Monday, May 31, 2010

Brodie love

I am a big fan of Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, a historically accurate and extremely readable biography of Joseph Smith. There was an interesting discussion of this book on a Mormon-themed blog recently.

The interesting thing about this book is that the Church has spent two generations painting it as the personal vendetta of an apostate bent on destroying the Kingdom. The church's own apologist-in-chief Hugh Nibley did a particularly unscrupulous (and embarrassing) hatchet job on it and this has been continued by the FAIR and FARMS crowd. However, when Richard Bushman, a faithful LDS historian, finally got around to writing Rough Stone Rolling, the closest thing there is to an uncontested Joseph Smith biography, he borrowed so heavily from Brodie that he effectively vindicated her. The Church does not contest Bushman, but his book contains the same facts as Brodie! (In fact, I argue that it adds so little, it should not have been written.) The only difference is that Bushman changes the tone and paints Joseph Smith as more of a passive observer rather than a charismatic leader. The blog post I mentioned earlier has an interesting comparison between Brodie's Joseph Smith and Bushman's. For my money, Brodie's book is much, much better written. She has a gift for narrative that Bushman lacks. And after all those years of Brodie-hating, the Church has effectively granted all her points. I guess it's too much to expect an apology. In any case, I can't recommend NMKMH too highly.

To fill in the gaps left by Brodie, I also like Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Newell and Avery. Emma Smith's story is fascinating and puts a lot of the other material in context. Official Mormon history pretty much leaves women out. If your only exposure to LDS history is the correlated version you read in the lesson manuals, you really owe it to yourself to read these two books.

One more book I want to mention is Roots of Modern Mormonism by Mark P. Leone (Harvard Univ Press, 1979). This very readable book shows how Mormonism went from an interesting and freewheeling band of outsiders to end up as the stodgiest kind of establishment religion imaginable. Leone shows how Utah's statehood and its aftermath changed everything. It was a remarkable transformation. If you read Brodie and wonder what ever happened to that church, Leone's book tells you.

(I also want to plug the recent podcast about correlation, described here.)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy 101 Sweet Friends

Reina La Reine tagged me. I guess that means I have to quit being a curmudgeon for ten minutes. I suppose it won't kill me.

I, MoHoHawaii, would truly be ungrateful this day if I didn't stand before you and express my gratitude for:

1. Reason and empirical methods. I stand in awe of people like Newton and Einstein and Alan Guth. What we now know about the natural world and the cosmos is mind boggling. Why don't we spend a three-hour block every week studying this?

2. Art. Art produces a feeling of transcendence in me that has kind of replaced what I used to look for in religion. It was a life-changing experience when I took my son to see the Ghent Altarpiece.

3. Friendship and love. This life is lonely. I couldn't do it without the people I love.

4. Books. My childhood was saved by books. They were a lifeline into a world outside. I never outgrew the habit of reading them.

5. The Internet. Delete items 1 - 4 if you must. I'll take the Internet over any one of them. (Just kidding.) Number 5a on this list would have to be FedEx and UPS. I list them in this section because they're as much a part of the Internet as HTTP.

6. The Performing Arts. I am a fan.

7. State and national parks. These restore my soul.

8. Museums. These are my holy shrines. See #2 above.

9. Food culture. Fresh, well-prepared food served with an appropriately matched fermented beverage and eaten over leisurely conversation is one of life's great pleasures. This gets such a bad rap in Mormonism. We learned at a young age that "eat, drink and be merry" is Very Bad. It is against the rules in Mormonism to serve meals that last more than 15 minutes. Individual servings (as opposed to "family style"), not to mention actual courses, are the first signs of apostasy, as bad as that subscription to Sunstone or Dialogue.

10. Japanese spas. My boyfriend introduced me, but now I would go even if he didn't ask. (The Japanese word for these is onsen.)

According to the rules of the meme, I'm supposed to tag 10 other people. I cannot in good conscience bring myself to do this. If you have read through this list, consider yourself tagged.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Teach the controversy!

Funny stuff. :- )


Just as an aside, a recent Pew Research Center study showed that belief in the scientific basis of biology is lower in Mormons than any other religious group measured by the study, except Jehovah's Witnesses. Also, and completely by accident, I ran across an Ensign article explaining that both the Flood and the Tower of Babel are fully historical events. (Look it up on if you think I'm kidding-- The Flood and the Tower of Babel" by Donald W. Parry, Ensign, January 1998.)

This has kind of sneaked up on me. I had forgotten that Mormons are (officially at least) Biblical literalists and what the implication of that really is. It's been a long time.

I remember when I was in the MTC, our branch president, who was a BYU humanities scholar in his 50s, was reading aloud an Old Testament passage that mentioned a prophet (I don't think it was Methuselah) who died at 900 years of age. A young Elder in my group involuntarily gave a short laugh of surprise. (I was well aware of Biblical longevity claims so I knew better than to laugh.) Our branch president looked up briefly from the passage he was reading and made eye contact with the Elder. The room got quiet and the Elder blushed. I still clearly remember his narrow face as it went to pink and then to red. It was an awkward moment. Nothing was said. The BP looked down and continued reading aloud. To me, the message was very clear, and I felt a slight shadow of fear pass over me. Point out the obvious, and you'll be punished. It wasn't a big deal, but on the other hand I've never forgotten that day.

