Monday, March 30, 2009

Four A. M.

I woke up on the floor. I felt really thirsty and had to pee. The T.V. was still on but not making any noise. Someone must have muted it at some point. I stood up and looked at Tanya lying there asleep on the couch. I felt confused and wanted to go home.

I went upstairs to try to find the bathroom. I saw by the clock on the wall that it was four in the morning. I was supposed to be home by midnight! I figured I was in big trouble.

I found the bathroom and turned on the light. Kim was lying there passed-out on the floor. There was vomit everywhere. The whole bathroom reeked of it. The smell of it made me a little queasy, but it also made me notice that I didn't really feel sick myself. No headache, no nausea. I didn't feel drunk anymore either. I figured I must not have drank as much as I'd thought I had. Read the rest of the story ->

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The difference a vision can make: Zoe Murdock's Torn by God

God is an interesting character. Attracting His attention isn't always a good thing, and hearing from Him directly can be a real problem -- especially if you're not sure precisely what He said.

Zoe Murdock's novel Torn by God (H.O.T. Press) opens with a terrifying vision. More precisely, a young girl has the bizarre experience of watching her father wade out into a raging river where a pillar of light descends upon him. He returns, certain that it was a message from on high. From that moment forward, nothing on Earth is as important to him as discovering (and carrying out) God's special plan for him.

Naturally the father (Brother Sterling) starts to dig deeply into the roots of his own faith tradition. Being a Mormon, Brother Sterling centers his search around the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. This search leads him to old doctrines like polygamy and the "Law of Consecration" (signing over your belongings to be distributed by the church). He drags his family (not literally kicking and screaming, but almost) into the bosom of the local independent Mormon fundamentalist group. The resulting emotional and financial hardships are made all the more painful by the constant realization that everything could so easily go back to normal if only Brother Sterling could forget about his vision and cut the crazy out of their lives.

Sister Sterling's role is particularly disturbing and frustrating. As it became increasingly clear that the family was in serious trouble, I kept feeling like -- no matter how much you love him -- there comes a point where you say to your husband "I can't just keep waiting for you to go back to normal, I have to take action to get myself and my children into a safe and sane situation." But the problem is that Sister Sterling had been brought up to be a meek and submissive wife. She takes her temple covenants (to obey her husband) very seriously. When he uses the words of the Mormon prophets, when he compares her to Emma Smith (wife of the prophet Joseph, who hated polygamy but stood by her husband), and when he tells her that their family's hardships are caused by her selfish unwillingness to follow him whole-heartedly, she wavers and can't tell whether or not to believe him. I like to think a modern Mormon woman would be more independent and resourceful, but this novel was set in small-town Utah during the prophetic tenure of David O. McKay (1950's-60's).

This story illustrates a bit of how Mormon fundamentalism feeds off of mainstream Mormonism. Part of the connection is doctrinal, since studying the writings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young can lead a Mormon believer to conclude that the fundamentalists are right. But there are also social factors that come into play. Sister Sterling avoids seeking help from her Mormon neighbors because she (justifiably) fears that her husband will be excommunicated for affiliating with the polygamists. She also refuses help from "gentiles" because she doesn't trust them. Then, once the rumors start to spread around town (about the Sterlings' fundamentalist leanings), they're shunned and Brother Sterling's carpentry business dries up, leaving the family with no one to turn to except the fundamentalists. And Mormons are brought up to believe that "persecution" is a sign that you're doing the Lord's work -- so the Mormon fundamentalists seem all the more right because those guys are really persecuted.

However, all of this theology is a bit of a sideline to what I think is the real strength of this novel. The author, Zoe Murdock, weaves description and action into incredibly vivid and memorable scenes. She shows how confused and upset the children are by giving them realistic immature behavior. The novel is crafted throughout with the kind of rich detail that brings the story to life.

I highly recommend this book for both Mormon and non-Mormon readers.

Monday, March 23, 2009

And you know what happens next...

! Please be sure you have read the warning/disclaimer for this section!

I sat down on the other couch and Tanya sat right next to me. She surprised me by cuddling up to me and putting her head on my shoulder. It felt kind of warm and nice actually. I thought maybe I'd misjudged her. She wasn't so bad. I put my arm around her. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Skeptical Parent Crossing #6!

I've just posted the 6th edition of Skeptical Parent Crossing over at Rational Moms!!! We've got some really fun stuff for you this time such as an eight-year-old "psychic", a skeptical analysis of the various potty-training advice you'll hear, and a parent who questions the wisdom of the piglet Olivia! Check out the whole thing! :D

Oh, and that's not all! This weekend is a real harmonic convergence of secular carnivals!!! The Carnival of the Godless is up at Daylight Atheism, and the Humanist Symposium is up at Atheist Revolution!!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jared gets drunk...

On Wednesday all of our family was arriving for Thanksgiving. We didn't normally all get together for Thanksgiving, but after the fight that Mom and Dad had had with Rex when he was visiting over the Summer, they decided that they wanted to try to make a special effort to get the whole family back together and talking again. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My "Out at Work" History: Polite or Chicken?

