A Mormon By Any Other Name

by Johnny Townsend

A Mormon by any other name would smell as sweet. Or, more accurately, a Mormon by any other name would smell as saccharine.

I don’t mean to sound offensive. That’s always the trick, isn’t it? Not sounding offensive.

It’s perfectly okay to be offensive, though, right? “I love you but I hate your sin of homosexuality, so you can’t bring your ‘friend’ to dinner.”

Granted, we should be happy when Mormons use the word “homosexuality.” Just as they tend to bristle when people label their religion a “cult,” gays and lesbians don’t like being called “people suffering from same-sex attraction.”

LGBTQ folk shouldn’t feel singled out, however. Black skin used to be “the mark of Cain.” For over 150 years, “pure and delightsome” characters in the Book of Mormon were described as “white and delightsome.” That particular book of scripture used to be a record of the Lamanites, indigenous people known by most others as Native Americans. And it used to be about all Native Americans, but now Lamanites are considered to be “among” the original inhabitants of the Americas, and the book is definitely no longer a “history.”

Speaking of scriptural adjustments, the Book of Abraham until recently was a “translation” of the papyri Joseph Smith purchased. Now, with evidence that the actual translation is vastly different, Church leaders say Joseph’s version was merely “inspired” by the Egyptian funerary text.

Words matter. That’s President Nelson’s reason for insisting we no longer use the word “Mormon.” What used to be a proud nickname embraced by the “I’m a Mormon!” campaign, and reflected in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, mormon.org, Mormon Newsroom, and countless other official Church terminology, is now a “slur.”

It’s that insistence on “correct” usage that is so maddening both for Mormons and those who interact with them regularly. When a Disciplinary Council is labeled a Court of Love, when enabling sexual predators is described as “protecting the name of the Church,” when gender discrimination is explained as “we all have different roles,” people are not fooled.

“I say people. You say apostate.” Come on, sing along.

After “anti-Mormon lies” are verified, Mormons change their claim to, “The Church has always taught that.” When embarrassing facts are hidden on the Church’s website, often only decipherable if one looks up the references in the footnotes to see the actual information, Mormons call this “transparency.”

Words matter. They can be used to illuminate. They can be used to obfuscate. And they can be used to oppress.

Kicking out one’s gay child isn’t “tough love.” It’s heartless cruelty. Keeping non- member family away from a temple wedding isn’t a matter of “worthiness.” It’s both a form of punishment and a means of control.

The list of deceptive and manipulative terms used by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could go on and on. The “Church,” by the way, is actually a corporation. That’s not a slur. It’s a fact. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some people like roses. Others like Shakespearean plays. And some prefer Bible fan fiction.

That’s all fine. People like what they like. They believe what they believe. But let’s call a spade a spade. Mormonism by any other name would smell like nutrient-rich fertilizer. Oh, who the frack are we kidding? You know what it smells like.

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.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Towel girls edition!

Thanks to everyone who has been contributing nominations for X-Mormon of the Year! I am planning to start collecting nominations for the Brodie Awards this weekend, and then the following weekend, I’ll post the polls to vote for X-Mormon of the Year.

So, the Mormon community got some exciting news this past fortnight — teens are now allowed a greater role in performing baptisms for the dead in the temple! Specifically the boys can perform the baptisms (and do other jobs including acting as witnesses and officially greeting temple patrons), and girls can hand people towels! What is wrong with this? I think it was best summed up by April Young Bennet:

Busywork is not equality. Female temple workers do not need Young Women to serve as their “assistants” because women do not have a lot to do in the temple baptistry; they are banned from most of the work. Women are not allowed to baptize, to serve as witnesses, to confirm, to stand in the confirmation circle, to welcome patrons to the temple, to check temple recommends, to keep records, or even to feed names into the projector. With so many bans in place, women often sit to the side watching or receive the kind of assignment that could easily be performed by inanimate objects like towel hooks and laundry baskets. Young Women will not feel needed if their work is literally not needed.

