Imperfect Love

The Loss of Family and Community in the Post-Mormon Experience

J.A. Carter-Winward
Recovering Mormon

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Respectfully screen captured from the lds.org YouTube video explaining the Plan of Salvation

“God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear…”[i]

Despite the many things that make human beings alike, we’ve made homing in on our differences an Olympic-level sport, one that doesn’t require training, just our inherent desire to fit in, coupled with a natural aversion to uncomfortable emotions — specifically fear.

We fear ‘different’ and tend to gravitate toward the familiar. This concept isn’t just overused in comic-book origin stories. We’re not unlike most animals in this way.

Studies have shown that many animals feel less threatened by human beings who wear colors that match their own. Conversely, when human beings behave in ways that, from the animal’s perspective, represent a threat, they will defend themselves or flee.

The problem is that human beings tend to dislike talking about what truly frightens us. It belies a vulnerability that, paradoxically, only the strongest of us are courageous enough to admit.

Another problem is that many of our cues for fear aren’t conscious and aren’t based in logic. Most are hardwired into our midbrains, our DNA, and other biological influences that play key roles in our behavior.

However, much like the (incorrect, it turns out) idea that the color red threatens bulls (they can’t see red, only the annoying movement of the muleta), fear is also a learned behavior.

Where we’re from, our family systems, community, socio-cultural expectations, and of course, religious backgrounds, all give us overt and covert lessons on what, and who, pose the largest threats to our survival. And remember, this is mostly a series of unconscious processes, so it’s not uncommon for us to conflate threats to, say, our economic survival, with threats to our actual, physical survival.

So, not quite ‘nature v. nurture,’ but rather ‘nature and nurture,’ combined.

“Fear not to do good…” D&C 6:33

It’s even more common to conflate the above to “spiritual survival” because an eternal family is pretty much the apex of survival after we shuffle our earthly temples.

I remember when I got my second ear piercing back in the 1980s. My mother was convinced no good Mormon boy would want to date me and she was right. I dated several Mormon lads in high school and after, and there wasn’t an honorable one among them.

Her lesson, however, was about basic survival for a young LDS woman. Who you marry determines the “knock-knock” joke of/at the Veil. My parents feared for me because I had a personality that didn’t mesh well with conformity from the get-go.

However, I distinctly recall a lesson that was reinforced throughout my time in the Church, but I’d first heard it in Young Women’s: if you feel fear, it isn’t a natural human emotion, it’s Lucifer.

2 Timothy (1: 6–7), addresses this fear: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Almost as if fear itself were a sin — but if you have the Lord’s spirit with you, you have nothing to fear.

How perplexing.

Fear is hardwired into us. It plays an integral role in our complex survival mechanisms, but if you feel fear, and you were raised LDS, it’s Satan, causing us to wonder what no good we’ve been up to in our thoughts, mind, actions… and the underlying premise of those fears?

Ye are therefore imperfect as SIN.

So, it seems obvious that when something nudges at the safety mechanisms that were introjected into our psyches (along with those we’ve amassed on our own), and we don’t acknowledge our fear, the natural response is to avoid whatever nudges us like the sinful plague it is.

Silence, Disapproval, & (mis)Judgement

Some of the ways human beings show fear is through anger, judgement, silent disapprobation, and just plain old silence, which is akin to being emotionally exiled from your loved ones and community.

There are countless stories in the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Mormon, that set this precedent. Individuals being exiled from their homes and families is the most ruthless punishment, prefaced in the Bible when God the Father banished Lucifer for his rebellion.

But the theme continued during the crucifixion, when Jesus called out to his Father, dying, asking why he had been forsaken.

However, the most powerful message in LDS doctrine and most, if not all Christian religions, is the banishment from the Light of God after death.

In LDS doctrine-cum-cultural theme, since they’re oftentimes interchangeable, we’ll be unable to dwell in the Lord’s presence, and Outer Darkness is not a fiery pit of molten lava and torture, but the icy seclusion of expulsion, something many former members experience right here on earth after they leave the faith.

Latter-Day Saints hold to the belief that we will gravitate to the eternal kingdom where we feel most at ‘home’.

If you didn’t live an exemplary life on earth, no gold-and-white Celestial Kingdom-glory for you because you’ll be the guy wearing the loaner tie and jacket. Everyone will see you for the bourgeoisie poser you are, and after some side-glances, eyerolls, and hard-to-miss snubs as you try and make polite conversation, you’ll have the burning need to go down, down, down, back into the lower kingdom where you belong.

As if God is a slum lord. And if you’ve got a pest problem or asbestos? Suck it up until Michael Moore makes one of his unbiased documentaries about it.

Meanwhile, it’s troubling that this self-regulating class/worthiness system doesn’t take into account the likes of people like Donald Trump or others who show zero introspection or metacognition, although — based on the fluid nature of Church members’ political morals — I’d wager that DJT’s already on the “Baptize post-mortem” roster.

Members of the Mormon Church are so certain of their certainty, it doesn’t occur to them that tithing isn’t enough. That a culturally-imposed 18-month proselytizing mission in another part of the world doesn’t check a lifetime of “service” boxes, and only serving “you and yours” is not what the Savior taught — if you claim to follow his example and teachings.

