Friday, March 7, 2014

The World With Which We Are Presented

The Truman Show is a fantastic movie.  I loved it as a Mormon, but my appreciation for its premise, its protagonist, its symbolism and its wisdom have only grown since my departure from the church.  I find this line, spoken by the creator and director of the contrived world Truman inhabits, particularly poignant:
"We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.  It's as simple as that."

It is, in many ways, just that simple.  So many different human behaviors can be explained as natural reactions to acceptance of perceived realities.  The things we're taught as children, before we're able to properly parse the information, shape the way we begin to understand our world.  Flawed information leads to flawed understanding.  

For example, as an American, I was raised on a strong diet of nationalism, allegiance and superiority.  In school (and church) I learned that the United States was the best country in the world.  I heard that our government was better than other systems of government (even though I didn't really understand much about how any government worked).  I recited the pledge of allegiance in school every morning and my parents taught me to remove my hat and put my hand over my heart when the American flag went past during Independence Day and Memorial Day parades.  I didn't really know what was going on, but I knew that America was better than everybody else.  

I eventually began to learn that, despite what had been reinforced in my youth, my country wasn't all it was cracked up to be.  I'm very grateful to live in a country with a high standard of living.  I'm glad that my country is able to defend itself and has guaranteed me a lot of rights.  But that doesn't mean that my government's functions aren't frequently foiled by gridlock.  It doesn't mean that my society has enough freedoms or acceptably extends the rights that I have to everyone else.  And it doesn't mean that my elected leaders make the best decisions in domestic or international arenas.  And it doesn't mean that the country's flaws can be fit comfortably into the space of one paragraph.

It takes a long time to deconstruct the reality I'd once been presented with and accept a world that's a little closer to the truth.

My upbringing as a Mormon was more deeply ingrained and even more damaging than my upbringing as an American.  I learned from my parents that I belonged to a true church and that we were lucky to be some of the few who did.  The leaders and teachers at church said pretty much the same thing, so I had no need or inclination to question it.  Meanwhile, I was singing "Follow the Prophet," "Do As I'm Doing," and "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission."  

I learned from my parents that the church leaders spoke for God and that I needed to do what they said.  The local leaders and teachers at church said pretty much the same thing, so I had no need or inclination to question that either.  Meanwhile, I was singing "Joseph Smith's First Vision," "Book of Mormon Stories" and "I Love to See the Temple."

I learned from my parents that the world was wicked and that anything I learned from outside the church was unreliable.  The leaders and teachers I'd listened to for years said pretty much the same thing, so I had no instinct or desire to question any of this.  Meanwhile, I was passing the sacrament, trying to reactivate members of my quorum and singing "Hope of Israel."

And so on and so forth.  I was hammered and pummeled and bombarded incessantly with church dogma warning me not to break ranks.  I'd been conditioned to sit in a cage and stare out with pity upon those who walked free.  Because I'd accepted the reality of the world with which I had been presented, I gladly sat in that cage.  It took me twenty years to even realize there were bars.

Well...not just meI had millions of cellmates, I just didn't see them either.

It's an ironic testament to the power of Mormonism's brainwashing infrastructure that I loved The Truman Show as a faithful follower of the LDS church.  Here was a movie which so boldly suggested that the way the world has been shown to us might not reflect its true nature.  Here was a film that told its viewers to take a closer look at their surroundings and challenged them to scrutinize things that they'd simply assumed were true.  I noticed, understood and even enjoyed those aspects of The Truman Show as a member of the church but somehow I never tried to apply them to my membership.

Because I'd accepted the reality of the world with which I'd been presented.  And that reality had taught me that the one thing I never needed to question was the one thing that I needed to question the most.

And that does not seem right to me.


  1. No, it isn't right. It's daily indoctrination of: family prayers, scripture reading, seminary, family home evening, mutual, church, etc. The only day off was Saturday, but that was "a special day, it's the day to get ready for Sunday," and that's what we did in our home. Every conversation involved church. I was raised in a very small Utah town, and as I look back on it now, growing up isolated like that is growing up in a religious cult. Everybody knows you, watches you, expects you to tow the line, etc. Parental control over TV, movies, newspaper, radio, and no internet at the time, leaves you no access to the outside world. You can't question anything, because you really don't know what questions to ask or even who to ask. You just do what you're told, and you'll be happy according to the great plan of happiness.

    No, it's not right, and I'm glad I see that now.

    1. I was raised back east in a state that, even by the church's probably-inflated counts, is less than half a percent Mormon. Instead of living in a LDS-saturated environment isolated from the rest of the country, I lived in an overwhelmingly non-LDS environment and I was taught to isolate myself. I don't think either way is a healthy way to grow up.

    2. No they are not. My pool of potential friends was obviously much larger than yours. I saw that isolation as a missionary. The isolation creates a problem for people who have the desire to leave the church. They then lose their entire support system, including their family. If their family doesn't shun them, the whole dynamic changes and makes visits and awkward and uncomfortable.

    3. Haha, yup. Awkward and uncomfortable indeed. I live ten minutes away from my parents and I haven't seen them since Christmas.