Gina Colvin also nailed it:

I felt the resentment boiling over as from the sidelines I see myself holding towels while my male peers ‘officiate.’ Being baptized by a 16-year-old ‘priest’ who gets to hold me under water, rub up against my body, and see the shape of my body under clinging wet clothing is another horror I imagined. But I feel that familiar sensation of indignity as one by one those boys drop their wet towels behind them in a gush of dripping triumph while I stoop to pick them off the floor. I am pretty confident that I would have been furious at this injustice posturing as gender equality.

There was a lot of good commentary on this issue, including some fun, snarky takes on it, and various people pointed out that they could at least allow women to serve as witnesses. Blaire Ostler offered the counterpoint that we shouldn’t marginalize the value of towel distribution.

In other Mo-topics, Joanne Hanks wrote an article for Free Inquiry, William Kempton discussed some positive changes the CoJCoL-dS has made, Knotty wrote about the Mormon kid masturbation interviews, oh, and the Mormons have been proxy-baptizing holocaust victims again.

In the category of Mo-friends on non-Mo topics, Equality has re-booted his blog as an activism blog, Jana loves letters, On ‘Planet InfoWars,’ People Have Sex With Cars, and Froggie has more lovely photos!

I hope you’re having a fun holiday season! Happy reading!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Books edition!

Yay, Mormon Alumni Association Books is finally taking off! I just got the first proof copy of our first book in the mail:

mormon_erotica_photo banta_low_res

Now I need to do some work on updating the website — the current list of books there is a list of recommended titles from other publishers — plus I would like to start contacting people about reviews, publicity, etc. And on that note, let me start this SiOB with all of the book-related items that have shown up in my LDS-interest newsfeed over the past fortnight!

For example, By Common Consent’s press has just announced a batch of new books including a version of the Song of Solomon!

Here are some other recent reviews:

And here’s the one that I just got done purchasing for myself: Dendo! My personal favorite genre to read for pleasure is comic-book memoirs about life in other countries — and this one has the bonus of being about Sister Missionaries!! (A fascinating group, tragically underrepresented in the missionary-memoir genre.)

And here’s a fantastically fun but not-quite-Mo-related (though Mormons get a mention) book discussion — Ana Mardoll is reading another book I’m dying to read: Prairie Fires, the new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, which gives a bunch of additional context to the beloved children’s series.

In news, some Mormons are not happy that the leadership of the CoJCoL-dS had such a cordial meeting with Donald Trump — and particularly didn’t like them complimenting Trump on his commitment to religious freedom, considering Trump’s attempts to explicitly discriminate against Muslims.

Also, despite lingering transparency problems, the CoCJoL-dS has also started subtly adding the infamous hat to some pictures of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon translation process! Speaking of the Book of Mormon, Alex had finally finished deconstructing the last few chapters.

Sadly, the CoJCoL-dS completely shuts women out of any say in how the church is run:

My stake president felt that Mystery General Authority actually did appreciate my effort, was complimentary about the report’s quality and not at all defensive about its content. According to Mystery General Authority, they were already working on some of the policy changes I had suggested and after reading my report, were now considering some of the other suggestions that I had made that they had not thought of before (Which suggestions? I dunno).

That General Authority’s anonymous response had been vague, kind, noncommittal and nonthreatening. It wasn’t a good response, nor was it a bad one.

But when I told fellow Exponent blogger EmilyCC about what he said, her response was perfect. “April,” she said. “How do you feel about that?”

Well, I felt frustrated. This cleverly crafted response precluded any follow-up on my part as an advocate, and any accountability on the part of priesthood leaders. Even as priesthood leaders promised change, they upheld patriarchy by excluding me.

And here’s an interesting related church news item: there’s a popular idea that universities and businesses use affirmative action to give women and minorities over white males (who get in on their merits and/or connections), but it turns out that BYU until recently had an admissions policy that explicitly favored men over their more-qualified female counterparts. But maybe things can change.

