that means growing up Mormon, and to me growing up Mormon is the antithesis of a happy life. I so desperately want to get them out of what I view as a toxic environment, but to her their entire eternal salvation rests on their Mormonism.

Because they were already attending church when I stopped going, Sariah continued to take the children with her each Sunday. Then one Sunday morning our oldest son lamented while getting ready for church that it wasn’t fair that they had to go to church while I happily stayed home. I felt guilty and like a hypocrite. He was right, I thought, ‘why did he have to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself?’ In an instant of self-righteousness, without consulting with my wife, I said, “You are right, it isn’t fair. You can stay home with me.” Realizing this also wasn’t fair, I quickly amended it, “You can have a dad Sunday and a mom Sunday rotating every week.” On my Sunday I allowed them to stay home with me or go to church with her, their choice. On mom’s Sunday, they were required to go to church. Like all compromises, neither my wife nor I were satisfied with it. I was unhappy because they were still going to church and being indoctrinated with all kinds of idiocy even if only at half the rate. She didn’t like it because 50% church attendance was unacceptable to the Lord and thus to her. And yes, on dad’s Sunday they never opted to go to church, no matter how much guilt their mom heaped upon them, and like a good Christian, she can lay it on thick.

Church attendance is just a small fraction of the potential conflicts inherent in trying to raise children with two drastically different worldviews. Do we have family prayer? Scripture study? Bless the food? Do we encourage the children to pray and study the scriptures on their own? Do they get baptized? Pay tithing? These are things we are dealing with currently. Upcoming battles include seminary attendance, missions, and temple marriages.

Our home continues to be a Mormon home. There are framed pictures of Mormon temples and Jesus hanging on our walls, and Mormon paraphernalia scattered throughout the house -– pamphlets, church magazines, photos, etc. She has the children pray every night. In an attempt to help our marriage and under the advice of my therapist, the children are back to going to church every Sunday. The oldest two children have been baptized, not by me obviously (nor by their worthy and believing mom, ironically, but the Church is NOT sexist), and our third child will almost certainly also be baptized when he turns eight. I’ve been forbidden to bring alcohol or even coffee into our home. In exchange, my wife would say that she is compromising by allowing me to have atheist and anti-Mormon books such as ‘The God Delusion’ and ‘No Man Knows My History’ in our home. The presence of such books in our home is very distressing to her.

I want to end this with a hopeful conclusion since this is my actual life I’m writing about. And the place I find the most joy and hope are with our children. Although the children seem to be the main source of our religious conflict, they are likely also what keeps us together. We both love them unconditionally and want what is best for them, including having a happy family life. We have come to accept that neither of us will accept the other’s position regarding God and Mormonism, but are striving to work on compromise with respect and love. We clearly have a long way to go, but it is certainly worth struggling for. I guess you could say I still have something that I have faith in –- our family.

Follow-up Q&A with Lehi:

It seems like you approached deconversion with the same sort of missionary zeal Mormons are so famous for. Have any of your Mormon acquaintances grasped the irony of them slamming the proverbial door in their face when you showed up unannounced to let them know about the truth you’d discovered?

It is interesting to think of myself preaching against Mormonism with Mormon Missionary zeal. It didn’t feel like proselytizing when I was doing it, however. I was just so shocked at what I was finding about Mormonism that I felt compelled to share it. It was like I was sitting at a gourmet meal with people I love and discovering maggots in the food. Not just a few maggots either — it was maggot ubiquity. I naturally wanted to tell everyone I was sharing the meal with, ‘hey, this food is not the healthful meal we were told. In fact, it is rotten’. I guess I was naïve to think that my family and friends would listen to what I had to say, observe the maggots, thank me, and we would all get up and leave.

As to if they ‘grasp the irony of slamming the proverbial door’ as you so eloquently put it, well, I doubt it. If they have, they don’t give any indication of it. It is frustrating because I know what they know about Mormonism because I was a Mormon my entire life. They know I know what they know, and I still left. That they aren’t the slightest bit curious as to why I would leave it all behind and endure all the heartache and life-quakes those changes have brought is both perplexing and disappointing to me. Frankly, I feel as if they never even opened the door to slam it in my face. They heard me knocking at the door and ran and hid under with the food storage.

