Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Subtle (but important) details...



When I was seventeen, I read The Godmakers. I'd recently concluded that the claims of the LDS church are false, so I was more than receptive to "anti" materials -- I was actively looking for them.

So what do you imagine I thought of The Godmakers?

I thought it was horrible -- pure garbage.

And it irritated me because -- given all of the legitimate criticisms one can make about the church and its claims -- why publish this nonsense?

This was many years ago, so I don't remember all of the details, but I remember that the striking thing about the book was how much of it was devoted to explaining how Mormon beliefs conflict with mainstream Christian beliefs -- as if that were a proof that Mormon beliefs are wrong. Such reasoning may be convincing for those who were raised with Protestant beliefs (or are otherwise already convinced that mainstream Christain beliefs are right), but to the average person raised Mormon, such arguments are gibberish.

A few months ago I was reading a novel by a Mormon, and when I read the stuff where brother who leaves the church is portrayed as a ne'er-do-well with lots of problems, I didn't object because, hey, that can happen (though it's a bit more common in faithful LDS novels than in real life... ;-) ). And when the exmo bro takes the main character's (LDS convert) fiancé to a bar as a bachelor party, that seemed pretty normal. Then my suspension of disbelief abruptly ended when the exmo bro whips out a copy of The Godmakers. Without any hint anywhere in the novel about exmo bro being "saved" or converting to evangelical Christianity....

Confusing secular exmos with Christian exmos...? That's like... That's like mixing up Scottish and Irish!!!

I thought the author should have changed it to the following:

***

"He's an odd duck, your brother. He said I should check out this website." Eric pulled out a little piece of folded cardboard which Eliza recognized as a Zig-Zag box.

"He gave you rolling papers?"

"No, it's written on the inside." Eric opened it up and Eliza saw that Gary had written "exmormon.org" on the inside of the empty box.

Eliza snorted. "Yeah, that's a great suggestion if you want to waste your time reading the rantings of a bunch of angry apostates."

***

See? That's not only more realistic but funnier!!! (Having him maintain a stash of copies of The Godmakers to distribute? Pfft! I suggested this "improvement" to the author, but I guess my idea didn't make the final cut ;-) ).

Aside from that point, I liked the novel. I had a similar reaction with Brother Brigham -- I liked the novel overall, but a lot of details about the apostate characters could have been better. Even if the character in question is a villain -- or rather especially if the character is a villain -- plausible details make a work more effective. A little bit of research can make the difference between writing something that resonates with readers versus writing something that rings false.

And lest you think I'm unfairly singling out faithful LDS authors, remember that I gave this same criticism (perhaps even more harshly) to Walter Kirn's work here (see the comments as well as the body of the post).

And now for the self-indulgent part of the post!!! :D

I would like to recommend that serious faithful LDS authors take the time to read my novel Exmormon. Not because I think you could learn a thing or two from my amazing literary skills ;-) but rather because -- if you plan to include apostate characters in your work -- it's useful to have a multi-faceted image in your mind of what people who leave the church are like. If the only face you know of the apostate is what apostates look like to Mormons, you'll come up with a flatter, less lifelike portrait of your character than you will if you've seen apostates from another perspective: what they look like to other apostates.

12 comments:

aerin said...

I agree - the Godmakers is very confusing and difficult to follow.

I'm also impressed that you ended up attending BYU despite the fact that you had stopped believing - BYU was in the same range as Oral Roberts at that point for me.

I will say - my husband is actually descended from Scottish people who re-settled/colonized Ireland. Is he Scottish-American? Irish-American? Who knows.

But it is an important distinction - because not all exmos are alike. And I felt the protrayal in your novel of the mormons, former mormons and everyone in between was accurate. The characters did not fit molds.

C.L. Hanson said...

Thanks Aerin!!!

Here's a funny coincidence about your husband's family history -- Ben's Scottish wife (pictured here) descends from Irish people who settled in Scotland!!!

But when I wrote this post I was thinking more of the Mike Myers SNL sketch where he has a Scottish store with the slogan "If it's not Scottish, it's crap!" and he throws somebody out for asking for leprechauns... ;-)

mel said...

CL, I think you make a very good point about portraying characters in a believable manner. And what is more believable to a TBM than an exmo who's batshit crazy? -- IOW, one who has replaced the traveling collection of Book of Mormons with The Godmakers?

Above all, to portray an apostate in any other light than as a crazy-ass, deluded liar would go against the deepest Mormon ethos which is planted in the soil of Nauvoo and has its roots in the Book of Mormon's depiction of apostates and anti-christs. Nowhere in Mormon tradition are the enemies of the church given more depth than a keystone cop.

We exmormons are the ones who have to show the world the truth about exmormons because this particular truth is outside the Mormon worldview. Thank you for writing Exmormon. You are a pioneer...and I just realized why I need to read it and evangelize it.

C.L. Hanson said...

Thanks Mel!!!

I hadn't really made the parallel with having a stack of copies of The Book of Mormon to distribute vs. the same for The Godmakers, but now that you mention it....

That's great if you're interested in reading my novel!!! Just email me (chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com) and I can send you an electronic copy. :D

Catherine said...

You know, I've still never seen the Godmakers but I remember feeling the warnings of the spirit whenever it was mentioned when I was a teenager. I thought that was what all "anti" stuff was like.

I love the rewritten part about exmormon.org. When I left the mormon church my sis reacted just like that - "you're not like those angry people on RfM are you?"

I was shocked that she'd even heard of it. I think it still boggles my family's mind that I'm a reasonable person with a pretty typical happy life and not some whacked out evangelical or pissed off prostitute drug dealer.

C.L. Hanson said...

Thanks Catherine!!!

I'm interested in Mormon lit -- even the faithful stuff (I'm willing to look at it from the author's perspective) -- but it's true the stereotypes about apostates full of absurd errors are grating.

In my family's case, we've had enough happy, successful apostates that the extended family is used to it, which is cool. Given the positive contributions of my brother to Mormon history, it's hard to paint apostates as hateful and angry, even with respect to Mormonism...

Johnny said...

If the only face you know of the apostate is what apostates look like to Mormons, you'll come up with a flatter, less lifelike portrait of your character than you will if you've seen apostates from another perspective: what they look like to other apostates.

Amen-

I think that "flattened picture" of apostates is one of the most frustrating things about being one. When I get to explain my position to others I tell them to try to keep me off of the "wheel of apostacy." But for some reason there is always a place to squeeze me into.

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Johnny!!!

"Wheel of apostasy" -- that's a good way of putting it... :D

Kullervo said...

I also think the "Mormonism conflicts with mainstream Christianity so Mormonisn is false and EVIL!!!" line of criticism to be pretty damn lame.

Mormonism has plenty of reasons why it's false without even referencing other religions.

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Kullervo!!!

Exactly!!!

Anonymous said...

c.l.---over at Pharyngula there is an interesting discussion of how people handle visiting lds and/or jw missionaries. A number of the contributors are godless ex-lds/jw.
Take a look---Joe

C.L. Hanson said...

Thanks Joe!!!

Here's the precise link: Remember, say it with a smile!

On the exmo/DAMU boards and blogs, people often talk about how they deal with the mishies now that they're no longer Mormon, but it's also interesting to see how nevermos deal with them!!! My favorite response, though, was the video of those two Australian atheists who went tracting in SLC!!! I wish I had the link handy for that one... ;^)