Giving things up

This is my first post on Main Street Plaza. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you, and hopeful that I can contribute something to a community which has been a huge support to me over the past few years.

That almost sounds like the way I would have started a sacrament talk a few years ago!! This post is about leaving Mormonism and actually, I think it may dovetail nicely with the post aerin64 did yesterday. Perhaps before I get to the leaving part, we should look at the joining part.

Back in the days when I was a missionary, perhaps the hardest thing about helping a new member come into the church was the stuff they had to give up. We shared this amazing story with them about prophesy in modern days, eternal families and a church community in which they could participate, and once they accepted a part of that, the rest seemed to come naturally.

The stuff they had to give up though… First for many it was their own church and religious community, and then it was a matter for many of quitting coffee, alcohol and tobacco products. The thing I most feared asking them to give up was 10 percent of their income, but for many they were coming from a background where they had been doing something similar anyway.

I got thinking about this the other day, as I thought about my continuing journey out of the church and out of Mormonism. There is plenty I have to gain in this journey, and it has all seemed to come naturally. Coffee isn’t exactly that bad for you, and once you’ve had that, moving over the odd alcoholic beverage with dinner or friends really isn’t a big deal either. I suspect if I didn’t live in Utah, it would be even less of a deal.

But then I got thinking about what I was giving up. Somethings seem obvious and are really easy. Sunday meetings, continuous guilt that I’m not doing my calling as well as I could and an extra layer of underwear when it’s hotter than Hades outside. There are things though that I hadn’t considered when I began this journey, and one of them is the idea of the outside world in a pure state of dichotomy.

Let me explain… for my entire life the idea of dichotomy has been drummed into my head. God is good, Satan is evil. Mormonism is good, other churches are evil. Not drinking alcohol is good, drinking alcohol makes you evil (even 1 sip). You and I could go on and on for days with this list, but the final thing I want to add is this one. Joseph Smith is good, anyone who opposes him is evil.

Joseph Smith – the one man that all of us who have been in the Church revered and likely the cause of much of the reason that those of us who have left, have chosen to do so. Handling it was really easy for me, as I simply switched the roles. Clearly Joseph did some bad stuff, and lied about other stuff, so naturally Joseph Smith is evil (as are all who defend him) and any who oppose him are good.

Isn’t there more to all of us than simply being either good or evil though? I think I could be considered pretty good in some aspects of my life and likely evil in others, and there are a myriad of aspects in between where I am a mix of both. I’ve noticed this when I read things which defend some of Joseph Smith’s actions, or share his history in a positive light. I get angry when people try to defend him and yet I find myself questioning why I have those feelings. Was he not just a man, with a similar collection of attributes both good and bad, and countless more in between those extremes… Much like all of us?

The problem is that I still have in my mind the doctrine of the dichotomy of good and evil. I still judge Joseph Smith on the scales – was he all good, or all bad, and I do the same with those around me. Just snap judgments – this person is good, that person is evil.

I suspect a psychologist could have an absolute field day with my brain, but for now I’m hoping to overcome it on my own. Trying to see people as the complex people they are, and respecting their existence, as much as I value my own. I think I’m making progress, but as with everything in the path out of Mormonism… 30 plus years of brain washing can’t be undone over night.

How about you? Have you struggled to overcome the dichotomy of good and evil, and are there perhaps other things you’ve had to give up to walk away from it all?

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13 Responses

  1. Andrew S says:

    Great post, Koda!

    I like your thoughts near the end. I for one do believe that we MUST all come to realize that there is more than simply being good or evil. I think that if we simply switch the roles so completely (oh, so Joseph is now evil instead of good), then we have more maturation to do. I think that whether we are members or nonmembers, it is crucial that we move past the clear and simple dichotomy. I’m finding more and more that I don’t have problems with believers per se, but I have problems with those who believe so strongly that things are simple and black and white — on all sides. And I also have to confront the urge sometimes to reduce things myself…

    I think I’m getting better at rejecting the dichotomy in *actuality*, but my problem is that I still have the dichotomy as an *ideal*. I understand that humans are, well, human, a mixture of good and bad…but the baggage that I have is in thinking that ideals *should* be all or nothing. I feel that heroes, for example, should be superhumanly good, and as a result, I don’t have many (if any) heroes. I feel like a true church *should* be supernaturally good, and as a result, I don’t feel there are many (if any) true churches.

