Thursday, March 19, 2009

openly apostate? (revisited)

(hey folks, this is the version I wrote up for The Exponent. feel free to comment here or there. And thanks for your help.)

Just shy of a year ago I stopped attending church. I no longer believed what the church taught and had gotten to the point where sitting through three hours of it was both numbing and excruciating. But I think it's time to start attending again. Not because my beliefs have changed, but because Sunday has become such a fragmented disjointed day for our family. Something has got to change and I have decided that I will be that something. So a couple Sundays a month I will attend with my husband and child. I will bring books to read and my journal to write in (a friend suggested an iPod, but that's too obvious for my taste) to help get me through talks and lessons that would otherwise send me over the edge. Also, I think that perhaps I have had enough time and distance that there will not be the same painful cognitive dissonance that I used to experience; maybe I'm in a place now where I can be more generous about the things I disagree with and more open to catching the gems that do resonate. We shall see.

But my question to you has to do with my desire to be honest and open about who I am. Part of the discomfort from before had to do with the double life, the need to hide so much of my thoughts and experience. I'm done with that. But when I think about how that will actually LOOK, me being more open, I have a hard time imagining the line between honesty and disrespect. I don't want to cross that line, I dislike making people feel uncomfortable.

Here's me: I'm pretty agnostic with existential leanings, view the scriptures as man-made metaphors, don't see much difference between the LDS church and other churches out there (i.e. no one true church with exclusive priesthood authority led by a prophet of God etc.). I don't believe in necessary ordinances, don't wear garments, don't live the word of wisdom, etc. etc. etc.
Basically, I am rubbed the wrong way by most of what the church says (though I do believe in food storage).

So... I will just sit in the back and keep my mouth shut and read my book? (Unless talking about food storage?)
Those of you in my position, how do you walk that line?
And those of you who are believers, what are your thoughts about the participation of someone who just doesn't believe in the church?


G said...

btw... djinn, about the iPod being to obvious... I love the idea and the song suggestions. I just have a hard time seeing me wearing the ear phones during meetings. my hair is just too short to make it subtle.

adam said...

"what are your thoughts about the participation of someone who just doesn't believe in the church?"

It's hard to say given I don't know your ward/culture/friends down there. I have a catholic/agnostic friend, and another who is an ex-Christian and now a buddhist/mason/agnostic in my program who both attend LDS institute classes--funny thing is I don't currently. I've been to Mass with the Catholic friend, and have been trying to get to the meditation on Saturday mornings.

I guess my point in sharing those examples is that perhaps you can go to the Sunday meetings not with the "I don't believe this b.s." or "I do agree with this" attitudes, but rather just go and see what you can learn, see what you can experience. As a former believer though, I suppose that could be more difficult than for my friends I mentioned above, however. Regarding your question, perhaps institute is different from the block, but from what they have told me they participate quite a bit, and have formed some lasting relationships there. The buddhist friend has even thought long about joining, despite the fact that he doesn't believe the church's claims--he just likes the family structure. If I had more time, I would participate in a more diverse set of spiritual and religious activities, as I think there is a lot to be experienced, and a lot we can learn from each other if we don't keep our heads buried in the sand of whatever our current lenses are. So, I guess I still didn't answer the question. Yes, I would welcome people who did not believe, and if they were kind and decent about it, I would welcome their input in discussions.

Good luck!

adam said...

Oh, and I'm also definitely down with existential philosophy. I like to bring it into therapy as well, things like death anxiety and other fun topics. :)

Elizabeth-W said...

I'm assuming you've asked your husband directly which he truly prefers?
As you know, my husband isn't a member. When he does come to church (blessing of our children, baptism of our children, that's about it), the whole time, I'm sitting there unable to really focus on the service, but instead agonizing over what he's thinking about what Sister Sweet-but-Strange is saying in her testimony, or the fire and brimstone lecture he's hearing at the baptism (true story!).
Also, is your man fussing about it being hard to take your son (I think you only have one child) by himself? Or maybe I'm reading too much into that? Because really, if that's the issue, I'll be happy to email him and straighten him out. It isn't that hard.:)
In some ways, I think it might be easier for your son to have you either go, or not go. The "this is my 'stay home' Sunday, sweetie" back and forth seems harder to do well. I think routine is what I'm getting at here.
You know how we are; you know the culture; you know how people talk--the language of how we talk about apostates. I think it would be very difficult to sit there and not have inner dialogue about what Brother Never Once Questioned his Faith is thinking as he sits next to you in G.Doctrine.
Sending you all the best wishes. I know it's hard to figure out on so many levels.