In Mormon culture, imagine living in this amazingly Mormon town! And Jeremy Runnells is putting out another version of the CES letter.

In theology, Lynette would prefer a less micro-managing God, Stephen Marsh discussed what is doctrine, Knotty mused about baptising Trump’s parents for the dead, and hawkgrrrl analysed why people go to church.

Some current and former Mormons are also talking about non-Mo-related stuff like terrible films and reading letters from the WWII archive!

And let’s close with a joke that is very timely… Happy reading!

The Ignorance of Defensive Mormons

The last time I attended a Mormon sacrament meeting was around two years ago. The principle speaker was a stake high councilman. Boasting success in his professional life, he credited his accomplishments to his compassionate approach toward the “less worthy.”

“When I mix with my worldly colleagues,” he explained, “I see them not as they are but as they could be. Dressed in white and in the Celestial Room after receiving their sacred temple endowments.”

The mental image taking form, my first instinct was to suppress a giggle. Temple robes and aprons at the corporate happy hour? For Heavenly Father’s sake! But I was also both surprised and embarrassed to discover that there are still Mormons out there who insist they are without blemish, while all the rest of us are covered in warts.

I should have known. After all, the terms for outsiders and within-the-ranks slackers are still embedded in the Mormon lexicon: “less-actives,” “inactives,” “jack-Mormons,” “liberal Mormons,” “anti-Mormons,” and, of course, “nonmembers.” And when the self-righteous fling these assignations, they seem blissfully unconcerned that they are condemning over 99% of the earth’s population.

It would follow that anyone possessing such a narcissistic worldview might take offense at even the slightest criticism. Nevertheless, I was again surprised and embarrassed when I read the recent piece in The Atlantic, “The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism” by Hal Boyd.

Boyd, who is the editorial page editor for the Deseret News, introduces his tiresome screed about “Mormon mocking” with a quote from Charles Dickens:

“What the Mormons do seems to be excellent, what they say is mostly nonsense.”

Skewing Dickens’ mildly critical praise into the height of insults, Boyd then quotes similarly “mocking” remarks from other notables. His conclusion being that it isn’t enough for “nonmembers” to merely admire the Mormons as people. They must also buy into the whole of their beliefs. Proclaim Mormonism as the “one and only true church.” Even though they’ve no intention of joining themselves.

It would also follow that Boyd has little appreciation for the trials of other faiths. Awash in self-pity, he goes on to complain:

“The Catholics got The Sound of Music; the Jews got Fiddler on the Roof, and, well, the Mormons got South Park on stage.”

Given Boyd’s narcissistic worldview, I shouldn’t be surprised by this unfounded, self-inflicted belly-aching. But I am surprised. Also embarrassed that after almost seven years since it opened on Broadway, Mormons like Boyd are still whining about the Book of Mormon. As though that adorable chorus line of tap dancing missionaries is something akin to an “anti-Mormon” version of Charlie Hebdo.

But I digress. The central target of Boyd’s venom is another article in The Atlantic: “One Blasphemer’s New Admiration for Mormons,” by Kurt Andersen. Impressed with prominent LDS Republicans such as Jeff Flake and Mitt Romney for speaking out against Donald Trump and Roy Moore, Andersen literally gushes over the Mormons’ sincerity and strength of character, attributing these gifts to the quality of the faith’s leadership and cohesive culture:

“Latter-day Saints are genuinely old-fashioned, with a strong top-down hierarchical establishment that maintains a powerful communitarianism and enforces exacting norms … In addition, while so much of politicized American Christianity is driven by loathing and condemnation, conforming to the religious scholar George Marsden’s definition—‘a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something’—Mormons tend to be more cheerfully, industriously focused on their own tribal self-improvement.”

As a “nonmember,” Andersen is unable to accept the Mormon doctrine. Nevertheless he finds value in it:

“… while I find their religious beliefs as extreme and strange as I do those of most American Protestants, Mormons seem more consistently virtuous and disciplined in the ways they live their lives.”

