Pithy Phrase

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Story of My Faith Transition

I wrote this to a bloggernacle friend, and have decided to put it on my blog.   I want everyone to know the story of my faith transition, especially those who are going through the same thing.

Growing up, I was the golden girl of the young women's program.  I was everything a young Mormon woman should be, I suppose.  Except that I didn't babysit and was adamant about becoming a geneticist and going on a mission, which threw some people for a loop.  (I identified as a feminist even then, but this was southern California, not Utah, so I didn't get too much flak for it.)  Well, I got married instead of going on a mission, so I guess that's another check mark on the list.  In high school, I prayed at least twice a day, studied the scriptures daily, had perfect attendance in early-morning seminary, was bright and perky and knowledgeable about sacred and secular topics, was president of the laurel class, was the pinnacle of chastity, was involved in choir and student government, etc, etc.  It's kind of nauseating to list.  But at the same time, I was happy.  The church, the gospel, school, being involved, feeling like I was doing things right, it made me happy.  I had a great group of stalwart Mormon friends, and we were always doing silly, fun things.  I also had lots of wonderful non-Mormon friends.  I got into BYU, and off I went.

I was recently reading the memoir of Mindy Kaling, one of the writers of The Office, who also plays the ditzy Kelly Kapoor.  It's a hilarious read.  Anyway, one of the chapters is called "Don't Peak in High School."  Whoops.  My mean happiness level has steadily decreased since high school.  Perhaps it's because my little religious habits have waned.  Perhaps it's because my group of friends has disbanded somewhat.  Or perhaps it's just a part of growing up.  Like I thought I was busy in high school . . . psh!

Whatever it was, my testimony did not begin to falter until more recently.  I started dating my husband (a democrat with a beard) about two years ago, and with his influence I began to see life from a new perspective.  He isn't so much about looking righteous externally as he is about being righteous internally.  I think being with him was the impetus of my faith transition.  He looks at life through an unorthodox yet faithful lens.  He acquired this lens from his parents, whom I adore.  I discuss my faith transition openly with them all the time, and they understand because they've been there.

At some point while we were dating, he confessed to me that he suffers from depression and is medicated for it.  I loved him and tried not to judge him for it, but being 100% orthodox until then, I believed the folk-doctrines and harbored some ill-feelings toward the depressed (like that it's because of sin or self-absorption).  Plus, my mom told me growing up not to marry someone with a disability, because it will make life harder (it sounds so terrible now, but it seemed practical at the time).  Things became worse after we got engaged.  His depression often messes up his sleep schedule.  He kept blowing me off for things because he was asleep.  I'd be so excited to see him, I'd wait and wait for him, but he wouldn't come.  It felt like having my bubble burst on a daily basis.  I was unsure if he actually loved me, or if he was just done being single (which he had said repeatedly), and was settling.  I was unsure if I was supposed to marry him.  I prayed and cried and prayed some more, but never got an answer.  I felt alone in my anxiety.  I felt like God wasn't listening.

Then I went to the temple.  Despite my fear about God not listening and/or not condoning my choice of mate, I was so excited.  I yearn to know the "mysteries of God", and knew that the temple would be full of them and would expand my understanding.  I had been through several rounds of temple prep, where teachers had been appropriately frank about the ceremonies.  I had read scriptures about signs and tokens.  I had also been sealed to my parents at age 20, so I knew about the garb.  I thought I was prepared.  I don't know what else I could have done, but I certainly wasn't.  I wasn't prepared for the sexism I saw there.  The temple told me that God doesn't love women as much as he loves men.  That I am somehow unworthy to minister as a priestess to God directly.  That I am doomed to forever be a servant to my husband.  That he gets the crown and I get to be veiled, hidden, and silent.  That may not be what most see, but that's what I see.  I went home, shut my bedroom door, and cried myself to sleep.  I've only been back twice, and I've cried then too.  I met with the temple president about it, but it only made things worse.  Going to the temple puts me in a funk for about a week.  I keep rehashing doctrinal inconsistencies in my mind until I just about go insane.  What about "God is no respecter of persons?"  What about "God is love?"  It appeared that exaltation would be hell for me, not heaven.  This compounded the issues I had already been having regarding God listening to me.

I talked to my wonderful mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law about it.  They all said essentially the same thing: the temple ceremony is inspired by God, but written by men.  It has changed in the past, and many women are waiting for it to change again.  That answer opened up a whole new can of worms.  Prophets are never wrong . . . right?!  But if they do make bad calls sometimes, how can I trust them?  How can I trust anything they've said?  How can I be sure that God is actually in this religion (after all, he didn't seem to want to talk to me, and the temple God was the antithesis of my God)?  And all the questions I had suppressed my whole life came bubbling back up.  Polygamy?  Heavenly Mother?  Priesthood ban?  Priesthood/motherhood dichotomy?  Gay marriage?

