Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Email Discussions with my Dad

Around the middle of February, my dad restarted our email conversation about my feelings toward the church.  I'm going to attempt to summarize our exchanges here.  This is probably going to be a little hard to read, so I'm going to color direct quotes from me in green and direct quotes from my dad in red.  I'm hoping that will make it easier to follow.

My dad reopened the lines of communication by asking me about my comment in an earlier email when I said I felt a lot of anger on the subject.  In response, I outlined my life and the brainwashing process for him.  I mentioned indoctrinating primary songs, getting baptized even though I didn't entirely understand the significance or really make my own decision to do it.  I discussed being taught to avoid "anti-Mormons," gaining the priesthood because that's just what 12-year-old boys are expected to do, taking pride in being a peculiar people, and generally following the map that was designed to get me hopelessly brainwashed, married, and tithe-paying as efficiently as possible.  And I closed with "I want the first twenty years of my life back."

He asked if I was angry with him.

"Not really," I wrote.  "There's a lot that I'm not happy with, but I realize that you guys were doing what you thought was right.  You may have contributed to the brainwashing, but your involvement was only a symptom.  The fault lies with the church."

When I said that I wished he hadn't raised me (or my sisters) in the church, he replied:
From my perspective, because you were raised in the church, you have become an honorable man who is kind, who respects others, helps others, forgives others, is self-reliant, and makes his own choices.  How do you see it? 
"Those qualities aren't necessarily the product of the church," I wrote back.  "They're the product of any good parenting, regardless of religion."  I wanted to be complimentary towards him, if I could, despite my anger.  Because despite being raised in a repugnant religion, I lucked out.  I had some good parents.  So I added:
You and Mom were good parents.  I have never been abused.  I've never felt unloved.  You taught us to be hard working and honest, to value knowledge and to care about the people around us.  None of us is selfish or lazy or arrogant or corrupt.  And I credit all of that to you and Mom--not to the church.  You could have done all that without the church.  In fact, I'd say you succeeded admirably in spite of the church.
"You mentioned earlier that you wished you had the first 20 years of your life back," he replied.  "What is it you feel you have lost because of the church?"

