Saturday, November 26, 2005

Cultural Mormon: Who are these apostates coming down, coming down?

Now, this may not be obvious to many readers, but in fact I'm making a serious effort to tailor this column to my Utah Valley audience in hopes of offending as few people as possible.

People who know my writing from other venues may know that I like to talk about sex. All the time. And when I was invited to write a column for this new publication and sent in a few sample columns, the editorial board gently hinted that I might want to tone that down a bit, so as to avoid offending the good people of Utah Valley.

I'm perfectly happy to go along with this constraint to the best of my ability, since really I'm a nice person -- generally respectful to others -- and I'm not the sort of person who gets her jollies from offending and upsetting people.

Note that I'm doing this for my apostate readers (if I have any) as much as for my LDS readers (if I have any). This may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the apostates are even more offended by the sex talk than the Mormons. This is because I'm promoting the negative stereotype that people who leave the church are mostly depraved perverts.

So for the sake of my apostate friends, I feel compelled to tell you all that I do not necessarily represent the typical apostate. Many apostates are just as somber out of the church as they ever were in it. And I personally know plenty of apostates who are not at all sex maniacs nor hard-core partiers. Too bad for them, really, but to each his own.

On an earlier column I got some negative feedback regarding the fact that I consider the Book of Mormon to be a work of fiction. To be honest, I appreciate this sort of feedback because it helps me understand the point of view of this publication's readers. Normally, I would suppose that when I say I'm an apostate, it would go without saying that I don't believe the Book of Mormon to be a real history, in the same way that when I meet someone who is LDS, I assume they believe the Book of Mormon to be nonfiction. Hence for either side, stating one's opinion (respectively testimony) shouldn't be terribly surprising. But it's been some time since I've lived in Utah Valley, and I've forgotten a few things, so it's good to have a reminder of how things work.

Actually, I think it's pretty cool if there really are any faithful Mormons reading my column. In my fantasy universe, I think this means that I'm "sparking a dialogue" to help current and former LDS understand each other's perspective. In reality, it's probably more like "Ha ha! Look at that silly apostate!," but even in that case at least I'm providing some sort of public service.

Mormonism was a huge part of my life all through my childhood and adolescence, right up until I graduated from BYU in 1992. Growing up, our family wasn't one of those half-assed borderline LDS families that the ward is always trying to reactivate. We were one of those pillar-of-the-ward, attend-every-Sunday, lots-o'-callings, don't-even-think-of-skimping-on-the-tithes-and-offerings families that the church loves so much.

Yet, now that I no longer believe in the mythology, faithful Mormons and apostates agree that any further interest I show in LDS culture or history is a sign of some sort of mental disorder. Maybe it is.

Maybe it's crazy of me to think LDS culture is interesting on its own, and not just for its heavenly rewards.

When I was back in Minnesota this past summer visiting my parents, I was irresistably drawn to this one bookshelf of my mom's where she keeps a collection of LDS-interest teen romance novels. They were actually kind of amusing, and I ended up keeping something of a mini-blog of reviews of them. The classic Jack Weyland stuff was still basically the most entertaining fare, but it's important to take it in small doses since it's kind of repetitive.

Also I love Saturday's Warrior. (Not the video, but rather the original cast recording.) This is another point where apostate and faithful LDS alike join in mocking me, but I can't help it -- for some reason I think it's fabulous. Maybe my brain is broken. It drives my husband completely up the wall. He's an ordinary French guy raised in a Catholic home with no contact with Mormonism, so he doesn't understand the draw of Saturday's Warrior. He thinks it's intolerable, so I can only listen to it when he isn't around. Sometimes if my two apostate brothers are visiting he lets us listen to it all together.

Did you catch that last line?

Yep, three apostates (in a family of five kids) that was once a pillar-of-the-ward family. Sorry to shock -- all I can say is let this be a lesson to all you LDS parents who think it's OK to be a little bit of an "intellectual" or dabble in "feminism." Also, too many stints as Gospel Doctrine teacher for both parents can be a little dangerous.

OK, by now I've probably messed up on my goal not to offend everyone, so I'd better stop here....

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor November 10, 2005.

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