You mentioned that therapy has been beneficial to your relationship and has enabled you to have conversations about religion that are no longer traumatic. Would you say that your spouse now understands the rationale behind your loss of faith and subsequent transition to atheism? If she understands your reasons, what would you say is the main reason she does not consider them valid reasons for leaving Mormonism?

I presume she understands my rationale as well as a true believer possibly can without giving up being a true believer. I think it comes down to wishful thinking and a fear of change. She once said to me that she tried to understand my perspective, but it was too scary and upsetting and that she finds great comfort in the Mormon doctrine and the Mormon lifestyle and she cannot let it go. I don’t think she is foolish though, in fact, she is a very intelligent and highly educated person. I do think, however, she possesses heroic amounts of cognitive dissonance. She would refute that of course.

Your therapist advised you to require that your children attend church every Sunday, even if this is against their will. Has this benefitted your relationship with your spouse without any cost to your conscience or your relationship with your children?

My therapist didn’t advise that I require the children to attend church, he just recommended that I reevaluate if it is worth destroying our relationship over this one issue. When I gave in and allowed her to take them every Sunday things between us improved immensely, but it is always tricky when the children are caught in the middle of our disagreements. I hate for them to feel like pawns in a game of chess between their parents. As they get older I will certainly reassert their ability to choose for themselves. Putting the choice to them, however, is still placing a burden on them: Do they continue to live as Mormons and risk their dad thinking they are making a huge mistake, or do they stop and risk disappointing and upsetting their mom? Not great options.

Letting Sariah take the children to church every Sunday has benefitted our relationship in that she is much happier and doesn’t resent me every other Sunday when the children would opt to stay home and she had to go to church by herself. You are correct that it has taken a toll on my conscience, but I rationalize it by reminding myself that they are smart kids, and they can figure things out for themselves. I admit that I’m banking on the probability that they aren’t thoroughly brainwashed in the meantime. I think back to when I was a child, and especially a teenager, and I wonder if things would have been different for me if I had one person in my life, just one single person, that offered a bit of critical thinking in the ocean of faith I was swimming in. If I had one person that gave me the option to leave, or validated any questions or the doubts I had, I think that would have made a world of difference for me. That is what I want to be for my children.

I should confess that on Sunday mornings while they are getting ready for church, I tell them to not believe everything they are told at church. I actually think it is good advice for life in general –- don’t believe everything you are told. When it comes to church though, sometimes I wonder if instead of saying ‘don’t believe everything you are told ’ I should say ‘don’t believe anything you are told’.

My relationship with the kids hasn’t suffered appreciably since they restarted attending church regularly. They recognize that it makes their mom happy and has brought peace to our home, and so they dutifully go with her. I’m not sure how long it will last though.

For now while your children are young their participation in church does not presumably receive much financial support from you. Down the road, if your children serve missions or wish to attend BYU, how would you feel about funding such activities?

Excellent question. I’ve stewed over this at great length. We live in a predominantly Mormon community. The vast majority of high school graduates go on Mormon missions. Anyone who opts not to go on a mission is looked at in askance. If I refuse to fund a mission I am almost certain this will add to the community belief that I’m an evil apostate and generally poor father and husband. I also don’t want to drive a wedge between my relationship with any of my children by not supporting something they want to do.

Will I pay for my child’s wedding if I cannot attend the ceremony? It isn’t a pleasant thought. I don’t know what will happen in the years to come, but I certainly do not want to pay for Mormon missions, nor to I have any desire to send any money to BYU, but I also do not want to drive my children away. I still haven’t come to any conclusions or formulated any plans. Perhaps your readers could offer me some direction here.