The first thing I mentioned was that I lost a normal social development. And from there, I got kind of whiny and preachy:
The most important thing I lost, however, was my sovereignty--my self-determination.  As you grow up and begin to experience more and learn more, you're supposed to slowly gain an understanding of the world and your role in it in order to develop your own opinions, beliefs and priorities for anything and everything--morality, religion, politics, literature, art, music, health, hobbies, etc.  But I'd had the Mormon mindset hammered into me from birth.  My experiences were limited and filtered through constant reiterations of church dogma on a wide spectrum ranging from the temporal to the eternal.  The church's views on morality and religion were etched deeply in my brain.  The church subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly preached politics, which of course I believed because it came from the church.  The church has official stances on what kinds of literature, art and music are okay and not okay.  And it has its own health code as well.  The church and its relentless teachings kept me firmly rooted in the same spots on so many different facets of life and taught me that refusing to budge from them was a good thing.  Hence, the countless numbers of differing view points, possibilities, and lifestyles were never considered.  I wasn't my own person, I was the church's person.  Everything I believed and every action I took was a product of the church.
When I was twenty-ish and I called all that into question, I felt like I had to start over.  The guys I knew from high school all had their own personalities and beliefs and lifestyles, for better or for worse.  I had nothing.  I had to start from scratch because the things I'd built my life with were founded in fraud, restriction, and closed-mindedness.  My friends were all morally, politically and artistically twenty, and I was suddenly a newborn.  And I feel like I'm still behind the curve.
He responded:
The church is made up of all kinds of people:  rich, poor, blue collar, white collar, scientists, history teachers, golfers, geeks, those with advanced degrees, high school dropouts, people who snow ski, people who bowl, gays, star-trekees, cooking channel buffs, life-long members, converts, introverts, extroverts, former alcoholics, adulterers, republicans, democrats, country-western buffs, classical music lovers, Harry Potter enthusiasts, even former murderers, I could go on.  I have friends and acquaintances inside and outside of the church who fit in all of these categories.  So, I don't see how the church programs personalities and lifestyles--there are too many within the church membership.  It does influence lifestyles to try to increase happiness, but I don't see that it programs or constrains personality or limits options.  I felt free to pick the career I wanted to pursue and to become the person I felt I should be.  I felt my possibilities were only limited by me.  I never felt the Church was programming my lifestyle.
You had friends outside of the church, and you knew of their different philosophies and priorities and you were able to compare them.  And the people you knew within the church had different opinions and beliefs, too.  So, I still don't think I understand what experiences you think you missed.  Can you try explaining it again?
And then I made a huge mistake in my response by being sarcastic and over-simplifying:
Yeah, I had friends outside of the church, and I knew OF their different philosophies and priorities.  But I wasn't able to compare them in an equal sense.  My knowledge of differing opinions and lifestyles was cursory at best.  I wasn't encouraged to learn or explore those things because I was supposed to be "in the world but not of the world."  I was expected to be surrounded by the stuff but not to engage in it.  The church's constant reminders of how much evil and confusion there was in the world made sure of that.
And as far as people within the church having different opinions...while that's probably true, it's a very narrow bell curve.  The church is not even close to being an accurate sample of America or an accurate sample of humanity.  On one side, you have the progressive Mormons that disagree with some of the church's social opinions and are kind of an annoyance to the general membership.  On the other side, you have the Mormons that think they talk to their dead grandmothers in their dreams and are kind of politely ignored by the general membership.  And then you have the general membership, who for the most part espouse every church teaching and policy.  There's very little true variety. 
While I still think the sentiment behind that is accurate, I'm not sure why I thought it was a good idea to say it that way.  Especially considering who I was talking to--a guy who'd had a zillion leadership callings and rubbed shoulders with way more church members than I ever had.
If this is your personal assessment based upon your personal experiences, then it is based upon those relatively few you knew in the [ward I grew up in] (and to some extent the [stake I grew up in]) and in a couple of wards at BYU.  Yet, there are 37,000 other wards and branches full of somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,500,000 people in hundreds of countries and cultures with varying backgrounds, experiences, talents, dreams, doctrinal understandings, levels of conversion and commitment, personalities, hobby horses, and strength of testimony, whom you have never met.  I'm not sure that placing them all into 3 narrowly-defined categories represents a reasonable, logical approach.
 I have had a little bit more experience and exposure to a very slightly larger population of the Church, from life-time members to converts, from all parts of the country and in some cases the world, from the poor to the wealthy, from Apostles to in-actives.  Many in this little group have shared with me their inner feelings and fears, their worries and struggles, their faith and their doubts.  This has given me a perspective that the bell curve has a much higher standard deviation than you might be describing.
I kind of had to let him have that point, since he was pretty much correct.  On the subject of parenting, he added:
 No parent who loves his or her children is going to *not* teach and warn their children of things they believe to be physically or emotionally dangerous, and let them learn "by accident" for themselves by letting them burn their hands on the stove or play in busy streets.
To that, I replied:
There is a world of difference between teaching your child not to touch a hot stove and teaching your child that his older brother is God's son and savior of the world and that he has to be dipped in water and marry in a secret temple in order to become a god and live happily ever after.  A child can learn to grasp the first concept.  The second is too complex and too broad in scope.
Not only that, but isn't not warning his children about danger exactly what God is supposedly doing?  All those billions of people born outside the church don't have a prophet to tell them not to drink alcohol and watch R-rated movies and smoke marijuana.  How many of them learn by accident--or fail to learn despite accidents--that being a raging drunk is a bad idea?  How many billions of people throughout history have lived and died without even becoming aware of the existence of the gospel, let alone embracing it?
You can teach moral, ethical behavior to your kids without adding on all the unnecessary religious brainwashing.  Not every child of an atheist marriage turns into a con artist or a womanizer or a serial killer. 
My dad said:
It sounds like you are saying that, since you don't agree with the doctrines of the Church, that the Church is therefore lying to you.  But, I can't believe that you are saying that.  Does the fact that you don't believe their teachings make them liars?  I don't agree with Catholicism.  But, I don't consider Catholics or the Catholic Church liars.  I'm not angry with their Church.  I don't agree with atheists, but I do not consider them liars nor am I angry with them.
That baffled me a little bit.  It seemed obvious to me that his relationship with the Catholic church and my relationship with the Mormon church have nothing in common.
It's not just that I don't agree with the doctrines of the church--it's that they aren't true.  If something false is presented as the truth, how is that not a lie?  And of course you're not angry with the Catholic church.  You weren't raised under that church's thumb.
He still doesn't seem to really understand where I'm coming from, unfortunately, according to his next message:
So yeah, I'm still trying to understand why you are angry at the Church.
I hope you'll keep trying to help me understand, and I will keep trying to understand.  Again, I know I can't make you believe in the church.  But anger, I think, is just not healthy and I'd like to help you diffuse the anger. 
Since he brought up anger again, I responded:
What am I supposed to feel besides anger?  The church that I centered my identity on lied to me, continuously, for two decades.  What do you expect a person to feel after that kind of letdown--after that kind of realization?
My increasingly aggressive wording was starting to make my dad bristle a little bit, I guess, as he included this comment:
And, parenthetically (without the parentheses)(ooops--there they are!), I'm not sure how to deal with the implication that, at 59 years old and all I have experienced in my life, I am just a victim of brainwashing and that I have brainwashed you and your sisters.
I didn't really know how to address that one, because as much as I wish my dad would leave the church, I don't wish the understanding that he's wasted so much time and energy on him.  So instead, I just closed the email with this:
I'm sorry you don't understand.  I guess I thought that, if I stuck to cultural things and broader, more nebulous concepts instead of complaining about specific problems and doctrines, it would be less offensive and easier to understand.  Maybe I was wrong.
To be fair, this is kind of a passive-aggressive way of calling him out to debate doctrine.  Which could be a bad idea.  But I'm tired of discussing stuff I can't really back up solidly.  I think it makes my anger sound unfounded.  I want to SHOVE HIS FACE IN THE CRAP AND SHOW HIM WHY HIS RELIGION IS WRONG, which is most definitely a bad idea.  But I can't shake that urge.  I can't quiet that voice in the back of my head that tries to convince me that if I'm good enough at arguing, I'll be able to convince my family to abandon their closest-held beliefs.