Facts matter. Nobody ever lived to 900. There, I said it. After all these years.

Photo via: LOL god

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Polyamorous mom

I just ran across a blog by a woman from an LDS background who practices polyandry. She has a husband and a male partner who himself is married to another woman. Everything is out in the open; there's no sneaking around involved.

The blog pretty much speaks for itself and doesn't need my commentary. Check it out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

APA v Evergreen/NARTH

The American Psychological Association has a Web-based pamphlet with basic, factual information about homosexuality. (Also in PDF.) It's a good introduction and something that you could point your friends and family to.

One of the things it addresses is the fact that sexual orientation is distinct from the masculine/feminine gender spectrum and that sexual orientation is also not only about modes of sexual behavior. Sexual orientation is a determining factor in the formation of intimate attachment. It determines, in a profound way, which relationships are possible for most people. The basic distinctions between gender expression, sexual object choice and potential for nonplatonic relationships are hopelessly conflated in the Evergreen/NARTH/LDS literature, and in fact it simply sweeps the entire issue of relationships under the rug.

From the APA pamphlet:

Sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological, and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior).

Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as if it were solely a characteristic of an individual, like biological sex, gender identity, or age. This perspective is incomplete because sexual orientation is defined in terms of relationships with others. People express their sexual orientation through behaviors with others, including such simple actions as holding hands or kissing. Thus, sexual orientation is closely tied to the intimate personal relationships that meet deeply felt needs for love, attachment, and intimacy. In addition to sexual behaviors, these bonds include nonsexual physical affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment. Therefore, sexual orientation is not merely a personal characteristic within an individual. Rather, one's sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people. [Emphasis added.]

I thought of this when I chanced upon this comment from an anonymous LDS reader of another blog:

I'm a married (15 years, 5 kids) gay man and I can attest that one should never go into a marriage when one partner is gay thinking everything will be all right. I told my wife before we got married that I had "been gay" but was now over it. I thought over time my "gayness" would diminish and I'd end up being an almost normal LDS married man. (Evergreen needs to be banned). Last August I had a near mental breakdown. Since that time, my wife and I have had some excruciatingly difficult discussions. We are still married and highly motivated to make it work. I cannot say with certainty that it will, but I do know that it is extremely difficult. Like it or not, sex is a huge part of any union. You simply cannot have a true marriage relationship without it.

When we say things like "sex is a huge part of any union" we mean more than the physical aspects. The make-or-break problem with mismatched sexual orientations isn't just an asymmetrical desire for sex (A wants it more than B does). Instead, the crucial problem is the inability to form a durable pair bond in such a relationship (this is evidenced by an enduring feeling of loneliness or separateness). Having matched orientations (not the sex act itself) is the secret sauce.

I've heard the argument that putting your cards on the table before entering into a mixed-orientation marriage resolves the ethical issues and levels the playing field. The idea is that if both parties go into marriage with their eyes open, then problems can be avoided. I view this argument with skepticism. Going into a marriage with low expectations for sexual relations does nothing to prepare you for the inability to develop deep emotional attachment and comfort in the long term. That's the gotcha, and Evergreen doesn't even acknowledge it exists.

To all of you in mixed-orientation marriages, I wish you the best. The outcomes and experience will vary by age, duration of the marriage and temperament. Nothing is foreordained.

To those of you who are single, please take this seriously. Get information from the mainstream scientific community and not just from official-sounding repackagers of religious views like Evergreen and NARTH.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sweet Mormon Boy

This is for all of you returned missionaries out there. It's a song by the Seattle Men's Chorus about a Mormon missionary. (Words after the video.)


One Thursday in July, 'bout a quarter after four
I heard a gentle knocking at my door.
I opened up to find a sight I'd witnessed before:
A pair of Mormon boys.

They stood at my door, this missionary pair
With name tags and perfect Disney hair,
With a burning in their bosom they simply had to share.
Oh, such faithful Mormon boys.

They go two by two, day by day, door to door,
'Elders' at age nineteen.
Earnest as an apple and wholesome to the core,
They keep their habits clean.
Sweet Mormon boys.

I asked the fellows in and poured some lemonade.
I said I'd be a tough one to persuade,
Still they forged ahead, unfazed and undismayed.
Oh, such loyal Mormon boys.

They go two by two, day by day, door to door,
On missions for two long years.
Earnest as an apple and wholesome to the core,
They keep their aspirations clear,
Sweet Mormon boys.

The taller of the two was delightsome to the eye,
Handsome and strong but shy.
His smile seemed to say that at any moment he might cry,
A peculiar Mormon boy.

