Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Majority

It's Fathers' Day so, before anything else, let me wish all the daddies out there a GREAT one!

You're probably all wondering, "Did the unchurched Mormon attend any church meetings today?" No, I didn't. (That's not to say I'm against attending, mind you; it only means I usually want to spend my time in some other way.) I spent the morning hanging out with my wife and little boy. They got me an awesome gift for Fathers' Day: new undies and a box of Charleston Chews! (By the way, if you've never had a good, frozen piece of candy, run right down to the store and get a box of Charleston Chews, and then throw them in the freezer for a half hour. Mmm!--(And I don't even like candy most of the time.) After a few moments of "Happy Fathers' Day!" and "We love you, Daddy" I went outside and mowed the grass. When I came back in the house, my wife was complaining that she had a headache (NO--I wasn't trying to ask her for some "action" at the time), so I tried to make her a frozen chai. (Perhaps caffeine would do the trick.) I couldn't find the blender top, so I got a little chai all over the counter top. HATE that! After I finally got it made and gave her some, I realized it wasn't all that tasty--not like the girls down at Joe's Coffee make it ( ). Then, while trying to drink some, I spilled a bit down my chest. GRRR!!! Hey, maybe God is punishing me for drinking the tea. Nah, it was COLD tea, after all. ;)
(* In Mormonism, there is a RECOMMENDATION that was given through revelation, most often referred to as The Word of Wisdom. The general Mormon gist of it is that Mormons are not to drink coffee, tea, alcohol, nor are they to partake of any tobacco or harmful drugs. The Unchurched Mormon gist is that it's not that simple and it requires a little more thought than simply to read a short list of DON'T's.)

With that unnecessarily long introductory paragraph, let's get onto this blog post.

I grew up Mormon. In a Mormon family with a long line of Mormon ancestry. In a highly Mormon town. In the most Mormon county and in the most Mormon state --> Utah. Mormons were the clear majority of Utah's populace then, and they're still the majority today, though by a slighter margin. (According to Wikipedia, the last census shows 63% of Utahns reporting to be Mormon--that includes unchurched Mormons like me.) To simplify my point, growing up Mormon in Utah didn't take a lot of extracurricular thought, or courage. If being in the majority made you cool, I was WAY cool!

Mormons tend to be more conservative, politically --> between 80-90% of Utah's elected officials are of the LDS/Mormon faith. In 2004, for example, Utahns gave Bush his most decisive margin of victory of any state; every single county in Utah voted for Bush, Jr. Keep in mind, that's AFTER the 9/11 Attacks, and after we're already at war with Iraq. In contrast, only 34.22% of Utahns voted for Obama in 2008. This could be all because Obama ran as a Democrat, or partially because of the color of Obama's skin. But I'm not going to go there in this post. (By the way, LDS and Mormon are one in the same; I may use them interchangeably.)

Coming up in Utah schools, my faith and religion were NEVER challenged. As long as people from the neighborhood saw you going to or coming from the big building down the street with the shiny steeple on top, no one asked you any questions. There was comfort in homogeneity. In contrast, I'm sure there was great discomfort if you weren't "one of the fold." The thing that stands out clearest in my mind is that Mormon kids didn't easily mix with non-Mormon kids. (Oh, and we often think of the world's people in terms of A or B --> Mormon or non-Mormon.) It makes me cringe with regret that I never became good friends with any of the Catholic kids, for instance, or that the Jehovah's Witness kids were sort of isolated from the Mormon majority. It was bizarre; a kid was just...suspected of being up to no good if they weren't Mormon. Or, even if they were CLEARLY good people, they were at least "weird." The Mormon kids grew up together, went to church together, took their seminary classes together. Mormon kids understood each other. The others? Well, they weren't "like us." I don't for a second believe there was actually any ill will between the groups. I think most kids are good and nice to the core. But, as I said before, there was comfort in homogeneity, so why try and mix that up? And as a Mormon kid, I was in the majority; I didn't have a care in the world, and I certainly couldn't see the tiny problem of religious/cultural divisions, or marginalization of the minority groups.

As I said in my introductory post, I haven't been active for over a decade, so I don't know exactly how church is going these days. (I hope you'll all forgive me when you feel I get things wrong; I'll be using my own experience, mainly, to write this blog, understanding that my experience isn't necessarily universally applicable.) But I do regret the VERY limited understanding I had as a kid and as a young adult of what a Mormon was. I was very much a box-checker Mormon. That's all I could be with such limited understanding, and with what little thought I ever put into my faith. Quite honestly, I don't even think I could have called it "my faith" back then; it was, for all intents and purposes, my box of religion.