He hasn't responded since then, and this was almost three weeks ago. I'm not sure what his silence means.  I suppose maybe, just like he did with the holidays, he's waiting until after my birthday to bring this stuff up again. Or maybe something else is up.  I don't know.

But I think it's pretty clear that neither one of us is making much progress and both of us are getting frustrated.


I'm not sure what else to say about it than ugh.


  1. I appreciate you sharing this with us. You are absolutely right. You have been avoiding a doctrinal debate with him. Your reasons for being angry sound unfounded, because they lack specific examples.

    I admire your desire to be respectful to your parents. That’s a sign of good character. I remember hearing Rush Limbaugh say, many years ago before I stopped listening to him, that he doesn’t talk religion, because he doesn’t want to destroy someone’s faith. Are you leaving out the doctrinal problems for that reason?

    Your dad has been able to craftily turn the discussion away from the reasons why you know the church is NOT true to YOUR anger.

    I believe I understand and share some of your feelings, but I don’t know if “anger” is really the right word for it, though I’ve used that word to describe my feelings about the church and toward people in the church. It’s hard to describe “anger” toward the church, but here are a few words that describe my feelings: perplexed, dumbfounded, duped, miffed, peeved, vexed, displeased, frustrated, uncomfortable, tricked, deceived, ticked off, ripped off, annoyed...

    It’s kind of how a child feels when they find out Santa isn’t real. However, in this case, you’re an adult, and everybody around you keeps telling you that he exists, and no matter what proof you give, they still stick to their story like a used car salesman.