  2. Andrew H says:

    I relate. One of the things that struck me when I moved out to SLC was how similar my evangelical behavior was to Mormonism. Many evangelicals recoil at that description, but it is true. Chief among the similarities is the constant dualism to which you refer. Evangelicals tend to put everything in either or terms.

    Now that I have left evangelicalism, I have heard some say that they prefer Mormons to my “wishy-washy” view… at least Mormons know what they believe.

    What I see at the core of both is a need to make an outside group. Dualism is great for making outside groups.

  3. Urban Koda says:

    Thanks Andrew S. I guess I really don’t really have any absolute hero’s any more either – just realized that now. I think that’s probably a good thing.

    Andrew H. I suspect many of the obstacles faced when leaving Mormonism hold true for other religions as well. And I would have to agree, people don’t know how to handle ‘wishy-washy’ – But it does make it fun if you want to mess with them, be it religion, politics or anything else.

    Dualism does do a great job at creating the other people, us vs. them, but I suspect it helps with control as well… You don’t want to become one of them now, do you?

  4. chanson says:

    Koda — Great post, and thanks for joining our list of authors! 😀

    Personally, I stopped believing in my late teens. So, while I’m sure I gave up some things, I was at a stage in my life where I was giving up my kid-living-with-mom-and-dad lifestyle for a grown-up lifestyle. Naturally, a lot of things change at that point. I never formed Mormon habits as an independent adult, so I didn’t have to give them up.

    Regarding black-and-white thinking:

    I remember as a young teen babysitting for the neighbors, and seeing that they had wine! I was so shocked! But after that experience, going to people’s houses where they had wine and beer stopped seeming so shocking.

    Actually, I think that — even at my most believing — I was pretty laid-back, and was far more inclined to judge myself unrighteous than to judge anyone else.

  5. aerin says:

    It is certainly much easier when life is black and white. I’ve found the truth of the matter is that most people/systems/organizations are in between.

    I think some LDS are much more judgmental/black and white than others. And as far as addiction goes – it’s hard to say if coffee is really an addiction. Drinking coffee/caffeine doesn’t harm anyone. And if it does (say, the fair trade/environmental impact), then soda/coke/pepsi/dr. pepper is just as harmful (all the chemicals in those beverages have to come from somewhere)….Not to get into the debate of what is or isn’t an addiction…but it is interesting to take something that most of the world sees as normal (drinking coffee) and make it abnormal or bad (even addictive). It separates.

    I think the black and white thinking really backfires (I was pretty black and white back in my teenage years) when you find out many LDS members are shades of gray. They live in the gray.

    That’s also part of the reason it’s curious that 19 – 21 year olds are sent on missions. First, I realize a big reason is that it tries to catch people before they are married or have families.

    But also, just as important – that time is a key time in people’s lives where they are developing a moral compass (of sorts). I think it is much easier to think (and preach) in black/white terms (making evangelical conversion easier) at that age, rather than 55. In general, I think people with more life experience are a bit more open-minded – or at least, they can have a better understanding of life, what it has to offer us – different variations that everyone experiences…

    (I know I’m making vast generalizations here. This is just my experience – many/some 19 – 21 year olds believe the world revolves around them…some are not willing to accept different points of view, or at least have a hard time accepting another point of view. This, btw, is how you end up with missionaries defiling Catholic monuments – but other college students as well…..Not always, and there are many, many notable exceptions).

  6. kuri says:

    I remember that (especially before my mission) I used to be quite judgmental about LDS who drank caffeinated soda, or who I thought didn’t take the church seriously enough. (I actually told one of my friends that she was “frivolous.”) And I simply despised Mormons who had affairs and such.

    But as Bob Dylan put it in “My Back Pages”: “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” I’ve learned to see the shades of gray in life. Even as a Mormon, I eventually (and this took many years) realized that the world is full of all kinds of people, and most of them are doing the best they can.

    I suppose this was easier for me because even at my most judgmental, I usually thought of “sinful” Mormons as foolish (for failing to see the “eternal perspective”) and other “sinners” as ignorant rather than as evil. In a sense, I suppose I simply widened my perspective on who is a fool: everyone. “What fools these mortals be.” I came to believe that we’re all fools together, so who am I to judge anyone?

