Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My deconversion, part 1: background

disclaimer: I will be recounting my own experiences in a direct and straight-forward manner. None of this is intended as disrespectful to those who believe differently, it is merely a statement of my personal conclusions and how I reached them.

Ironically, growing up Mormon taught me to value non-conformity. This is ironic because Mormons are famed for lockstep conformity in action, dress, and thought.

But training Mormon kids to be like other Mormons necessarily requires training them to be unlike everyone else. And when you live in an area where Mormons are few and far between -- like Minnesota, where I grew up -- that means being unlike just about everybody.

As a kid, with or without Mormonism, there was no way I was going to fit in easily with other kids my age. I was a shy, socially awkward, late-bloomer-tomboy-bookworm, living in my own imaginary world, as likely to be talking to myself as to be talking to other people.

I was kind of a classic nerd, so Mormonism's "hip to be square" attitude fit my personality. There's a current in LDS culture that values tastes that outsiders might consider nerdy such as adults having fun by dressing up and doing silly skits for talent nights and Road Shows, or or teens and college students picking Disney movies as their favorite movies. This sort of fun nerdiness was something I could relate to, and I liked being part of a culture that said to me: "Every schmo tries to be cool by following the crowd. It takes guts to ignore the direction the crowd is going -- it's beyond cool."

"Beyond cool" was great for me because "cool"... Well, there was no way that was going to happen.

On the other hand, I never fit well into the role Mormonism had picked out for me (and for every other girl on the planet). I believed wholeheartedly that the LDS church was God's one true church, and -- motivated by the "how long will you be dead compared to how long you're alive?" argument -- I tried the best I could to "live the gospel." But my "question authority!" streak was too deep for me to fit neatly into God's divine, immovable hierarchy.

I'm not sure if my parents taught me skepticism or if it was just some sort of natural rebelliousness -- probably a combination of both -- but it limited my ability to be satisfied by learning from the examples of others rather than setting out to learn from my own experiences. So a lot of the time I was a sweet, righteous little Molly, and on the side I was testing the rules and boundaries with a vengeance.

The role of women was a big sticking point for me. But while the church taught me that a woman's divine role is to be a wife and mother period, my parents taught me something slightly different. They taught me in essence that of course your children come first -- especially when they're small -- but there's no reason that should stop you from being whatever else you want to be and from from following every dream. My mom was essentially a feminist at heart, and she had reconciled her faith with her feminist leanings in this way. Similarly, her example showed me how to deal with other church or doctrinal problems without immediately scrutinizing the church or gospel itself.

My mom falls into the category of what I would consider "Mormon intellectuals" even though she subscribed to Sunstone for only a very short time while we were growing up.

From my perspective, Mormon intellectuals are the following set of people: Their unquestionable axiom number one is that the church is true. They're educated and aware enough to know that the church has some pretty serious "issues" and intelligent enough to have the ability to warp the very fabric of time and space around the gospel so that any piece of seemingly contradictory real-world evidence can be reconciled with axiom number one.

Fixing reality to fit "the truth" is not an impossible task. Here's a simple illustration of how it works (not invented by Mormons, but this is an example of the sort of thing I'm talking about):

2 Chronicles 4:2
Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

So the diameter of the circle is 10 cubits and its circumference is 30 cubits. Even if it's an approximation, why not say 31 cubits? Or 31-and-a-half?

The simplest explanation is that the passage is in error because whoever wrote this verse didn't know that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is pi, which is not three.

I've heard people interpret this verse as indicating that the circumference was measured from the inside of the basin and that the diameter was measured all the way to the outside edge of the brim, and thus the passage cleverly gave thickness of the wall of the basin. There is nothing in the passage to suggest this interpretation except for one's prior knowledge that the Bible is not wrong.

By similar reasoning -- and granting that the Devil and his angels are doing everything in their power to destroy the church -- anything at all can be reconciled with the axiom that the church is true. Everything has an explanation. I learned many of the familiar ones, and learned to come up with them myself.

For a time.

to be continued...


Bishop Rick said...


I know exactly what you are talking about. I hate to say it, but you can't even have an intelligent conversation sometimes, because of axiom #1.

That is always what it boils down to.

John said...

I understand where you're coming from, though I might nitpick with you on the definition of a Mormon Intellectual. I'm a nonbeliever who's been active in Sunstone for the past few years (I think mostly to help Mormons who were questioning their faith to realize that doubt is a Good Thing). Admittedly, most Sunstoners are believers, but there are a handful of agnostics, atheists and skeptics, though they may not broadcast this.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey John!!!

That's interesting to know.

In my first draft of this I had written that profile as "one type of Mormon intellectual" but that phrase got scrapped in editing...