How I came to sympathize with the Mormons…
Step one was to finish my degree at BYU and go somewhere else. When you’re at BYU (or you’re a kid in a Mormon household), Mormonism seems huge and powerful (in a bad way, since LDS Inc. aspires to be kind of a mini taliban). As soon as I was far away from it, though, Mormonism started to look tiny and insignificant. (I described this a bit in the beginning of Temple Wedding.) And once the church was no longer pestering me on a daily basis, I realized that — deep down — I didn’t hate it.
Step two was the reactions I got to my LDS background. Normally one can leave Mormonism kind of invisibly, but not if you’ve just entered grad school, having come from BYU. The first question after “What’s your name?” is “Where’d you get your undergraduate degree?” In the Math department (at Rutgers), they posted a list of all the new grad students along with the name of the university each came from. So I was obliged to explain to everybody. “Yes, I went to BYU. No, I didn’t want to go there. Yes, I was raised Mormon. No, I don’t believe in it.”
It actually ended up being a good ice-breaker and an entertaining topic:
random person: Do Mormons really wear magic underwear?
me: Yep, they sure do!
random person: I heard they believe that God was once a man and that people can become Gods.
me: That’s right! Cool, huh? [This was back in the early ’90s, before that doctrine stopped being “emphasized”.]
random person: And they really can’t drink coffee or tea or alcohol?
me: Yes, amazing but true! And not only that, they have to pay a full ten percent of their income in order to go to their temple, and the church won’t even tell them where the money goes or disclose any information on church finances! And the church has enormous wealth in secular real estate and corporate holdings.
That worked great until I got around to using this shtick on my roommate, who was a Christian pastor. (She was one of those lady pastors that the Southern Baptists don’t like.)
She told me that it was a tragedy that I was raised by that cult, and then proceeded to explain how all that is totally unlike Christianity, which is all about love, and everybody loves everyone else, and they don’t have those bad problems like the Mormons have, and yadda, yadda, yadda…
Her reaction surprised me, and, frankly, made me angry. Then I was surprised that I was angry about it, but when I thought about it, it made perfect sense. My discussion of Mormonism was basically an admission: “Okay, so my family is wacky and maybe a little dysfunctional. But at least they’re not boring! :D” (see my family history) The correct response is not “Too bad for you, my family is nothing but wonderful and not dysfunctional at all,” when I can see that you’ve got your own crazy aunt locked up in the attic or whatever (figuratively speaking). My feeling was “I’m being frank with you (about something that is, ultimately, personal) and you’re not being frank with me.”
So I guess this story is another tip along the lines of my earlier how not to invite Mormons to your church posts. I think a lot of former Mormons have this same experience at some point, and it’s not exactly inviting…