Sunday, November 02, 2008

Still "Cultural Mormon"? Even now?

With the Proposition 8 race all over the national news, it's a bit of a difficult time to be any kind of Mormon, even an atheist cultural Mormon. This huge and dramatic effort to stop gay people -- as the one moral question of our time worth standing up for -- puts the spotlight on the institutional LDS church's shameful history with race (which continues to some degree to this day). Many Mormon moderates want to claim that bigotry isn't what Mormonism is all about (as Hellmut and I have been trying to do over on Main Street Plaza), but then why are so many Mormons so quick to drop everything for this fight as soon as their leaders tell them to? Either intolerance is a central tenet of the religion or unquestioning, (I normally refuse to use this word, but) cult-like obedience is. Either way, it looks like there's something very wrong with this people.

I'm currently reading The Bookseller of Kabul, and was touched by a powerful chapter about a teenage boy (on his first trip away from his family) who sees the problems around him and prays that one day he will be proud of being an Afghan. What can I say? I would like to be proud of my heritage as well. I hope that people who feel that there's more to Mormonism that this ugliness are in a good position to make it so.

I've talked about being a cultural Mormon from the beginning of this blog, about my fondness for literary portraits of Mormon culture (even faithful ones), and my adventures with the mishies. I've written my own stories of Mormonism, and have even tried my hand at being an ambassador from my tribe to another.

And, regardless of what Mormons and others think, for better or for worse, I doubt I'll stop any time soon... ;^)


Aerin said...

I think you've got a great attitude about it all. AND you're willing to maintain the conversation - promoting understanding amongst all the different groups. Love that illustration btw.

Craig said...

I've never been more ashamed of having been a Mormon than these past months. Despite having been born into it and not having had a choice, I hate having to admit (and that is how I see it) that I was once Mormon, and that in any way supported either the church or the bigotry of so many members, though to me, it's one and the same.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Aerin!!!

Hey Craig!!!

I know how you feel. This situation marks the most tempted I've ever been to completely renounce my Mormon past. Yet, I can't ever really erase my Mormon heritage. Plus I hope I can do more good by holding my people up to high expectations -- encouraging them not to keep soaking their traditions in this crap -- rather than writing them off as beyond hope...

KC said...

ugh, their prop 8 stance makes me sick :/

Anonymous said...

I think you and your bro are pretty amazing in the way you continue a thread of cultural mormonism without any rancor or regret. I think that at some level there must be a more intellectual approach involved in what you do.

For whatever reasons I sometimes still experience great anger at mormonism. Now more than ever with their support of Prop 8. So my strained relationship with mormonism makes it impossible to consider myself a cultural mormon at any levl. In fact I'm probably the flip side of your coin Chanson because I absolutely do not identify at any level with mormonism other than that it was something that "happened" to me at birth and that I got out of as soon as I could.

I am adamant in correcting people when they call me a mormon. Some of my Catholic friends for example, speak of me as mormon in the way that they speak of themselves as Catholic because once a Catholic always a Catholic. Ditto for my Jewish friends. Born a Jew forever a Jew.

Not with me. I'm just not a mormon at any level. It's something in my past that I continue to have some involvement with because of the work I do with gay mormons. If it weren't for the great caring I feel for my gay bros still trapped in the church, and often in impossible marriages, I wouldn't have any further reason to talk about mormonism at all.

I know that part of what I feel is reactionary and part of it is an emotional response to having been treated so badly by the mormons. And now there is this added burden of having been confronted with the very sad reality that my family and especially my twin brother, have all been out there pounding the pavements and donating money in support of Prop 8.

I respect you and John's cultural mormonism even though I don't share it. I love reading your writings even though I'd be completely incapable of writing similiar stories. I visit your website often and read with delight the things you write about and share. And yet I have at the same time this amazing visceral response to all things mormon.

I think it's the way you wrap it all up so intelligently that makes this a pleasant stop for me. I respond to high intelligence and you and John serve it up in big oversized Texas helpings.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Kyla!!!

Me too. Let's hope it goes down in flames in the election today...

Hey Tom!!!

I completely understand that. Everyone's experience is a little different, and I'm not claiming my position on Mormonism is the "right answer" for anyone but me. :D

Eileen said...

Interesting post. Most of us on the outside think of Mormonism as a rather strange religion out west, but not really a culture. That Motley Vision blog (it was a link in one of your posts you linked to) is really fascinating, especially this article where he talks about "ethical criticism" and how "by allowing the self to be penetrated by the stranger’s otherness or, alternately, by expanding the boundaries of the self such that it might include, understand, and even embrace and integrate (to a degree) the other’s difference can we collapse the distance between Self and Other (including God) and unite as the race of God in any communally redemptive and healing way." That's a really intriguing approach to the art of reading and criticism. I've never thought of literature that way.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey E. L. Fay!!!

Like many religions, Mormonism defines more than just beliefs and doctrines. It's a framework for traditions, community, history, shared values, etc. The local Mormon ward was my family's primary social community when I was growing up (even though Mormons were sparse where we lived), and much of our actions, identity, and family traditions revolved around Mormonism. So I'd say it's a culture.