As a box-checker Mormon, I had a mental checklist of things that determined my level of righteousness in Mormonism:

1. Go to church every Sunday.
2. Don't use swear words.
3. DEFINITELY don't take the Lord's name in vain.
4. Profess knowledge in the following:
     a. The Book of Mormon is true.
     b. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, who translated the Book of Mormon and, through whom,
        God restored the priesthood and His one and only true church on the earth.
     c. <Insert name of current prophet/president of church> is a prophet of God.
5. Don't drink and don't smoke.
6. Don't have sex until marriage.
7. Read scriptures.
8. Plan on being a missionary when old enough.
9. Pay tithing.
10. Plan to marry ONLY in the temple. Don't even date outsiders; that's risky. (My parents were     married in the temple, which somehow put me on higher ground than those kids whose parents weren't. MAN, I WAS WEIRD! And LAME!!!)
10. Etc...

From the above list, I could determine my level of righteousness and "worthiness." And I would feel justified as long as I was better than others around me at checking the boxes. For instance, if I used a swear word....well "at least I don't smoke like So-and-So does." If I didn't read my scriptures (and I RARELY read my scriptures)...well, "at least I go to church almost every week, unlike So-and-So." Or that one time in my whole life when I tried masturbation (You believe that it was just that one time, don't you?), well..."at least I wasn't feeling boobies or having sex with my girlfriend like So-and-So." These were the things I knew about righteousness; be able to check my boxes, and be better at it on some level than the next guy. I really had no concept of spirituality, let alone a personal, meaningful, intimate relationship with God.

Don't get me wrong; while I was a conscious box-checker, I also learned to be a good person and to love others, and to have compassion. I even did some really nice things for other people; maybe that'll come up later in the blog.

I've thought about this understanding, or lack of understanding, and wondered how it was that it happened? Was it just that I was simple-minded? Was it actually taught to me this way in Sunday School? Was I that insecure that I needed my mental box-checking to feel OK? Did my parents teach me this? The only one I can answer is that my parents did not teach me to box check. But the sad (though not THAT sad or depressing) fact is, this is what it meant to me to be Mormon; these were the amazing take-home lessons I learned while growing up LDS.

Fortunately, with age and life's experience, filled with joy and sadness, the mundane and the traumatic, I've been able to sort of reconstruct my Mormon belief. I'm able to start to see what is and what only seemed to be. I'm able to be real about a testimony. And most fortunately, I'm able to feel God's influence in my life on a much more meaningful level.

Question for all of you: Were you brought up in Mormontown, USA like I was? Or some place else? Was your experience similar to mine? Or was it greatly different? I'd love you to share your experiences with me. So leave a comment.


  1. I was, like you, raised in Mormontown, USA. But we were the strange ones. We were Democrats, my father dug a big patch out of the center of the front lawn, and planted HERBS ! It was shocking. I keep meaning to ask my parents in more detail about their experiences with peers in that town. I know, that while still having good friends from there, it's not where they have chosen to live anymore.

  2. Hi Corey!

    So you guys were the weird ones ;) Yes, Utah can seem just a tad xenophobic. It's still that way, but getting better. I hate seeing Utah grow like it is--the small towns are being devoured by the farmers' bad luck--but a little bit of diversity is moving in, little by little. It will make Utah's culture all the richer, eventually.
    Growing up, I assumed I was Republican, though I had no idea what that was. And I did hold a few more conservative ideas then than I do now. And while I'm neither Republican nor Democrat, I do tend toward more liberal policies.
    Great to meet you, and THANKS for the herb garden idea; I've been wanting to tear up my front yard--an herb garden may be just the thing to replace a bit of grass.

  3. Like Corey, we were a bit odd because we were democrats and my parents were artists and my mom didn't do toll painting. But it wasn't till I moved out of Happy Valley, and then back, that I realize how odd a place I really found it. It was just normal back then.

    When you mentioned thinking back to high school, I've wondered what it would be like to go back with what I know/believe now, and experience high school differently. I'm sure that's a pretty common feeling. Since living back in Happy Valley though, I definitely have a lot of feelings that so many things seem normal to people because it's just always been that way. And I wonder if more people moved to a place where they weren't the majority, if it would bring up a lot of questions.

    And my memory of the city pool in middle school was getting a charleston chew for the bike ride home :)

  4. One has to get outside their culture or world view to recognize they have been living with a culture or world view. I think modernism makes this an unusual possibility. Monocultures have probably been the norm throughout the world and history. So, it is normal to develop a thorough understanding of the norms and rules of the society, and try ones best to conform (even though most people are non-conformists at one level or another). Even hipsters are box checkers.

    I agree that being a "conscious box-checker" Mormon actually brings with it a lot of great qualities. It just tends to also make a person square. But I do not regret my simple understanding of Mormonism as a youth. We all start somewhere in our journey, and I was given a lot to consider as I moved forward and helped me identify qualities I knew I wanted to develop over the course of my life. I believe most youth and many young adults need to have a simplistic world view that is in line with those around them to to feel confident in themselves as they project themselves into an otherwise uncertain world. Unfortunately, we do not all have experienced personal guides that can help us see the deeper, truer meanings behind the literalism, black and white teachings, and watered-down history. We need uncorrelated Mormon gurus! I was fortunate to have some choice conversations with older adults that I trusted before my mission and shortly after coming home that helped to align my expectations of the church without dampening my interest in faith and the church.