Breaking Mormonism’s self-blame cycle
To faithful Saints, Moroni’s promise (Moroni 10:4-5) is a source of comfort and confidence. It guarantees that if you go to God with faith in Christ, a sincere heart, and real intent you will know the “truth of all things” (aka that the Mormon gospel is true.)
The scripture is actually a set of instructions on how to gain a personal testimony of the Church. Taking Moroni up on his promise invites a beautiful, addictive feeling. To the faithful, it’s called a ‘confirmation of the spirit.’ With that, you can stand up on the first Sunday of every month and speak the words of certainty so essential to belonging. “I know with every fiber of my being/beyond a shadow of a doubt/with pure, unshakeable knowledge that the Church is true.”
Can’t do that? Resign yourself to feeling subpar and excluded. If you pray and don’t receive assurance, then something is wrong with your faith, your heart, or your intent. That brings a self-amplifying despair. You strive to cultivate your faith, because examining it is too painful and dangerous. After that, for many former Mormons like me, comes furious self-blame: I let myself be tricked; I failed to recognize that Moroni’s promise is really a jujutsu move that used my need for certainty and belonging to get me to pull the wool over my own eyes. But even that self-blame is Mormon learning.
Here’s the fundamental Mormon promise: if you’re righteous, you will be happy. As we sang in Primary, “pioneer children sang as they walked.” Mormon pioneers lost limbs, possessions, family members, but they were not sad. Why not? They had so much joy in the Church. If you are less than cheerful, it’s not a sign that something is wrong, but that something is wrong with you. Your frowny face tells everyone that you are unrighteous, unworthy.
Decades out I find the cycle of self-blame cannot be easily loosened. If you’re not happy, my inner Moroni tells me, it’s because you don’t deserve it, your heart is impure, your intent unreal. It’s like a wart that keeps growing back, a perpetually ingrown hair.
Perhaps this is why Brené Brown is such a rock star among ‘struggling’ and former Church members. “Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect,” she says. “Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.” (To which my inner self shouts, “Blasphemy!” See Church leaders’ consistent rejection of God’s unconditional love.)
I find Brown’s injunctions both beautiful and facile. Rather than thinking worthiness is something innate and immutable, I just consider it irrelevant. I try to no longer ask myself “Am I worthy?” but rather “Am I focused on tasks I find worthy?”
Excellent post. I think my need to feel “worthy” as a Mormon was tied in with my need to please other Mormons–even after I left the faith. It was years before I could break the cycle of trying to please and/or explain myself to my believing Mormon friends and family.
I relate to this 100%. When I was a child and teenager, I tried desperately to have a spiritual experience that was so miraculous that it couldn’t possibly be my own thoughts and emotions. And when it didn’t happen, I fully believed that it was because of my unrighteousness.