Beware the False Gods of Capitalism: A Letter to My Son

“The gods of capitalism and the gods of Mormonism are nothing but different faces of the same lie. And I would have you serve neither.”

Adapted from a letter written to my fourteen-year-old son.

Dear Son,

A few weeks ago, I texted asking for ideas for Christmas gifts for you. You suggested over-the-ear headphones. You may have noticed that I didn’t get you those, and I want to tell you why. As your mother, I felt like this year, it was more important to give you something that you need, rather than something that you want. As someone who has known and loved you since before you were born, I want to share some lessons I have learned in life.

The first and most important lesson is this: the idea that anything or anyone in this world can be separated from anything else is an illusion. Think about it. Everything in the universe was once compacted into a space smaller than the head of a pin. And we are part of that universe, part of that stuff that went flying through space, coalescing, heating, compacting, exploding, spreading, compacting again, evolving, becoming, decaying, renewing, again and again. There are no closed systems in our world. Harm in one part of our world reverberates throughout the entire system.

The illusion of separation, the convenient lie that if I don’t see it, I neither affect nor am affected by it, is the cause of most of our world’s suffering, human and otherwise. There is a prevalent mindset in our society that we have the right to never be inconvenienced or made uncomfortable by someone else. This attitude is particularly prevalent among people who have never experienced poverty and its accompanying inconveniences and discomforts. But it is an illusion, and it is this illusion that you must shatter, because at its extreme, people who believe that they are entitled to never be inconvenienced or uncomfortable grow up to be Donald Trump.

As I’ve gotten older, I have become so much less patient with lies and illusions. I was raised in a religion of lies. My parents believed and taught me these lies. I grew up in a community where almost everyone around me believed in these lies. When I became an adult, I started to question what I’d been taught. I left those beliefs behind and started developing my own beliefs, my own ways of relating to the world. My parents still believe these lies, so much so that they are spending all of what little money they’ve managed to save throughout their lives on continuing the spread of these lies. Some people never wake up.

We live in a country and an economy built upon lies. You are taught these lies in school, and almost everyone around you believes them. These are some of those lies: “People generally get what they earn and deserve. Those who have money worked for it and deserve to have it. We live in a free market economy, and those who don’t have money could easily get some with just a little hard work. They have no one to blame but themselves. Having money is evidence of someone’s merit and goodness. Those who have money have earned it. Those who don’t have money must not have earned it and don’t deserve to be helped. We have a right to acquire and hoard as much as we want, without any obligation to help those who have less. After all, if we have it, that must mean that we earned it and deserve it, and that they didn’t earn it and don’t deserve it. We live in a free country, and that’s what freedom means: the right to accumulate money without limits, the right to look out for myself and only myself, the right to not have to care what happens to others, the right to not share, the right to be left alone.”

We Americans treasure and violently guard our supposed freedom-to-acquire more than any other liberty. The United States has been extracting wealth from the rest of the world with military force since before it was officially a country, beginning with the land theft and genocide of the Native Americans. We currently have 800 military bases outside of our own borders. No other nation even comes close to maintaining that kind of a global military presence. The closest runners up are Russia, Britain, and France, who each have less than ten bases outside their countries. Some historians argue that we are already in the midst of what later generations will look back on as World War III. We have been involved in dozens of global conflicts, continuously, since before you were born. Why are we engaged in this killing and destruction around the world? Are we protecting freedom? If we’re talking about the freedom of corporations to continue profiting, acquiring, and hoarding without limits, then yes. But if we’re talking about the freedom of ordinary people to live lives of dignity, to have available to them the resources of life to which they should be entitled as organisms of this planet, then our military serves the exact opposite purpose. I worry that the wars that have been smoldering mostly unnoticed for years now may soon erupt into a recognized and officially declared war. I worry that the draft may be reinstated. I worry that you and your younger brother may be called up, drafted, sent to the front lines to kill and be killed to protect corporate profits. I will not stand by idle and silent while that happens. That’s why Mom always goes on and on about this stuff. The gods of capitalism and the gods of Mormonism are nothing but different faces of the same lie. And I would have you serve neither.