How successfully do you feel your children are being indoctrinated in Mormon beliefs? Of your three children, how many do you think will be orthodox in their faith when they reach adulthood? Have any of them expressed a desire to disaffiliate from Mormonism, or do you anticipate that any of them will?

Our oldest child is 11. He has told me he doesn’t think there is a God, but he plays along to appease his mom and grandparents (and practically everyone else he knows). We rarely talk about it, so I don’t know how strongly he feels. I don’t hide my atheism, however, so the kids definitely know what I think. Our second child is 8. She seems more inclined to Mormonism. Whenever I make light of Mormon doctrine, she asks me to stop. Our third is 5. He is currently interested in Mormonism only so far as there are treats involved. I think that for all three children the conflict between choosing to be Mormon like their mom, or being secular like their dad will only become more acute as they get older. I can’t see into the future, and I don’t want to speculate. My main goal is simply to make sure they know they are loved, and to try to make them feel accepted and secure with themselves whatever they choose.

The presence of atheist literature in your home is distressing to your wife. Is the presence of Mormon paraphernalia in your home distressing to you? If so, does your wife know that or acknowledge that her religious choices are more prominently displayed?

The presence of Mormon paraphernalia in our home is beyond distressing to me, I find it downright disturbing. Take for instance the Proclamation to the Family, it is a clearly homophobic document that is intolerant of anything outside of the traditional husband, wife, and children family structure. Or the Articles of Faith, which tell us what we believe. How is that not a form of brainwashing? My wife hasn’t hung any more Mormon pictures on our walls since I’ve left the church. But she also hasn’t taken any down either. The church magazines, manuals, and other church propaganda are constantly coming in our home. Wow, I haven’t put much thought into this before, and now that you’ve got me thinking about it I wonder if I shouldn’t be more vocal about my disapproval of all the Mormon crap in our house. Hm.

What do you feel is the likelihood of your wife one day leaving Mormonism? What is the likelihood of you going back to the church?

I would like to think she may leave one day, but I have to accept that she very well may not, and I am resigned to the great likelihood that she won’t. She has not shown any inclination of doing so since I’ve left the church. It has been over four years. If anything, I think she has dug in her heels and become more fundamental since my leaving, perhaps to counterbalance my apostasy.

As for me, the only way I see myself ever going back to church is if I develop a brain tumor, have a stroke, or suffer some other kind of brain trauma. In short, the odds of either of us changing are very slim. This is why trying to figure out how to accept and respect each other’s beliefs and make it work for our family seems so vital.

Do I Need Them?

For several years my relationship with my family has fluctuated between non-existent and turbulent. I was disowned at one point, and for over a year after a fight in which my mother screamed repeatedly “you are so selfish” there was almost no contact at all. I did not come home for Christmas and while some of my siblings spoke to me occasionally, I knew that I would never be part of the family again.

Recently I’ve noticed a change in my mum’s behaviour; she calls me to ask how I am and even invited me to come spend a day with her recently. It’s a sad reflection on our relationship that I find this to be a significant change for the better, but I’m not about to rebuff it. She is, after all, my mum, and none of the ways in which she has failed me are due to her personality, but rather her devotion to Mormonism. I blame the church, not the member, for bad behaviour to apostates. My dad has been a different story. Since realising that I wasn’t going to come crawling back to the church with ten percent of my income to sacrifice on the altar of social acceptance, he’s written me off. He is not rude, but he is not interested. He treats me with civil detachment, addressing me with the same level of enthusiasm and interest that he would give to the friend of one of his children or a casual business acquaintance. I suppose it’s better than entering his house and living in fear of being whisked off to the spare room for a religious interrogation (a regular feature of life under his roof) but it’s also painful to realise that my father has decided I’m no longer worth the effort of treating like a daughter. But lack of conflict is better than constant conflict, so there it is. I’ll just have to be pragmatic when I get a birthday card signed “Love, Mum and Dad” in only my mother’s handwriting.

