Black White thinking
I left active mormonism when I was a teenager during a great deal of personal growth and change. Looking back on it, it’s hard to say what belief systems were part of mormonism, and what were just part of maturing (growing up).
I would argue that there are many mormons (and adults, for that matter) who see things in terms of black and white (right and wrong).
Part of the consequences of this black/white thinking is that there is no separation between an individual and their actions. An individual is seen as either all good or all bad. This kind of thinking certainly makes life a lot easier to live. But the truth of the matter is that we’re all human, with the capacity for good and evil. Some days we’re honest and filled with charity. Some days we’re not honest and we really make a lot of mistakes.
Sometimes it seemed to me that because mormonism had such a laundry list of things a person needed to do – the complexity of being human was forgotten. Even if you do all these things, go to your meetings, go to the temple, write in your journal, don’t drink coffee – you still have the capacity to be human, to make mistakes. People would often say “only Christ is perfect” but in reality that never came across. People felt intense shame to admit that they weren’t perfect, that they cut corners or even didn’t follow everything to the letter. Often it seemed to me that the laundry list was much more important than not only examining your individual actions every day to try to be the best person possible, but also forgiving yourself if you didn’t get it all done. The assumption was that if a person completed the laundry list of things to do, that they were a good person that could be trusted.
There remain countless examples where this both was and wasn’t true. I can think of anything from businesspeople who scam fellow members to ab_users who take advantage of the non professional LDS clergy. And the many mormons who are good, decent people just trying to be charitable, grow their community and raise their families. In the end, there are no guarantees on human behavior.
The truth, again, is that everyone has to be cautious and to protect themselves while also taking risks.
But often, it seemed like there was little way for a person to be forgiven and redeemed in mormonism. I distinctly remember one father getting up in my ward – giving a talk on addiction. In this talk, he admitted that he had struggled with addiction for years, that he had been terribly ashamed. He spoke, briefly, about some of the substances he had abused and where they led him. He was now sober (and had been for over 10 years), honoring his obligations to his parents and family. Yet, this man did not have a high calling in the ward. I’m not sure he even had more than the Aaronic priesthood, despite being active. During his talk, I felt there was a distinct level of judgment hurled towards him. For some reason, I also remember someone saying “this is the reason you never want to try one drop of alcohol, you could end up like Brother so and so”. But he had also (obviously) made amends, and was working towards being a better person. Did he deserve to be punished by others for the rest of his life?
I won’t argue that this type of judgment occurs outside of mormon circles. I also won’t argue that I was young, a teenager, and I might not have understood all the nuances of what was going on (both with this person, and also with the other ward members).
I just think that in trying to project an image of perfection, of complete happiness and incapacity for evil (whatever your definition for evil is), I think that we lose the reality of what it means to be human. What it means to screw up, and screw up badly.
Mormons don’t say the Lord’s Prayer like other Christian religions do. Some days I wonder if a little more “And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us” wouldn’t help increase that level of tolerance and understanding.