Greed has become the ruling principle of our society. Me first. The term our culture uses to describe this phenomenon is “individualism.” Individualism is held up as something to be admired, but it is another name for the illusion of separateness. It is another lie. You appear to have succumb to this lie, and this is not surprising, nor is it your fault. It is what you have observed in the behavior of those around you, in your dad’s family and in your culture. It is what you have been taught, both explicitly and implicitly. And it is a difficult illusion to shatter, because it offers so much comfort. How convenient to be able to manipulate the world around you to never encounter anyone or anything unpleasant or inconvenient, and how appealing to believe that it is your right to do so. Most people do not wake from this illusion unless difficult life circumstances force them to confront the world as it really is. My hope is that you can begin to wake up before such a jolt hits you.

The antidote to greed is connection. It’s understanding and empathy. It’s recognizing that despite external appearances of difference, we truly are all part of the same whole. That we are all from the same stuff, All One, is scientific fact, not just some hippie-dippy fantasy. We, the human race, and we, the rest of life, energy, and matter on this planet. We all belong to and are responsible for each other. And so instead of a gadget to fortify your illusion of isolation, I got you a book by a woman from a culture different from your own. I didn’t expect you to be fascinated with it, and that’s alright. I am planting a seed for now.

You are an intelligent and sensitive young man. From the time you were little, you’ve had an open and loving heart. Some of that sweetness seems to have been clouded over recently with some of the distractions of teenagehood, electronic and otherwise. You’re trying out different identities, trying to figure out who you are, and I think some obscuring of your true self is normal. I know that at your core, that open, loving heart is still there. You perhaps haven’t had as many opportunities to develop your heart as your mind and body, but it is just as important; it is all part of the whole, and one part can’t function fully without the others. Practice caring for others. Practice opening and connecting. Practice developing your heart.

I love you. I want the best for you. No matter what, I’m always here for you.

Love,

Mom

 

Leah Elliott lives in North Carolina with her partner, children, and stepchildren.

Mormon Erotica: Banta’s Third Book Delivers Heart and Humor

I’ve been a Donna Banta fan since 2010, when I discovered her blog “Ward Gossip.” Oh my god! This woman is The Onion of Mormonism, I thought, as I instantly recognized Banta’s fictional ward as a mostly-accurate reflection of my own Mormon experience, with just the right amount of exaggeration in just the right places to make the truth very apparent (and funny!).

In her latest book, Mormon Erotica, Banta’s penchant for satire is masterfully woven into a quirky and loveable cast of Mormon characters, who run the range of orthodoxy from the ultra-faithful to those who have left the Church. Yet, even the most outlandish characters are only slight exaggerations of most of the rank-and-file faithful, and are representative of enough actual Mormons that I’ve known to not feel like caricatures.

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The story follows Jim Maxwell, an affable forty-something divorced dad living in California’s Bay Area, as he navigates parenting, friendship and family, his love life, and his faith as a Mormon who has concluded that he believes in the Gospel, but is agnostic about marriage. Much to his sister Kellie’s dismay, Jim spends more time “[sitting] around Starbucks drinking hot chocolate with lesbians” than he does hunting for a faithful Mormon wife. (Kellie has some of the most deliciously hilarious lines of dialogue in the book, one of my favorites being her lament, “You can’t find a decent woman at Starbucks.”)

Everything changes for Jim when he bumps into an old college flame at a wedding reception. Sadie Gordon has left the Church and makes her living writing PG-13ish fiction, deemed porn by Jim’s bishop and his neurotic ex-wife. Though the interim years have led Jim and Sadie to different conclusions about the Church, they discover that the flame they had for each other in college is still burning. But for love to win the day, Jim and Sadie must navigate their differences, as well as weathering the opinions, and intrusions, of family and friends, all while Jim does his best show up as a father for a whip-smart teenage daughter with some secrets of her own.

I deeply appreciated that every character was respected, and represented as a whole and multi-faceted human being. Banta avoids the Mormon tendency to view issues and people as black or white, and navigates all the messy shades in between with compassion and humor.

Mormon Erotica is a quick read. It is funny, and the container of humor tempers some deeply poignant reflections on a universally human dilemma that is more important now than ever: How do we live with, and love, all of the people in our lives through the full range of both our commonalities and our differences?

