Saturday, September 29, 2018

Lingering Afteraffects of Mormonism

I've been in training at my new job during the past two months and my fellow new hires and I are struggling to learn the impossible complexities of our expected responsibilities.  Most of our managers and coaches are so supportive that some of us feel like we're being coddled.

Generally, when someone observes my work to provide feedback, he or she will offer floods of compliments.  I can feel myself resenting it as I sit through bullet point after bullet point of accolades.  I mean, I'm a reasonably intelligent guy and a reasonably quick learner, but I'm sure there are opportunities for me to develop my skills that are more important to discuss.  I can figure out on my own what I'm doing well—hurry up and tell me what I need to do better.

Apparently, I have very little patience for positive reinforcement.

This approach is great for some people, I realize.  Some of my coworkers get discouraged easily and the abundance of praise is valuable to them.  But as far as I'm concerned, this approach only pisses me off.  So it was while I was pondering my own reaction to useless platitudes that I came up with a theory.

When I was a kid, I was told repeatedly in church that I was part of the greatest generation.  My peers and I were superior to all generations that had come before and God had selected us to live in the latter days because he needed his best and brightest for his most important work.  I was frequently reminded by older Mormons that I was surrounded by a surfeit of temptations that were previously absent—and often these older Mormons would self-effacingly admit that they would not have been equipped to deal with these temptations in their youth.

Of course, I rarely felt that I was living up to the reputation I was given.  Because Mormonism also teaches that you always need to do more.  I'd skip scripture reading a few nights a week and I'd hesitate to share the gospel with my friends at school and I'd start to feel like I wasn't really a member of God's elect.  And, of course, when masturbation became problematic for me, I was overcome with the sense that I was a colossal disappointment to myself, to my generation, and to my Father in Heaven.  But that didn't stop me from raking in all these compliments from adults who seemed to admire my very existence.

And then it all turned out to be bullshit anyway.

I'm wondering if those experiences are why, as an adult and an ex-Mormon, I have so little interest in positive reinforcement.  It puts me on edge.  I distrust it.  It actually makes me suspicious that there's something I'm doing horribly wrong and that my manager is trying to soften the blow by building my confidence up before correcting whatever my huge problem is.  I would honestly be so much happier at work if my coaching sessions contained no direct compliments, but only a list of things that needed to be improved.  Maybe I have such a distaste for compliments because I received so many as a Mormon kid that felt undeserved and that turned out to have originated from unreliable sources.

And if something as relatively tame as that can have such a lasting impact on a person's character and behavior, I can't imagine the lasting impacts for Mormons who have suffered firsthand through the homophobia, sexism, racism, and abuse that the church can heap on people.  Which makes my perspective on the recent MormonLeaks documentation pointing to lawsuits and confidentiality agreements that much harsher.  It's as though Jesus directed us to protect the good name and reputation of the shepherd of the ninety and nine instead of concerning ourselves with the struggles of the one.  Negotiations for legal settlements don't acknowledge or correct the institutional failures that caused the damage in the first place.

Every day I become more and more impatient to see enough bad press that even lifelong members within my small circle begin to understand the horrible truth of Mormonism.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ten Years of Apostasy

This month marks ten years since I officially stopped attending LDS church services.  Sometime during the preceding year I'd decided I no longer believed, so I spent the summer miserably attending my parents' ward because I didn't know how to tell them how I felt.  Then my bishop told me he was going to give me a home teaching assignment.  As bad as it was to participate passively in church meetings, I couldn't stomach the thought of actually teaching false doctrinal principles to families.  So at the next sacrament meeting, early in September of 2008, I was not in a pew.  In an act that demonstrated a peculiar mixture of cowardice and courage, I had written a letter to my dad explaining my position, left it in his office during the week, and barricaded myself in my bedroom on Sunday morning.  I've attended one solitary sacrament meeting since then, and that was only for one of my nephews' baby blessings.

A lot has changed in ten years.

I recently had to explain to a friend via text message why I don't drink alcohol, and I felt like my answer reflected my attitudes on a lot of things in my post-Mormon existence.  "I like the idea of choosing my vices," I told her.  "When I left Mormonism, I decided to try some things that were forbidden (tea, coffee, sex, working on Sundays, non-homophobia) and there are some previously forbidden things I decided I didn't want to try (cigarettes, alcohol, body piercing, meth).  The whole point is that it's my choice now either way.  Maybe someday I'll try some of those other things if I choose (not meth though) but for now I like that I've never had alcohol."  I can take responsibility for policing my own behavior, whether it's about moral decisions or lifestyle options.  That's something I never really felt I had the power to do within the constraints of the LDS church.

I relish the liberation that came with tearing up the road map of Mormonism.  Life is more enjoyable when there isn't some pre-approved checklist of tasks for you to complete in some pre-approved order by some pre-approved means.  You can make your own checklist or choose to operate without one.  After all, men are free according to the flesh.  They are free to choose the liberty of self-sovereignty or the captivity of conformity.  It's surprising to look back on how hollow following each behavioral procedure of Mormonism was.  It's bizarre to realize that I was utterly miserable but considered myself happy because of my belief that the only way of living I'd ever experienced was the only way to have joy.  It's incredible to realize what potential for happiness really exists in the broader world of broader experience and broader investment.

Life isn't wonderful.  I don't know that I'd say I'm happy without the church, but I'm certainly less unhappy.  And I think it's an important distinction that, regardless of my current level of joy, I can now allow myself to become immersed in the full spectrum of emotion.  I can be miserable when I'm miserable and happy when I'm happy instead of pretending to be happy when I'm miserable and pretending to be ashamed of myself when I'm happy—because, honestly, most of the times I felt any kind of abiding existential bliss as a Mormon were the times when I flirted with the temptation to defy my programming by actually being myself.

It's been a long decade.  But I don't regret the changes I've made.  And the fact that I am now required to look inward for moral direction and the fact that I can struggle with the weightier matters of life to come to my own conclusions and to pursue my own paths are both very empowering.  Despite any ups and downs tempering my reality, my sense of emotional strength and my feeling of inherent worth are so much higher and so much steadier than they were when I considered myself a child of God and a follower of prophets.

My life is my own now.  My choices are my own now.  My triumphs and failures are my own now.  It's a lifestyle that I find pure and delightsome.  And I desire all to receive it.