Regarding literary criticism, understanding an unfamiliar perspective is one of my favorite parts of the whole endeavor.

As for relating this to God? Well, I could be snarky and say that imagination and fantasy are also key components of fiction. But, really, I'm willing to read works by believers in order to see their perspective and make a (healing and uniting) connection with the many people who see supernatural claims as real and central to their lives.

Ray Agostini said...

I think the Church can learn a vital lesson from this: "For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction."

I agree with you, CL.

Anonymous said...

check out this ad posted on MoHoHawaii. As he rightly points out, it's disgusting and horrible that the church has aligned itself so singularly with this single issue.

I'm writing on November 4 after Obama has been declared the president-elect. (YES!) And as I'm writing, Prop 8 is PASSING (OK, only 18 precincts reporting, but still). And it's horrible that Californians are RESCINDING a right gay Californians have enjoyed and it hasn't hurt anyone. WHAT THE FUCK.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Ray!!!

I agree, I think it's time for the church to learn that actions have consequences. As I was saying in the comments on my MSP post Proposition 8 from Outer Space, I think that -- even if they win this round -- they've made a poor bet for the long-term.

First of all, regardless of what the “the Church of the Lamb” Mormons think of the liberal and New Order Mormons, the institution benefits from being surrounded by moderates. It’s not a clever idea to drive so many of them away by forcing them to take a side on an issue where many will side against the LDS church (or at least will have loved and respected family members who will side against the church, which will get them thinking and questioning).

Second of all, the LDS church is getting tons of negative national publicity for this race. One minority pulling out the stops to take away equal legal rights from another minority? It hardly makes the religion endearing to the average person who know little about Mormonism.

Thirdly, I think the church has wildly miscalculated the effect this will have on the youth. I understand that in the past few decades the church has cut back on a lot of the fun activities that build memories and help young people grow up happy and proud to be a Mormon. The kids get this instead — something which (given the age/opinion divide over this issue) will make lots of young people feel ashamed to be a Mormon. It’s typical Republican this-quarter-only thinking: the grown-ups are the ones holding the check-books today, so they’re the ones who get the attention. I think the Religious Right in general has made a similar miscalculation, as I explained here: The Religious Right vs. Young People.

Hey Holly!!!

Yeah, I saw that ad, and (like you) I'm following the California results in real time, horrified to see that it looks like Proposition 8 will pass.

There's an interesting discussion of that ad over on fMh here illustrating the extreme disconnect and polarization this fight has caused.

Many Mormons appear to believe this is an example of unjustified hate. They've poured millions of dollars and hours into a high-profile campaign to take away rights from real-life California families (such as the one depicted here) -- they don't deny it or apparently even regret doing it. Yet somehow they think that (because they're also a minority) they should be exempt from people thinking they're assholes for being the playground bully, picking on the group one notch less powerful than they are. I (and many others) would be happy to stand beside the Mormons against bigotry and hate, but would they stand beside me (an atheist) or beside gay people for the same cause? Apparently not.

Unknown said...

It's a tough one Chanson. I want to sleep but I'm afraid I won't be able to until I know what's happened with Prop 8 for sure.

If it passes that will be the final nail in the coffin with my family. I have reached the outer limits of my tolerance with them.

And with that I'll stop and tell you that I'll still read all your stories. :-)

OK, this is hysterical, but the word verification for my particular post is "outed"

Seriously, that's the WV staring at me right below what I'm typing in this moment. In a couple of days I'll tell you why that's so prescient.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom!!!

Yeah, I'd like to be celebrating Obama's victory, but watching Proposition 8 pass is a real tragedy, especially knowing that our family members were behind this stinking pile of hate. I'm glad you don't begrudge me my inclination to still feel like a cultural Mormon, in spite of it all...

Ray Agostini said...

I'm glad you don't begrudge me my inclination to still feel like a cultural Mormon, in spite of it all...

I can't speak for Tom, but IMO you're too cute to ignore, no matter what you believe!


C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Ray!!!

You too! :D

John Hamer said...


Don't lose heart over Prop 8. On marriage equality, we're winning and we're going to win. LDS leaders are in a condition of abject sin and they will ultimately lose this political struggle. End of story. Meanwhile, Obama's victory is the beginning of a new era in American politics. The Nixon Era is over, the Obama Era has begun.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey John!!!

I completely agree with you aobut the long run, and especially about the change of an era.

But in the short run, a monster has been born. Now the leaders of the LDS church feel like they're back in those heady anti-ERA days, and have gotten the message that if they pour enough money into ads full of lies, they can block equality for disadvantaged groups. At a moment when most of the country is pulling together with new hope of cooperation across the lines of old prejudices, we have a rich and powerful organization that's ready to jump in and stoke up those old prejudices wherever they may linger...

Ray Agostini said...

I think the problem with many people, and especially people who are anti-Gay, and anti-Gay Rights, is that none of them have ever really known a Gay person. And this is the paradox. We all know that Mormons have horns - until you meet a reasonable one (it must be personal, not just "online", IMO). Then your perception changes. Some Mormons don't seem to believe it's possible to be Gay and intelligent, productive, charitable, caring, and to lead a normal life, and have normal human feelings. No, "Gay people" are relegated to the "inhuman" and the "unfeeling".