The Numismatist said...

I occasionally attend church with my daughter (Eris) and her family on special occasions. My drifting away from the LDS Church was much more lengthy that yours and I didn't have an active husband to deal with. However, I did live in the same ward as my parents and they had a tough time accepting the lack of garments, not taking the sacrament, etc.

It is much easier for me to attend now, in fact quite enjoyable, because I face it with a different attitude. I no longer have the nagging questions and discomfort with the teachings because I am secure in my beliefs (Buddhism is my choice). I can take the good things from the messages and leave the rest for the others. I enjoy the music and in fact, often feel sad that I am sitting in the congregation and not at the organ. It gives me pleasure just to spend the time with my family who are just as earnest in their beliefs as I am in mine.

A word of caution: the people of your ward will not understand what is happening to you. For some (ex: my mother) it will be forever beyond thier comprehension that you could NOT believe. But over time most will come to accept that you are in your own place and are happy there. They will need time just as you will.

As for the iPod, even feeling as I do, I would consider that to be very disrespectful and possibly extremely rude. Inconspicuously reading a book or maybe some personal meditation would get you through the tough times.

I applaud you for doing this for your family, or at least giving it a try. As I have said before, there are many things about the church that I will always love. And there will always be part of me that identifies as Mormon. Just focusing on those things that you used to enjoy and tossing the rest might help.

Another suggestion, I might think seriously about starting with Sacrament Meeting only, or attending Primary with your son. Then go take a walk during RS and SS, at least until May when it get unbearably hot down there.

The Numismatist said...

Whoa, that was as long as a High Councilman's talk. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Oh G, this one has actually made me come out of my big fat apostate closet. I stopped attending over a year ago too, and the very thought of having to go back, even for my sister-in-law's baby blessing next month, still gives me the slight heebie jeebies. I'm far enough removed from it all now (after BIC, mission, temple marriage, YW pres, etc...) that I think I could be more gracious in my interactions with people, but I personally would find it exhausting. My liberal leanings and comments were always met with blank stares or worse--the RS pres./bishop/whomever softening my opinions lest they fear someone struggling would fall further down the rabbit hole of disbelief. (Hmmmm, maybe I'm still not ready to walk back into a LDS building with a truly forgiving heart. ;-)

I guess my point is that I found people were very willing to talk about more left-leaning issues/questions in private, but NEVER in an open class setting. (The only time I got away with that was when I was Gospel Doctrine teacher and could steer the discussion.) I'm sure you know that the mechanics of the organization are such that doubt and dissent, however mild or innocuous, are feared. The issue of faith (and promoting that faith) is too paramount to the Church's core teachings.

I hate to sound like such a downer. I feel very lucky in that when I left, my husband left with me so we aren't faced with the fragmentation that you've been dealing with as a believing/non-believing family. I can't imagine how difficult that must be for everyone. I can only applaud your generosity of spirit as you negotiate this new phase in your journey.

If anyone can find a way to openly participate as a non-believing member, it would be you. Your story will undoubtedly continue to unfold with your signature grace, humor, and strength, no matter where you find yourself on Sunday mornings. Fingers crossed for you from down here in Texas!

p.s. My vote would be a good novel. Or vegan cookbook or organic gardening or other interesting "coffee table" book that would spark harmless homemaking-y discussion with a nosy pew partner. ;-)

Grégoire said...

I've actually had my comment deleted from the exponent. Sorta funny. In all my 39 years, no group of people have been quite so hateful or treated me as poorly as Mormons.

Anyway, the gist of my comment over there was questioning your label 'apostate'. That's their word. Are you, like, embracing the title and making it your own (in the way certain ethnic slurs are de-empowered) or have you internalized their rejection?

It's your Mormonism. What other Mormons say, and whether your name is on some list in SLC, USA is irrelevant. Just tell anyone who pries that you're a Secular Mormon. Works for me, and worked for Mo Udall too...

G said...

whew... thanks all, for your suggestions and advice. (and Elizabeth-w... hehehe, thanks for the offer to set my hubby straight.)

We went to church yesterday and it was relatively painless. everyone was very friendly and welcoming. And things in the talks and lessons that would have gotten under my skin before just didn't have much hold on me. (having the book to escape into was a help there.)

I think this is just the honeymoon phase though, eventually difficult conversations will come up.
We'll see how it goes.