  7. Donna Banta says:

    I suppose for me, the hardest thing to give up was the respect of my TBM family members and friends. It’s painful to think about now, but for an insanely long time after I left I tried to please these people in my life, make them understand why I left, not think badly of me, etc. But, like you say in your post, Mormons will always see those who leave, or even break a few rules as sinners. Things didn’t get better until I quit trying to please. Perhaps this is just another way of expressing your widened perspective of who is a fool: everyone. Great post, and I’m glad you’ve been added to Main Street Plaza.

  8. chanson says:

    Donna — That is such a common experience in exmo-land!

    It is so hard to lose the respect of the people you love, so you can’t help but want to get them to understand that you have legitimate reasons for leaving. But you can’t convince them that you have legitimate reasons for your disbelief without it threatening their testimony. So, after a while, you just end up accepting the fact that you can’t change their interpretation of your disaffection, and just stop worrying about it…

  9. Urban Koda says:

    Thanks Donna! If I could add to chanson’s comments. I think another aspect of LDS culture is the idea that your worth is determined by how others view you.

    When my parents discovered my disaffection, one of the tactics they tried was to alienate me from my siblings, and eventually they all but disowned me. It really sucked, but I think it was largely just an effort to make me reconsider based on how they were feeling about my decisions. There are still bridges which need a great deal of mending there.

    On my last Sunday at Church several months back when I told my bishop that I was going to be taking a break from the church, one of the things he said to me, was that members of the ward were going to start talking about me and my family, and that he would do his best to let them know that he and I were working through stuff and that I was still a good person. I think at face value, he was trying to be nice, but I think subconsciously it was an attempt to remind me that I would be talked about, and in a way, shame me back into activity.

    At the end of the day, I think the realization has to come that your worth depends not on others but on who you are as a person. If you still have a belief in a supreme being of sorts, then you could base your worth purely on him, or if you’ve ended up in atheism like myself, then it comes down to being able to look yourself in the mirror and smile!

    If others choose to treat you differently, ultimately it speaks more to their character than anything else, and therein lie many of the unfortunate consequences of religion.

  10. Randy P. says:

    I was fortunate to come across some Buddhist writings shortly after I drifted out of Mormonism. Buddhism rejects dualistic notions such as good vs. evil and accepts that people just are as they are, neither good nor evil. That’s not to say that actions don’t have natural consequences–or that evil is an entirely useless concept (IMHO)–but Buddhist philosophy doesn’t make room to judge the worth of others based on actions that are generally within the realm of socially acceptable behavior.

  11. Urban Koda says:

    I think you touched on something important there… The rejection of a system where all the components are either all good, or all evil, doesn’t necessarily negate natural law, but it does mean that we have far more to consider and choose from when making decisions – if that makes even a lick of sense.

    The more I hear, read and understand about Buddhist philosophy, the more I like it. Joining another religion is the last thing I’d like to do right now, but I have to respect an philosophy that encourages questioning.

  12. Wayne says:

    I am definitly in the good versus evil camp. That said, good depends, in my mind, on intention. Is your action based on greed, and hate or is it based on compassion etc. This is usually enough to stop me in my tracks.

    If I delude my self that my actions are good, becuase I am being compssionate and my actions have lots of shitty results; have I really done good?

    With respect for your question, that I don’t understand why I believe what I did when I was LDS, informs me that I am not in the “everyone who hates Joseph Smith, is evil” camp. Nothing is wrong with presenting Rules in a black and white way i.e. Do not Kill. Anyone trying to follow that has to have some leeway.

    My struggle with Mormonism is to accept the reality that CoJCoLDS exists, I don’t agree with much of what they manifest and my disapproval makes no difference to them. Their disapproval of my choices is not going to change my direction.

    Urban Koda, psychologists would have a field day with anyones brains.

    (Do I come across as overly Buddhisty?)

  1. July 29, 2010

    […] don’t give up…but which is the thing that we must. I wrote a comment in response about something I feel I have not given up: …the baggage that I have is in thinking that ideals *should* be all or nothing. I feel that […]

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