I am an ex-daughter, an ex-sister, an ex-niece and ex-granddaughter. Like an ex-spouse, I’m still around and people have to play nice when they see me, but they don’t think of me as a proper relative any longer. I’m not sure how to proceed. Mormonism prepares its subjects, especially the women, for a very particular life path. The skill set I was bred to have is very different from the skill set I’ve needed to operate as an unsupervised adult living outside a walled garden in the real world. I’m not helpless, but there are lots of areas where I’m simply not savvy. Just last week I was mentioning to Mr. Molly that I had realised that I’d never been trained how to think properly, and some of my biggest mistakes in my personal and professional life have stemmed from my conditioning to wantonly utilise circular logic and solipsistic thinking as well as a hard-wired refusal to change my mind in light of new information. The last nine years have been a brutal, messy self-education in learning how to think. I can’t imagine how much better off I’d be now if, in my childhood, my elders had taught me to examine the information given to me by authority figures rather than ingest it without question under threat of punishment.

The religious views of my family poisons their ability to interact with me, and I feel shackled by this. I can’t be myself around them because when I am myself and not in-character as an edited version of myself, I’ll casually refer to a million things that offend them. For example, yesterday I went to the cinema to see The World’s End (it was crap) and then to the pub for a pint and some lunch. If I’m trying to find a nice non-controversial topic to discuss with my family, a meal and a movie might seem hazard free. But with Mormons it isn’t. I went to the cinema on a Sunday1 to see a 15 movie (UK equivalent of an R-rating)2 and then went to a pub afterwards3 where I consumed alcohol4.

Every conversation I have with a Mormon has to be heavily edited, and I must keep track of every footnote in my mind. No matter what the topic, if I mention anything in the context of behaviour that makes a Mormon bristle, they cease to pay attention to what I’m trying to talk about and focus only on my sinfulness. Because of this it turns out to be better not to say anything about my life at all.

White lies may sanitise the story so that they pay attention to the events I describe and not the subtext of the ways in which my lifestyle fails to meet their approval. But lying is irksome and compromising. I’m not going to keep a lengthy mental record of the lies I’ve told to oblige people who take advantage of my tolerance by being open about their lifestyle without returning the favour. They can talk about going to the temple every week or the people they met at a church party, but I can’t tell them about a very pleasant conversation I had with someone I met at a wine tasting party. They won’t hear what I say about the conversation. They will fixate on the presence of alcohol and look at me with disgust.

So perhaps, after all, my Dad is right. Maybe at this point the most any of us can hope for our of our relationship is civil, disinterested small talk once in a while. The problem is this: without the warmth and love that comes with a familial relationship, I don’t know if there’s anything for either of us to get out of our interactions. We have so little in common that if we met as strangers it’s unlikely we would hit it off. If I met my parents now as new acquaintances I would likely come away with the impression that they were friendly but too forward about their beliefs.

I can’t invite them to dinner because, no matter how delicious the food, they would not be able to relax in the presence of a wine rack. I can’t make even casual references to current events because it triggers a suspicious reaction that I am mocking their religious and political beliefs with my liberal agenda. I can’t tell them about the books I read or the movies I enjoy because any media that features swearing, alcohol, sex, social themes, or “disrespectful children” make them angry. I’m not in a Work and the Glory book club and my blog does not consist of simpering posts about the faithful self-sacrifice of obedient women in the Bible. We literally cannot have a conversation about anything more controversial than whether gravy is more or less delicious with or without pepper. What kind of a relationship is that? None at all, it would seem.

Have any of you found yourselves in this sort of relationship purgatory? How did you mourn the relationships you used to have and which you now remember fondly? How did you come to terms with the deaths of those relationships? Do you now try to rekindle them, or do you see the charade of keeping up appearances as too much to bear?

1 – Seeking entertainment on the Sabbath is a sin, as is engaging in commerce.
2 – Viewing movies with a rating higher than a UK 12 or a US PG-13 is a sin
3 – Engaging in commerce again.
4 – Alcohol is right out for Mormons.

