Hellmut described the church that way in his post with the video link (loved it, btw). It struck me that for those of us who are out, it’s an apt description. People have variously described Mormon life as robotic, a treadmill, and “Stepfordlike.”
But if you talk to Mormons, they will tell you how they have found true joy and happiness in their faith. I’ve heard members say they can’t relate at all to the church as exmormons describe it. The authoritarian nature, the mind-numbing rote meetings, the “dreariness”–that’s not the church they know and love.
How do you explain the difference? It occurs to me that we were taught to find joy in self-denial. Particularly, we were told that the greatest joys would come in serving others. We were never to take care for our own feelings and desires, for that would be selfish, which is the antithesis of the gospel. Here’s William Bradford (now Houston Temple president):
|Selflessness is righteousness. It embraces the true spirit of companionship. It is the very essence of friendship. It is the portrayer of true love and oneness in humanity. Its reward is the freeing of the soul, a nearness to divinity, a worthiness for the companionship of the Spirit. Every requirement that Godâ€™s plan for our salvation places upon us is based on the giving of oneâ€™s self.The only way under the heavens whereby a person can be sanctified is in selfless service. Where the proper focus on gospel-centered, selfless service is not developed, selfishness takes over (â€œSelfless Service,â€ Ensign, Nov. 1987, 75).|
So Mormonism in essence teaches that true happiness is found in the denial of the self. And so we did that. We became what we were supposed to become. We dressed like the others; we attended the meetings; and we served selflessly. And that for us was happiness. As Gordon Hinckley put it:
|When they come into this Church theyâ€™re expected to conform. And they find happiness in that conformity.|
Once out of the church, we realize what this really was: conformity and self-denial designed to further the goals of the organization. It never was about happiness or self-fulfillment. It was empty service, an empty life. But as church members, that’s what happiness was.
Deep down inside, though, I think our souls longed for something better. We knew we weren’t happy. Most church members despise the 3-hour block, and service is often given grudgingly. Why? Because members know that these things are not “happiness.” But we spent countless hours in numberless meetings telling each other how happy we were.
And we were happy, at least by the church’s definition of happiness.