Sadly, that wasn’t good enough for Boyd, who accuses Andersen of granting faint praise while “simultaneously snickering” at his beliefs. Evidently he expected Andersen, an atheist, to conclude by bearing his testimony.

His unrealistic expectation unmet, Boyd composed this embarrassing screed and then submitted it to a major publication. Thus detracting from the efforts of Flake, Romney, and even the well-meaning Andersen.

H. L. Mencken wrote, “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

But then, he was a “nonmember.”

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: Two LDS Romance Reviews

A DATE WITH DANGER
By Kari Iroz
256 pp. Covenant Communications, Inc. $15.99

PRIDE AND POLITICS
By Britanny Larsen
272 pp. Covenant Communication, Inc. $16.99

As I was adding finishing touches to my upcoming LDS romance novel, I picked up a couple of Deseret Book titles, curious to see if the stock Mormon rom-com formula had changed. You know the story:

Good Mormon boy (or girl) falls for a non/inactive member because she’s so refreshingly different. Then, after a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and one chaste kiss, the girl converts/reactivates, the boy pops the question, and they live happily ever after, even though she’s now become the sort of girl that bored the boy in the first place.

Think Shirley Sealy’s Beyond This Moment or Jack Weyland’s Charly or Kurt Hale’s film, The Singles Ward.

I’m happy to report that, based on my two chosen titles, the LDS formula may be on its way out, replaced by the more enduring influence of Regency England.

In A Date With Danger, a Utah Valley college coed, Jacklyn (Jack) Wyatt, teams up with FBI Special Agent Damon Wade to catch a stalker on “Eter-knitty Online Dating,” an LDS forum Jack recently joined. Since it’s unclear which of her contacts might be the culprit, she is ordered to date each of the suspects, while Damon monitors her encounters via hidden microphone.

—Yes, I know. But this is romantic comedy not true crime, and it’s hardly the silliest example of the genre. Think Pretty Woman.

Moreover, with her numerous references to Mr. Darcy, the author is really channeling Jane Austen. Predictable, yes, but Iroz’s writing is solid. Her heroine, Jack, has a strong, witty voice, adorably ditzy in the manner of a good Mormon girl who is more intelligent than she lets on.

Jack’s love interest, the FBI agent, is also a well-drawn character. He’s a lapsed Mormon who makes it clear from the start he’s not coming back to church. Not because he no longer believes. (This is Deseret Book, after all.) But also not because of a petty complaint or a desire to sin. The actual reason is a serious one neither Jack nor the reader can fault.

The two fall in love and then have a falling out over the Church (of course). Then, at the urging of her believing Mormon father, Jack goes back to him even though he’s inactive because—now get this—she loves him! (Cough.) Yes, I just said that. And at the end of the book he’s still inactive and they’re still together! (More coughing.) Has Deseret Book gone astray?

Maybe. Maybe not. They still haven’t lost that chaste kiss requirement. The “lovers” in A Date with Danger have two kissing scenes, one at the end, and another that Jack describes as neither “demanding or even passionate.” Sigh. If it were my book the ex-Mormon would be a much better kisser. Still, I can’t help but admire the real life conclusion.

“It’s not that I’d lost faith in my religion. More that I’d lost faith in the people who practiced it. Or claimed to,” says Summer Knight, author Brittany Larsen’s Elizabeth Bennet clone in Pride and Politics.

Feisty and intelligent, Summer naturally catches the eye of snooty Ivy League Mormon, Benson Hardy. But he isn’t tempted, telling his friend Chase, “First of all, I think you’ve got dibs on the best-looking girl here. Second, she doesn’t go to church. Third, mind your own business.”

Why mind his own business? Because Summer is something far worse than inactive. She’s a Democrat. And not just any Democrat. She’s the daughter of the Democratic senator from Arizona, the arch rival of Benson’s uncle who is soon to become the Republican Party’s nominee for president.