 

Leah Elliott is a writer, poet, teacher, and journeyer living in North Carolina. You can find poetry, social media links and other good stuff at her website.

Earthly father, invisible mother, sort of like our Heavenly Parents?

There’s a new video on the YouTube Mormon Channel comparing earthly fatherhood to Heavenly Fatherhood, and I generally agree with the sentiments about the importance of fathers, but a few things really bother me. First, there’s the implication that fatherhood is primarily about providing materially. Second, the wife of the father featured in this video is barely portrayed at all. Yes, I know this video is about glorifying fatherhood, but as my brother commented, “I wonder when we can expect the sequel about Heavenly Mother.” The mother, who is doing the bulk of actually being with and raising the kids (as is expected) is reduced to an unstated assumption. (“Of course she’s important! Why do we have to say she’s important?”) But this actually closely parallels the way Heavenly Parents are represented in Mormonism. Yes, we have a Heavenly Mother, but let’s not talk about her or to her. (Though other faiths eschew feminine representations of deity, too. I’m not sure which is a more harmful message: that there’s a female deity, but she has to stay sequestered in some back room, or that there’s none at all.)

The Mormon model of Heavenly Parenthood is actually the opposite of what Mormon parents are expected to do. Heavenly Father is the one we talk to and build relationship with; Heavenly Mother(s) is there, but we are not to get involved with Her, and if She’s involved with us, it’s solely by stealth. Whereas the earthly parent paragon is the father who goes off and provides, while the mother is the one in the trenches, kissing scraped knees, helping with school projects, comforting, encouraging, building relationship. Ironic and interesting to me.

Leah blogs at Via Media.

Is sweetness next to Goddessliness?

The topic of wet dreams came up with a never-Mormon friend, and I told him, “You’ve just got to check out this ridiculous talk one of the Church leaders gave in the 1970s!” I found the link to Boyd Packer’s “Little Factory” talk and sent it to my friend. I’d read it several years ago, and decided to do so again for the chuckle. I remembered all the asinine counsel for young men not to tamper with their Little Factory’s release valve, but there was one paragraph I hadn’t remembered. After describing the physical changes of puberty, Packer tells the young men:

Your feelings also change. This physical power will influence you emotionally and spiritually as well. It begins to shape and fit you to look, and feel, and to be what you need to be as a father. Ambition, courage, physical and emotional and spiritual strength become part of you because you are a man.

Ambition, courage and strength are all considered an innate part of being male, and essential to a young man’s spiritual development. As a young woman, I really only remember one trait that I was told I should develop to prepare myself for motherhood and womanhood: sweetness. That was it. We were all such “sweet spirits.” We were to be sweet, stay sweet and get sweeter. No ambition or courage for us young women. We would have worthy priesthood holders around us to take care of all those courageous and ambitious tasks in life. Our job was just to be sweet. That was how we would fill the measure of our creation.

From the looks of this recent talk from Elaine Dalton, cited on the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog, that message hasn’t changed:

Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood.  You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report. You will also be the ones to provide an example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.

I was watching Babe with my boys this last week. There’s that scene, where Rex, the male sheepdog and unofficial chief of animal affairs at Hoggett farm, disapproves of Babe’s un-piglike behavior. He tells the animals: “Each animal must accept what he is and be grateful for it.” No switching roles. No breaking out of the established order. No deciding for yourself who you want to be and what you want to do. You are what we say you are.

Sweet would sum up the image I had of Heavenly Mother. I never imagined her doing much, other than smiling sweetly from behind Heavenly Father’s shoulder, tacitly approving of all he did and sustaining him in his fatherly and godly roles.

How can you truly fill the measure of your creation if only some aspects of the Self are nurtured while others are stymied?

What would happen if young Mormon women were told that traits like strong, ambitious and courageous were part of being a woman? What if they were told that their Heavenly Mother was strong, ambitious and courageous, and that part of their spiritual development was to become more like Her? They might decide that they want roles and responsibilities other than, or in addition to, the ones the Church has defined. They might start lobbying for rights.

They might also develop internal lives that are more whole and complete, making them better mothers and marriage partners, and better able to contribute to the Church and to the world.