Preparing for Mum

My mum is coming for a visit this weekend. A year ago I never would have thought this was possible, when she hung up on me after telling me how selfish I was for, well, following my own thought process out of the Mormon church. In a certain light it is a selfish choice. I could follow the herd, which was in the best interest of the herd, or I could stop being a sheep, which was in the best interest of my dignity and self-respect.

At any rate, the ice has thawed somewhat over the many months and while my father does his best to avoid speaking to me, my mum has come back around a bit. I’m actually pleased that she’s coming to visit. When you get her on her own away from her responsibilities she’s loads of fun. However, I need to prepare the house so that none of our lifestyle differences are shoved in her face. Here’s all the things I have needed to clear away to make the house acceptable to a Mormon Mum:

– All glassware bearing the name of a booze company (Guinness, etc.)
– All the booze
– The wine racks
– A copy of The Kama Sutra
– Caffeinated tea
– Coffee
– Refrigerator magnet reading “I believe the glass is half full as long as there is whisky in it.”
– Empty beer bottles in the bin
– My collection of Mormon-related books, including scriptures, old lesson manuals, and titles such as The Book of Mammon, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, and Losing a Lost Tribe.
– Buddy Jesus figurine
– Coin purse reading “I’m Savin’ Up For Jesus!”
– Movies rated 15 and 18 (That’s R-rated to you Yanks)
– Flying Spaghetti Monster tea mug
– Sexy underpants in pile of washing

I think that should do it. Doubtless I’ll find a few more things in my final sweep, but I believe I’ve removed any tinder that could start a fire. Hopefully we’ll now just have a nice week-end.

Fingers crossed. Wish me luck.

New Directive: No More Independent Sacraments

I’ve managed to patch things up a bit recently with my family. Recently I went on holiday with the family and Mr. Molly. One of the things we were both concerned about was Sunday, when the family would have their own brief church meeting. I do not know if any of my family members know that I am no longer a member of the LDS church and so in their view should not take the sacrament. Mr. Molly is a Nevermo, so he excused himself to take a walk whilst the rest of the family met. I stayed because it was the politically appropriate thing to do.

I was asked to lead the music, which I felt comfortable doing. After the ranking male priesthood member started the meeting several younger family members were asked to bear their testimonies. This is something that’s always bothered me because assigning someone to bear a testimony violates the idea that testimonies should be voluntary and impromptu, given if and when the person feels it is appropriate. One family member still living with her parents is a closeted mentally ex-Mormon. I struggled with two conflicting emotions as I listened to her testimony sharing her gratitude for the men in her life who had the priesthood. On one hand, she was saying all the right words and the older family members were genuinely moved. On the other, she was talking absolute rubbish. I told her later that if it didn’t sound too cynical, I was very impressed by her acting ability. She thanked me heartily and reiterated her wish to move out as soon as she was old enough so she could stop pretending to believe.

A moment of great relief came when the bishop leading our family meeting informed us that Salt Lake has recently decreed that it is no longer permissible for the sacrament to be administered at private gatherings of family or friends. Sacrament may now only be administered during a regulation LDS Sacrament meeting. Until now, it was the norm for families to administer their own sacrament if they were away on holiday or somehow unable to be at church on a Sunday. I watched the faces of my family very carefully when this information was conveyed. The look on each face was a mixture of surprise, sadness, and submission.

I have a few questions for members, former members and non-members:

Do you feel that this change is doctrinal?
Do you feel that this change is appropriate?
Do you feel that this change was necessary?
Why do you think this change was made?
Do you think this change was made to discourage LDS people from being away from chapels on Sundays?

If anyone has more detailed information on this policy, such as whether or not it applies to Sacrament administered privately to those who are infirm and unable to come to church, I would be interested to know that as well.

I Am The Church

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?

Big sister plays the part of Master Yoda

Molly:
my day tomorrow will be mostly light so I can do your homework
You will rock your A-levels due to sisterly cheating

Little Sister:
oh brilliant! that’s good news 😛
thanks so much
i’d be dying right now!

