Chapter Twenty-Seven – The Ultimate Fall: Mormonism to Existentialism
Sometimes people wonder how I went from faithful Mormon to a Secular Buddhist Pagan Queer…
Mormonism threatens its membership to never “fall away”, not to lose their grip on the “iron rod”, a euphemism for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the biggest fear addressed in all of my thirty-eight years of activity, my thousands of hours listening to LDS leaders, LDS family, and LDS General Authorities, and my seemingly endless prayers.
It was the fear drilled into me my entire life. I took my involvement in the Mormon Church as seriously as I could. I clung to everything I was raised to believe in, a church that provided answers to everything, and gauged all things in terms of right and wrong and good and bad. When you’re raised a staunch Mormon and you lose your “certain knowledge”, things get really rough. Mormons consider that “certain knowledge” to be their testimonies. The one thing that keeps you believing and entrenched. Feelings *could mean* a sure knowledge.
The opposite of a faithful Mormon with a sure testimony is an existentialist, and I had no idea that I would identify myself as such at any moment in my lifetime. That existence would be frightening, godless and lost. An existentialist is a person who faces their individual existence in an unfathomable universe. It is the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad… according to Merriam Webster anyway.
After I left the church, my siblings were extremely concerned about me. I received many calls from them, alarming warnings. They literally felt me slipping away. They watched in horror as I fell. At about the time I was receiving the most alarming calls from them was about the time I was feeling the most anger about Brigham Young’s violent doctrines about apostates. I had become the enemy; my throat should be slashed to save me to heaven. My oldest brother, out of love, was alienating me with his disastrous calls.
In an attempt to end that pain, on my brother’s last call, I told him that I had purchased a bowie knife that was meant for my own throat, and that I demanded that he arrive on my door step, so that I could hand him the knife, so that he could do as his Prophet Brigham Young had commanded him and *kill me* by slashing my throat so that he could save me. I told him point blank that he *had* to do it! He *had* to do what his prophet had commanded him to do! I was an apostate, I was never going to return, and that he must comply. He never took me up on it.
All that caring, all that showiness, all that faux love. One amazing thing about my entire experience inside of Mormonism was the fact that never once in my sojourn from those who knew I was fighting the “same-sex attraction” problem did even one person ask me if the whole thing was working for *me*. Not once. I had a sister-in-law who was a counselor in LDS Social Services, and in all those years that she knew my situation, she *never* called me once. I suspect her oldest son is gay, and I am confident that both she and my older brother would send him straight into Evergreen for some straightening.
My last memory of my mom alive was when she and my dad showed up at my house with an entire truck full of family heirlooms. She hadn’t called me to ask if it was OK, but somehow I had landed at the top of her shit list and that meant I could be trusted with their most prized possessions. I helped as they schlepped the entire family lovefest into my small, crowded basement. As my dad was carrying in the *fifth* set of family heirloom china, my mom’s own set of wedding china, I stopped my dad on the stairs mid huff and asked him, “Don’t you think Becky should have this?” He looked me straight in my eyes and said, “She doesn’t deserve it.” Odd, it seemed to me that their *only* daughter might deserve my mother’s wedding china.
But from the smallest aspect to the largest, it was always about what I *deserved* in God’s eyes, and in my parent’s eyes. Mormonism is a giant rat race to the finish line, and whoever wins gets their own planet. That’s the prize, that’s what you deserve! Think of it like a Holy Bell Curve. And if you don’t meet God’s expectations, or my parent’s expectations, well, you get something…*less*.
What I learned was that it was never about me, it was about them. It was about getting me back in line, and keeping me going so that I could maintain the needs of others. I allowed myself to be stepped on, to be used, to be manipulated, because it was what I *deserved*. I was broken, I was *less than*. And the more I cheated, the more I fell into sin. I only proved it with each passing year. The more I felt less than everyone else, the more I sought out my genuine, true identity. And in my situation, that meant betraying those I loved even though I had desperately tried to tell them who I was, and how I needed to be released.
Everyone gets to decide what they want in this life, regardless of what you’re being told, what’s being forced on you, or what you feel you must uphold. Parents should *respect this* instead of being the biggest force for disingenuous living. Once I pushed back hard enough against all the lies, the deceit, and the misinformation in the Mormon Church, my debaters, my family, and my leaders all said, “It was your choice all along.”