Not long after this initial encounter, Summer obediently returns to church. But that’s not to say the novel follows the old formula. Unlike a more conventional LDS plot that exists within a sheltered Mormon cocoon, Pride and Politics is set in the real world with people who are comfortable in it. We’re definitely not in Happy Valley anymore.

Larsen sticks closely to the story, featuring all of Austen’s beloved characters in interesting—and not necessarily wholesome—manifestations. My favorite is the Lydia Bennet character, Lindsay, who enters the plot when she loses her ecclesiastical endorsement for BYU-Idaho after a public episode of under-aged drinking. There are all the same scenes, only through an LDS lens in Southern California and Washington D.C., with a mock British accent thrown in here, riding breeches and scones thrown in there.

Imagine the ball at Netherfield transported to the Newport Beach LDS Stake Center. Mr. Collins, who needs to marry before he can begin his job as an LDS seminary teacher, foppishly begs Elizabeth Bennet for her hand. She manages to escape, only to be confronted by Darcy who woos her with awkward conversation and caffeine-free Coke. Until they are interrupted by a scantily clad Lydia who jiggles her bodacious cleavage under Darcy’s disapproving gaze. —Now that’s a scene worthy of Amy Heckerling.

Speaking of Lydia’s cleavage, there’s a healthy dose of sexual tension in this book. Enough to shock/titillate a number of Mormon sisters, confound some of the Brethren, and make a 19th century literary realist roll her eyes.

Describing their first kiss, Summer says, “The heat of his (Benson’s) lips made me forget about the cold … my only thought was, More, please.” And then later, when they were dancing, “the synapses in my body were tingling from his touch”

Of course it all ends with a delicious snogging scene for Benson and Summer. The Mormon Republican is elected president. (I’m guessing that was a concession to Deseret Book.) And Lindsay is home from her slutty affair in Mexico, repentant and reformed for life. (Nah—she’s barely warming up.)

Perhaps Deseret Book will favor us with more worldly Mormon romances? I hope so.

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?

Trump and the Rise of the Uninformed Expert

I got some hate mail last Thursday.

It was a voicemail, actually, from an old friend. He said he’s cutting his ties to us because of my husband Mark’s recent suggestion that Syrian refugees be admitted into our country.

Boasting an extensive knowledge of Islam (he owns a Quran), this “friend” scolded Mark—over my voicemail—for inviting an influx of crazies who only want to “put black sacks over women” and “distort their genitals.”

Then on a conciliatory note, he gave Mark a pass because he is a victim of “Mormon Whiplash,” a label this man (who has never been LDS but owns a Book of Mormon) invented for the blanket of former Mormons who (in his mind) always do the exact opposite of what the Mormons do.

Gosh, I loathe black and white thinking. But it seems to be all we get these days. Thanks to the rise of Trump and the alt-right, people like our friend now feel free to express the hatred they’d kept hidden for so long, and in a recorded message, no less. What used to be a dog whistle is now a bullhorn.

Does our former friend read the news? Okay, so maybe he thinks it’s all fake. He still goes to the grocery store though, right? Does he really believe that the friendly kid in produce wearing the “Muhammad” nametag dreams of mutilating women? How does one reduce a worldwide population of 1.8 billion into such a narrowly drawn, repugnant, and false stereotype—one that is so easily disproven?

Likewise the less ambitious “Mormon Whiplash” analogy. I’m actually quite familiar with this stale theory, having heard it time and again from the black and white thinkers at church—“People who reject the gospel ricochet into washed-up losers who booze it up in front of the porn channel.” Or maybe even vote Democratic.

Again, the false stereotype that is easily disproven—starting with Mark who, upon leaving the LDS Church over two decades ago, “whiplashed” out of the Republican Party just last year when it nominated Donald J. Trump for president. But he still hasn’t started boozing it up or looking at porn—so there!

Besides, how is kindness to refugees an example of so-called “Mormon Whiplash?”

I’ve written extensively about the Mormons, on this blog and elsewhere. Much of my writing has been humor aimed at the culture and much of it criticism leveled at the church’s exclusionary policies and practices. I believe all religions deserve scrutiny, especially those that claim exclusive access to God and salvation.

