Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Do You Think We're Stupid?"

My sisters didn't find out that I wasn't going to church right away.  They learned of my unbelief a few weeks after I told my parents.  All of them were home visiting for the weekend and were surprised when I didn't get up to get ready for church.

After they got home from church, one by one, they all came to talk to me during that afternoon.  I can't remember very many of the specifics of those brief but agonizingly awkward conversations--except one question that my oldest sister asked me:  "Do you think we're stupid?"

I'd just told her that I didn't think the church was true anymore.  And that was her response.  I guess she was trying to gauge my level of disgust toward the church.  I thought it was a weird question, and for a moment I kinda thought that my answer was yes, but I assured her that I didn't think any of them was stupid...I simply disagreed with them.

But that's a question that I keep coming back to, even though it was asked of me four and a half years ago.  And my current answer keeps switching back and forth with pretty reliable regularity.  It's like a pendulum.  Or an oscillating fan.  Or maybe a Newton's Cradle.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.

My family is a pretty smart family.  It's obvious to most people within a few minutes of meeting any member of my family that, at the very least, he or she is not stupid.  Between the five of them, they have nine college degrees.  Their language and comprehension skills strike me as being decidedly above average.  Mathematics came easily to most of us.  My dad in particular has a methodical, logical mind and I think his children inherited that.  So sometimes, when I think about my sister's question, my reaction is, "Of course not.  None of you is stupid."'d think all that extra education and all the problem-solving and reasoning skills they've acquired would make them better equipped than most people to see through the appealing facade of Mormonism and into the rotten core.  You'd think that the logical fallacies and doctrinal contradictions would almost jump off the pages of the Book of Mormon and smack them in the face.  You'd think that their intelligence would make them less prone to the deception and the brainwashing.  But they're all still locked into their LDS lifestyles.  Maybe having a better-than-average ability to understand things and not utilizing that ability to examine your religion is stupid.  "Unto whom much is given, much is required."  I'd expect better from people of their mental caliber.  And sometimes, when I think about my sister's question, my reaction is, "Of course I think you're stupid.  How can you, of all people, not see how false the church is?"

Back and forth.  Back and forth.

My family likes to tell me that I'm the smartest of them.  I got the best scores on the ACTs and the SATs.  They frequently express astonishment at my capacity to remember things (although they don't seem to realize that this ability is pretty much good for movie quotes and nothing else).  I don't know how true their claims are that I'm the brightest of the bunch, but if any of them still think that this is the case, I wonder how that colors their impressions of my current lack of religious belief.

Yeah, yeah, I be learned is good if you hearken unto the counsels of God.  When men are learned, they think they are wise, blah blah blah.  Maybe they still think I'm smarter than they are--but I got cocky and started thinking I was smarter than God.  I don't know.  But I do find it ironic that the supposed smartest guy in the family is the only one (or, hopefully, the first one) to leave the church.  Though, to be honest, and maybe to be fair to my "stupid" family, I don't think leaving the church is necessarily just about being smart enough to see through the bull.  There's some courage involved.  It takes a lot to face the doubt head-on.  

People talk a lot about the "shelf"--that when you come across something that doesn't make sense and makes you doubt the church, you push it aside and set it on a shelf in your mind.  Then, eventually, the shelf gets too full, it collapses and you leave the church.  I think different people's shelves have different capacities.  And some people get tired of putting stuff there earlier than others.  It takes a lot of guts to, after avoiding the things that make you all hot, bothered, uncomfortable and doubt-y for so long, to walk up to the shelf, stare at it directly, take things down, and examine them one by one.  Directly confronting your doubts can be an excruciating experience--but I think it's excruciating in the same way that setting a broken limb is excruciating.

So I guess maybe I shouldn't be too hard on my family for their beliefs.  I shouldn't consider them stupid--just cowardly.  No, wait, that's not right either.

I know they're smart people.  And because of that, it can be difficult to continue to respect them as they continue to attend the temple and pay their tithing.  But I guess I'll figure something out.  Because, as much as I do think they're stupid sometimes, that's not exactly a healthy way to view your own family--especially when they're not dumb to begin with.

Ugh.  Back and forth.


  1. Very interesting post - I wonder how some of my relatives who are considerably more intelligent than I am (based on where they earned their degrees) reconcile their knowledge of church history with their belief and activity in the church.

    1. Yeah, you bring up another good angle--church history. I'm pretty sure my dad has some knowledge of shady church history. He's not stupid. How can he possibly still believe in a church with that kind of backstory?

      I guess stupid people can do smart things and smart people can do stupid things, but it's still difficult to wrap your brain around sometimes.

  2. Very interesting point - and quite honest. I grew up in a university town, where the bishopric tended to be made up of professors. It was quite interesting seeing these very brilliant men compartmentalize religion and science.

    1. Maybe I'm not good at compartmentalization. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's why I left the church and my family hasn't.

      I remember talking to a couple of the professor types in my ward as a teenager. They were both very knowledgeable guys--or so it seemed at the time. They were well-educated, well-read and well-traveled...and lifelong die-hard members.

  3. I really enjoyed this post.

    I've been wondering for several days why she would ask you such a question, and it all depends on what she's like to be able to have a better idea.

    1) Was it her way of calling you stupid?
    2) Was she really saying, "Do you think we're stupid..., because you know we know it isn't true, but we still attend?
    3) Was she saying, "Do you think we're stupid..., because we believe something you don't believe anymore?

    One thing is for sure, Mormons are very concerned about what people think about them. It's like the woman who says, "does this dress make me look fat?" She already knows the answer to that question before she asks it, or she wouldn't ask it in the first place.

    1. Haha, interesting comparison!

      She didn't explain her specific motives behind her question, and I didn't ask. But my impression was that she thought I considered them to be superstitious. I think she was worried that I was going to start making fun of the big magic guy in the sky whenever something God-related came up. Maybe it was a flawed assumption but I felt like she feared that I'd decided the whole religion thing was too far-fetched and that I was so much better than she was because I didn't believe in any of that rubbish.

      Which, to a certain extent, is how I feel some of the time. Not that I'm better, just maybe a little more astute and a lot more liberated. But I wouldn't have said it to her then and especially not in such callous terms.

      I know her belief in the church is pretty strong. And I don't think it was her way of calling me stupid, either. It felt more defensive. So I guess, if anything, it was your third option.

  4. It's interesting that you mention superstition and magic. The day I decided that I no longer believe in anything superstitious or magical changed my life. I don't have to fear hell, not paying tithing, not home teaching, the loss of blessings, losing my children in the next life, not being able to be perfect, etc. I don't have to be judgmental of people for not believing the way the church tells us we have to. I am happier. Probably most of all, I don't have that battle going on in my mind between science and what the church teaches. In the words of Bill Maher, "Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking." I am now able to think for myself.

    1. Amen to that.

      I've had pretty much the same experience...except I don't think I've learned not to be judgmental yet. I think maybe I feel I've won some sort of intellectual victory by waking up and leaving the church, and now I tend to look down on people who I don't think have very rational beliefs. Which I guess isn't so bad, but sometimes I don't hide my disdain well, and that's a lot worse.

      I'm still less judgmental than I was as a TBM, though. But not so much fear, not so much need for perfection, not so much inner struggle between what I believe and what science says. So overall, apostasy was still a good call!