At first they act as if your very soul will explode in damnation’s flames and become crisp ash in eternal darkness…until suddenly they can’t give you any real answers anymore, and their fear tactics fail to work like they used to, and then shift their own behavior, they shift their approach, and the very demeanors and they say, “It was your choice all along!” I wondered why they hadn’t just said that from the beginning, it was amazingly frustrating.
It was in *that* moment that they were being just as disingenuous to themselves as I was being to myself. In that moment they let me go, but not in a caring supportive way. They let me go and brushed their hands together and said to themselves, “I can’t be responsible for him; I have done everything I could do for him. Now he is lost and on his own.” If they were true Christians, they would never have written me off, they would have allowed me to transcend while ensuring my safety. That is what I would do for my own children, and I am sure that if I have a “Heavenly Father” he would do the same.
It wasn’t just Mormonism I was skeptical of now, it was Christianity and Western Monotheism as a whole. My friends told me not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, meaning Christ, but that, too, became impossible for me to believe. Nothing gets up after it’s been dead for three days, and I mean *nothing*. I kept Jesus’ teachings close to my heart and threw away the concept of resurrection away. No more implausible deities. No more magical religion.
My magic became the wonder of nature, and evolution and science. Things I could count on. Things that made sense. Suddenly an unfathomable universe felt just right! No longer did I have answers for everything. I let go of a “certain knowledge” of what is right or wrong or good or bad. I decided to live in the gray world, no more black and white. Empathy became my mantra. Ethical living was not tied to religious belief any more.
I was letting go of magical thinking and finding awe in what was right around me, in the present. I began to distance myself from my siblings and my parents, and that was very liberating. I felt more in tune with nature than I ever had before, and Nature was slowly becoming my “religion”. I soon found that Buddhism encapsulated my new ideas about life and nature better than Christianity or Mormonism ever could.
I thought back on the times when I knew I was making terrible mistakes, the moment I stood in the mirror in SLC staring at my new garments, the moment I got married to a woman when everything inside me said that I needed a man, the day I was left at the Missionary Training Center to embark on a two year Spanish mission to sell something that I desperately did not like, letting Mormon leaders shame me for being homosexual, allowing my family dynamics to engulf me in pain.
The further out of Mormonism and my marriage I got, the brighter it all became. I was terrified that I would be suffering without it, as I had always been taught to fear. But this wasn’t suffering at all, this was heaven on earth! And to achieve it, all I had to do was let go of everything that always felt strange to me. I may have been born and raised into a crazy cult, but now was the time to get real.
Every single thought that had crossed my mind as a Mormon had to be reviewed, analyzed, researched and evaluated for its content to decide if it was from God or from Satan. Every…single…thought. In Mormonism, your thoughts *define* you. Boyd K. Packer, one of the most *vile* General Authorities ever, provided the amalogy of your mind as a “stage”. Every thought is a physical character that plays on your stage, with obvious implications that every single thought is seen by angels and by God, and we are judged accordingly. I believe that nothing in my entire sojourn in Mormonism proved to be more vicious than this.
Rex, the smartest man I’ve ever met, led me to studying Buddhism and my mind exploded with happiness. I learned that I didn’t have to be plagued with the anchors of Mormon thought. And that my plagued thoughts were truly *anchors* in my life success. I have learned that our thoughts are nothing but weather patterns that can cloud our perception. Weather comes and goes, as do our thoughts that create emotions inside of us. All of those emotions created by our thoughts come and go. The real “us”, the real “me” lies behind my fleeting thoughts, and meditation helps me clear away my thoughts so I can focus on my true self.
Every *single* person I have met while studying Buddhism has been truly kind to me. My teachers have been willing to let me decide how much of the beliefs I will take on. They don’t care that I do or don’t believe in God. They don’t care that I struggle with the concept of reincarnation. There is no plan for my salvation. They don’t care that it is my own journey with my own parameters at my own pace. There aren’t any meaningless rituals for me now. When I bow in Buddhism, I bow to the greatness inside myself, not to a silent, uncaring deity. And if there *is* a deity that cares, it loves me without me needing to love it back.
Gone are the pressures of judgment, worthiness trials, and the Mormon bell curve of righteousness. Now I believe that feelings do not equal knowledge. No more fear. I’ve never been so unencumbered, relaxed and happy in my life, and I plan to keep it that way. Now I consider myself a Secular Buddhist Pagan Queer. I made up the title, not bad, huh?
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