In the comments of my previous post, Lorry said, "In Denmark, religion never comes up. My husband doesn't even know if his own twin sister believes in God. No one talks about it. Ever. So I can identify with this post.", while John Evo said, "Even some of the most vocal bloggers are, in REAL life, quite silent about the fact that they carry no superstitions - some even lie about it and simply parrot the name of whatever religion they were raised in."

That's essentially why I wrote that post to begin with -- I'm trying to figure out which one I am. In my case, if someone asks my religion, I do not hesitate: I'm an atheist who was raised Mormon. But it seems like I've been practicing a bit of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy...

You be the judge. Here's my professional history in a nutshell:

  • In college, attending BYU, I was completely in the closet about my disbelief. Frankly, I didn't want to be expelled and have BYU refuse to transfer my credits. Long before it happened to Chad Hardy, it was no secret that that was the policy.

  • In grad school -- as I explained in how I came to sympathize with the Mormons -- the first question after “What’s your name?” is “Where’d you get your undergraduate degree?” In the Math department (at Rutgers), they posted a list of all the new grad students along with the name of the university each came from. So I was obliged to explain to everybody. “Yes, I went to BYU. No, I didn’t want to go there. Yes, I was raised Mormon. No, I don’t believe in it.” That was cool!!! I had an excuse to tell everyone all my funny stories about growing up Mormon without ever being the one who was impolite enough to bring it up. One Christian guy displayed a pamphlet called "A Christian's Response to Homosexuality" in on his desk in view of his out-Lesbian office-mate, and everybody talked about the appropriateness (or not) of that.

  • At my first real job (as a programmer in NJ), a Muslim colleague gave me a card inviting me to her Sunni Muslim center, which I politely declined. Another Muslim colleague was shocked by anecdotes that involved social drinking. An Orthodox Jewish colleague refused to shake my hand. A Lutheran Colleague didn't have any peculiar restrictions but managed to bring up his Lutheranism pretty frequently anyway. I was the junior member of the team and said nothing about the subject.

  • My second job was at a little dot-com startup back when all you needed to get investors on board were an idea and a few slides (before the dot-com bust of 2000). All of my colleagues were from India. They were from all over India, and was curious to hear about all of the cultural differences among the different areas. Many of them were vegetarian and/or did strange fasts like eating only fruits and nuts one day per week. At my request, they brought me along to a Hindi movie and (on another occasion) to their Diwali service. It was really quite fascinating. Belief in God (or gods) per se didn't really come up much except when I was talking about France (being engaged to a Frenchman and all). When I mentioned that the French almost never go to church, a Hindu colleague asked, "But when do they pray?" My reply: "They don't."

  • My third job was almost entirely telecommuting, so I had very little casual contact with my colleagues. This actually presented real problems for communication and collaboriation on projects, so I've tried to avoid excessive telecommuting since then.

  • At my fourth job, I'd started getting involved with Mormon-related discussions online, so I kind of wanted to talk to my colleagues about it, but still I didn't bring it up. As far as I could tell, nobody in the whole company (of a few hundred people) was religious at all. The closest thing to a display of ideology was one guy in another department who put up a rainbow flag in his personal work area. One colleague told me how shocked he was when he saw a documentary about G.W.B. and how much he brought God into public policy. Said my colleague, "Here in France, we have a tradition of separation of church and state..." I sadly replied, "We used to have that too!" On another occasion, a colleague was telling someone a funny story, and I caught just the end bit where he recounted saying to someone "Écoute, dieu n'existe pas [Listen, God does not exist]". I caught his eye and smiled, but didn't say anything (because he was talking to someone else).

  • My fifth job was fairly brief (I had to quit when I moved to Switzerland), but I got in one conversation about religion. My family took a trip to Lourdes -- the #1 world Catholic pilgrimage spot -- so I was careful to explain that it wasn't a pilgrimage, it's just that my husband's aunt is a nun. A colleague told me his story of visiting Lourdes when he was a kid, in Catechism. The healthy push the sick (in special wheelchairs of Lourdes) to the healing waters to bathe. An endless procession of the dreadfully ill marinate in the miraculous pool from morning until night. Then it's your turn to get in. "That you don't get sick from it -- that's the miracle!" he said.

  • And that brings me up to my present job. One colleague volunteered that he'd voted in favor of gay marriage when it came up in a Swiss referendum. This came up because another colleague was planning to visit some gay married friends on vacation. (Both of these colleagues are straight guys.) I've hinted about being atheist-friendly, and one colleague has hinted back. He lent me his disc of Randy Newman's Faust, and pointed out specifically that Randy Newman (who wrote it and plays the devil) is an atheist. I'm listening to it now -- not bad. :D

So what do you think?

It would be fun if some of you -- atheist or not -- would take this as a meme! I'm curious about how my real-life "out at work" experience compares to others.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Out (as atheist) at work?