But after years of being told I was “offended and wanted to sin,” I’ve steered clear of drawing the same sort of uninformed conclusions about practicing Mormons. After all these years, the false stereotypes still get under my skin. For example: “all Mormons practice polygamy” or “Mormons perform kinky, satanic rituals in their temples.” The ever popular “Mormons aren’t Christians” or, hat tip to our former friend, “all Mormons are bigots”—a good thing, according to him.

Our nation’s newly embraced bigotry exploded in violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, the ultimate example of black and white thinking. An event egged on by, I believe, an increasing lack of civility in our public and private discourse, a tone set by our commander-in-chief. Even now, President Trump refuses to blame the white supremacists for this terrible incident, his true colors showing in his boorish tantrum before the press yesterday.

Mormonism is neither as large nor as steeped in history as an ancient faith like Islam. However, we still defy stereotypes, especially when our spectrum is broadened to include the fundamentalists on the right and the post-Mormons on the left. Hopefully, we can reject the national trend and keep our discourse civil. Latter-day Saints like to say they’re “not of the world.” This would be an excellent time to live that example.

And as long as I’m on a tear over the ignorant hate mail, I’ll conclude with a lesson that was impressed upon me as a child. One that I, in turn, impressed upon my own children: You don’t display your expertise by boasting your thin resume.

Imagine Dr. Kissinger prefacing his remarks with, “I have an extensive knowledge of the Middle East. I own a Quran.”

But then, since our national tone is set by a guy who insists he’s really smart because he went to Wharton Business School and had a hit reality show, I see more ignorant hate mail and hollow boasts in our future, leaving the critical thinker to go on calling out the hatred while stubbornly sticking to the facts.

The Mormon Way to Get Rich

Thanks to some of my believing Mormon friends, the blog post, “Will Your Child be Rich or Poor? 15 Poverty Habits Parents Teach their Children,” has been hovering on my radar, popping up repeatedly in my Facebook feed and even landing in my inbox via mass email. When I finally broke down and read the thing I immediately understood the appeal. The author, Thomas C. Corley, doesn’t specify any church affiliation. Nevertheless, he is clearly a shoe-in for speaker on the LDS potluck circuit.

Distressed that parents, teachers, and other confused bleeding hearts are teaching today’s children that the wealthy “have too much wealth” and the underprivileged are “victims” of poverty, Corley began a five-year “Rich Habits Study” conducted through his “Rich Habits Institute.” Confessing that he is not a scientist, economist, or other so-called “study expert,” he instead applied his “unique CPA skills” to determine why some people are rich and some are poor. His results?

Surprise!!! Rich people have good habits and poor people have bad habits.

The wealthy, according to Corley, are paragons of morality, intellect, and physical fitness. They listen to audio books, they do aerobics, they attend Back-to-School Night, their kids are on the honor roll, they’re thrifty and driven to succeed. They own all of Thomas C. Corley’s books. Bottom line: they’re rich because they really want to be rich.

The poor, on the other hand, are a seedy, slothful bunch. They eat junk food and gamble, they’re at least 30 pounds overweight, they laze around watching reality TV, and spend all their money. They blow off Back-to-School Night. Bottom line: they don’t really want to be rich.

It’s hard to overemphasize how well this philosophy plays in the LDS community, especially among the die-hards and higher-ups. Given the hierarchy’s principal message is “if you’re offended it’s your fault,” it’s easy to jump to “if you’re poor it’s your fault.” In fact, some extremists in the faith would argue that even the circumstances of birth are not by chance, but determined by the individual’s valiance in the pre-mortal “War in Heaven.” Imagine that logic coupled with Corley’s findings:

“I hear some bleeding hearts are taking a collection to help that newborn discovered inside a dumpster over in South Central. What a waste. Face it, the kid had it coming. He didn’t fight hard enough for Jesus. Anyway, all is not lost. He just needs to save his allowance, listen to some audiobooks, and lay off the junk food so he won’t get fat. He can still succeed. If he wants to.”