Leah blogs at Via Media.

“We do not need more members who question every detail.”

Spending too much time on Facebook, as usual, and a friend shared this link from the page LDS General Conference, a quote from M. Russell Ballard from October 1995 General Conference:

We do not need more members who question every detail; we need members who have felt with their hearts, who live close to the Spirit, and who follow its promptings joyfully. We need seeking hearts and minds that welcome gospel truths without argument or complaint and without requiring miraculous manifestation. Oh, how we are blessed when members respond joyfully to counsel from their bishops, stake presidents, quorum or auxiliary leaders, some of whom might be younger than they and less experienced. What great blessings we receive when we follow “that which is right” joyfully and not grudgingly.

The quote alone was enough to get my dander up. I had to quit reading the comments after three or four because it wasn’t good for my blood pressure. Fortunately there are some commenters on the thread saying, “Hey, wait a minute, let’s not throw our minds out the window,” and this post yesterday from Mike S. at Wheat and Tares about wanting to make “I believe” as valid a statement of faith as “I know” was encouraging.

Sometimes it gets hard to keep a tally on all the ways my experience with the Church was harmful, but this attitude that, “If what you think is different from what we think, we are right and you are wrong,” is definitely near the top of the list. As I’ve written on my own blog:

I think we all have an instinctive inner voice that can guide us toward a fulfilling life. The religion I grew up in taught me to override this voice if it conflicted with external authority….The underlying message: God (as represented by his appointed mouthpieces on earth) knows what’s best for you; you don’t. So just bequiet nice anddo what you’re told follow our loving counsel.

If something doesn’t feel right, you’re the problem. You need to pray harder and be more humble, and keep praying until the answer you get matches up with doctrine/your bishop/etc. My post goes through examples of questions I had about racism in the Book of Mormon, gender roles and gay marriage, and how I suppressed all these concerns to protect my testimony. The most vivid instance when I recall coming up against this “don’t question” attitude was when when I was 19 or 20 and told my bishop I wasn’t really sure godhood was for me. I couldn’t see the appeal in exaltation, didn’t understand why I was supposed to want that. His response: If I were more righteous, my desires would fall into line with what my Heavenly Father had planned for me.

I go through rather large stretches where I don’t feel any sort of hostility toward the Church, and feel I can just live and let live, sometimes even feel a bit of affection for the quirkiness of Mormonism. Then something like this crosses my radar. Yes, this talk is from 16 years ago, but it’s from an apostle during Conference, which I believe qualifies it as scripture, and it’s being shared and revered by many of the faithful today. Part of me wants to get in there and point out the fallacies, but the larger part of me knows it will be useless. So I just thank whatever deity may be out there for the fact that I’m not part of it anymore, and for the peace passing all understanding that I’ve found since relearning to trust myself.

 

Leah blogs at The Whore of All the Earth.

“Nobody actually believes in a man with a beard in the clouds.”

A friend of mine said this recently as we were discussing whether the god that New Atheists dismiss is too simplistic.

All I could say is, “Well, I did.”

Okay, maybe not in the clouds exactly, but from his first appearance with his Son to Joseph Smith to the affirmation in Doctrine and Covenants 130 that he has a tangible body, the Mormon conception of God as I understood it was that God was beyond the shadow of a doubt, a man, the Father of our spirits. And not only was he in our image and we in his, at one time he was a mortal like ourselves. (For all the debate about whether or not this is official doctrine, this is what I learned in Sunday School and seminary. So if it’s not official doctrine, CES dropped the ball.)

I always wondered about what our Heavenly Father was like when he was going through his own earthly progression. Was he whatever the equivalent of a Utah Mormon on his planet would have been (I really hoped he wasn’t)? Or was he one of those hip California Mormons? I kind of imagined he might have been like my seminary teacher that I really admired, kind, intelligent, accepting, the epitome of my ideal of Christlike.

I’ve written about how my parents took a very literal approach to Church doctrine. That became problematic for me when I went to college and learned about things like evolution. One question that bothered me was, At what point along the evolutionary path did humanoid creatures become children of God as opposed to just animals? Was there a magic cutoff line? I couldn’t see how the Adam and Eve story could fit, and if that wasn’t real, a lot of other Church doctrine collapsed for me. I admire those who take a less black and white approach and sometimes wish I’d gotten a more nuanced view of things.

