I know that these men, General Authorities of the LDS Church, are speaking with sincerity and good intentions, but this is benevolent sexism at its finest. Women do not have to stay at home and be wives and mothers in order to lead fulfilling lives. To insist that there is only one right way for all women is wishful thinking, not to mention harmful for those who could genuinely impact the world in ways other than through childbearing, supporting their husbands, and church service. It stunts an individual's growth to confine her to such a narrow sphere of influence. I find the end of this compilation to be pretty powerful.
My first boyfriend broke up with me solely because his patriarchal blessing said that he would recognize his wife when he saw her for the first time. He hadn't had that feeling for me, and so he figured he might as well break it off and keep looking, even though he still liked me. It hurt. Years later, we've remained friends, and I recently asked him if he had had a special feeling the first time he saw his now-wife. The short answer, he said, was no.
They met on his mission—she was the daughter of one of the leaders and she was setting up for a dinner. While my friend thought "She'll make a good mother someday"—a very creepy patriarchal comment that many Mormon boys tell Mormon girls (I got it a few times myself from other young men—I think it's repressed code for, "You're hot and I secretly want to have sex with you")—he didn't have any other special experience besides that. After his mission, they became good friends, and eventually they wanted to marry. Still, he was concerned that she was "the wrong one" because of his patriarchal blessing. He was so worried that he tracked down his patriarch, called him up, went over to his house, and explained the situation. The patriarch hemmed and hawed a little bit but reassured my friend that if he had prayed and felt good about it, then he should go ahead and marry her. My friend was relieved, but the thinking process began: was he not in charge of his own life? Had God already made all his most important decisions for him and left him vague emotional clues to follow like a scavenger hunt of predestination?
My patriarchal blessing has similar harmful things in it, including that Satan would take possession of my body if I wasn't careful. Do you know what kind of anxiety this causes a fifteen-year-old girl?
A few years ago, I asked some other friends, who had been in my same stake and had married each other, if they would be willing to share their blessings with me to compare. The wording was exactly the same in many parts, although John Doe's blessing had more in it about being a leader, not a follower. But it had a similar passage to mine about marrying the special one that God had reserved for him. "She will stand fast by your side in the callings which will be yours" and she would essentially be a really nice servant while John went out and did marvelous things. That was not how I viewed my spunky friend Jane Doe. Her blessing was similar to mine about how we already made commitments to honor the priesthood, how our future included lots and lots of temple work, being obedient to leaders, and standing fast by the side of our husbands. God had also prepared a special someone for her. The wording in this section was specific and exactly the same as mine, about how her husband would "take [her] by the hand and lead [her] to the temple."
My beloved Mr. T ended up doing no such thing; he actually, bless him, walked in front of me from the car to the front doors of the temple in a state of mental abstraction, and I ran up and grabbed his hand, terrified that my blessing would suddenly not be true.
My mother, also bless her, lorded my blessing over me when she found out that I didn't want to have a second child—she didn't believe that some women's bodies and temperaments and desires are simply different. I had experienced a traumatic birth and soul-sucking postpartum depression. Yet she said that I HAD to have a second child because my patriarchal blessing said "children."
"Chil-dren," she emphasized. "That means more than one." Fulfilling a prophecy from one old white man I had known for five minutes was more important to her than the mental and physical health of her own daughter. That's obedience for you.
I was relieved, however, that these two other blessings from John and Jane also contained that same part about Satan: "He will strive to enter into your tabernacle and to destroy it." Dude. That's scary. If you're not obedient to the church leaders, Satan's gonna getcha. I am saddened that this kind of fear is being seeded in our young people by well-meaning but ultimately life-harming patriarchs. It doesn't matter how much comfort this crystal-ball prophecy brings to people; when real people are hurt by false, canned, and recycled prophecies, any good they might do is nullified.
Wow. The new church essays about plural marriage have me stunned. Not only have they validated many of the sordid facts surrounding the institution and the initiation of plural marriage (although they left quite a few out, and they massaged others to seem less horrible than they actually were), they have also boldly restated that plural marriage remains a "thing" in church doctrine. One thing is clear: I AM SO GLAD I LEFT. Reading the essays, particularly after all the searching I've done on my own, showed me that the Church spins things just so.
Some things they can't make right, however. One person on Reddit mentioned that he has lost faith in the church by reading "months away from her fifteenth birthday" in the part of the essay that describes 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball. As if that made it okay. It made the person wonder what other information the Church was obfuscating.