Bottom line: the Brethren really don’t want to know about your problems.

Given that a sizable chunk of our populace believes our previous president was born in Kenya, I should point out that Corley’s article isn’t entirely fake news. While hardly a guarantee for financial freedom, his suggestions for at least personal improvement are essentially sound, encouraging his readers toward healthy living, attentive parenting, frugality, etc. In fact, his formula makes infinitely more sense than the LDS model of serve a mission, have a bunch of kids, devote your spare time to church callings, pay your tithing, etc.

But it’s the claim that the rich are morally superior that is so damaging, not to mention perversely inaccurate.

Take, for example, our current commander-in-chief who has risen to success by way of gambling casinos, reality TV, defaulted loans, lawsuits, salacious headlines, and, of course, lies. On top of that, he is hardly a model of physical fitness.

If the “haves” can make a successful case that status is achieved solely through hard work and moral superiority, they can demand goodness knows what from the “have-nots.” But then, I suppose that’s what the Brethren and guys like Corley are going for.

Also, while I’ve no “unique CPA skills,” I can claim over a half century of life experience. And throughout that experience, I have never known anybody who didn’t want to be rich. With one notable exception.**

Of course, I am one of those bleeding hearts and certainly not one of the “haves.” Which really blows because I listen to audio books, exercise regularly, and am less than 30 pounds overweight. I attended Back-to School Nights and my kids were on the honor roll. Also I know how to save a buck. Must have been my Conscientious Objector status during the War in Heaven. Or maybe I just need to read Thomas C. Corley’s books?

**In 1988 I had a memorable encounter with some Carthusian monks in the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuese, near Grenoble, France. They had taken a vow of poverty. But were surprisingly svelte and never watched reality TV.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Still not over edition!

For yet another week the CoJCoL-dS hasn’t done anything quite scandalous enough to overshadow the dumpster fire that the White House has become. Mormons are among the people swept up in this catastrophe. Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz came home to quite a crowd:

I am generally a fan of the civility-and-building-bridges approach to life, and I know that sometimes no amount of civility and bridge-building is going to, for example, set slaves free. Sometimes an angry protest is vital. Sometimes gentle diplomacy makes miracles. Logic and history show us that the great human-rights triumphs of history have been achieved by using both methods.

You too can join in the fun with your own representative! Or contribute to the Exponent’s Environmental Issue.

And it looks like the ladies are getting restless! The women of the Exponent are joining the “Persisterhood” and the girls of the Infants smacked-down that Relief-Society-vs-Women’s-March articles and memes.

As the CoJCoL-dS has decided to hitch its wagon to American patriotism, some Mormons are starting to feel the way so many others of us outside the US feel:

I was worried about my boy. He left our home and our country as the youngest missionary in my family’s sixty-years history with the Church to go to a foreign nation. It’s a place with an unstable government led by an authoritarian madman elected by a mob that sees themselves as beset by outsiders and their leader as justified in violating international treaties, denying residents’ rights, taunting foreign governments, and doing nothing as the sick poor suffer and die. My missionary wrote home about culture shock, glossing over it in his mass emails, telling me “no, but really” in our private letters. What could I do but remind him to thank God for his Canadian passport? Then six weeks into his mission, his time at the Provo Missionary Training Center was over and he could move on, leave the surreality of Donald Trump’s post-truth America, to serve his mission in countries we’re more comfortable with right now: Romania and Moldova.

At least the Book of Mormon still has some odd theology and Mormonism can inspire good comics.

It’s time to step back and appreciate our own life journeys! Things like lessons learned from quilting and binary numbers, a pilgrimage, and an unconventional proposal. And if you’d like to join thousands of others on an interactive map of where we’ve gone after leaving the CoJCoL-dS (and why we left), check out “Why I left”!

In other random fun, let’s learn about shitgibbons!

Here’s to surviving another week!