Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mormons are supposed to think for themselves

I was asked recently what my favorite scripture was. I have to say that it's Alma 32:27 which says, "But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words." (emphasis added)

It tells us to "arouse [our] faculties," in other words, to think! And to "experiment" upon God's words. Not to just accept them blindly. And yet, many people of faith don't put forth the effort to think and consciously apply the teachings of their doctrine. It gets to the point where from time to time I hear non-Mormons ridiculing and mocking Mormons for not being willing or able to think for themselves and this frustrates me because I know too many Mormons who aren't willing to think for themselves, who find comfort in just doing as their told and not questioning anything or anyone in the Church despite the doctrine clearly instructing them to make use of the gift of thought that their Heavenly Father has given them.

This scripture tells me that faith isn't supposed to be blind, that it should be the impetus to open our eyes and apply what we learn, even if the best we can do is to just have a desire to believe. And if all that can be given place in the hearts of those with that desire is just a portion of God's words, so be it. At least it's something.

These words give me comfort when I find myself struggling with the attitudes and "beliefs" of people in my own faith that conflict with my own. That all we need to do to resolve these conflicts is to do the work, to experiment and to ponder with an open mind and an open heart.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Being single in Utah-Mormon culture

This topic has been discussed before but until attitudes change, I think the discussion needs to continue.

It's not easy being a single Mormon. I know this because I'm a single Mormon and I've felt the almost unrelenting pressure to get married, despite the fact that I haven't met anyone that I want to marry. At one point I was actually called a spinster by a member of my family. A spinster is defined as an "unmarried woman" and I'm a man, so this accusation had a one-two punch of ridiculing me for being single AND bringing into question my manhood. I have a single friend who was once accused of being a homosexual because they weren't married at the ripe old age of 23.

This is not a doctrinal issue in the LDS Church. The Gospel of Christ isn't just for married people, it's for everyone. This issue is cultural. The Church places a great deal of emphasis on the family, this in and of itself is fine, however, it creates an attitude in the culture that anyone who isn't married is somehow less worthy of the blessings offered by the Gospel but to overcome this attitude of worthiness, single Mormons are often looked upon and treated as adolescents. This is very unfortunate because I see so many single Mormons buying into this role and behaving the way that they are treated, like a bunch of childish teenagers. This is one of the reasons why I stopped attending a singles ward. I had already been through high school and I was tired of playing those same old high school games of cliques, favoritism and people using other people to get what they want, instead of treating each other like the adults that they are.

Another reason why I stopped attending a singles ward is because the singles wards in my community have become so crowded. It's as though the singles are under so much pressure to get married that they become paralyzed. They don't want to make a mistake and marry the wrong person so they just hem and haw and date and date some more and don't commit to anything or anyone because they're afraid they're going to screw up with eternal consequences.

Marriage used to be a lot simpler, so I hear. Back in the days of an agrarian economy. People married for practical purposes. To have children to maintain the farm. Was a love a factor? As I understand it, only to a lesser degree.

Today, people want to fall in love. They want to be swept off their feet, men and women. And they feel as though it has to be that way because the media has depicted it that way.

I remember watching a movie about Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The movie was a love story. It was a romance. It was cute and I enjoyed it but I questioned its accuracy. I wondered if the relationship between Joseph and Emma was as it was depicted in that film and the cynic in me says, "Probably not." Not in that point in history. Not in that sort of economy. Not in that type of society.

I write this from an obvious place of frustration and loneliness. I'm doing everything that I can to meet someone that I can spend the rest of my life with. And my life is already half over. But I've always known, from when I was a little boy, that I wouldn't be a young man when I got married. This was confirmed to me when I got my Patriarchal Blessing in which I was told, "In time—the Lord's time—you will meet a choice young lady..." yada yada yada.

"The Lord's Time." That's Patriarch-speak for "Sorry, son, but you're going to have to wait a while." I try to explain this to those people who ask me why I'm not married yet. That I'm not working on anyone's timeline but the Lord's. But I'm still looked upon and treated as a balding, grey-haired adolescent who obviously has something wrong with him because he's still single.

Another factor I've had to deal with is the fact that I didn't grow up in an ideal household. Is there such a thing? I picked up a lot of bad habits from parents who didn't seem to love each other, used each other and pitted their children against each other. It's taken me a long time to unlearn a lot of terrible lessons and bad examples from my youth. I figure that's another reason why I'm not married yet. Because I had to unlearn so many poor behaviors.

I sat in a Priesthood lesson recently that discussed how parents shouldn't criticize each other and be hypocrites because their children would pick up on it. They'd see it and emulate it. I felt sad as I heard this because I knew it to be true from personal experience. My parents were always criticizing each other and telling us kids about it. They were also very hypocritical in their behavior and it frustrated me and my sister to see it. To be told one thing by our parents and then to see them do the opposite.