    To quote Simon and Garfunkel’s song The Boxer: “All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” That’s what we’re taught to do in the church.

    Like you, I am angry about being lied to. You haven’t wanted to get specific with your dad, but just in case you want to read more about the institutional lying in the church, here’s a link to a great article about it with over 150 well-documented examples:

    Finally, I’m struggling with the fact that I don’t want to teach my kids that it’s true when I know it isn’t, and any honest, thinking person would come to the same conclusion. I don’t want them to come back to me later and ask me why I continued to push this on them when they could have had the freedom to live their lives unencumbered by false teachings and unreasonable restrictions. I think the reason you use some of the terms you do (brainwashing and indoctrination) is because your dad is an intelligent man and a good father, and perhaps the only explanation you can find for him staying in the church is indoctrination and brainwashing.

    I wish you well in your conversations with him.

    1. Thank you. That was a pretty awesome comment. I like the comparison to Santa--and the Simon and Garfunkel quote was an unexpected touch!

      I would say that angry is probably the right word for me. I'm all the words you used to describe your own feelings, but I'm definitely angry too.

      I left out doctrinal discussions because I thought that would make for a more combative exchange. I would love to destroy my dad's (unfounded) faith, but I don't want him to go through the, uh, grieving process that will probably accompany it.

      I guess we'll see what happens.

    2. Cool. I'm glad you liked my comments. Reading your posts, and occasionally commenting on them, has been very therapeutic for me and my wife.

      I understand the problem you face if you finally choose to get into a doctrinal discussion with your dad. Mormons think it’s a sin to question the church and to investigate anything counter to what the brethren are teaching. If he’s like pretty much any other staunch Mormon I know, it’s hard to believe he will honestly research any question you place in front of him, but rather, he will toe the line, bear testimony, and then turn it back on you (you're angry, you desire to sin, you have unresolved sins, you must be into pornography, etc). He may go to apologist sites like The Maxwell Institute or FAIR where their lack of honesty and logic is astonishing. You know best where you should start. We all have our “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

      My wife’s issue is polygamy/polyandry and all the sexual abuse and denigration of women issues that go with it.

      For me, I think that the most concrete evidence against the church is The Book of Abraham. Why? This is the area where the lying and deceit from Joseph Smith on is very evident. We have the original papyrus, and we have the false translation. What more evidence can you get than that? No amount of spin can change that fact.

      I’ll close with two of my favorite quotes about the Book of Abraham.

      "I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. -- "Joseph Smith (History of the Church, Vol 2:236)

      If Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon; and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught. -- B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 2:138

  2. When you don’t respond with concrete examples, you come across as bitter and angry, which, of course, you are. However, you have good reason to feel that way. Your dad says he wants to understand why you are angry. Tell him. The ends don’t justify the means here. Just because you ended up as an “honorable man” doesn’t validate doing it by means of a false church. Your life was mapped out from before you were conceived. You would be born in the covenant, blessed, baptized, confirmed, ordained, endowed, sent on a mission, sealed in the temple, etc. They didn’t want to give you a choice in the matter, thus the indoctrination and brainwashing. One of the things that makes you, in my eyes, “an honorable man who is kind, who respects others, helps others, forgives others, is self-reliant, and makes his own choices” is your honesty and courage to leave the church you know to be false despite the repercussions you knew would come from family, friends, and even people who don’t even know you.

    1. Well, thanks, but sadly that kind of honesty and courage might not be so honorable in his eyes!

      Okay, that's kind of unfair. My dad's a good enough guy that he probably does respect the courage to a certain degree...he's just completely baffled as to why it was necessary in the first place.

      Weirdly enough, after three weeks of silence, my dad just emailed me tonight to continue the conversation--like 36 hours after this post. It'd be crazy if he happened to be lurking here! But that's pretty unlikely.

    2. That's your challenge, to somehow "unbaffle" him. That will not be easy. I wish you well. I know this is important to you and to him.

    3. "Unbaffling." I like that.