Some comments on my brother’s “Mormon Stories” interview

The Swiss post-mo club had a fantastic party yesterday — thanks friends!! — and the subject of the recent Mormon Stories interview with my brother (John Hamer) came up. I had linked to it for about a week in the “Exmo Radio” widget (until replacing it with a discussion of SCOTUS, DOMA, etc), but I hadn’t actually listened to it. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a podcast person. Anyway, the guy who had listened to it mentioned that John talked about me in it (I’m the sister “Carol”), so I figured I should listen to it.

And I did, just this morning! The first half anyway. And I kept feeling like I wanted to be there adding comments. But, alas, it’s too late (and I wasn’t invited anyway), so I have to settle for writing my comments here. You might want to listen to it before reading this.

Sexism & girl scouts:

John mentions being haunted by a childhood memory of telling me that the girl scouting award I was so proud to have earned wasn’t the same as earning the Eagle rank in Boy Scouts. I have no recollection of him making any such remark (but I’m sure he’s talking about me because I’m the sister who earned the Girl Scout rank). The problem wasn’t making the remark — the problem is the truth behind it. It wasn’t the same thing, and it especially wasn’t the same thing to my Mormon community.

I liked being in Girl Scouts, but I always wanted to do all of the cool stuff that the boy scouts got to do. My mom let me be in Girl Scouts, and I enjoyed the camping and I liked being able to earn badges like the boys. But my mom had me quit Girl Scouts when I turned 12 because at that point I would be in the church YW program. (Not a good substitute, BTW.)

Anyway, John had just recently earned his Eagle rank (and had gotten this big Court of Honor and all the accolades from the ward), and I wanted to earn the top rank I could before dropping out of Girl Scouts. So my mom and I made a huge push to earn as many badges as possible and finish up the top rank (of a total of three ranks, as I recall). I think I earned the last two in the same ceremony (which was kind of borderline against the rules, but they allowed it, probably because I was leaving anyway). I didn’t organize a service project, and what I did was not equivalent to becoming an Eagle Scout. I wanted to be an Eagle Scout, and I could and would have done it if only I’d had different junk between my legs.

On being a non-believer at BYU:

I totally agree with what John said about how it wasn’t hard to avoid trouble with the Honor Code police (“Standards”). The people who got in trouble were the believers who believed that the church and BYU standards are fundamentally good and are in your corner, even if you’re different. People like John and me who recognized the system as fundamentally dishonest — we did what we had to do to get by, and did fine.

On the other hand, I found it interesting that John said that the deception didn’t bother him. J. Dehlin asked John H. whether it was hard to be a non-believer at BYU (@16:42), and my immediate reaction was “Yes!!!” Yet John replied: “No.”

It was hard to need to be phony all the time. It was hard not to be able to be honest about who I am. It was hard not to have any real friends. Kids today are lucky because it’s easy to use the Internet to find like-minded fellows. Perversely, John benefited by being gay in addition to being a non-believer because there were (underground) support groups for gay people at BYU. For me, there was nothing I could do to find people like me without getting kicked out.

And lying to get an Ecclesiastical Endorsement, which was required for continuing enrollment…? It was hard and not hard. Sitting there and coming up with the right words and saying them correctly was not hard. And — as John pointed out — it was a dishonest and unethical system that put me in that position, which is how I justified doing it. I wasn’t even 18 when I started BYU, and I was much younger (and a believer) when I was locked into the choice of BYU. If my parents had put 10% of their income per year into a college fund instead of into tithing, I might have gone to an ivy, but as it was, BYU was my only option. And I didn’t try to stop believing in Mormonism — my non-belief was entirely unintentional.

Still, I feel like lying to stay at BYU was a major hit to my integrity. I could have chosen not to do it, and found a way to deal with the consequences. (As I’ve said, this was one of the “improvements” in the fictionalization of the story.) Yes, the church set me up in a way that was totally inappropriate. But I hold myself to a higher standard than I hold the church. Just because the church is dishonest, that doesn’t make it OK for me to be dishonest. In the end, I chose to get myself financially independent as quickly as humanly possible so that I could ensure that I would never be put in the same position again.

The word “atheist”:

This is one of the main reasons why I’ve never tried to organize any sort of LDS-related interview including both me and John together. John is a famous and high-profile convert to the Community of Christ, and I know that he doesn’t identify as atheist anymore, and yet it’s not entirely clear that he believes in God. (He probably clarifies this point in the second half of the podcast — I’ve only listened to the first couple of minutes of it so far) Maybe he doesn’t want to be put on the spot about this with his atheist sister. Which is fine, that’s his own business.