G said...

Gregoire, sorry about the comment deleting thing, I haven't been monitoring the comment very closely, it may have been caught in the spam.

As per the label Apostate... well, it can work both ways. With friends who know where I am (and probably are in the same place) "apostate" does become the equivalent of embracing and reclaiming what was previously a slur.

But around friends and family that do not share the same perspective it does retain it's negative cutting power, at least a little bit.

Grégoire said...

Dear G,

No big deal about being "excommunicated" from Exponent. When the Exponent II magazine first came out, my own mother was instrumental in campaigning for someone involved with it somehow to be excommunicated. Poetic justice!

As per the label Apostate... well, it can work both ways. With friends who know where I am (and probably are in the same place) "apostate" does become the equivalent of embracing and reclaiming what was previously a slur.

But around friends and family that do not share the same perspective it does retain it's negative cutting power, at least a little bit.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was. When I left the LDS church (way back when) I lived in San Antonio Texas, and nearly all my personal friends were "gentiles" who found the LDS church totally irrelevant. My own immediate family consisted largely of people who abused me as a child, and who I never wanted to hear from again anyway, so they didn't have a chance to shun me.

With that in mind, I try to understand and sympathize with you and others who lose friends (and sometimes jobs, spouses, apartments, etc.) when you leave the LDS church. I have a younger cousin who has just gone through this recently. Her parents are spreading the rumor that she's an immoral floozy and crack addict; when in reality she's just not interested in religion. Nice, no?

I try and understand the depth of the harm it causes, while realizing that I probably never will.

I do hope it went well, and I think it's cool that you can attend as an apostate, just to appreciate the cultural artifacts. I sometimes wish I could, but Mormonism in my area has largely gone extinct in the last decade, and I'm not up for a half-hour commute to the one remaining stake center within 100 km.

Take Care...

Anonymous said...

I've had to find a line to walk. For my wife's sake, I attend sacrament meeting and help get our girls to primary on three Sundays per month. I cannot attend Sunday School or priesthood. I have a hard enough time with Sacrament. Put me in a situation where participation is expected like Sunday School, and I know I would start asking uncomfortable questions. Not a good situation.

Instead, I spend my time outside reading good books or just relishing the freedom to be outside instead of trapped in another meeting where I hear for yet another time the same half-baked ideas that I've heard all my life.

I've also tried to politely make it publicly clear that I don't believe anymore. My wife has even mentioned it from the pulpit when she was asked to talk about eternal marriage. (Thank you Bro. Sensitive who assigned her that topic!) This helps me to not feel like I'm living in a closet, though I do get shunned by some people. The bottom line is that I'm living honest to my convictions, and that feels good.

G said...

thank you, jonathan blake. I find it helpful to know that others have done this, particularly the part about having your non-belief be somewhat common knowledge.

That is my plan, but yet I have not come to the point of sharing that with anyone. those situations will arise. whether I can have the honesty and tact to negotiate those conversations remains to be seen.

thank you for sharing your story.

D'Arcy said...

G--I wonder what I would do with a family? I would probably go if it were really important. But as a single person I obviiouslly don't feel the pull. And then again,, I do. I want to be religious, I feel a big gap in my life that I need to learn to fill with other things, and yet it is stunting my growth. I find myself unable to date non mormons becuase they jsut don't get me and my life and my hang ups and yet no "good" mormon boy would date me either as I am as "apostate" as you.

I dont know where that leaves me. I wish I were a lesbian, life would be easier...outside of the church that it.

Grégoire said...

I find myself unable to date non mormons becuase they jsut don't get me and my life and my hang ups

I used to have some of those ideas myself.

Regular people (non-Mormons) who aren't from Utah lack a lot of the passive-aggressive artifacts that make Mormons so intolerable. Try dating a few regular people. You'll probably like it. (I liked it so much I married a *normal*, 14 years ago, and have spent pretty much every day since thanking fate for the opportunity).

Non-Mormons rock mightily. :)

xJane said...

I try to be quiet about it (and not chime in with "religion is child abuse!" when my sisters teach their children that "God tells birds how to find their way back home" because it pains my family to know that I'm areligious. Which pains me…but I can control my response to it—I cannot control theirs (nor their happiness).

djinn said...

fwiw, all my children have thanked me, often, for not making them go to church, like their as numerous as stars in the sky cousins must.

Like all the time.

djinn said...

Love the Elliott Smith quote, btw.