And no, “continuing revelation” doesn’t let you off the hook, either. If you live in a Mormon echo-chamber, surrounded by all the fortifications of a Mormon-bubble, then you’re not living the Gospel you claim to have a testimony of, and in fact, your bubble belies a fragility of belief that boils down to fear.

According to the example set by Jesus Christ, you’re supposed to immerse yourselves in the world, not in a religious bubble, and you’re supposed to love and accept the people who are the least like you — people who challenge your faith and your way of life. Yeah, I just paraphrased the entire New Testament, right there.

The problem many LDS Church members face?

Fear.

“Fear not what man [woman, other] can do…”[i]

People living their lives post-Mormon are terrifying examples of authenticity, sometimes tragedy, and other times, joy-without-Mormonism, and that’s a cognitive blot that can’t be glossed over easily.

While members of the Church have just as many divorces, drug problems, and socio-economic woes as non-Mormons, they tend to keep their woes “in-house.”

I recall being taught as a young Mormon that “ex-Mormons lives are miserable” because “wickedness never was happiness.” My mother said that all the time, which came in handy when I suffered from some severe depression as a teen.

When we leave the Church, we ostensibly lose the Holy Ghost — our direct link to Heavenly Father — along with the spiritual nudges (aka confirmation biases) that informed nearly every decision we made until we realized we were just making choices based on family and communal expectations.

I remember how it felt so good to ‘choose the right’ and eschew all that’s evil — meaning all things different — meaning everything and one that scared me or threatened my faith. A single-minded worldview that focuses on maintaining faith rather than challenging beliefs.

Unlike stress, which is cumulative, exercising your critical-thinking skills has the potential to strengthen beliefs — IF you’re unafraid that you might be wrong. My brother asked me that, once.

“What if you’re wrong [about the Church]”?

I remember thinking that I wasn’t too worried about being wrong, not because I was certain, but because I don’t have certainty, and that felt liberating to me.

I did not ask him the same question, however. Frankly, I didn’t want him more afraid than he already seemed to be after a 2-hour conversation (he’d hoped would be a conversion) with me on how I lost my faith. I pulled a lot of punches because of how fragile he seemed, how fearful.

But avoiding fear has become more and more difficult these days.

The climate of fear simmers all around us, and I’ve watched members of the LDS Church close ranks like never before. We are divided politically, socially, culturally, and religiously like never before, and there seems to be a weird buzz of excitement in certain LDS camps that the “latter days” are finally here.

They may very well be. But I’m not seeing a ton of “Hail Marys.” What I have seen is astonishing amounts of selfishness and entitlement. Harsh judgment, disapproval, anger, rage, and derision leveled at non-believing family members.

Banishment through isolation and exclusion. Exile through technological silence.

Talk about a communal-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, maybe “ex-Mormons’ lives are miserable” because suddenly, their dental practice isn’t getting any more referrals. Your daughters are bullied at school for not being in primary class on Sunday. Your wife’s friends slowly ghost her until she drives by one day and sees them all at the playground while she and your children, once part of the playgroup, drive past.

Hurtful, callous, mean-spirited, ugly. Fearful.

And while I allow a small portion of my own righteous indignation to show here, I have a message for those who claim to “follow Christ and His teachings” in 1 John, 4: 1–21, specifically verses 18–21:

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

19 We love him, because he first loved us.

20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

He who loveth God loves his brothers and sisters also.

And it hurts. It’s hurtful, that silence. It screams and echoes alone, alone, alone as those of us try and maintain relationships with the fearful believers we used to know and love.

All that said, I understand that there’s nothing funny about being abandoned by your family and community. But sometimes the way I deal with things is through humor. Tears-of-a-clown humor in my writing, and in my music.

So, I wrote a song a few years back. A song about leaving the Mormon Church, sung from the perspective of religious family members. The song is the first release from my upcoming album called, Untitled, and the song is called, “Untitled Mormon Song.”

I’d like to share it with all of you with the caveat that it might make you laugh, but it also might hurt. But it hurts in the way a community should hurt — together, finding solace within shared experience and yes, a little satire.

Feel free to share it with anyone you feel could use a laugh (remember my caveat, above) or for anyone who might be open to a not-so-subtle reminder of how to live their religion.

I’ve played it for a couple of faithful members — good friends of mine. Their response?

“Every member of the Church should hear this song.”

Why?

Because the song isn’t for or about members like them — folks who can hang around a heathen like me and not fear their beliefs will somehow look like Swiss cheese after being in my presence.

It’s for the ones who’ve decided to take the Lord’s work of judgement and exile into their own hands. Those who have not yet ‘cast out fear’ in favor of love.

The beauty of this lesson is you don’t need to believe or be religious to practice ‘love.’ Like meditation practice, our love will never, ever be perfect. That’s why we practice it — with the hope that one day, we’ll know it, or it will know us.

Enjoy.

Peace out everyone —

J.A.

[i] churchofjesuschrist.org (2 Timothy 1: 6–7)

[i] Ibid. (Moroni 8:16)

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J.A. Carter-Winward
Recovering Mormon

J.A. Carter-Winward, an award-winning poet & novelist. Author site, https://www.jacarterwinward.com/ , blog: https://writeinblood.com/ Facebook and Youtube