So for the last several months, I've been re-evaluating my beliefs.  Before the onset of my faith transition, I believe I suffered from "zeal that is not unto knowledge."  Hugh Nibley wrote a great essay about zeal without knowledge, based off of a quotation by Joseph Smith.  The gist is that if you only have zeal, when your faith is tried you will "shatter like glass."  That is exactly what happened to me.  Now I'm picking up the pieces and trying to reconstruct a new, real faith.  I firmly believe in Jesus, in the atonement, in a Mother and Father God.  I believe that God loves everyone equally, and any evidence to the contrary is the byproduct of humans not loving everyone equally.  I believe that charity is the most important attribute to gain in this life.  I believe in universal salvation as exhibited in the plan of salvation (everyone is resurrected and receives glory in the end).  I want to believe in personal revelation, but I'm still working out how to receive it.  With a belief in personal revelation, it becomes much easier to navigate the prophet issue.  I can still believe in prophets as people who receive revelation sometimes, interpret revelation in funky ways sometimes, and are left to their own devices sometimes.  I must then use my own personal revelation to determine which statements fall into which category.  I'm still working out the kinks, as you can see.

This whole thing has required a lot of pondering, crying, loathing, loving, and studying.  I've read more about my religion in these past few months than I probably ever did during my orthodox days.  Feminist Mormon Housewives has been indispensable.  Husband and I clashed about it at first, but he's come to see things from my perspective and is now sympathetic and totally supportive.  In fact, I finally feel completely confident in my decision to marry him, because precious few Mormon men could handle the person I have become!  I'm the unorthodox one now!  I appreciate where my faith is at the moment: it's less about a righteousness checklist and more about loving and being genuine.  I am not as happy as I was in high school, but I feel wiser.  Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

Your turn.  Have you had a faith transition (not necessarily a Mormon one)?  What was it like?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Red Pill: Learning the Language of Sexism

Well my last post certainly generated some controversy.  When writing it, I thought a long time about how to phrase everything, constantly thinking, "is this too controversial?"  Husband told me it was good, and eventually I just said screw it and hit publish.  I genuinely feel bad that some people think that my emerging feminism has made me little more than a whiny complainer.  I have been told by several people that I'm looking solely for the bad and ignoring the good.  One person even suggested that the negativity on my blog attests to my need to see a psychiatrist and be medicated.  Let me borrow a metaphor from this article.

I took three years of Spanish in high school.  Before freshman Spanish 1, I was barely aware when Spanish was spoken within my hearing.  It blended into the background, a part of the white noise that hums along unnoticed.  Once I started learning the meaning of those words and syllables, Spanish jumped out of the white noise.  It suddenly had meaning.  I heard it everywhere.  In fact, it was everywhere.  Similarly, have you ever learned the meaning of a new word and suddenly begun hearing it all over the place?  Did everyone learn that word at the same moment you did?  No!  It was being used all around you the whole time, but you didn't know what it meant, so you didn't notice it.

Learning about sexism and other forms of discrimination is akin to learning a new language.  You learn what it sounds like, what it looks like, what it feels like.  You learn the common usage first (say, sexual harassment in the workplace), and move on to more advanced topics later (understanding the scope of the patriarchy and rape culture).  As you learn, your eyes are opened.  You see what "wasn't there" before.  What used to be unremarkable business-as-usual jumps out and proclaims its true meaning to you.  In reality, it was there the whole time; you just didn't see it.  As you become more fluent, you see sexism everywhere (because it is everywhere).  With time, you start to see that it is inescapable.  It is our world.  It is in the air that we breathe.

So here I am now.  I see sexism everywhere.  I feel like Neo, who has recently discovered the matrix.  Oh, I saw a few flaws in the matrix before I took that red pill (why have I never read a book in school written by a woman?  Why do all the ladies in young women's look uncomfortable when I talk about becoming a geneticist?).  But now that I'm fully unplugged, the world looks different to me than it did before.  It looks different to me than it does to those who have not learned the language, who still think the matrix is reality.  And you know what?  The view from where I now stand is profoundly frightening, infuriating, depressing at times.  I'm not going to lie, it's hard to be a feminist and stay positive.  I often feel like I'm the only one who is aware, who speaks this language, who sees the matrix for what it is.  I feel like everyone else is content to live a virtual life, to be hampered in by the patriarchy.  I feel like I'm struggling against an insurmountable enemy.

This is why I don't write shiny happy unicorn and rainbow posts.  I do see good, but I can discuss that with anyone, anywhere.  That is not the purpose of this blog.  I write in the hopes of finding people who speak my language, who notice the green tinge of the world.  I write so I can at least pretend that someone understands me - so I can express my thoughts and feelings somewhere.  I write to show the world a small portion of the inequality I see in't, in the hopes that someone else will start to see the matrix for what it is.

To you who chose the blue pill, know that I sometimes envy you.  I often wish that I could go back to my life of unquestioning faith.  I wish I could believe in a just world.  I wish I could believe in the benefits of rigid gender roles.  I wish I could believe in infallible, non-racist, non-sexist leaders with black-and-white answers.  It really is so comfortable to believe every word of your culture and religion, to feel like you belong.  But that world is no longer mine.  I made my choice.  I left the cave, went down the rabbit hole.  I can't go back - it's not possible.  Sorry to disappoint.