What Gay people do in privacy is nobody's business. Not Church, nor State. And if they're capable of raising children better than dysfunctional straight families, then common sense should prevail. I'd rather have two fathers who taught me to love, than straight parents who taught me to hate. I've amended my views on all of this, largely, by the way, because of my "online" association with people like John (Hamer), but more so IRL too.

America really seems to be lagging behind the times in this area. Oz already has a high court judge who is gay, Justice Michael Kirby. Link. And we've had at least one atheist Governor-General, Bill Hayden. I know, I shouldn't be lecturing America :) LOL.

I dunno, but my feeling is that all the Church has done with this Prop 8 move is totally alienate people who were once very sympathetic, or even partially, or even growingly sympathetic to it, or trying to be so. THUD. As I've said before, the once-persecuted minority, have now become the persecutors. The scourge of polygamy still remains with us, with gross sexual and physical abuses and violence occurring every day, but has the Church ever spoken out about this as a "moral issue"? Not on your life. They let this gross abuse remain quasi-legal because they still believe it "in principle". If they were fair dinkum, they'd have polygamy banned and totally prosecuted. Nine years ago GBH said, "we might look into it", but in 2008 child brides continues to be a reality of American polygamy. No "moral issue" here. "Leave that to the authorities", says GBH. "We won't interfere". We'll only spend $22 million to ensure that perfectly harmless people are deprived of their civil rights, because they "threaten" the "institution of marriage", which was completely destroyed in the 1970s with the rise of de facto relationships anyway. Hold your breath waiting for the Church to prosecute "fornicators" who thumb their noses at "the institution of marriage"!

BTW, here's the president elect's view on Gay marriage:

"What is your reaction to Proposition 8, and would you vote yes or no on it?" interviewer Sway asked.

"You know, I've stated my opposition to this. I think it's unnecessary. I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I'm not in favor of gay marriage. But when you start playing around with constitutions just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that that's not what America's about," Obama answered.

No, that isn't what America is really about, and it's not what any free nation is about. But you are still in a minority, and history has shown that bullies will persecute minorities, but in the end - justice will prevail over religious fantasy.

Share your dream for equality, and do it in a non-violent way. The pen has always been mightier than the sword.

John Hamer said...

So what? It's still fighting a war it will ultimately lose; therefore its efforts and money are wasted. Meanwhile, it's nearly always a mistake for churches to merge with political parties. Parties are clearly dirty, human things. When churches connect too closely with them, people tend to realize that churches are also dirty, human things.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Ray!!!

I agree with your point about how people have a hard time viewing people of unfamiliar, other groups (eg. Mormons, gays) as fully human until they meet them in person.

However, by saying that the "institution of marriage" was destroyed in the 70's, I think you're really buying into the conservative propaganda.

I would instead say that the institution of marriage radically changed around the 70's, but that it was a fundamentally positive change. I talked about the difference between modern marriage and traditional marriage here (and more recently in the comments of this post I talked about how fantastic it is that humans are capable of adapting their practices to their situations).

This point hit home to me again reading this amazing book I just read The Bookseller of Kabul: When a society grants absolute control to the father of the family (where running away is not an option -- you have no possibility of finding a livelihood and surviving on your own), it is astonishing the cruelty that can result from this power, by well-meaning people who want to do what's right for their family by forcing their family to follow tradition. Brutal, coercion-based marriage is on the way out in the U.S., and good riddance.

I think you're right, though, about the "fornicators" bringing in the demise of coercion-based marriage. One key social change was the advent of widespread safe, effective contraceptives. The LDS church is no friend to "fornicators" and would love to see them punished as well as the gays -- the one thing that's stopping them on that front is that nowadays the proportion of people who don't "wait for marriage" is probably somewhere around 90%, and that makes it a little difficult to get any kind of popular traction for persecuting them. Attacking gays is a way of demonizing egalitarian relationships while being sure that those who bear the brunt of the punishment are a minority, so it's easier to get popular support for laws that are fundamentally about trying to stop "sin".

Hey John!!!

Okay, here's the problem: Our species has some very serious problems to deal with that are going to require some real cooperation. Humans' natural instinct when resources are scarce is to compete to the death for them, but now that strategy will do us in. It's not hard to convince one group of humans to hate another, but now it's time to stop this xenophobia towards one's own neighbors and start thinking in terms of community.

I realize that the institutional LDS church is ultimately discrediting itself (and shooting itself in the foot) by doing this. But I don't care that much about them discretiting their organization. I'd rather have them say "Wow, spreading bigotry was a big waste of money," and cut it out!!!

beatdad said...

I know that I am a bit late to this conversation but I have having the Prop 8 conversation with my TBM brother in law and my TBM sister.

They both "felt in our hearts" that the church was right to support prop 8. on the other hand both of them have two or three gay friends and could see my side of the argument: Taking away rights from a minority is not good.

I think in the long run, just like with other civil rights issues, the rank and file of the LDS church will change their minds.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Beat Dad!!!

I hope so!!! :D