His eyes were deep and gentle, a shocking shade of blue,
Intent, it seemed, at staring at his shoe.
He caught my gaze and blushed and looked away
And then I knew:
Oh, that poor Mormon boy!

A curious hour passed. I listened for a while.
The eager Elder talking all the while.
But all I could think of was the other fellow's trial
And the torment he must be going through.

If he truly is peculiar that's a rocky row to hoe,
Temple lost, he'll have no place to go.
They'll shun him all the way from the Salt Lake to Provo,
A lost Mormon boy.

They shook my hand and left; I stood waving from the door,
Wondering what their mission had in store.
Memories came to surface from many years ago,
Oh, when I was a Mormon boy. I was a Mormon boy.

They go two by two, day by day, door to door,
No looking back, their hand to the plow,
Earnest as an apple and wholesome to the core,
A Mormon always keeps his vow.

They go two by two, day by day, door to door,
Doing the work of the Lord.
Earnest as an apple and wholesome to the core,
But what if there's a secret, one that cannot be ignored?
What happens to such a Mormon boy?
Such a sweet Mormon boy?
Such a sweet Mormon boy.

You, me and the Church

I came across an episode of the radio program This American Life where a young Mormon woman received annual birthday letters that were written to her before her mother died of cancer when the girl was 16. Her mother wanted to have an influence on her daughter's life, so she wrote a series of letters, essentially from her deathbed. (You can listen to the episode here. It begins at 9:25.)

Each year, following the wishes of her deceased mother, the young woman's father would mail one of the letters to her. There were 13 of them. At first the letters were comforting and a reminder of her mother's love. But they also contained counsel and moral instruction from an LDS perspective that over time became problematic. I recommend listening to the story.

I have often thought that in marriage the LDS Church is the third person in the bedroom (in kind of a creepy way). Something like this is also the case with LDS family relationships. The young woman in the interview eventually diverged from traditional LDS belief and went on to medical school. She was conflicted, though, because her mother's continuing instruction to her couldn't be reconciled with the person she was becoming. She was not a person of faith, but her life's work involved compassion, science and commitment to others. It was not a comfortable place for a young Mormon girl to be. Eventually, the letters stopped, and life went on.

I have tried with my own LDS family members and LDS friends and acquaintances to bridge the gap. From my side, I don't see why this shouldn't be possible. It's certainly not necessary that we all share the same opinion on matters of faith. I'm sorry to say that the results are not what I would have hoped for. (Interestingly, things were better before the Prop. 8 debacle.)

It's truly unfortunate that the quality of family relations seems to vary inversely with the doctrinal orthodoxy of the family member in question. For example, a gay Mormon friend of mine comes from a family of eight siblings. He’s in his fifties and his parents are still living. Some of his family members are close to him and treat him with kindness, even though they all have to deal with the dissonance that arises in the Church from having a gay family member. Others take a harder line and refuse to justify sin by allowing my friend to visit or associate with their children. If you line up his family in order of orthodoxy (liahona vs iron rod order), you see a correlation. The iron rodders just can’t deal with him. His parents, who are pretty much on the iron rodders side, are caught in the middle. It’s a big source of stress for the entire family. It's also complicated by envy-- my friend has had professional and personal success that some of his siblings resent. (Oddly, it's again the more orthodox siblings, which I can't explain.)

In my own case, the kindness toward me shown by the less orthodox members of my family is noticeably greater. (The exception is one TBM sister who has always had a soft and loving heart.) I’ve also noticed a huge difference between my generation (I’m 50) and my siblings’ children who are now in their 20s and early 30s. Across the board, my nieces and nephews treat me better than the older family members. I have had excellent relationships with my nieces and nephews since they were born. (The only problem areas are one or two very orthodox spouses who have recently joined the family.) My LDS parents have passed away, but I always had a very close relationship with them.

You might say, "But, MoHoHawaii, you're such a pain in the ass, of course your LDS family and acquaintances keep their distance." :- ) I don't really buy the charge. The problem is that it's a triangle-- it's not just "you and me," it's "you, me and the Church." And we know what the Church's position is-- it would shun me by powerful ritual if I hadn't left first. It seeks me out in the political sphere and tries to do me harm. It's hard for you to love me when this other thing you love hates me. If it were just "you and me" I think we'd be okay.

Maybe we will be someday. I haven't given up on my efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable with my LDS family and acquaintances. Sometimes it works; sometimes not so much. Sometimes it’s my own fault. In any case, it’s an ongoing effort.

Note: Radio program via Times & Seasons

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quote of the day

Always remember and don't ever forget, my darling poppets: Men of science walked on the moon; men of faith stole airplanes and flew them into buildings.

- Muffy Bolding

Oh, and speaking of men of faith, George Rekers, NARTH board member, Baptist minister, prominent anti-gay activist, co-founder of the virulently anti-gay Family Research Council and expert witness against gay adoption in Florida, was caught taking a 10-day European vacation with a male prostitute from Miami. For real.