I think I've finally reached a point where I've unlearned the worst of it. That I can move forward, progress and grow with a partner now without burdening her with a lot of that old baggage that I picked up from my dysfunctional family. But it's still taking time. The Lord's time.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mormon men compared to women in the larger society

It's interesting to compare Utah Mormon culture with societal culture as a whole. I see some interesting and similarities.

For example, in the greater society, where sexuality is concerned, women are expected to portray themselves as asexual. To not acknowledge their sexuality or that they enjoy things like sex, pornography or masturbation whereas the ever present double standard doesn't hold men to the same societal restrictions. And yet, as a Mormon man, I can relate to this restriction because it seems to me, in Mormon culture, that men are under that same pressure as women in society as a whole. To be asexual and not acknowledge their own sexuality even to the point of not acknowledging the beauty of the female form out of fear that they will be seen as objectifiers of women or even pornography addicts without even indulging in porn.

This is unfortunate. As a filmmaker and artist, I'm often in the position of having to make an aesthetic judgment about the looks of actors (both women and men). Not just determining who is beautiful but who has a certain "look" that may be interesting or appropriate for a particular part in a film or photo shoot. It's become a simple habit for me that when I see a beautiful woman or a handsome man, I'll comment on their look and imagine what sort of part they might be able to play, assuming they had the necessary talent for it. Many of my friends on Facebook are actors, models or both and I often "like" their pages and photographs out of genuine appreciation for their beauty and what they do professionally. I've also "liked" the pages and photographs of actors and models that I don't know personally for the same reasons and yet, some people, particularly some Mormon women, have passed judgment against me for this practice and have accused me of objectifying women or treading on a slippery slope that could lead to indulging in pornography because some of these individuals are fitness models or model bathing suits, somewhat revealing dresses or lingerie.

This shaming, sometimes in private and sometimes in public, is especially prevalent in the Mormon singles community. A demographic that seems, at times, stuck in an adolescent mind set in part because Mormon single adults tend to be treated as older adolescents and not as adults simply because they aren't married.

Human beings, as God created them, are sexual creatures. This is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing for which we should shame each other. Some people make no distinction between genuine appreciation of the human form and lusting after it. This is unfortunate because God also created us as complex creatures of thought and reflection and to willfully abandon that ability to think based on a perceived notion of morality is, in my opinion, insulting to our Creator.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Addiction culture and sexuality

I've thought a lot about addiction and I'm starting to think that it's a term that's getting thrown around too often. I have participated in 12-step programs like Al-Anon and Codependents Anonymous over the years so I'm not without sympathy toward those with addictions and the people who love them; be it drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex.

In Utah it would appear that a major addictive force is pornography. The LDS Church even sponsors 12-step based recovery groups for people with this addiction. I've attended some of these meetings and came to a couple of realizations. 1) I am not a pornography addict; my experiences with porn don't fit the definition of what an addiction is. And 2) I don't think that some of these addicts are addicted to pornography as much as they are addicted to shame and guilt.

Many religious cultures tend to be a bit repressive when it comes to sexuality and Mormon culture is no exception. LDS theology teaches that sex and sexuality are gifts from God and are to be expressed only between a lawfully married husband and wife. But that doesn't mean that people can't talk about it, whether they're married or not. When the subject of sex comes up in certain circles, the conversation is often nipped in the bud by someone who shoots from the hip with the statement "sex is sacred" and nobody talks about it further. I don't think this is a healthy attitude. Yes, sex is sacred within a religious context but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's also a defining characteristic of humanity and nothing to be ashamed of. Every time some uptight person drops the "sacred" bomb into a conversation, it shames others into silence. This creates an impression in others that sex itself is shameful, which it isn't.

Some people within the culture are brave enough to acknowledge that their sexuality is part of their identity as human beings and as sons and daughters of God. Unfortunately, sometimes these simple expressions of sexuality are labeled as "addictive behavior" by others who don't have that same courage; or an overdeveloped sense of guilt and shame.

Among those who "struggle" with pornography addiction are married people. This always threw me for a loop. Why on earth would someone who is happily married even want to go near pornography. I can't help but wonder, for at least some of these couples, if perhaps their spouse is one of these uptight individuals with an unhealthy attitude about sex. Maybe they aren't willing to talk about it. Thus driving their spouse to find sexual fulfillment elsewhere, in secret and with shame. But this is purely speculation on my part and I don't mean to imply that this is always the case.

I think this culture needs to get over its sense of shame and guilt, especially where sexuality is concerned. Shame and guilt are not gospel principles. They don't uplift. They tear people down and to tear someone down over what's arguably an important and integral part of their identity as a human being is terrible.

I also think its important for single adults to take the time to talk with their potential spouses about sex and what they might want or expect in a physical relationship. It's healthy to have these conversations and a good way to avoid unexpected "surprises" once the couple is married. This all comes down to honesty between partners and being willing to be open about very personal and intimate thoughts in regard to their sexuality; turn ons, turn offs, quirks and even kinks. In the end, we are all thinking a lot of the same things in regard to sex, so we might as well talk about it.