Molly:
😀

Little Sister:
so i’ve been trying to straighten out things with [redacted] and it completely blew up in my face tonight. he said that the biggest reason our relationship didn’t work out was because of emotional abuse that doesn’t allow me to be a good communicator
and that i need therapy and he can’t see me anymore

Molly:
wut
does he think you are emotionally abusive?

Little Sister:
no like from mum and dad

Molly:
OH

Little Sister:
i’m abused

Molly:
well, based on my own personal experience I would say yes, we have experienced emotional abuse
There is no shame in coming to terms with that and getting therapy. I am.
in what way does he think you are a bad communicator?

Little Sister:
like i wouldn’t tell him everything that was going on and sometimes i’d bottle things up. but i think i’ve progressed a lot but it’s hard for him to see that. he was mostly saying that when i noticed that our relationship was going downhill, i didn’t immediately go to him and tell him
it took a long while

Molly:
That sounds like our family
bottle up, fester, explode
bottle up, fester, explode
ok
does he love you?
do you love him?

Little Sister:
i told him i needed a break, but so much drama has gone down since then that i don’t know if i love him anymore. what hurt most was that tonight he said he doesn’t care about anything to do with me anymore

Molly:
ouch
that’s a pretty nasty thing to say

Little Sister:
ya

Molly:
if he didn’t care why bother having the conversation?
doesn’t he have his own issues with his parents and commitment and all that?
ok so if he says he doesn’t care about you then you need to take him at his word
as much as it hurts you are going to have to let him go
Because the situation you’re in is similar to me
It’s taken me so many fucking years to undo all the mental baggage I have because of our church and our family

Little Sister:
ya

Molly:
You’re a lot younger so you can avoid some of the problems I had
You need to realise that this will hang like a shadow over every relationship you have unless you put some healthy distance between you and our parents
They will try to control you, and my fear of them still affects my daily life
Like I can’t even tell them I live with my boyfriend because I’m afraid of them
and I’m fucking [redacted] years old.
I can’t share big parts of my life with them because of their priggish disapproval
So I’ve had to learn that their approval is not something I can place any value on

Little Sister:
ya pretty much

Molly:
They do not love me unconditionally. They do love me, in their own way, and I can appreciate that
There are many things they have done that are good for me, and I can honour that
Everything else I need to keep at a safe distance

Little Sister:
ya it’s to protect yourself

Molly:
If you’re going to have a relationship with someone and it’s going to be the real thing, then you need to be able to do everything that is in that person’s best interest
That’s what “forsaking all others” means
You can only allow yourself to be vulnerable to people who you trust not to manipulate or abuse you
You can love mum and dad, but you also have to accept what they are
So I hope that you are able to get out from their thumb sooner than I did
It’s only now that I see how much they taught me what’s called “learnt helplessness”
I didn’t really become independent until I was [redacted] years old
Because by keeping me dependent on them, they could control me through guilt, obligation and love bombing

Little Sister:
ya, luckily i’m getting out sooner

Molly:
Well, and you can be aware of what’s happening.
I wasn’t.
If you are going to have healthy adult relationships, you need to have the space and freedom to make your own decisions without fear of how your parents are going to disapprove.

Little Sister:
ya i got an earlier wake up call

Molly:
Otherwise it will taint the relationship and add strain
So ya when you meet someone special in future just try to be very aware of what kind of emotional baggage you are dragging around with you.
The more you come to terms with it, the less you’ll feel the need to complain about it or discuss it a lot
Sure, it’s part of your background, it’s there, but it shouldn’t be an elephant in the room
So learning how to put away the baggage is something you’ll have to work on as hard as I am.
forgive, forget, move on, live YOUR life

Little Sister:
so i guess i just don’t know if our relationship failed because of my baggage or if it was really because he was lacking in putting enough effort in our relationship
or if i should just drop it