I don’t believe it anymore, but I still find it a beautiful idea that we humans are all the offspring of divinity with the potential to become divine ourselves. “Beloved child of God” was a label that positively impacted how I saw and interacted with people in my everyday life.

I don’t believe in Elohim or Kolob anymore, yet I can’t deny that I had experiences that I view as sacred in connection with those ideas. After a time of considering myself atheist and even anti-religious, I’m grappling with new ideas and reconsidering what God could be. The images of God that I had frankly seem absurd to me now and much of the reason why I took the label “atheist” was because I didn’t want anyone thinking I believed in that God, but I’ve come to a place where the word “God” once again feels relevant and meaningful to me. Perhaps the images I had were incomplete or accurate, but they sure seemed an effective gateway to Something, and it’s a Something that I’m not done exploring.

Did you ever make up your own words to primary songs?

You know, like:

In my pretty garden the flowers are naughty.

Or:

Saturday is the special day.

It’s the day we get ready for Sunday

We clean the house and we wash our hair

It’s “no fun till the work is all done” day!

Or in the chorus of “The Spirit of God,”

We’ll sing and we’ll SHOUT!

always included a real shout whenever the primary kids in my ward sang it!

 

Any fun alternate lyrics or ward memes from your memories?

Favorite hymns?

I’ve been humming “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” the last few days. Singing was always one of my favorite parts of church, and one of the things I really missed when I left, though I’ve found other groups to sing with now. I still love many of the hymns though, feel a catch in my throat if I start to sing, “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning.” I don’t even believe in God anymore, but I still find that line poetic and powerful.

I also really liked “If You Could Hie to Kolob.” I always felt a sense of the mysterious and eternal in that hymn. “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” gave me solace in hard times.

What about you? Did you/do you have a favorite hymn?

Is your marriage in trouble? Adopt a highway!

According to aMormon Times report of BYU Education Week, that first bit of litter that misses the trash can is the beginning of the slippery slope to divorce court.

That’s right. Littering, among a litany of other behaviors, is a form of selfishness, and selfishness destroys marriage.

The list included not wanting to have children, monopolizing the television remote, leaving the toilet seat up, talking in movies, going without speaking, holding a grudge, not accepting church callings, being tight-fisted with money, not participating in intimacy in older years, becoming defensive when confronted, cutting across the lawn, criticizing, even refusing to be a home teacher or visiting teacher.

Continue reading “Is your marriage in trouble? Adopt a highway!”

Mormonism f@#*ed up my sex life!

Urban Koda’s thoughts on “Riding” made me reflect on a lotof my hang-ups that can be traced directly back to teachings of the Church.

Imagine a 13-year-old girl who believes she will be eternally cut off from the presence of God unless she repents by confessing to her middle-aged male bishop that she masturbates. And imagine her agony a couple of years later when this same man is her high school biology teacher and she has to go to class every day with the thought, He knows that I touch myself.

Yep, that was me.

(This same bishop/biology teacher also completely skipped the chapter on evolution because he didn’t believe in it, but that’s a topic for a different post.)

What else? There was one professor my freshman year of college that I had a terrible crush on. I remember one day he wore a white t-shirt that showed off his pectorals, which I stared at all through class under the guise of being an attentive student. And then I chastised myself for being un-Christlike by lusting after an attractive man. How disrespectful of me!

When it’s pounded into you (no pun intended) that sexual sins are second only to murder, it’s easy to feel like you’re less than pure for even having sexual desires. I’ve read old journals where I describe what I now recognize as a completely normal interest in sex as “sex addiction.” Is it even possible to be both a virgin and a sex addict?

And, oh, all the sex that might have been, though actually, when I think about guys I could have slept with and didn’t, really there’s only one that I kind of wish I had. Still, my chastity was born of fear, not self-respect. That can’t be healthy!

I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten past most of those of those hang-ups now, though some of them linger. What about you? How has Mormonism f@#*ed up your sex life?