I found it really interesting, though, his avoidance of the word “atheist” during the podcast. When he was describing his family, he mentioned our faithful Mormon mom and our two faithful Mormon sisters, he mentioned our Evangelical Christian dad, he described our brother Ben as a “Unitarian”, and he mentioned my work on Outer Blogness (yay!) — but he failed to mention that Ben and I are atheists. And even more interesting was this statement (@32:56):

If you are some kind of a hard atheist where you’re saying there is proof that that that that some kind of a god doesn’t exist, I don’t think that’s supportable, so I would have been an agnostic.

I assume he knows how atheism works. No atheist I know claims such a proof here’s a typical atheist on this question.) An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in the existence of a God or gods. A strong atheist is someone who believes that the gods claimed by religions do not exist. Someone who claims to have a proof of God’s non-existence is called a “straw atheist” a.k.a. “straw man.”

The second podcast starts with the same old grayer than thou claims about atheists, that they just took Mormonism’s claims too literally.

I completely understand that many people like going to church, and some people really want to be a part of a church community. Whether you believe the truth claims are not is a secondary concern for many (probably most) people when deciding whether to be a part of a church. I understand why and how people who have been LDS would want to stay LDS and/or stay in a Restoration (eg. Joseph Smith-founded) tradition. That doesn’t seem weird or crazy to me, even though I’m not interested in being part of such a community myself. I think that joining the Community of Christ is a very good option for a lot of people who have problems with the CoJCoL-dS and who see church attendance as “the baby” (not “the bathwater”) when they go through a belief transition.

Is it too much to ask that that respect be mutual? Is it possible to argue for church attendance without trotting out the straw atheist and whipping him a bit? God only knows…

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9 Comments

  1. 1
    chanson says:

    p.s. I spent so much time working on this that I’d kind of like to get some other work done instead of SiOB. I’ll do a double SiOB next week, along with the results of the “Hippy Boy” drawing!

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  2. 2
    Just Jill says:

    memories and recollections are interesting. I think if I had to listen to a podcast interview with my brother I would recall every event differently than he would. Of course my memories are more correct ;o)

    Your family sounds like a loving, non-judgmental family. It’s nice you were raised to think and do for yourself. Thanks for your thoughts and clarifications.

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  3. 3
    chanson says:

    @2 So true about memory! They even talked about that a bit in the second half — John said that if he’d told the same story ten years earlier, it would be very different.

    The second half is also quite interesting. I agree with a lot of what John says, but not all of it.

    He basically argues that scripture (including the Bible) wasn’t meant to be taken literally by its authors (or by anyone before our modern notions of History as a discipline). Many segments of the Bible were written by people other than (and much later than) the claimed authors, so the fact that JS made up the Book of Mormon shouldn’t be a strike against it. True, but he fails to make a convincing argument for why either book should be revered as scripture.

    Similarly, he talked about the parallels between Joseph Smith and Jesus, and stated that looking at Mormon history can give us some insights about how Christianity formed. Absolutely true, but not exactly an argument in favor of Christianity…

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  4. 4
    visitor says:

    Good for you to know your limits but I have to say I was really looking forward to a survey of LDS reactions to the SCOTUS decisions. The few LDS blogs I’m familiar with are quite liberal and I’m sure not representative.

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  5. 5
    chanson says:

    @4 True, it’s an interesting topic!! I’m going through my reader right now — maybe I’ll do a Wednesday SiOB instead of waiting until next weekend…

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  6. 6
    aerin says:

    I haven’t listened to the podcast. I would love to hear you and your brother discuss these issues together on a podcast, MS or Mormon Expression.

    Also, I can say for myself, my beliefs and belief systems have changed over the years (since high school/college). I assume the process is similar for many people….not to belief in god or away from god….just a different understanding as we age. Dealing with age, love, death, legacy…all are complex issues (as you’ve pointed out in the past)….

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  7. 7
    chanson says:

    @6 So true!

    John and I used to collaborate a lot, for example on the Student Review in college and then on the television series throughout grad school. But since I’ve moved to Europe, we’ve naturally had less contact, and, as a consequence, the John I remember is more the John of the now-deleted period than the current John.

    Of course, even though the “If you are some kind of a hard atheist where you’re saying there is proof that that that that some kind of a god doesn’t exist” remark is a bit of a WTF? moment, listening to the podcast overall, I’d say he hasn’t changed much.

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  8. 8
    aerin says:

    @chanson – I listened to the first and second parts this past weekend. If you haven’t listened to the full second podcast, I recommend it. Particularly when John is discussing the anthropomorphic conception of God, who wrote the book of mormon, who wrote the bible and why.

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  9. 9
    chanson says:

    @8 I did listen to the second half, shortly after writing this post.

    He definitely has a clever new approach. I agree with parts of it, I disagree with other parts of it. I am very tempted to write several posts in response to various arguments he made, but somehow I feel like it might be better to let sleeping dogs lie…

       0 likes

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