Other Mormons are doing their darnedest to justify the Prophet. "Lots of people married really young girls during that time!" I've seen on Facebook. Yet think about it: think about what language we use when we talk about Joseph Smith at the "tender" age of fourteen. That God would reveal his will to a boy so young, so pure, so naive, so ignorant of the ways of the world, so far from the callousness of adulthood.
Then picture 14-year-old Joseph getting married to a 38-year-old woman. Who already had lots of other husbands.
Gross. Yet people justify the opposite. Just because a girl can menstruate doesn't mean that she should be the reluctan nth wife of a much older man (and she was reluctant! Read her journals! She wept!). Really, peeps. Grow a heart. It was wrong. It was gross.
Mr. T has heard lots of talk on Reddit about how many Mormons think that the church's essays are fake and from anti-Mormon sites. It makes me sad for them. And all the meanwhile, Mormon women keep weeping, keep wondering if their husbands will take another wife if they happen to die or how many sister-wives they'll have in the next life. So much wasted time spent feeling less-than.
The whole thing is gross.
I can't believe that we're justifying plural marriage all over again when it so thoroughly contradicts so much of our own (gross) doctrine. D&C 132 says that men should only take virgins as multiple wives, yet Joseph married 11 women who were already married (which the Church essays also justify). The essays says that Joseph married other married women to forge links between families even though Jacob 2:24–30 says that it's only for raising seed. The essays state the Law of Sarah as the escape clause that allowed Joseph to commit adultery without Emma knowing. Have you heard of the Law of Sarah? It's the most ridiculous and heartbreaking law ever. And somehow it's also okay that Joseph used promises of eternal salvation and threats of destruction to convince women to marry him. With three of the wives, Zina Huntington, Almera Woodard Johnson, and Mary Lightner, Joseph told them that he would be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if they did not marry him.
Gross, gross, gross. So happy that I can fully reject it all. I feel an immense amount of relief. For all those Mormon women reading this who can't stand polygamy, know this: manipulation of power is not and has never been of God. When there is manipulation, amen to the priesthood of that man, and you can feel free to reject anything thereafter. Plural marriage was a heartbreaking farce that destroyed so many relationships and lives. The Church supposedly does not practice plural marriage today but from these essays it is eminently clear that there is still a form of it that is still creating unequal power balances in marriages and relationships. It is wrong. If there's a God in heaven, he/she/it would be weeping right now.
I have enjoyed a delicious Sunday morning—being with my family and reading an excellent book. This afternoon I am tutoring a foster girl in math and physics, something that energizes me and brings me a lot of fulfillment. I feel more at home in my own skin, and my anxieties have decreased to the point that I realize how much energy I have wasted in worrying about my personal salvation.
This isn't to say that I have suddenly become a lying, drunken whore, for goodness' sake. I am none of those things. But it does mean that I am happier.
Wickedness never was happiness, I hear finger-pointers say, quoting Alma 41:10 in the Book of Mormon.
What you define as wickedness or happiness, I would calmly reply, may not be how I experience or define those things.
In fact, the definitions of wickedness and happiness have changed in every generation in every culture back and back and back. I no longer live under the burden of a happiness defined by a nineteenth century white male, who certainly didn't have the happiness of women first and foremost in his thoughts. But I can even let that anger go, because I don't give the Church that power over me any more, and as they say, every minute spent in anger is 60 seconds of wasted happiness.
This is not to say that one will always be happy. That is silly and unrealistic. But the last six months have been filled with an abundant measure of love, joy, and peace—which are supposedly three fruits of the Spirit. Yesterday, attending a medieval musical concert for children, I blinked back happy tears as my son and I danced merrily with people we didn't even know. It was beautiful. It was areligious. It was harmony without an imposition of rigid expectations.
I agree entirely with the 11 things Neil Carter writes about in "What Leaving My Religion Did for Me." Perhaps what some would define as wickedness may actually be someone else's happiness. As disconcerting as that may, it is as important to "rejoice with those who rejoice" as it is to "mourn with those that mourn"—and not discount even the unfaithful person's genuine happiness as being anything less than what it is for that person. To do otherwise is to negate and diminish others while vaunting your own understanding, which might even be classified as a wickedness itself. And wickedness, you know, never was happiness.