The news just keeps coming in about the rise of atheism, even in the good ol' U.S.A.! The latest research shows that the people who actively self-identify as atheist or agnostic now outnumber Mormons (1.6% of the population vs. 1.4% of the population). And if you count people who are technically atheist (don't actively believe in the existence of God, but don't call themselves atheists), we're 12% of the population!

So why is it that the Mormons can count senators, governors, even serious presidential contenders among their ranks? While non-believers get so little respect that people are astonished when the president takes one second to acknowledge their existence?

My guess is that a lot of it has to do with lack of organization and lack of geographical grouping. (Also, perhaps, the lack of the special right to tax-free political organizing that the religions enjoy.) But, since we all know that atheist is the new gay (see here), let's take a page from the gay and say it's visibility.

Sure you can put the Dawkins "A" on your blog and/or join Mojoey's atheist blogroll, but who are the people most likely to read your atheist blog? That's right -- your fellow atheists. It seems like it would be good to be "out" in real life. But this is where we're at a big disadvantage: there's practically no reason for it to come up in conversation!

Compare to the gay example. Even if you don't put a picture of your spouse on your desk -- even if miraculously nobody ever asks you about your home life or what you did over the weekend -- eventually your family is going to get invited to the company picnic. And that will clue in your colleagues. (Wait a minute... your S.O. is a woman, just like you.... What...? Oh, I get it...)

Religion is the same way -- it comes up naturally. "Why do I do a partial fast once a week? Because I'm a Hindu." "Why don't I ever drink coffee? Because I'm a Mormon." "Why won't I shake your hand? Because I'm an Orthodox Jew and you're a woman." (And, yes, I have heard that last one from a colleague at work...)

But atheism? It's just not the same! If religion doesn't happen to come up, then it seems inappropriate to bring it up. The best I've done so far is to wish my colleagues a "Happy Darwin Day" on Darwin's recent 200th birthday. The one replied "Oh, I believe in 'Intelligent Design' -- Hahahahaha!!" and the other one is always cracking irreverent jokes about his Baptist upbringing.

Nevermind, they're probably already atheists anyway...

Monday, March 09, 2009

I can rely on myself

The next morning I called up Joe and Sam to ask them if they wanted to go to the mall. Mostly I wanted to get myself a Cat Stevens album after the movie I'd watched with Andrea the night before. It turned out that Sam didn't have to go to football practice that day so they were both available. I swung by their house to pick them up and we went to the mall.

When we got to the mall, my first stop was the record store. I picked out a compilation that had on it most of the songs that I remembered from the movie.

As I was buying it, Joe asked, "Why the sudden interest in Cat Stevens?" I didn't want to tell him the truth because I didn't want to tell him I'd been on a date with Andrea. In case he liked her too, as I suspected. So I made something up. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Outer Blogness is back in business!!!

Well, sort of.

The blogroll update functions were working this morning, so I did a grand update of Outer Blogness, deleting dead links, adding all of the new exmo bloggers that have appeared since the blogrolling service wigged out six months ago, and updating the links for all those who have moved or changed their blog names. I started from the bottom and got all the way up to the d's when the update service crashed. So, unless your blog name starts with a, b, c, or d, your link has been corrected on the list. Please leave a comment if there's an error in your link (or if you don't want to be on the list).

Naturally, I updated the blogroll at Main Street Plaza at the same time. On that one, I was able to finish the whole alphabet!

Now, my goal with Outer Blogness is to provide a list of all of the exmo blogs out there, whether the blogger writes about Mormonism or not. I keep my eyes open, but I can't always find them all. If you know of an exmo blog that I don't have on my list, please leave a comment. Any blogger who has a strong personal connection with Mormonism (eg. you were Mormon or you have a close family member who is), can be a part of Outer Blogness.

Note that you can put the Outer Blogness list in your own sidebar (see the Outer Blogness page for instructions). Normally, it should just show the 25 most recently updated blogs in Outer Blogness, but that feature appears to be broken. I hope the Blogrolling guys will fix it soon. They've also included ads that appear at the top of the page when you click through to the other blog. That "feature" works. But the menu where I can pay a fee to turn the ads off doesn't.

Also, if you're not an exmo, but you'd like to be in my regular blogroll, you can leave a comment for that as well. :D

Monday, March 02, 2009

Orem's not so bad when you give it a chance...

"Your family moved here so that you would date Mormon boys?"

"Essentially. When I told my parents I didn't believe in God and didn't want to go to church anymore, Dad completely flipped out. He blamed it on the kids at school being a bad influence on me. But apparently he's not opposed to peer pressure per se as long as it works in a good direction and not a bad direction. He said that if I'd grown up in Utah like he did this never would have happened since I'd be surrounded by good Mormon kids who would teach me that it's cool to go to church instead of being rebellious. Same for my younger brother and sister -- he wanted to be sure to get them into a good environment before the same thing happened to them. So Mom and Dad both quit their jobs in New Jersey and found new jobs in Utah. Naturally Dad is hugely proud of himself seeing me go on a date with an Eagle Scout. Back at my old high school in Princeton I doubt that there was a single Eagle Scout in the whole school."

"I didn't really want to go for Eagle Scout, actually. Read the rest of the story ->