Molly:
look maybe both
you can spend your whole life performing autopsies of dead relationships and sometimes you’ll never learn anything
You two were young
At your age your personalities are still evolving so much
Your priorities are constantly shifting
That doesn’t mean your relationship had no value
You had a lot of good there
But unless you can gain some insight into yourself and learn how to be better in future it’s a waste of time to try to figure out what went wrong
Most likely, you just grew in different directions

Little Sister:
ya. i thought i was ready to move on but the fact that he said he doesn’t care anymore was just such a slap in the face

Molly:
Blokes can be dicks
Especially at his age

Little Sister:
lol pretty much

Molly:
I know it’s hard but don’t internalise that too much

Little Sister:
i need a MAN. no more boys

Molly:
He probably just said that because he was feeling defensive
It’s easier to spit that shite out than think of something constructive

Little Sister:
hahaha

Molly:
He’ll be a man one day
I think now is a good time to focus on yourself
You are about to start a whole new phase of your life, branch out and become independent

Molly:
You need to prepare yourself for the difficulties that will come when you try to shake mum and dad’s influence loose
Because they’ll try to rein you back in
You want to be ready for someone special when you meet them, so now would be a good time to spend working on your own priorities
Be the sort of person you’d want to be with

Little Sister:
ya you’re right

Molly:
🙂
Be wise about your boundaries, but once you’ve decided the safe distance to keep from each person be generous with yourself and with the way you love others
the closer you let someone, the more you give them, and the more you get back
But anyway
Yeah
Now is a good time for YOU

Little Sister:
ya

Molly:
When you go to university in the fall you’re going to meet all these brilliant people and they will be like cor this girl rocks
Because you do rock
This is like your time of Jedi training and I’m like Yoda
And mum and dad are like vader and palpatine and you have to say NO to the dark side
And they’ll like march you in the dark room and shock you and shit
But you’ll be like NO and then you’ll blow up your emotional baggage death star

Little Sister:
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
OMG
YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS
that’s the dogs bollocks
put that in your blog

Molly
😀

Little Sister:
PLEASE

Molly:
haha ok

Little Sister:
omg im gonna pee my pants

Molly:
ok I should get to bed
So should you
But don’t let your mind buzz too much about the ex tonight
Or much at all in future

Little Sister:
ya, im gonna go eat some ice cream and watch battlestar galactica and pass out
lol

Molly:
sounds good. be nice to yourself
ice cream, bsg, sleep. 😀
Love you sweetie.

Little Sister:
love ya too
thanks for helping 🙂
nighty night

Do ugly knickers ruin your day?

USA Today has published the results of a study demonstrating that wearing ugly knickers can bring you down. Of course my mind jumped instantly to garments.

I hated wearing garments. I remember thinking that the most enormous of granny panties had nothing on these bunchy undergarments left over from an era when long johns were necessary under a corset. I obediently wore my bra over the tops, remembering the fearsome warning given to me by the temple matron about the terrible fate that awaited new brides who dared to let something come between their skin and the garment of the holy priesthood.

I made it about a week after my endowment before I started sneaking out of them at every opportunity. Lingering in workout clothing was always a good trick. Eventually I settled on just wearing the top and allowing myself to wear pretty knickers below. That way Mormons, who constantly scan for the “g-line”, would see the necessary imprint of the Salt-Lake sanctioned trim beneath my shirt and I would remain in their good graces. I remember the first time my mother hugged me and noticed that there were no garments beneath. A very awkward couple of weeks followed.

Garments are regarded by Mormons as a sort of talisman, a lucky rabbit’s foot that shields the wearer from poison ivy, knife wounds, bullets, and hot sex. I never got a special feeling from them. They just made it impossible for me to wear anything fashionable or comfortable, because even in jeans and a t-shirt they bunch up and need constant adjusting. I got odd looks at the gym unless I retreated to a toilet stall to change. I had to bypass tops that would have been flattering on me and perfectly appropriate for work, but just didn’t work with garments. The first time I stepped out into public wearing a sleeveless top and felt the wind on my shoulders I felt so . . . normal. Not peculiar. It was exhilarating.

Yes, ugly knickers ruin my day. But not any more.