I am frustrated by apologists for the church. They do more harm than good and undermine what good exists in the church through their tone and methods. They wrest scriptures to their own destruction and to the anxiety of others. Some who seek to defend the church academically and professionally use a mind-boggling array of rhetorical and textual tactics to justify anything in church practice and behavior, without regard to how the same methods can be turned against their side almost effortlessly.
Apologist extraordinaire Daniel Peterson had just such an article this week in the Deseret News. To defend Joseph Smith's character against the claim that he spoke arrogantly at times, he shows how the History of the Church cannot be trusted as a historical reference to Joseph Smith.
Ahem. The History of the Church cannot even be trusted.
So let's take Mr. Peterson's article and apply it exactly to another context: the First Vision. (For best results, first read Mr. Peterson's article before proceeding further.)
I really, really loved the head/neck analogy turned on its . . . head. There are so many ways in which the priesthood is not like motherhood that it's not even funny. Boys get the priesthood at age 12 and girls get . . . their period? Women get menopause and men continue to exercise the priesthood? It's an analogy that leaves so many women behind.
It is kind of a big deal. A deal-breaker, for some. It wasn't for me—I didn't really look carefully into the issue until later, until after the history of plural marriage had made my head spin and my heart drop. But it's a legitimate problem. The problem with the Book of Abraham is the difference between translation and "translation," but no distinction was made between the two during Joseph Smith's time. Here is a link to the Salt Lake Tribune summarizing the most recent church essay about the Book of Abraham (and the link to the essay is there as well). I seriously doubt that God would be so obtuse and misleading. After all, God's not the author of confusion, right?
And for a concise explanation of what the problem with the Book of Abraham is, here is a great and FAST overview by Brother Jake, who is only slightly snarky. If you'd like the slower version, I recommend reading this from Jeremy Runnells, which lays out all the problems very carefully, honestly, and respectfully. (Go to page 24.)
So yeah. It's nice to post it here rather than on Facebook, which would cause a firestorm.
In other realms, life is really, really good. I feel continually at peace and relieved from the stress of all the mental gymnastics I was doing. I would hope that if there is a God (and the more I look, the more I have to say that I'm unsure that there is one—or many), that such an understanding God would reward intellectual honesty and my choosing to be a good person without any promises of reward or threats of punishment hanging over my head—a true test, in my mind, although I take issue with the idea that life is a test. A later post, perhaps.
In other news, I had a delicious coffee a few days ago that was simply superb. It was even decaf. I wouldn't want to have it every day or even every week (too much sugar), but geez, it was really good. I've tried a few different kinds of alcohol and I don't really like it. I know what the appropriate amounts are, what the risks are to my health (for women: no more than 1 drink per day, if that; for men, no more than 2 drinks a day, if that). But frankly, I don't like it, so I'm not going to force it. But now I don't have to be afraid of it anymore, and turning it down isn't some heroic triumph against evil and temptation and the wicked people of the world: I just don't want to. And if I did want to, I would know what is healthy for me so I don't abuse my body. It is just one more way I feel less fear and anxiety. And less judgment towards other people who do drink.
As my anger subsides and I reach a better point of homeostasis with regard to the Church, Mr. T and I have talked about our upcoming move to a new country and how we may even present ourselves to our local Mormon congregation, say, "Hey, we're here to help if you need help, we're happy to get to know you and come to fun activities, but don't expect us on Sundays or to hold callings." It would almost feel like cheating. :)
I discovered Morten Lauridsen in 2001 and have loved his compositions ever since. For me, one of his most profound pieces is the song above, Contre Qui, Rose. Here are the full lyrics, translated:
Against whom rose,
have you assumed these thorns?
Is it your too fragile joy
that forced you to become
this armed thing?
But from whom does it protect you,
this exaggerated defense?
How many enemies have I
lifted from you who did not fear it at all.
On the contrary, from summer to autumn
you wound the affection
that is given you.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
I find this song and the poem poignant and accurate in a variety of settings. But I have especially felt it applicable to events unfolding within the LDS church and in my own personal life as well.
While I am not a physicist, I have long been fascinated by the field of quantum mechanics and wave theory. It is wacky and counterintuitive, yet sublime in what it seeks to explain about the world around us. Most disconcertingly, no one seems to understand it fully as Richard Feynman, one of the world's greatest physicists admits. Still, if you want to brush up on your quantum physics, Wikipedia has a great introduction here, and I enjoyed this video presentation as well.
I believe quantum mechanics explains faith too. Or at least, it helps me better conceptualize some of the paradoxes of faith that I have encountered in my life. Let me try to explain.